What Is an Escape Hatch? Definition, Meaning and Concept

An escape hatch is a type of emergency exit. Hatches are used when no other means of egress are available. They can be designed in a number of different ways, and are used on ships, planes, and submarines, as well as structures. Escape hatches are typically clearly marked with signage indicating how they are to be used and providing information that clearly indicates the hatch is a usable exit designed for emergencies only.

In the most basic sense, an escape hatch is simply a hatch. Escape hatches can also be designed to open into airlocks or other types of chambers for security, and can be sealed with gaskets and locking mechanisms designed to maintain security in non-emergency situations. The hatch is usually left closed, and in some cases may actually be a breakaway panel rather than a more traditional hinged opening.

Using an escape hatch is usually designed to be easy so that people can do it quickly and operate the hatch in a panic. The instructions are typically step by step, showing people each thing they need to do to open the hatch. Opening a hatch may require two hands and some strength, depending on how it's designed, and opening a hatch may activate safety devices such as beacons, an inflatable raft, etc.

The opening is classic and narrow, designed to accommodate the rapid evacuation of people, not belongings. In emergency situations, people should not try to take their belongings, and should avoid inflating life jackets until they are outside the escape hatches, as they may not be able to get through the opening with an inflated jacket. It is also important to keep the area around the hatch clear at all times so that the escape hatch can be accessed if there is a problem.

In any space, people should become familiar with the available openings and exits. People should think about what they would do if the space was dark, smoky, or otherwise disturbed, so they can quickly find a means of escape. It may also be a good idea to review the instructions for opening an escape hatch so that if they are not legible, people don't get stuck on the wrong side of the hatch because they can't open it. Most vessels and facilities also have trained personnel for emergency situations, and people must pay attention when given instructions by staff members.