Abandoning the Ship
Many ships sink in less than 15 minutes leaving little time to formulate an action plan. To be ready in an emergency it is essential to preplan carefully. When abandoning a ship, remember:
Wear as much warm clothing as possible covering the head, neck, hands and feet. Put an immersion suit over the clothing if it is available and if it does not have inherent flotation, put on a life jacket and correctly secure it.
For persons likely to be affected by sea sickness should take some prescribed medicine before or immediately after boarding the survival craft. Seasickness interferes with your survival chances through incapacitation from vomiting which removes precious body fluids. It also makes one prone to hypothermia.
Board a Davit-launched survival craft on the embarkation deck and avoid entering the water. In case the Davit-launched survival craft is unavailable use over-side ladders or lower yourself with a rope or fire hose if necessary.
Don’t attempt to swim while afloat in the water unless it is to reach a nearby craft, a fellow survivor or a floating object on which you can lean or climb. Unnecessary swimming increases the rate of body heat loss by pumping out warm water between your body and layers of clothing. Also, the movements of your arms and legs send warm blood from the inner core to the outer core resulting in rapid heat loss.
Float with your legs together, elbows close to your side and arms folded across the front of the life jacket and keep still as this helps conserve heat. It also minimizes exposure of the body surface to the cold water. Keep your head and neck out of the water.
To shorten the immersion time, board a lifeboat, raft, or other floating platforms or objects as soon as possible. The body heat loss is faster in water than in air since the effectiveness of your insulation has been reduced by water soaking. However, to avoid a wind-chill effect (convective cooling) try shielding yourself from the wind using a canvas cover or tarpaulin or an unused garment. Also, huddling together in a lifeboat conserves body heat.
To improve your chances of prolonging your survival, keep a positive attitude about your survival and rescue.
Action in the water
Staying in the water for long makes the body loose heat rapidly to the surrounding water. It should be crucially avoided as it leads to hypothermia (exposure to cold), unconsciousness and death. Extra clothing delays the start of hypothermia. As soon as you board a life raft try to stay near the boat as searches will easily spot it better than spot you. Also, it offers the closest position reported in the distress call.
Incase life rafts are unavailable; do not swim aimlessly as it increases heat loss. Keep still and use flotation to keep high in the water. This can be done by inflating the external bladder on your exposure suit by means of the mouth tube or get on top of floating debris (a lifebuoy, a board or a corpse).
Use the H.E.L.P. (Heat Escape Lessening Posture) technique in case an exposure suit is not available and if your exposure suit of PFD is obtainable and has a whistle attached, use it to attract attention as it lets others determine your location, though you may not be visible. It is advisable to prepare and use other signaling devices in your personal survival kit wisely to boost chances of rescue.
To help maintain morale and also decrease heat loss, huddle together in the water with other survivors. This also makes it easy to be spotted and to keep safe.
Boarding the raft from the water
Use the boarding ladder and lifelines at the raft entrance to pull yourself in head first and get your upper body aboard. Also, bob down and use the buoyancy of the PFD or exposure suit to help you lift out of the water. When you are safely on the buoyancy tube, use the internal life lines to pull yourself all the way in. it is advisable to use the boarding ladder and lifelines rather than the canopy as it could be torn by your weight.
Getting an injured man into the raft
Perhaps a crewmate is injured and is unable to help himself aboard the raft, avoid aggravating his injuries whilst you pull him in. He must face the raft until his upper body is aboard so as to avoid further harm incase he has sustained a back injury. Then once his hips rest on the buoyancy tube, turn him gently until he is on his back and then pull him into the raft. Let him lie on his back until you have assessed the extent of his injuries.
Righting a capsized raft
Carefully swim to the side marked ‘Right Here’. If there isn’t, go to the side with the CO2 cylinder and maneuver the cylinder of the raft so that it is down wind. Then reach out your hand, grab the righting strip and start pulling yourself up onto the raft. Kicking your feet out as if swimming or putting your feet or knees into the external lifelines, helps to better pull yourself up on the raft.
