This article was first published in the Spring/Summer 2017 issue of International Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed.
Maritime safety equipment manufacturer Viking Life-Saving Equipment’s latest large-scale, flexible evacuation system has been underway for several years – and with good reason. Known as Viking LifeCraft, the system represents a revolutionary hybrid approach to rescue craft design. And, as with any innovation designed to save human lives, every aspect must be carefully designed, tested and refined until engineers, regulatory authorities and, last but not least, shipowners are fully confident in the proven solution.
The LifeCraft system comprises two key components: a combined storage and launching unit to be placed on deck or integrated in the ship’s hull, and up to four inflatable rescue craft. Each craft contains 200 evacuees, giving the system a total rescue capacity of 800 persons in 15 minutes while combining the advantages of modern lifeboats with those of liferafts. Like a lifeboat, it is self-propelled, using battery-powered electric motors and a simple steering system, and features a fire-retardant canopy. Yet it offers all the flexibility and smaller footprint of a liferaft.
With development work reported to be firmly on track, Niels Fraende, director of Viking’s Passenger Division, is excited about LifeCraft’s prospects. “Right now, there are a lot of passenger newbuilds on contract and on their way into contract, so this is a market with lots of potential for us,” he comments. To date, all tests have been completed, bar the final sea trial, which is slated for this spring.
In line with its manufacturer’s vision, the new craft’s design prioritises deployment reliability and passenger safety in the event of an emergency. “Our main focus has been on ensuring operational safety,” Fraende says. “And we’ve achieved this through a combination of control systems, storage, technical simplicity, simplified operation and easy manoeuvring.”
The LifeCraft can be integrated into the vessel in two ways. It can be installed on deck in a compact storage unit or it can be installed in the ship’s hull. The nice visual appearance of the unit is largely due to a dedicated industrial design effort aimed at matching its exterior to cruise ship aesthetics, while also instilling confidence in both passengers and crew. According to Fraende, this deck-mounted option is most likely to be chosen by the rescue craft’s first purchasers.
“Passengers can be very safety-conscious,” he says. “So we wanted the complete package to look good and solid, providing reassurance of its functionality via an up-to-date visual appearance and a visually high build quality. Being and feeling safe go hand in hand.”
Over time, Viking expects more shipowners to integrate the LifeCraft directly into the ship’s hull, freeing up even more deck space for leisure and operational use. Doing so will provide extra protection, too, keeping both the storage unit and the craft themselves almost completely sealed off from potentially harmful environmental factors such as salty ocean spray and humidity.