Failure of lifeboat winch brake on research vessel Marine Explorer with 2 people injured

Location: Harwich, England.

Accident Investigation Report 2/2002

Read our marine accident investigation report, which includes what happened, actions taken and recommendations:

marine-explorer.pdf (118.72 kb)


On 14 March 2001, the 2,198gt UK registered research vessel Marine Explorer was berthed port side alongside Parkeston Quay, Harwich, UK. The vessel’s port lifeboat had been returned, by lorry, to the quayside following repairs to its suspension hooks. While the lifeboat was still on the lorry, two crewmen climbed into the lifeboat to secure lifting gear and remained inside while a mobile crane lifted it from the lorry and suspended it vertically beneath the heads of the davit’s arms on the port side of the vessel. Welded repairs had recently been made to these davit arms.

The davits winch was then used to hoist the lifeboat and this continued until the lifeboat had almost reached its fully stowed position, at which point the winch motor’s limit switch shut off power, as designed. The winch then began to run out, the davit arms swung out and then the lifeboat was lowered until it struck the edge of the quayside despite efforts to apply the winch’s brake, the lifeboat continued into the water. The two crewmen in the lifeboat were slightly injured.

Safety Issues

  • the winch ran away because its hand-operated brake had been assembled incorrectly
  • no risk assessment was undertaken before the operations began


Recommendations have been made to the vessels owners to issue instructions that for planned maintenance and non-emergency activities, no personnel are to be in lifeboats, or on any other item supported by testable load bearing systems, unless and until that system has been fully and satisfactorily tested under load, and for proper functioning, as required by the relevant regulations. Furthermore, the owners are to place onboard the vessel data pertaining to vessel winch maintenance, adjustment and repair so as to be available to ship’s staff and others who might undertake work on the lifeboat winches.

Published 23 January 2015