Michelson Lifeboat Drill

By international convention ships are supposed to conduct a lifeboat drill within 24 hours after leaving port. These are sometimes called muster or abandon ship drills. Cruise ships commonly hold a drill before departing. Upon hearing the whistle signal, six short blasts followed by one long one, everyone on board was supposed to grab their life jackets and head for their assigned boat.

Michelson carried six lifeboats, four of which were cargo ship originals and two added at the time of its conversion to a survey ship. I was assigned to the number three boat, the second one on the starboard side. My boat was propelled by a system of mechanical oars that turned a propeller. Everyone was supposed to push and pull in unison to operate this "fleming gear". Those assigned to the number one boat were luckier: it had an engine!

In a practical sense, these drills were held to satisfy legal requirements. The boat davits were checked and winch motors tested but seldom did we put boats in the water. One problem was that we navy guys stored our life jackets in our staterooms. Upon hearing the drill signal, everyone had to dash to the living quarters to retrieve their life jackets then go up to the 01 level for muster and head count. To get to my lifeboat from where I worked in survey control, adjacent to the pilot house on 03, I had to go down four decks, grab my life jacket, then back up two decks to the 01 level.

Another kind of drill that the navy calls "general quarters" was held less often. My station for such emergencies was down in the engine room. On one occasion another guy and I were supposed to haul some poor oiler or wiper strapped into a basket stretcher up a vertical ladder up to the main deck. This did not turn out well. Neither of us were strong enough and finally we were told to give up.