Shipboard Emergency Prevention, Preparedness and Response |
Home > Life at sea > Shipboard Emergency Prevention, Preparedness and Response

Shipboard Emergency Prevention, Preparedness and Response

Emergency is any situation or accident that causes or is likely to cause loss of life, environment or property.

The primary objective of Shipboard Emergency Prevention, Preparedness and Response activities is to develop and implement an efficient and effective system which will minimise risks to life, the environment and property.

Emergency Response System:

The three main elements of an Emergency Response System are:

  1. Planning
  2. Training and
  3. Preparedness

In any emergency be it fire, grounding, pollution or any other, it is very important that the Shipboard Emergency Response system be fully operational for effective and efficient control of the situation.

The steps to achieve the above is as follows:

  1. Establish procedures to IDENTIFY potential shipboard emergency situations.
  2. Prepare PROCEDURES / PLANS / CHECKLISTS to be followed in the event of emergencies identified in point 1.
  3. Develop plans and prepare a schedule for TRAINING of shipboard personnel to respond quickly and effectively to the emergencies identified in point 1.
  4. Maintain RECORDS of all emergency drills and exercises conducted on board and emergency training done ashore. These records should always be available for verification on board ship.
  5. The drills and exercise should be EVALUATED to determine the effectiveness of the emergency procedures and to identify system improvements.
  6. FEEDBACK and a REPORTING SYSTEM helps to educate the seastaff across the fleet in lessons learned from previous exercises or real emergencies. It helps to standardize and integrate emergency response procedures and communication requirements throughout the fleet.

This paragraph on Emergency Response Systems is valid for all emergencies on board and has been given here in brief for you to form a base from which all emergencies should be dealt with on board.

Different types of emergencies:

To help you prepare a brief – there is the list of various types of emergencies that can occur on board:








(Threatening safety of ship and its crew/passengers)








These are the various types of emergencies for which all persons on board the ship should be at all times READY. Depending upon the nature of trade and type of the ship there may be some other emergencies which have not been listed for which proper contingency planning should be in place.

Before we get into the main item of this module, that is FIRE, let us look into the various alarms that are normally used on board a ship to indicate an EMERGENCY.

The signals given in the table below must be made to indicate an EMERGENCY on board:

General Emergency

Seven or more short blasts followed by one long blast on General Alarm and ship’s whistle


Continuous or interrupted continuous ringing of the bell on the General Alarm and ship’s whistle

Man Overboard

Three long blasts on General Alarm and ship’s whistle

Abandon Ship


In the above signals, fire can be included in the General Emergency alarm, most of the manual call buttons on board and the automatic detectors on board (which have been described in the earlier module) are programmed to activate the continuous ringing of the bell. Hence the fire signal has been left as it is though there is no mention of “Continuous ringing of the bell ” as an emergency signal in the SOLAS Convention.

This alarm should be capable of being operated from various manual call points situated on all accommodation decks, from the bridge and from the engine control room.

Apart from the above all crew on board must be familiar with various other alarms such as:

  • CO2alarms in pump room and engine room.
  • Machinery alarm in the engine room
  • Halon alarm
  • It is important all crew members should be able to distinguish between various types of alarms and act accordingly.

To help each crew member to know their stations and the location of all the fire fighting and life saving appliances A SAFETY FAMILIARIZATION CHECKLIST FOR NEW JOINERS is given to the person as soon as he gets on board the ship. This details:

  • The alarm signals used on board
  • His boat and emergency stations
  • The closest fire extinguisher and manual call button to his cabin
  • The nearest emergency exit to his cabin
  • It also requires the safety officer on board the ship to take the new joiners on a safety round detailing location of various fire fighting and life saving appliances and the location of all personal protective equipment’s. The new joiner must familiarise himself with all the safety equipment’s as soon as possible but not later than 72 hours of his joining. He should be familiar with certain items like the nearest call button, the closest fire extinguisher, his emergency stations, location of the muster point within 6 hours of his joining.


Fire control plans are provided on board ships and they should indicate:

  • Fire control station
  • The Emergency head quarters.
  • Fire zones enclosed by ‘A’ class division and ‘B’ class division.
  • Details of fire fighting appliances both portable and fixed provided on board.
  • Details of fire dampers, ventilation system, skylights and other closing devices to isolate the compartments on fire.
  • Particulars of fire detection and alarm systems.
  • Details of fire pump, fire main and position of fire hydrants and hoses.
  • Fire control plans are displayed inside the accommodation so all personnel can become familiar with the entire system. They are also provided in prominent weather proof containers usually marked as fire plans, kept outside the accommodation near the access point to the ship so that they can be referred to by shore fire fighting personnel, in case of a fire in port.

