Liferaft testing: Meet the storm chasers

A sea trial is the ultimate test to ensure that safety equipment can save lives in harsh weather conditions. This type of trial places heavy demands on both the products and the people performing them.

Sea trials are performed in northern waters – typically at depths of 200-300 meters off the coasts of Norway, the Shetland Islands, the Faroe Islands, and Iceland. Responsibility for conducting sea trials lies with the Development Test and Verification (DTV) department.

During a heavy weather sea trial, test participants are stationed for more than two weeks in challenging conditions on a mother ship with a shared bath and toilet – in other words, a job demanding more than a fair share of perseverance. On the other hand, it’s also the epitome of VIKING’s values about saving lives.

"It’s interesting that we can calculate and learn a great deal while on land, but you can never prepare for what you’ll encounter at sea – it’s often full of surprises and you risk getting bashed around by waves, currents, and other conditions. It’s also amazing that we’re actually landlubbers, but strong seafarers by nature, and that’s a must because it’s incredibly demanding to participate in the sea trials."

Knud-Erik Lausten, Engineering Team Lead DTV

Kasper is a seasoned pro

Knud-Erik generally divides the sea trial crew into three categories: The newbies tagging along as observers, those who are more experienced and can perform tasks on the deck, and the seasoned pros capable of doing the difficult work on fast rescue boats (FRB) and down in the liferafts. Kasper Grønne Larsen belongs to the latter

“Many who come out here say that they never want to do it again – and we respect that. You have to be able to rely on each other when you’re working at sea. I think it’s exciting to be a part of the entire development process and to ultimately see first-hand how the product performs when it is needed in difficult weather conditions,” says Kasper Grønne Larsen, who joined VIKING over a decade ago and quickly ventured offshore to test safety equipment.

The perfect test...

Knud Erik vividly recalls the last trip in an extensive series of sea trials that finally led to the approval of the VIKING LifeCraft™ as a Novel Life-Saving Appliance.

“The sea trial involved testing how well the LifeCraft™ system performs in high winds, stormy seas, and extreme weather conditions. We launched the LifeCraft™ with the ship heading 3 knots up against the wind, exposing the system to the full force of the fierce weather in the most critical test phase. We then demonstrated – with a simulated dead ship condition – that the fully loaded system provides a safe and stable means of evacuation in both the weather and lee side for several hours.”

Heavy weather sea trial facts

A sea trial requires considerable wave heights of at least 3.0 meters and a wind force of 6 on the Beaufort scale. VIKING strives for an average wave height of 3.5 meters and a wind force of 7-8 – otherwise known as a gale – for greater certainty that the weather conditions meet the SOLAS test requirements for several hours. A support ship accompanies the team in the test area and is responsible for ensuring that everything remains safe.

“In addition, we quickly and successfully maneuvered the LifeCraft™ survival craft on both sides of the vessel to a safe distance, demonstrating their built-in flexibility to move rescue capacity to wherever it is most needed.

Simulating station-keeping while waiting for rescue, we performed a 24-hour controlled drift test in the battering seas with no damage sustained to the survival craft.”

Heavy weather is exactly what nature delivered at the testing location that we managed to track down in the North Sea between southern Norway and the United Kingdom. In fact, after being ballasted with 70 tons to simulate full capacity, the LifeCraft™ was subjected to brutal wind gusts with speeds of up to 18 m/s in addition to significant wave heights of between 3.6 and 4.6 meters.

... and the perfect storm

Towering peak waves of 10 meters greatly exceeded the required 3 meters needed for the trials, with the personnel from VIKING and DNV GL (attending on behalf of the Danish Maritime Authority) battling sea-sickness and heaving decks to conclude the tests.

The trial also afforded crew members the opportunity to demonstrate, under extreme conditions, the flexibility, and capability of the chute arrangements that provide a controlled vertical passage from the embarkation point to the survival craft. All landed safely at the expected evacuation speed, dry and unbrushed by the elements.

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