In case of an emergency evacuation on water, it is important to provide accessible rescue boats to accommodate persons with disabilities (in particular persons using wheelchairs) and other persons with mobility limitations.
Key features of accessible rescue vessels are:
- The boat’s cockpit is flat (a stable and even base facilitates mobility for all users), non-slippery — the floor is made of a material that ensures good adhesion, even in wet conditions (e.g. Flexiteek) — and have a simple, readable layout. The entrance can be marked with colour and specific material.
- Remotely controlled, rotary (allows to reduce the offset between the harbour and the gangway), with handrails on both sides (for safety reasons), ensuring that the gap between the gangway and the harbour is as small as possible.
- Passage width is at least 750 mm — most of the manual wheelchairs would fit properly with adequate space reserve.
- Handrails on a proper height (even more convenient are handrails on two different heights) are installed. The 750 mm-height handrail makes moving around easier for a wheelchair user, while the 1100 mm — handrail helps everyone else in a standing position who needs support (e.g. older people).
- There is a place of at least 1500mm in diameter, where the user of the wheelchair can perform a full rotation. This is especially important in difficult weather conditions, when mobility may decide on the safety of the cruise. Multiple such spaces could be included, but the limited size of the boat and the presence of other passengers have to be accounted for.
- All pieces of furniture should be free from protruding elements. Rounding and undercutting significantly save space while turning the wheelchair. Undercutting is a method applied to prevent the wheelchair user’s feet from hooking and blocking.
- Wheelchair users should have the freedom to decide whether to stay or to transfer from the wheelchair, but the storage space should be always close at hand. Ideally, the wheelchair can be put aside in a place where it would not affect the flow of passenger traffic on the boat.
- The floor and bulwark have contrasting colours, which helps people with visual impairments. For example, the bulwark could be bright and the deck dark, making the difference between them visible. The direction of the route and the boundaries of the boat can be communicated via well-placed lights. Highlighting furniture from the bottom may improve the visibility of the cockpit while keeping the light source discreet.
Rescue teams or individuals assisting persons with disabilities in evacuation should be prepared in inclusive evacuation techniques. If this is not possible, ask persons with disabilities about the best way to board the vessel.