Muster List:

Muster list is displayed on notice boards in the accommodation spaces – usually one in every deck, one on the bridge and engine room and one each in the crew and officers smoke rooms. A copy of the Muster list is also attached to the Training Manual – which is kept in the crew’s and officer’s mess room or smoke room.

We will discuss the making of a muster list in details in another module but a brief account of what the muster list contains is given here.

A Muster list is generally a notice displayed on board detailing the responsibilities of each and every crew member on board during an emergency.

Muster lists detail the following:

  • The alarm signal
  • General instructions on hearing the alarm
  • Designated Muster Points
  • Organisation of the emergency response into squads or teams
  • Division of the ship’s complement into the various squads, with their names, rank and duties specified.

There are generally three Muster Lists on board a ship:

  1. ABANDON SHIP MUSTER LIST – detailing duties for survival craft operation and launching.
  2. EMERGENCY MUSTER LIST – detailing duties of all personnel during any emergencies such as a fire.
  3. SHIPBOARD OIL POLLUTION EMERGENCY MUSTER LIST – detailing duties during a pollution contingency.

All three could be integrated into one Station Bill or posted separately side by side.

Having seen the elementary items such as alarm signals, muster lists, fire control plans we shall see how to go about tackling a fire on board ship.

As mentioned earlier a successful operation to tackling any contingency will depend totally on PLANNING, TRAINING AND PREPAREDNESS. It is of utmost importance that all crew members actively participate in all emergency drills on board. A debriefing should be conducted after every drill and all the short comings of the drill should be HIGHLIGHTED and DISCUSSED. This will improve the efficiency of the personnel involved and will show in the performance of the next drill. YOU WILL HAVE A BETTER TRAINED PERSON NEXT TIME WHEN YOU HAVE AN EMERGENCY OR WHEN PERFORMING A DRILL.

For every contingency, there is what is called Initial action and Subsequent Response activities.

Initial action: is what must be taken immediately following the occurrence of the hazardous events, and

Subsequent response actions: are those actions taken subsequently after assessing the situation and making a plan of emergency actions.

Dealing with FIRE:


The fire, find out about its size, location and combustibles Involved.


The bridge and sound the alarm immediately – even if the fire appears small.


The fire by closing doors, isolating fuel and electrical supplies and closing ventilation.

Use boundary cooling


The fire by using the correct type and quantity of fire fighting media. Use CABA and protective clothing.

Fire drill at Sea:

What should you do if you discover a FIRE or for that matter any EMERGENCY at Sea?

