Countless novels, movies, and TV series have been made about castaways and survivors of shipwrecks. This Two Part article will separate “fact from fiction” and teach you what you need to know about surviving being lost at sea.
As with any potential disaster or travel emergency, the best way to survive a shipwreck is to take every precaution you possibly can to avoid one, and to be fully prepared to survive and be rescued should an accident occur. That starts on dry land before you launch. Before you board your motor yacht you need to make sure you have everything you might need in the event of an emergency.
Must Have Emergency Gear for Motor Yacht Owners
Items to call or signal for help need to be very high on the list. That includes a VHF radio to communicate with other boaters, flares and, depending on how far you’re traveling, an emergency position-indicating radio beacon (EPIRB), or a personal locator beacon (PLB).
Life jackets that are regularly checked are also a must, as well as a life raft in case you have to abandon ship.
If you have to abandon ship, you want to make sure you’ve got what you need while waiting to be rescued. That means you need to have a “Go Bag” filled with basic first aid and survival gear. In addition, your “Marine Emergency Go Bag” should include:
- Portable Emergency Flares
- Additional Water Proof Matches
- Additional Food and Water Rations
- Desalinization tablets
- Thermal or Cold Weather Gear in watertight containers
- A portable Solar Still
- Fishing line and hooks in a watertight tube or container
If your yacht is taking on water, find the leak and stem the flow using whatever you can, such as sails or cushions. But if the hole is too big or you’re not able to contain it, then call the Coast Guard for help and get everyone ready to abandon the yacht.
Only leave your boat if you have no other option. Use flares and your EPIRP and PLB to attract attention from rescuers. If you sent a proper Mayday or Distress Call, help will be on the way. Even if you see land in the distance, you are better off staying put in the water. This is especially true if you are in the water without a raft.
It can be very tempting to try to swim to land if you see it in the distance, but distances can be very deceiving out on the open water, and unless you know for a fact that you are close enough within your physical ability to swim back to your departure point, the best thing to do is to stay in the water.
I’ve worked closely with the Coast Guard and I know that a lot of people drown near the beach because of rip currents or high surf. So don’t frantically head for what you think is land. If you are with a group of passengers, the best thing is to stay together as a group. The larger target will make it easier for rescuers to spot you, and you can more easily stay warm and conserve energy in the group.
Surviving at sea can be the most grueling, the most mentally and physically demanding survival situation you are likely to ever find yourself in. It will take all of your mental and physical preparedness skills, but it can be done, as proven when:
- In 1820, a sperm whale savagely attacked and sank the whaleship Essex, leaving its desperate crew adrift to survive for more than ninety days in three tiny boats. The sinking of the Essex was the inspiration for the classic novel, Moby Dick, and was the subject of the 2015 movie, “In the Heart of the Sea.”
- World War 1 pilot Eddie Rickenbacker and his crew were flying from Hawaii to an air base in the South Pacific when their plane crashed into the ocean. The eight crewmembers survived 20 days in three life rafts with a handful of chocolate bars and oranges, and a fishing hook and line.
- 67 British sailors survived 20 days and 1,200 miles adrift at sea during WW2 after their ship sunk following a U-Boat attack. They floated on four lifeboats and survived on water biscuits, raisins and the odd raw fish caught by hand.
As you might imagine what these and many similar stories of survival at sea have in common was an insurmountable will to live, coupled with the right knowledge of what to do.
End of Part One – In Part Two we will learn what to do should you be “Lost at Sea.”
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