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.
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.