  • On discovering a fire or any other emergency Raise the Alarm – how???
  • Manual call buttons located on all decks in the accommodation
  • Verbally – shouting FIRE – FIRE – FIRE
  • Use the intercom or ship’s whistle or loud hailer
  • Wake up the crew by banging on the door or BY ANY OTHER MEANS TO ATTRACT THEIR ATTENTION.·
  • Use the telephone to inform the bridge or the control centre of the fire. Give as much information as you can. The information should contain:
  • Your name.
  • Nature of emergency, location, is there anybody with you to assist. Say what you see and NOT WHAT YOU THINK.
  • Remember when you identify yourself , your head count is automatically taken on the bridge or control centre. Also remember: – the bridge is seeing the emergency through your eyes and hence the information and assessment given by you should be as accurate as possible. ACTIONS WILL BE TAKEN ON BASIS OF YOUR INFORMATION.
  • Try and control the emergency by whatever means is available until relieved by an emergency team.
  • After informing the bridge or the control center take the nearest extinguisher and proceed to the scene of fire.
  • Before opening the compartment feel the bulkhead to sense the extent of fire – if the fire is small and has not spread – the adjoining bulkheads may not be that hot.
  • If you feel only if you feel that you may be able to control the situation or at least assess the situation, then maybe you can open the compartment slightly to check and see if you can do something about the fire. The fire maybe small and you can easily extinguish it with an extinguisher. PLEASE NOTE THE ASSESSMENT CAPABILITY OF THE SITUATION PURELY DEPENDS ON THE INDIVIDUAL. A PERSON SEEING SMALL AMOUNT OF SMOKE MAY GET SCARED AND HE WILL PROCEED TO THE MUSTER POINT. A FRESH PERSON AT SEA MAY HESITATE TO EVEN OPEN THE DOOR, BUT A SENIOR PERSON HAVING SPEND A GOOD NUMBER OF YEARS AT SEA MAY DECIDE TO OPEN THE COMPARTMENT, JUST A LITTLE TO CHECK IF HE CAN ASSESS THE SITUATION.
  • Remember “A fire is best nipped in the bud”.
  • If you feel the situation is hazardous move out immediately after shutting all doors and ventilators to the compartment. This will stop fresh air fueling the fire.·
  • As a response action – on hearing the alarm all other personnel must proceed immediately to the designated Muster point.
  • Do not call the bridge to find out what has happened or what the situation is. In all probability, the person on the bridge will be handling a lot of activities at that time.
  • When proceeding to the Muster point, ensure that you are properly dressed with full sleeve boiler suit, warm clothing, carry all your personal protective equipment such as life jackets, safety shoes, gloves and helmet.
  • Mustering of all personnel will take place and head count would be taken.
  • The squad leaders will report any missing persons to the On Scene Commander who will in turn report this to the bridge.
  • Once mustering has taken place, the squads will prepare themselves for their respective duties as mentioned in the Muster list and report readiness to the bridge. They will await orders from the On Scene Commander regarding deployment.·
  • Talking about squads we will briefly discuss the various squads that are usually formed on board for the purpose of Emergency Response System. We will discuss these squads in details in another module where we shall explain how to go about making a muster list.·
  • The Bridge Squad is responsible for command and control of the entire situation and for ensuring that an efficient muster of personnel is carried out. The duties of the bridge squad includes raising alarms on deck and accommodation, announcing the location of the fire, establish communication between all squads and if required external communication with shore and company, maintain safe navigational watch and keep a detailed timed record and log of events.
  • The Engine Room Squad: In the case of an unmanned engine room, the engine squad will proceed to the engine room only if it is safe to do so. If the engine squad finds the engine room unsafe to enter, they must back off towards the Muster point shutting the safety systems remote trips, vents and fire doors on their way out. The main duties of the engine room squad are to keep in touch with the bridge, to maintain pumps and other machinery as required for the emergency, To keep a proper watch of running machinery and maintain a record in the engine room.·
  • The Emergency Squad is the main action squad. They usually divided into two teams one headed by the chief officer and the other by the second engineer. In case of fire in the engine room, the Second engineer’s team would be the first to enter with BA sets, fire suits, charged hose and walkie-talkies. This is because the second engineer will be more familiar with the engine room than the chief officer. If an emergency occurs on deck then the chief officer’s team will take charge and the second engineer’s team will remain on standby. As mentioned earlier, they are the main action team and must include at least 3 officers. Depending upon the emergency they will carry out fire fighting, damage control or rescue operations.
  • ·
  • The Support Squad will shut ventilators and doors, boundary cool, assist the On Scene Commander with any other task, prepare lifeboats or liferafts as required, provide additional manpower if needed and provide logistic support such as bringing extra air bottles for breathing apparatus, charging air cylinders and maintain security patrols.
  • Medical Squad: The main task of this squad is to prepare stretcher and first aid kit near the scene of emergency. They should be trained to transport any casualties to a safe place and give first aid as required. They will prepare extra water and provision for lifeboats, if required.

How would you take charge of a fire party in an exercise?

  • At the muster point ensure all personnel are present in their proper gear.
  • Report any person missing to the bridge.
  • Ensure that all the persons are aware of their respective jobs as stated in the muster list.
  • Depending on the situation direct various squads to get their equipment and get reports their readiness.
  • Once fully satisfied that various squads are ready, brief each squad about the situation and what action you want them to take.
  • In case you are the person who is supposed to enter an area where fire has occurred then:
  • Check your breathing apparatus as mentioned in the module on BA.
  • Ensure you are wearing a fire suit and have the proper equipment, for example flashlight, fire axe, walkie-talkie.
  • Ensure that the fire proof safety line is properly secured to your safety belt.
  • Since you are the leader – ensure that your partner is also fit and ready.
  • When entering a fire zone crouch low, ensure that you and your partner are in close contact with each other and move cautiously so that you do not trip over any obstacles.
  • Always monitor the pressure of your breathing apparatus set and start leaving the area when the pressure drops to 50 bars or less.
  • Ensure that the life line does not get entangled in any obstacles such as ladders and gratings.
  • Carrying a charged hose wearing a fire suit and breathing apparatus is a tough task and regular practise during drills will ease the task.
  • When moving in a fire affected area with insufficient light, use the back of your palms to feel the heat before moving ahead. This has been taught to you during your fire fighting course.
  • When engulfed in smoke, keep as low as possible, smoke being lighter than air will rise and hence you will have better visibility close to the deck.
  • · These are only a few points that must to be adhered to when leading a fire fighting team.

