Procedure for Abandoning Ship

Last week we posted an article about a Croation man who, while resisting rescue almost lost his life. I thought it might be appropriate to share some tips on abandoning ship. I hope no one ever has to use these suggestions, however it is better to have the knowledge and be prepared if the time comes when you have to abandon ship. – Capt Matt

Anyone who operates offshore or on the Great Lakes needs to put abondon ship procedures on their preparation checklist.  Make sure that all passengers and crew are familiar with the procedures and assign each of them a task in the process. Hold a mock survival drill if appropriate. The decision to abandon ship is usually very difficult. In some instances, people have perished in their life raft while their abandoned vessel managed to stay afloat. Other cases indicate that people waited too long to successfully get clear of a floundering boat.

Once the decision is made:

  • Put on all available waterproof clothing, including gloves, headgear, and life jacket.
  • Collect survival kit. Stay tuned tomorrow for more on survival from one of our experts.
  • Note present position.
  • Send out MAYDAY message.
  • Launch life raft attached to ship.
  • Launch dinghy attached to life raft. 
  • Try to enter life raft directly from the boat (if impossible, use minimal swimming effort to get on board).
  • Don’t forget the EPIRB (emergency position indicator radio beacon).
  • Get a safe distance from the sinking vessel.
  • Collect all available flotsam. The most unlikely articles can be adapted for use under survival conditions.
  • Keep warm by huddling bodies together. Keep dry, especially your feet.
  • Stream a sea anchor.
  • Arrange lookout watches.
  • Use flares only on skipper’s orders when there is a real chance of them being seen.
  • Arrange for collecting rainwater. Ration water to maximum one-half quart per person per day, issued in small increments. Do not drink seawater or urine. If water is in short supply, eat only sweets from survival rations.

Act Like a Captain

As a seamanship instructor, I teach my students that being a good captain involves a certain amount of acting. In emergency situations, the crew of a vessel looks to their leader in an almost unconscious way to determine their own level of anxiety. If the captain projects a calm and confident attitude, the crew will be reassured and since an anxious crew means poor judgment and performance, a captain should do all he or she can to keep the crew calm. The idea here is not to lie to your crew, and certainly not to fake a fearless, macho manner, going down with the ship is a pretty dumb plan. The idea is that, by maintaining a calm, deliberate attitude in the face of a dire situation, you can help your crew remain effective and perhaps help save lives. If you need to fake that attitude to some degree, so be it.

Emergency Communications

When trouble strikes, there are many ways to communicate your distress and seek help. Use your VHF or single-sideband radio and follow the procedures for distress.

There are three levels of priority communications: distress, urgent, and safety, identified by MAYDAY, PAN-PAN, and SECURITE. Understand the differences by reviewing the tip on radio procedures.

Panicked radio communications can confuse a rescue effort. Learn the proper procedures. Try to stay calm.

Use the acceptable distress signals as outlined in the Navigation Rules. Flares are fast and effective — red for distress.

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Filed under Boat Operation, Boating News, Boating Safety, Navigation, The Boating Environment

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