Lifeboats Game Rules and How to Play Guide

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In this article, you can read about the basic rules of the game Lifeboats and learn how to play. The object of the game is to score the most points by safely bringing your pawns to one of three islands.

Officers and Sailors

You have two types of pawns officers and sailors. Officers are the larger pieces and are worth more on each Island. Layout the board and each player chooses a color and receives the pawns, boat, and identify our chip of that color. Do not put the identifier chip in the boat as they could risk getting stuck. These are the show what color you are throughout the game.

If you are playing with five or six players each player receives four sailors instead of five. Each player receives one color card for each color and three captain’s hat cards. Place the blue leaks to the side of the board using the colored identifier chips randomly pick one player to go first. This player receives the black start player token.

Game Start

Beginning with the start player and proceeding clockwise, each player places their boat on any of the starting spaces. After everyone has played, the player with the start token places the black boat in any remaining space.

Next, beginning with the start player each player takes turns placing one of their officers or sailors into any lifeboat of their choice one at a time until all pawns are placed. The game now begins.


Almost everything in the game is determined by voting. Using your colored cards players votes are kept facedown until everyone is ready. Then, they reveal together and the majority decides the outcome.

Any time there is a tie in votes then the start player decides the outcome between the tied options. You are encouraged to talk and persuade players as much as you like before voting.

Turn Phases

There are three phases in a turn. One lifeboat receives a leak, one lifeboat moves, pawns change boats.

Phase One

In phase one every player must vote on which boat will receive a leak. If the chosen boat has any empty spaces in it then the leak is automatically placed there and you move to Phase two. If every seat in the boat is taken by either a pawn or leak then the players in that boat and only those players must vote on which color to throw overboard.

During this vote, each officer counts as two votes and each sailor counts as one. So, the more pawns you have in a boat the more voting power you have.

A sailor must always be thrown overboard before an officer of the same color. If there is a tie then the start player decides the outcome of the tide options. Even if he doesn’t have a pawn present in the boat. If ever at the end of any phase a lifeboat has more leaks than pawns, then the lifeboat sinks. Remove the boat and any pawns in that boat from the game.

Phase two

Everyone votes and one boat must move one space forward. If a boat reaches the island place all the pawns from that boat onto the island. Remove the boat and place it sideways at the edge of the board in ascending sequence.

Phase Three

In Phase three pawns change boats. Beginning with the start player, every player removes one of their pawns from any lifeboat and places it behind that boat. Only one pawn may leave each lifeboat.

If you only have pawns in boats already deboarded then you may not move pawns this turn and are skipped. Now, in reverse order, starting with the last player players must move their pawn into a different boat. A pawn may not return to the lifeboat it was removed from.

If there are no other boats available to the board, then the pawn is removed from the game. If after phase three there are boats with more leaks than sailors than these lifeboats sink.

End of the Game

The round is now over. Past the start player token clockwise to the next player. Each player has three captain’s hats. These cards can each be used once during the voting process to outvote all the other players allowing you to determine the outcome.

If multiple players play a captain’s hat at the same time then they cancel each other out and normal voting resumes. If all players play the captain’s hats then the start player decides the outcome.

Each time a captain’s hat is played remove it from the game. When all lifeboats have made it to an island or our sunk the game ends. Players add up the points for every pawn on each respective island.

The player with the most points wins. If there is a tie then whoever votes among the tied players arrived first to the island wins. If all the tied player’s boat sank then all the tied players win.

Lifeboats Game on the Market

The board game Lifeboats is on the market in many versions. The one that I refer to in this article I link to here:

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