Students volunteer on a life raft for safety research - Tossing around some research

Students spent some time in a wave tank for a study into improving life raft safety.

A group of Memorial University's School of Human Kinetics and Recreation students are spending some time in a wave tank as researchers are looking at ways of improving life raft safety for those who work or travel on the ocean. A consortium of research organizations, including Memorial University, is studying the technology, human factors and training that determine the operational performance of inflatable life rafts. Currently, this research involves students from the School of Human Kinetics and Recreation spending at least two hours (and sometimes up to 12 hours) in a 16-person life raft in the Offshore Engineering Basin at the NRC Institute for Ocean Technology. Add to that, one-metre waves and having to conduct cognitive tasks while being tossed around.

António Simões Ré of the NRC Institute for Ocean Technology is the project manager. He says that the absence of data on performance, especially in differing weather conditions, weakens decision-making in search and rescue operations. Specifically, the two and a half year study is gathering information on how life rafts perform as weather deteriorates, the physical and cognitive demands upon the crew, and how training should be adapted. Researchers say undertaking the experiments at sea with human subjects would be unsafe but facilities such as the 75 by 32 metre wave tank at NRC allow observation under controlled environmental conditions. Mr. Simões Ré says the end results of this study will be increased survival time and reduction of risk to search and rescue personnel.

Life raft performance is one component of the Escape, Evacuation and Rescue (EER) Project, a multi-year, multi-partner research collaboration managed by the NRC Institute for Ocean Technology and Memorial University of Newfoundland. Requirements for marine safety equipment are growing rapidly in the Canadian offshore oil and gas industry, as well as other sectors of the marine industry.

The project is using nearly $1 million of funding from Fisheries and Oceans Canada and more than $1 million of in-kind contributions from the research partners including the NRC Institute for Ocean Technology, Memorial University's Faculty of Engineering and its School of Human Kinetics and Recreation, and the Marine Institute's Offshore Safety and Survival Centre. Members of the research team from Memorial include Dr. Brian Veitch of the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science, Dr. Scott MacKinnon of the School of Human Kinetics and Recreation, and James Boone and Rob Brown of MI's Offshore Safety and Survival Centre.