They say that you should always step up into a liferaft. I was puzzled by this statement but having spent a day on a sea survival course understanding the basics in more detail and an afternoon splashing around in the pool in full waterproofs, lifejacket and a liferaft, I can now fully understand that statement in full graphic detail – STAY WITH YOUR BOAT FOR AS LONG AS YOU CAN !
A liferaft is not a toy that the the kids play with in the pool on holiday, but is an absolute last resort of survival if you have to evacuate your boat. Seasickness is inevitable, there are no paper bags or shiny white thrones to use, you will be wet, cold, tired, cramped and frankly s**t scared senseless. That’s the good news, it means you have survived cold water shock, not inhaled a s**t load of sea water when gasping for breath to cope with the shock and the onset of secondary drowning hasn’t happened yet !,
Personally I hope to never been in that scenario, never ever ever. What you don’t know is if you will be in the 10% of people that react calmly, the 75% of people who need guidance and leadership or the 15% of people who lose all control of mind and body and make the situation even worse ?!. However, having gone through the training, having a basic sense of what to do, my chances and other crew mates of staying alive an extra hour or day have probably marginally improved but frankly who knows, I lose my mind when I can’t find the TV remote control let alone a boat in extreme circumstances.
The good news is that statistically 99.9 % of the time you can go on the water and never experience a serious problem that will require a rescue or survival situation.
An interesting stat, 60% of drownings occur within 3 metres of safety and 50% of those who die are fully clothed. I read into that, that drinking on the pontoon and drunk tendering with or without lifejackets on, or overloading the dingy is not a great idea regardless of how many beers you may have had.
The recommendation is that you are always prepared, do not become complacent and have a set of communications options to raise the alarm and call for help, along with the necessary equipment to keep you alive until the Calvary arrives to fish you out of the sea. The progression in technology has really helped, learnings from previous disasters in the Fastnet race 1979 and Sydney Hobart race of 1998 has driven a dramatic improvement in training and awareness but you have to be mindful that you generally pay for what you get in the marine industry and in the time of need, that extra £50 option doesn’t become a lifetime regret.
Personally a VHF radio is an absolute must to raise the alarm, there are no guarantees with your mobile phone at sea, Siri will be next to useless in a crisis. I would also put an EPIRB (emergency positioning indicating radio beacon) in that bracket of must have as well, knowing that once you pull the pin, an alert will be raised with your location to the right rescue services – help should in theory be in its way !. It’s debatable whether you should also personally carry a location beacon and or an AIS (automatic identification system) both have their merits but both don’t transmit well when its antenna is submerged in water, kind of defeats the object in my opinion if you stay with the boat – a cynic would say its a good insurance policy to ensure your body is found.
If you do decide to leave the boat and are either in the water or in a liferaft then it’s probably best to be in a mindset of acceptance that you are in a really s***ty place but you have a steely will to survive. A grab bag with essentials accompanying you will help, as long as you have thought in advance what you might need, it will be a balance of how much you can carry of the essentials against trying to pack everything including the kitchen sink you might need. It’s fair to say that life will be horrific at that point but you are not a survivor until rescued and there are some crazy stats of people who have made it off the boat to the liferaft to then be killed whilst being rescued – the advice is always stay in control of your rescue and climbing up a cargo net on the side of a tanker is strictly for Hollywood movies only.
The main point is to keep communicating and once the rescue experts arrive, become compliant to their instructions. No last minute heroics, you are very nearly home safe and dry as long as the affectionate name for the ‘dope on a rope’ doesn’t drop you whilst trying to winch you into the helicopter.
I recommend to anyone who is keen boater to do a sea survival course, you never ever know….. I am in total awe of the knowledge of the instructor and scared enough to have a huge amount of respect for saftety of life at sea.
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