Once the canopy is clear of the water the raft begins to follow. Be careful of the raft landing on top of you though the bottom of the raft is soft and flexible. As an air pocket forms around your head, face upwards and catch a breath of air before you pull yourself out from underneath. Carry out this facing upwards so that the PFD or exposure suit doesn’t get hang up.
Righting a capsized raft with the water trapped in the canopy
However difficult, pull the capsized raft over using as many people as possible to pull the righting string and if this fails cut a hole in the nun-vulnerable part of the canopy. Avoid deflating it.
Surviving aboard the life raft
Remain secured to the boat, if it remains afloat, until it gets hazardous to stay there any longer. When afloat, it is a potential form of shelter whereas if it sinks in shallow water, it may serve as an anchor for the life raft. It also keeps you close to the distress position and makes it easier to spot you visually or on radar.
Safely use the safety knife stowed near the entrance, if need arises. In case there are several rafts in the water, tie them together with doubled rescue line but leave enough slack between the rafts in case there are heavy seas. The raft includes a survival pack that entails a whistle and a flashlight that aid in night searches or as signaling devices to help in looking for survivors or calling for help. If it is necessary to swim to a survivor, use a safety line since the raft drifts faster than you swim.
Once the raft is free of the vessel, ensure your anchor or drogue has been deployed as rafts drift rapidly and this reduces the drift rate and assists the search by keeping you in the distress position. Some rafts deploy the sea anchor automatically. Keep the cold out by closing the entrance of the liferaft, leaving only a small ventilation space. In tropical climates, the water under the raft will help cool the inside of the raft so rafts offer the choice of pumping the floor with air using a hand pump. Ensure the life raft is not damaged or leaking.
Sea sickness causes loss of body fluids and incapacitation hence it is advisable to take sea sickness tablets as soon as possible. In case an EPIRB is available to you leave it on and if you are in possession of a hand held VHF radio, transmit distress messages to help rescuers to home-in on your location. Sparingly use distress flares and rockets in case of a likelihood of being seen by aircrafts.
To avoid loss of your gear in case of the raft capsizing or being swamped, strap down everything. Metal pedals can be used to reflect radar signals, if metal radar reflectors are unavailable. Distress signal such as flashlight batteries must be conserved and used reasonably. Usually the whistle is used regularly.
Use of a sea anchor or drogue
A life raft must have a sea anchor or drogue to reduce the rate of drift away from a distress position and thus reduce the search area. When the raft is launched, a drogue attached to a strong point on a raft and calmly lashed, is released automatically. A drogue should be used constantly and inspected frequently. A spare should be kept with the other equipment.
Varying the point of attachment is used to change the position of the raft openings relative to the sea and therefore help get more shelter and better ventilation.
Incase both drogues are lost; jury-rig another using the available resources on the raft. For example; lifejackets, clothing, sections of a raft canister if it’s retained or using two buckets and a heaving line while the bight of the heaving line is inboard, fasten each end to the handle of a bucket and pay out a bucket for every bow.
Prior to now, life-raft drogues were not rigged with tripping lines although they are now being installed on all coast guard approved rafts. In case the trip line is missing and the need arises to increase the rate of drift, haul the life raft up to the drogue which must be then removed from the water.
Treat all injuries
Treat all injuries with the exclusion of CPR due to the soft nature of the rafts floor. To remedy this, CPR can be performed by laying the victim with his back on top of another crew member. The crew member should then attempt to compress the chest of the victim by wrapping his arms around his chest and applying pressure.
Should a person be recovered from the water drowning, mouth to mouth rescue breathing should be started immediately and should continue until the victim recovers. It’s been known to have people recover after being submerged in the water for over an hour due to a body response known as the mammalian diving reflex, a response that allows mammals such as the whale to survive under water over long periods of time.
Initial situation in the liferaft
After abandoning ship and aboard a life raft, the survivors will be cold, wet and exhausted. This is likely to lead to mental and physical breakdown causing one to collapse. In this situation, decide the order in which to tackle your problems while giving precedence to shelter and inventory. Make sure that all survivors have found the raft. Make the raft a habitable shelter by insulating it against the cold.
Treat any injuries and address all issues that may cause sickness. Examine the supplies and equipment aboard the life-raft and familiarize yourself with the directions and instructions provided.Assign duties and responsibilities to the survivors aboard.
Preservation of body heat
Cold is the greatest threat thus all water should be cleared out of the raft so as to dry out the interior. Replace any wet clothing and if fresh clothing is not available, wring the wet clothes and dry them out before putting them back on. Clothing should be shared among survivors. The injured should be availed sufficient clothing while those on lookout duty should be provided with waterproof and windproof attire.
When the raft is dry, try to raise the body temperature of the survivors, which is crucial for people who have had prolonged immersion in the water. This helps prevent against immersion foot/trench foot. So, close the canopy entrances inflate the floor and huddle the survivors together so as to conserve, generate and transmit heat inside the raft. Tests in sub-zero temperatures have shown that the temperature inside a life-raft can be raised to 16ºC / 60ºF inside an hour.
Leadership and morale
Great leadership builds morale and is crucial for survival so the leader must take it upon him to organize the survivors and keep them calm and comfortable. The vessels’ officer is normally the leader unless injured or otherwise in which case another leader arises. The leader should be one in the best physical and emotional state so as to establish the priorities while maintaining morale.
The leader must communicate with the survivors on board to maintain hope as well as order to determine who is in the best shape to perform vital tasks. A leader should eradicate any signs of fear and panic. Use the materials available to assure survivors of shelter, means of signaling, food and water. Companionship and discipline are crucial. Deal with anyone who loses his calm so that they do not disrupt the crew. It may help to give them an aimless task to keep their mind off the dismay.
Despite leadership being the greatest role, all the survivors should strive to maintain a positive attitude and perform assigned tasks. Prior preparation and training helps deal with such situations since people with foreknowledge of survival tactics can focus on constructive tasks which are likely to help in the end game.
Establish the routine
A disciplined routine not only helps work get done but also focuses on survival. Assign one-hour watches in pairs of crew members with one manning the outside and one manning the inside.
- Search for ships, aircrafts, survivors and wreckage that could be useful.
- Signal using a mirror all round the horizon. Chances are someone could spot you before you spot them
- Look out for land during the day and listen for surf during the night.
- Maintenance of the life raft which includes bailing, drying and ventilation
- Addressing the injuries of the wounded.
- Maintaining the equipment aboard.
- Keep rations.
Keep the survivors occupied in waking hours but also watch out for overworking them
Water is a crucial commodity when stranded out at sea since you can probably survive longer without food and even less without water and so conserving your body water balance is the first priority. Since digestion of food drains much needed water from your body, restrain from eating if no water is available. Although conserving water is crucial, maintaining enough strength to cope with the ordeal is also paramount. Ration drinking water when aboard the raft depending on the amount that is available. It’s better to drink half of the rationed amount at once rather than sipping small quantities at a time.
Refrain from drinking sea water since it exaggerates thirst, promotes water loss and shortens survival time. Also restrain from drinking as it is too toxic when dehydrated an also keep away from alcohol.
First day abstention: drinking water on the first day helps activate the body’s water saving mechanism, so there after spread out your consumption of drinking water in small quantities during the day to minimize urination.
Coping with salt-water boils: when stranded at sea for long periods of time, one may develop salt-water boils on various parts of the body due to contact with the wet raft floor. It is advisable not to wear clothing over them but to wash them in rain water when the chance presents its self. Trying to squeeze the pus out may delay healing.