So far we have mentioned activities intended for use both at sea and in port, but in port there may be a few changes. The following points is valid both for fire contingency as well as any other emergency that may occur in port.

  • The number of crew members people on board may be less than that on the Muster list as some may have gone ashore. Hence it is very important that named “substitutes” should be aware of their additional responsibilities in case some of the squad leaders are missing.
  • Please note that when granting shore leave to crew members it must be borne in mind that only 50% from each department should be allowed to go ashore at any one time.
  • When an emergency drill is conducted at sea all the “supernumeraries” should report to the bridge. In port ensure that all shore personnel, supernumeraries, agents and other visitors leave the ship during the emergency. Tell them they will be called back once the situation is under control. It is always better to clear all unwanted and untrained personnel from the ship during an emergency to avoid unwanted injuries and additional burden of rescuing them.
  • During an emergency in port, it is important to inform the shore fire brigade, the ship’s agent, port authorities and any other authorities so that they are ready to come to the ship’s assistance. This information should be conveyed even if the ship may feel that shore assistance might not be required.
  • As with fire at sea, all crew members should muster at their respective stations. In case of ‘Person in charge’ not on board, substitutes should take over charge of the key squads.
  • All squads will tackle the emergency according to their assigned duties.
  • For the purpose of shore side fire fighting personnel, fire control plans are kept near the access point to ship in a prominently marked, weatherproof container. One on each side of the ship when in port.

These containers should include:

  • A copy of ship’s updated Fire Control Plan.
  • Cargo and stability Information
  • An up to date crew list
  • Plus: any other information that may be useful to the shore fire fighters such as location of containers carrying dangerous goods, ship’s damage stability information, layout of the bunker, fuel and cargo tanks.


Fire fighting appliances on board help to detect, control the spread and extinguish fire on board ship.

They include:

  1. Smoke, flame or thermal detectors.
  2. Fire line, hydrants, hoses and nozzles.
  3. Fire axes and sand boxes. Ensure that the blade of fire axe has a coat of grease and well covered with a canvas or a polythene cover. Ensure sand boxes are always filled with dry sand.
  4. Fire extinguishers that include portable, semi-portable and non-portable ones.
  5. Fixed fire fighting installations such as foam, sprinkler, CO2and Halon.
  6. Fire pump and emergency fire pump
  7. Portable foam applicators
  8. Fireman’s suits and breathing apparatus.

All these appliances should be checked and inspected regularly. The date of last inspection should be clearly marked on a tag and attached to the portable extinguishers and other appliances.


What are the safety appliances for the engine room outside the compartment?

  • Quick closing valves outside the engine room for stopping the main engine.
  • Quick closing valves for stopping fuel oil transfer pumps.
  • Quick closing valves for bilge pumps.
  • These controls are located outside the engine room in the accommodation space, so that in case of any emergency the machinery can be stopped immediately.

Apart from these, we have for fire protection the fixed fire fighting appliance protecting the engine room space. Again the room containing the fixed fire fighting system is outside the engine room and remote valves are located inside the accommodation.

Ventilators with quick closing of vent flaps (or fire dampers) are provided to :

  • Prevent further spread of fire, by cutting air supply to the space hence effectively depriving the fire of oxygen
  • Help contain and smother the fire on injection of CO2into the space.
  • Prevent progressive flooding by effectively battening down a compartment.

For escape from the engine room in case of an emergency:

  • Emergency escape routes are provided. They are vertical passages usually commencing at the engine room bottom platform and leading into the accommodation block on main deck or onto the poop deck. These areas must be:
  • Well illuminated through out
  • Clear signs should be posted marking EXIT to lead to these escape routes.
  • Area surrounding the escape routes should always be kept clear. There should be no obstacles such as old machinery, spare parts, garbage or drums in the way of the escaping person.
  • A safety harness connected to a messenger rope should always be kept attached to a block at the top of the emergency escape so an injured person can be pulled to the safety of the main deck.
  • In some engine rooms there may be an ELSA set provided outside the engine control room for the person to escape to safety in case of a smoke or a toxic atmosphere in the compartment.
Sailorinsight, your destination to Learn, Earn & Share. Blog About related to Marine and Competency Examination

One thought on “Shipboard Emergency Prevention, Preparedness and Response

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *