Chapter 5 - Be ready for emergencies

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Accidents can happen – to even the best equipped vessels and crews. To help you manage an emergency, Canada's Small Vessel Regulations, section 14 require five types of safety equipment:

  1. Life-saving appliances (such as lifejackets and liferafts).
  2. Vessel safety equipment (such as bailers, paddles and anchors).
  3. Distress alerting equipment (such as a flashlight, flares and a radio).
  4. A first aid kit.
  5. Fire safety equipment (such as portable extinguishers and fire detectors).

Additional equipment and ways to let others know you are in trouble are also discussed in this guide, as are procedures that are required if you operate in water less than 15° C without a liferaft.

Making sure that the vessel has the required safety equipment on board and that it is readily accessible, in good working order and serviced according to the manufacturer's recommendations can save lives, and protect your vessel and business. It is also the law. As the owner or operator of a vessel, you must comply with safety regulations. You must make sure that all required safety equipment is on board and that your crew members know how and when to use it.

The vessel operator and the owner must make sure that all crew members receive the on board familiarization and safety training set out in the Marine Emergency Duties Training Program ( TP 4957) before they start to perform any duty on board the vessel.

Carry out regular drills with the crew to ensure they stay familiar with the safety equipment on board and its use. Keep a record of drill dates and the names of those who took part.This will help you plan your next drill and will show that you use due diligence, if the vessel is ever involved in an incident. Keeping records of crew training is also a requirement of the Marine Personnel Regulations (section 205).

All safety equipment must be stowed where it is readily accessible. This means it can be reached easily and safely under emergency conditions without the use of tools. If items are not stored where they can be easily seen, the storage location should be clearly marked so that people know what is inside.

If this guide doesn't give enough information for you to know what you need to carry, check the regulations, consult a marine surveyor or ask your local Transport Canada Centre for guidance (see Appendix 2).

Life-Saving Appliances

Life-saving appliances provide support if you fall overboard or in case you have to abandon ship.


All too often, drowning victims were not wearing a lifejacket or not wearing it properly. Lifejackets are designed to keep a person's head above water and to help them remain in a proper breathing position. Lifejackets come in different sizes. You must have a Transport Canada approved lifejacket of the right size to fit each person you have on board. For children less than 9 kg (20 lb ) and persons with chests more than 140 cm (56 in ), use the lifejacket that fits best.

Three types of inherently buoyant Chapter 9 lifejackets – SOLAS, Standard and Small Vessel – have been approved for many years; however, more types of lifejackets have been approved (see below).

New Lifejacket Standard Offers More Alternatives

In June 2007, a new lifejacket standard was adopted. The new standard adds three new types of lifejackets to the familiar inherently buoyant jacket. These inflatable, hybrid (a combination of inherently buoyant and inflatable) and thermal protection jackets provide more options. As these products become available, you will be able to choose the lifejacket that best suits your needs.

It is your responsibility to make sure that your lifejackets provide the required protection for your passengers. When buying lifejackets, check the stamp or label to make sure it is a lifejacket, not a personal flotation device (PFD), and that it is approved by Transport Canada.

Note: If your vessel is enclosed or fitted with a canopy, warn passengers before leaving shore about the danger of being trapped if they put lifejackets on while inside.

Lifejacket Maintenance and Testing

For lifejackets to work, you must keep them in good condition. You should inspect them often for outer skin and stitching damage, mildew, leaks, insecure straps or hardened stuffing. Clean them only with a mild soapy solution. Since using oilbased solvents such as gasoline or strong detergents to remove stains can cause lifejackets to deteriorate and lose buoyancy, you should always keep them away from gasoline, oil and grease.

Inflatable and hybrid jackets need special care to make sure that their cartridges remain effective. Read and follow the manufacturer's instructions and replace cartridges before their expiry dates.

Lifejacket Handling and Storage

Air-drying lifejackets before putting them away prevents mildew. Never dry them on a heater or any other direct heat source, or stow them away when they are damp. When they are not in use, stow dry lifejackets out of the sunlight in a place that is dry, well ventilated and easy to reach when needed. Do not step on lifejackets or use them as kneeling or seating pads, as placing heavy weight on a lifejacket can damage its internal buoyancy material.

Lifejacket Tips

Mark each lifejacket so you can keep a record of the date you bought it. This will help you know when to replace it. Marking should be done so that it will not damage the jacket. Use a tag or write on the label, taking care to be able to still read the information on the tag.

Lifejackets and PFDs – What's the Difference?

To comply with the law, as well as make an informed decision about safety, it helps to know the differences between lifejackets and personal flotation devices (PFDs).

Only lifejackets satisfy the requirements for life-saving equipment on commercial vessels (except for human-powered vessels). This is because lifejackets, which are intended to be put on when you evacuate the vessel or there is a clear risk of going in the water, have two big advantages over most PFDs : they are usually more buoyant and do a better job of keeping your mouth out of the water.To do this, lifejackets can be bulky, making them less likely to be worn at all times, although newer models do provide increased wearability.

PFDs , on the other hand, are generally more comfortable and can often be worn at all times — even while working, which provides added protection in case a person falls overboard accidentally. This is particularly important if you operate alone or in cold water as the effects of cold water immersion will reduce the time you are able to keep your head above water without a flotation device.

For first-hand accounts of people in cold water and the difficulties they had staying afloat without a lifejacket, go to

For an extra level of safety, consider carrying both lifejackets and PFDs and making it a habit to wear your PFD at all times for extra protection. Be aware, however, that inherently buoyant PFDs are designed for the average person and may not be enough to keep a fully dressed worker afloat, especially if carrying a tool belt or other equipment. You may want to consider using an inflatable PFD instead, as they often have buoyancy equivalent to a Small Vessel Lifejacket (100 newtons).








No operator wants to abandon ship, but it is best to be prepared. Because a liferaft can be launched in almost all weather and is designed to keep you out of the water when you abandon ship and while you wait for rescue, it is the preferred rescue system for any small vessel that operates in water with a temperature below 15° C if it can carry a raft safely.

If your vessel is more than 8.5 metres long and carries passengers on voyages that are not Sheltered Waters Voyages or more than 2 nautical miles from the shore of rivers or lakes, you must have one or more liferafts. Workboats more than 12 metres long must carry one or more liferafts. On workboats, a buoyant apparatus may be used instead of a liferaft if the water temperature is more than 15° C . The combined capacity of the rafts or buoyant apparatus must be enough to carry everyone on board. Inflatable liferafts must be marked with the maximum capacity of the raft and the date it was last serviced.

Coastal liferafts are designed for near shore waters. A vessel operating beyond a Near Coastal Voyage, Class 2 must carry a SOLAS liferaft.

Crews must be trained and ready to launch liferafts and other life-saving equipment on a moment's notice. Carry out regular drills with the crew up to the point where the liferaft would be inflated. If your liferaft is due for servicing, consider carrying out a drill that includes inflating the raft so that you and your crew know what it's like. This may increase the cost of servicing, so check with your service depot and then decide. Conduct regular inspections to make sure that each survival craft holds all required equipment, is in place and is properly stowed.

Inflatable liferafts must be serviced at a service station accredited by the raft's manufacturer at the frequency set out in the Life Saving Equipment RegulationsChapter 11. Servicing helps to identify problems caused by your vessel's pitching-and-rolling movements and from exposure to humidity and water spray, which can find their way into the liferaft container.

Any hydrostatic release (float-free device) that requires yearly or other regular service should be serviced at the same time as the liferaft. A disposable release should be replaced before its expiry date. Failure to service liferafts and release devices may result in an operating failure when it is needed, and could cost lives. Make sure that your equipment works and your crew is prepared.


One of several hydrostatic
release units approved for
use in Canada

How a Hydrostatic Release Works

A hydrostatic release is made up of a pressure activated release mechanism, a loop to which the liferaft lashing is attached and a weak link to which the liferaft painter (the rope attached to the liferaft) is attached. Follow the manufacturer's instructions carefully when installing the release.

When the device is submerged to a depth of about 4 metres, the water pressure causes the mechanism to release the loop holding the lashing. This allows the raft to float to the surface if there are no obstacles to stop it (see Liferaft Stowage). As the vessel sinks, the painter is stretched, causing the liferaft to inflate. As the vessel sinks further, the weak link will break, freeing the liferaft from the vessel.


Liferaft Stowage


Every liferaft or buoyant apparatus must be stowed so it can float free if the vessel sinks or capsizes.You can either place the liferaft in deep chocks without lashings, so it can float free if the vessel sinks, or secure it with lashings fitted with a hydrostatic release. The liferaft must be stowed well away from any fittings, rigging or any other thing that may prevent it from floating free and inflating. The liferaft must also be easy to access for manual release (consult Ship Safety Bulletin 07/2007: Inflatable Liferafts and Rescue Platforms: Stowage and Proper Access for more information).

To prevent a liferaft from being damaged or lost because of weather, it must be properly secured (if not in deep chocks). Be careful to secure the liferaft in a way that allows the hydrostatic release to work properly when needed. You must also make sure that the painter is properly secured to the vessel.

Lifebuoys and Buoyant Heaving Lines


When buying a lifebuoy, check to make sure it is approved by Transport Canada. It should bear an "Approved by the Department of Transport" marking and an approval number like this: ""

Lifebuoys approved for use on small commercial vessels must be at least 600 millimetres in diameter and be made of inherently buoyant material. If it doesn't already have one, you must attach the lifebuoy to a buoyant line of good quality that will not kink and is at least 9.5 millimetres in diameter and 15 metres long.

Approved lifebuoys have colours that are easy to see. Don't paint them or do anything else that may make them less visible. The name of your vessel should be marked on your lifebuoys.

Horseshoe lifebuoys are not approved for use on commercial vessels.

Buoyant Heaving Line

A fancy name for a floating rope, a buoyant heaving line has a soft buoyant mass on one end. You throw the line toward a person in the water for them to hold on to while you pull them alongside. It can be packed into a rescue throw bag to keep it from getting knotted and make it easy to throw.

Vessel Safety Equipment

Life-saving appliances are for personal safety; vessel safety equipment helps to preserve the vessel in the hope that you will not have to use the life-saving equipment.

Oars and Anchor

Your vessel must have a way to control drifting in case you lose your engine. This can be an anchor with a length of rope, chain or cable, or any combination of these, that suits the size of the vessel. If your vessel is not more than 9 metres long, you may carry a paddle or two oars and rowlocks or any other device that can be used to propel the vessel manually instead of the anchor.

Bailers and Manual Bilge Pumps

To be able to remove water from the hull, you must carry a manual bilge pump. If your vessel is not more than 9 metres long, you may carry a bailer instead of a pump. The bailer should be made of plastic or metal, have an opening of at least 65 square centimetres, and should be able to hold 750 millilitres or more.

Bilge Pumps

In addition to carrying a manual bilge pump, every vessel over 6 metres long must have bilge pumping arrangements that meet the construction requirements (see Pumping or Bailing System in Chapter 2).




Distress Alerting Equipment




If you run into trouble, this equipment allows you to let others know you need help. Please note that it is against the law to use flares and other distress signals, or make other signals that could be mistaken as distress signals, if you do not need help.

Visual Signals

All small commercial vessels must carry a watertight flashlight and flares. The number and type of flares required vary according to the size of the vessel. See Table 5-1 for details.

To be sure that the flashlight can be used as a signalling device, make sure the batteries are charged. It is a good idea to check the flashlight regularly and to keep spare batteries on hand.

Signalling with a flashlight will be more effective when there is little or no sunlight. During the day, you may wish to try other visual signals first.

To signal with a flashlight, aim it where you expect that it will be seen and flash it so as to attract attention. Using Morse code for SOS may help others understand that you need help. The pattern for SOS is: short, short, short; long, long, long; short, short, short. Pause and repeat.

Pyrotechnic Distress Signals (Flares)

In an emergency, flares can be very effective in letting others know that you need immediate help.

All flares must be clearly marked as being Transport Canada approved and must not have expired. Flares expire four years from the manufacture date stamped on them.

Flares are hazardous! Do not just throw them away. Dispose of old flares as directed by the manufacturer.

Hint: While you must have enough valid flares on board to meet regulatory requirements, you can keep expired flares on the vessel and use them first if you need to attract attention. If they work, you've saved your newer flares. Dispose of them properly when they start to show signs of deterioration.

Safety Measures and Use

  • Store flares in a watertight container to keep them dry.
  • Store flares in a place that is cool, dry, and easy to reach – away from any heat source.
  • Check flares regularly and replace them before they reach their expiry date.
  • Always shoot flares into the wind and away from the vessel at a 45-degree angle so it will drift back over your position.
  • Never use or store a flare close to flammable liquids or gas (e.g., propane, gas, oil).
  • If a flare does not work, dispose of it safely as soon as possible.
  • Train your crew to use flares.
  • Never point a flare at another person.
  • Always treat flares as explosive devices.

Types of Flares

1. Rocket Parachute Flares (Type A)

  • Ignition and the rocket are contained in a waterproof casing.
  • Launching rocket ignites flare and projects parachute with flare.
  • Reaches maximum height of 300 metres.
  • Flare burns bright red for at least 40 seconds.
  • Parachute deploys between 200 and 300 metres.
  • Visibility up to 20 nautical miles.
  • Used to alert rescuers who may be a long distance away – possibly over the horizon.

2. Multi-Star Flares (Type B)

  • Produces two or more bright red stars in rapid succession (maximum 15 seconds).
  • Reaches maximum height of 100 metres.
  • Each star burns for at least 4 seconds.
  • Automatic or cartridge firing device.
  • If cartridge, the package may instruct users to fire two signals within 15 seconds of each other.
  • Firing device and the cartridges, if any, should be waterproof and packed in a waterproof container.
  • Visibility up to 12 nautical miles.
  • Used to alert rescuers who may be a long distance away.

3. Hand Flares (Type C)

  • Hand-held red flare.
  • Burns for at least 1 minute.
  • Sheathed to prevent drips of burning material.
  • Limited surface visibility – used to alert rescuers who are within a few nautical miles.
  • Contained in a waterproof case.

4. Smoke Signal (Type D)

  • Can be either hand-held or buoyant.
  • Buoyant signal gives off a dense orange-coloured smoke for at least 3 minutes when floating in calm water.
  • Hand-held gives off a dense orange-coloured smoke for a period of at least 1 minute.
  • Mechanically ignited.
  • The buoyant type is effective when afloat in moderate seas.
  • Used as a day signal only.
  • Contained in a waterproof case.
Table 5-1: Required Safety Equipment
Vessel length 6 metres or less More than 6 but not more than 9 metres More than 9 but not more than 12 metres More than 12 metres
Transport Canada approved lifejacket, sized for each person on board
Marine emergency first aid kit (see Appendix 3 for required contents)
Reboarding device if vertical height to be climbed is more than 0.5 metre
Buoyant heaving line at least 15 metres long 1 2
Lifebuoy attached to buoyant line at least 15 metres long 1
Watertight flashlight
Flares 3 (other than smoke signals) 6 (other than smoke signals) 12 (no more than 6 of which may be smoke signals) 12 (no more than 6 of which may be smoke signals)
Liferaft 3 3 3
Manual propelling device (e.g. oars) 4 4
Anchor with at least the number of metres indicated of chain, rope or cable 4 (15 m ) 4 (15 m ) √ (30 m ) √ (50 m )
Manual bilge pump 5 5
Sound signalling device or appliance6 6 Appliance only
Navigation lights 7 7
Magnetic compass 8 8

1. May carry either heaving line or lifebuoy.
2. Buoyant line not required if lifebuoy is equipped with a self-igniting light.
3. Liferafts are required on:
• passenger-carrying vessels more than 8.5 metres long that operate:
- outside sheltered waters on the Atlantic, Pacific or Arctic coast;
- more than 2 nautical miles from the shore of lakes and rivers; or
- on the St. Lawrence River east of 70° 53' W ;
• workboats more than 12 metres long (a buoyant apparatus may be used instead of a liferaft if the water temperature is more than 15° C ); and
• tugs more than 8.5 metres long that carry more than one person.
4. May carry either a manual propelling device or an anchor.
5. May carry a bailer instead.
6. A sound signalling device is a pealess whistle or a compressed gas or electric horn. A sound signalling appliance is a whistle that meets the requirements of the Collision Regulations. An appliance is required on vessels less than 12 metres long that are ordinarily used for pushing or pulling floating objects outside warding or yarding operations.
7. If operated after sunset or before sunrise or in periods of restricted visibility.
8. A compass is not required on vessels 8 metres or less if they are always within sight of navigation marks.




Communication Equipment




VHF Radio – Making a Distress Call (MAYDAY) or Early Notification (PAN PAN)

Radio as distress alerting equipment is by far the best in terms of range and the ability to provide detailed information about the kind of problem you are facing. If you are not required to carry a radio, you might want to consider installing one simply for this reason. Remember, however, that any equipment that you carry must be in good working order, even if it is not required by regulation.

Two types of emergency radio signals are used:MAYDAY, for distress, and PAN PAN, for urgent messages. MAYDAY indicates a person or vessel is threatened by grave and imminent danger and requests immediate help. PAN PAN indicates a safety problem that does not require immediate assistance.

The recommended call format includes the word MAYDAY (or PAN PAN) spoken three times, followed by the vessel's name (or other unique identifier), also spoken three times, then MAYDAY (or PAN PAN) and the name or identifier again. Vital information, including the position, nature of the emergency, assistance required and the number of people on board, should follow. A typical message might be:

"MAYDAY, MAYDAY, MAYDAY, this is NONSUCH, NONSUCH, NONSUCH. MAYDAY, NONSUCH. Position 54 25 North 016 33 West. My boat is on fire and sinking. I require immediate assistance. Four people on board, are taking a lifeboat. OVER."

It is strongly recommended you report any situation that may present a danger to life, without delay. Early notification can be crucial to a positive outcome. You can use the PAN PAN radio signal for this purpose.

Take it with you: you can order free, water-resistant quick reference cards that you can keep near your radio to guide you in making a call for help. Search for Distress and Safety Radiotelephone Procedures ( TP 9878).

Locating Devices

If you are in trouble, the time it takes for Search and Rescue to reach you depends on where you are and how hard they have to look. A locator device such as an Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB) (see Chapter 10) or a Digital Selective Calling (DSC) radio connected to a Global Positioning System (GPS) will let authorities know your exact position.

Personal locator beacons can also be of use but they have limitations.They should be used with, not instead of, an EPIRB .

Fire Safety Equipment

Fire Extinguishers

The size and number of fire extinguishers required for commercial vessels depends on the size of the boat and its equipment. Portable fire extinguishers carry labels that indicate the size and type of fire that they can be expected to handle. Refer to the Small Vessel Regulations, for a table of equivalents for fire extinguishers.

Every fire extinguisher carries one or more letters, which tell you the kinds of fires it can be used on (see Fire Extinguisher Classification System) and a number that indicates the size of the fire it can put out. The higher the number, the larger the fire it can handle. To meet regulation requirements, your extinguisher must have all the letters and the same number or higher for the extinguisher set out in Table 5-2. Always remember that the requirements are the minimum – installing a 2:A 10:BC instead of a 1:A 10:BC will increase your ability to fight a Class A fire.

Marine Type Fire Extinguishers

A marine type fire extinguisher will be marked "marine listed" or " USCG approved" but to be compliant it must also be installed with an approved (strap-type) quick-release mounting bracket.

Many extinguishers come with the bracket as an option. Make sure you have the approved bracket to hold your extinguisher securely.

Inspect extinguishers each month to make certain seals and tamper indicators are not broken or missing. Check the pressure gauge to make sure that tank pressure is fine as well. Mount fire extinguishers with an appropriate bracket from the extinguisher manufacturer that keeps them from being damaged or misplaced but allows them to be put into action quickly. Turn over and shake dry chemical extinguishers from time to time so that their contents do not become compacted by the motion of the vessel. Replace cracked or broken hoses and look for damage such as corrosion, leaks or clogging.

Marine type fire extinguishers are required. Do not keep extinguishers that use CO2 or other gas harmful to humans in or near spaces normally occupied by passengers or crew. Do use extinguishers with CO2 or other gas with similar fire smothering capability for enclosed engine spaces that will not have people in them. Some dry chemical extinguishers may be corrosive for metal such as aluminum. Consider all these factors before selecting the proper fire extinguisher.

The Small Vessel Regulations and the Construction Standards for Small Vessels ( TP 1332) also address fixed extinguishing systems. Even if your vessel has one, you must also carry the required portable extinguishers.

Fire Extinguisher Classification System

The class of fire extinguisher is based on the type of fire it puts out.

Class A Fire
A fire involving wood, cloth, paper, rubber and some plastics.

Class B Fire
A fire involving flammable liquids, gases, greases and paint.

Class C Fire
A fire involving live electrical wires or equipment.

Class D Fire
A fire involving combustible metals such as magnesium, sodium or potassium.

Class K Fire
A fire involving combustible cooking products such as vegetable or animal oil. A Class K may be substituted for a Class B in a cooking area.




Controlling a Fire




Read the instructions on your fire extinguishers and make sure you understand how they work.

If a fire starts, grab the fire extinguisher, activate it and direct it at the base of the flames using short bursts and sweeping the hose from side to side.

If a fire starts while underway:

  • Use extinguishers and/or fire buckets to control the fire (or the fixed extinguishing system if installed in the space).
  • Send out a distress signal.
  • Position your boat so the fire is downwind.
  • Order passengers and crew that are not fighting the fire to put on lifejackets.
  • If the fire is located in the engine space, stop the engine, shut off the fuel source and close the engine space ventilation.
  • Consider evacuation if the fire is spreading quickly or cannot be brought under control.

Fibreglass boat owners should remember that fibreglass burns, and take extra care, as for a wooden vessel.

Table 5-2: Required Fire Fighting and Detection Equipment
Vessel length 6 metres or less More than 6 but not more than 9 metres More than 9 but not more than 12 metres More than 12 metres
General use fire extinguisher1 One 1A:5B:C One 2A:10B:C One 2A:10B:C One 2A:20B:C
Additional extinguishers
  • if vessel equipped with fuel burning cooking, heating or refrigerating appliance
One 1A:5B:C One 2A:10B:C One 2A:10B:C

One 2A:20B:C

at each access to any space equipped with fuel burning cooking, heating or refrigerating appliance

  • at entrance to the engine space
  One 10B:C One 10B:C One 20B:C
  • at entrance to each accommodation space
      One 2A:20B:C
Engine space port and dedicated CO2 or equivalent fire extinguisher 2      
Fixed fire extinguishing system   3 3
Fire axe     One One
Fire bucket(s)     One Two
Fire pump, hose and nozzle4      
Temperature detector – Engine space 5      
Temperature and rate of heat rise detector – Engine space   6 6 6
Smoke detectors – Accommodation and service spaces 7 7 7 8

1. Not required if the vessel is not power-driven and does not have an electrical system.
2. Must have a clearly labelled port or other way of discharging a properly sized fire extinguisher directly into any enclosed engine space without opening the primary access to the space. This extinguisher is in addition to all other extinguishers required in the table. (See Fire Safety in Chapter 2 for further details on construction requirements.) A fixed fire fighting system may be installed instead of the engine space port.
3. May use the engine space port described above if the engine space is less than 8 m3 (based on a CO2 extinguisher containing 10 kg of gas), depending on the extinguisher type and size.
4. Power-driven pump located outside the engine space with enough hose to be able to direct the water jet into any part of the vessel.
5. Connected to a remote alarm at the operating position as per the Small Vessel Regulations. Not required on a vessel in which the engine is enclosed by boxing in such a manner that a fire would be immediately apparent to a person at the operating position.
6. Connected to a fire alarm panel as per the Construction Standards for Small Vessels.
7. Stand-alone installation (alarm and power).
8. Connected to the fire alarm panel on all passenger-carrying vessels and on workboats with overnight accommodations.

More Information

To consult your local Transport Canada Centre, see Appendix 2.


9. Made of buoyant material; does not need to be inflated to float. ^
10. Meets the requirements of the Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS). ^
11. Servicing requirements are currently in section 2 of Schedule IV of the Life Saving Equipment Regulations; however, this may change when the regulations are updated. ^


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