Launching a Ship’s Boat in Heavy Weather
Of the numerous duties that may fall to the lot of an Officer none calls so imperatively for courage resource, calm judgement and quick decision as does the launching of a ship’s boat in heavy weather and proceeding alongside a sinking vessel. Inexperience, on the parts of both Officer and boat’s crew, is the primary disadvantage.
The secondary disadvantages are so varied and diverse that no explicit directions can be given for coping with them. All that can be done is to indicate broad lines of procedure.
- The boat’s crew should be selected with care.
- Implicit and immediate obedience to orders is the chief requirement;
- muscular strength is the second;
- intelligence is the third.
- Courage is of course, assumed.
The gear to be taken away must be depend on circumstances. All unnecessary gear should be taken out of the boat but the spare oars, bailer, bucket, axes, storm modifying oil, sea anchor and, at night, lamp and flares, should never be discarded. An additional sea anchor, a coil of 2-inch rope and, at night, a couple of electric torches are often invaluable. All gear not in actual use should be stowed in the bottom of the boat where it is clear and instantly accessible.
The lowering of the boat may call for considerable preparation. This is more especially the case in ships fitted with old types of davits. The danger of the boat swinging heavily against the ship’s side while being lowered, and sustaining grievous damage before she is in the water, is so imminent that it will usually be advisable to pass two wires under the bottom of the ship. The end of each wire should be led up, inboard of the boat, and made fast to the head of the davit, the inboard parts being set up tautly on the opposite side of the ship. There are thus two taut wires interposed between the boat and the ship’s side.
On each of these a fairly large shackle should be placed and a short length of rope should be attached to the pin of each shackle. If these rope lizards are turned up, with a dry turn, round the link of the falls they will prevent the boat swinging of the ship on the downward roll, and the jackstays will prevent it falling against the side on the upward roll. A fender may be used as an additional precaution, and for this purpose the boat cover rolled up into a fairly tight ‘sausage’, is often beneficial.
The boat’s painter should not be passed inboard: a boat rope should be passed, from as far forward and as low down as possible, into the boat, and the end should be passed with a dry turn round the foremost thwart and on the inboard side. An intelligent man in charge of this line should be stationed in the ship to veer or to take up the slack as the boat is lowered. An Officer inboard should be in charge of the lowering and launching of the boat. He should see that those in the boat are well aware of the orders he gives, so that they will be prepared to co-operate.
The placing of the ship during lowering and launching is necessarily dependent on circumstances. When possible it is far better to have the ship a few points off the wind with the sea on the bow opposite the side on which the boat is lowered. If the ship is put broadside to the wind it is almost impossible to get the boat away, the leeway of the ship causing her to set down on top of the boat. The size, condition and nature of the ship are very dominant factors in the disposition and manoeuvring required.
Launching the boat requires careful timing and prompt action. More especially is this the case when as so often happens, the boat is not fitted with releasing gear. Full advantage should then be taken of a downward roll, or a long and high sea, to lift the boat and give generous slack on the falls. The advantage of the downward roll is that it places the boat well away from the ship’s side. Needless to say, the lizards mentioned above should be the cast off just before it is intended to make the boat waterborne.
Falls should be cast off and overhauled when letting go, and the boat should be dropped on an even keel. Heaving lines can be conveniently attached to the lower ends of the standing parts of the falls to trice them up clear of the boat immediately they are let go. The rudder, if shipped, should be slightly angled to steer the boat of the ship.
When rowing to windward, speed is the prime necessity. It is essential that the boat should never be at any but a small angle with the wind, and for this purpose the oars may require extra exertion on one side or the other. Water shipped should be removed as quickly as possible. The use of a steering oar in preference to the rudder must be decided by the Officer in charge of the boat. The advantages of a steering oar are often greatly overestimated.
When rowing to leeward, or dropping down on a sea anchor, it must be remembered that the crest of the wave is highly perilous. If rowing, reduce speed or back water as the crest approaches; if dropping down on a sea anchor, pull the boat ahead as the crest draws near. It is for this latter purpose that two anchors have been suggested.
The stowage of rescued persons should be rigorously supervised. As far as is possible they should be made to keep below the thwarts. To allow them to sit on the thwarts is to take serious liberties with the stability of the boat – to say nothing of the extra surface offered to the wind. Furthermore, in case of the boat broaching to, men on the thwarts are likely to be flung to leeward, but if the men not on oars are on the bottom boards there is considerably less risk of their being shifted.
In all cases of ‘fending off’ care should be exercised that the implement used for this purpose is kept well clear of the boat. If fenders have been used while lowering a boat they should be taken in immediately the boat is waterborne. Feathering of oars is generally helpful when pulling dead to windward: with the wind on the bow, abeam, or astern it is often advisable not to feather.
The boat should never be taken too close to a man in the water, and in no case should he be picked up at the bow. Bring the midship part of the boat to windward of him and give him an oar to grasp.