What is an Escape Hatch?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

An escape hatch is a type of emergency exit. Hatches are used when other means of egress are not available. They can be designed in several different ways, and are used on boats, planes, and submarines in addition to structures. Usually escape hatches are clearly marked with signage which indicates how they should be used and provides information clearly indicating that the hatch is a usable exit designed for emergencies only.

Woman posing
Woman posing

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

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

The opening is classically narrow, designed to accommodate rapid evacuation of people, not belongings. In emergency situations, people should not attempt to take belongings with them, and they should avoid inflating life vests until they are outside the escape hatches, as they may not be able to fit through the opening with an inflated vest on. It is also important to keep the area around the hatch clear at all times so that the escape hatch will be accessible if there is a problem.

In any space, people should familiarize themselves with the openings and exits available. People should think about what they would do if the space was dark, smoky, or otherwise altered, so that they can find a means of escape quickly. It can also be a good idea to review the directions for opening an escape hatch so that in the event they are not readable, people will not be stuck on the wrong side of the hatch because they cannot open it. Most craft and facilities also have staff who are trained for emergency situations, and people should pay attention when given directions by staff members.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


We spend a lot of time on the water and I grew up being around boats for as long as I can remember.

One thing that I make sure all my kids know how to operate is the boat hatch. Thankfully, this is something that we have never had to use, but it is important for them to know about.

They are not allowed to drive the boat until they have gone through my boat safety course. Knowing where the hatch it, why it is there and how to operate it is all part of the training.

I feel this is just as important as boat regulations, wearing a life jacket and knowing how to drive the boat. When it comes to a matter of possible lives being saved, there is no reason not to know where the escape hatch is and how to operate it.


Reading this article reminds me of the instructions flight attendants give you at the beginning of every flight.

I know I am guilty of not paying attention to this information. For one thing, I have heard it many times before, and I also have the mind set that nothing is going to happen.

When I really stop and think about it, I really don't know for sure what I would do if there was an emergency.

I know if you are sitting on an exit row, you are asked if you know what you need to do in case of emergency. If not, they will move you to another seat.

I have never seen anyone tell them no, but really wonder if they understand all that is involved. Just relying on other people around me to know what is going on is really not a good idea.

Next time I fly, I am going to pay a little bit more attention to those instructions and make sure I know how to escape in case of an emergency.

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