The ocean or sea is as majestic as it is dangerous; being lost at sea is like one moved to an alien planet. Uncertain of any help you have to struggle for your life when there’s plenty to see but none to drink. Safe drinking water is a luxury you will realize when stuck alone or with your crew to survive at sea.
While you can fix your instant thirst for water from the sea; but drinking seawater will only degrade your condition accelerating dehydration with increased risk of death.
It’s hard out there irrelevant to our warm and cozy experience of the sea at beach or sailing on the ship. It’s you against mother nature; with all including hypothermia, dehydration, sharks, dermatitis, and infection trying to kill you.
Make a wrong move and you be stuck in catch 22 situation. The best way to survive at sea is by following the basic survival techniques taught in STCW ( The International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification, and Watchkeeping for Seafarers ) Course.
One needs to follow certain steps to ensure his safety and well being at sea under emergency situation; take seasickness pills, divide available rations, keep yourself hydrated, stay on your raft or lifeboat, keep calm, be creative and use signaling instrument.
Reach out to the life raft or boat from dinghy for better stability and protection. It is best considered to stay close to your initial known position and wait for the rescue. This not just saves your time and effort but also helps others to reach out for your rescue in event of Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon or EPIRB in operation.
Seven Tips And Techniques To Survive At Sea
While there is an endless list of tips and techniques to survive at sea including but not limited to; Look out for all the tools & ration on a life raft, if possible maneuver to secure all life rafts together, keep signaling instrument ready to be used, distribute seasickness pill, protect against hypothermia, conserve power, if possible try to catch fish, conserve and store rainwater, look out for land, be aware of shark, etc. These seven key points may really make or break your chance of survival.
1) Stay on ship as long as feasible before you get into a life raft/boat
The best lifeboat that you can have is your own ship! In a maritime emergency, it is considered as the rule of thumb; that when water is at the level of your waist then only you have to step up into your raft.
Your best chance of survival is on a ship- even a disabled one-not on a lifeboat/raft. It is so because a big ship has more buoyancy and so can withstand far extreme conditions for a longer time period. This is why many times abandoned ship manages to remain afloat for too long.
Onboard ship a life raft is positioned on either side of the muster station port and starboard with one located in front and aft depending upon the ship size.
As per regulations any craft (a boat larger than 14 feet) that sails in open water should have at least one life raft. They usually came with a high-pressure release system that provides guaranteed life raft support in event of ship collapse.
They can also be easily lowed manually throwing overboard or by using davit.
The final decision to abort ship is taken by the captain based on the present condition, ship buoyancy, expected future possibilities, and damage stability.
Damage stability is a criterion specified under SOLAS chapter II-1; which states minimum required buoyancy for a ship to stay afloat for a number of compartments flooded.
This can be one or two-compartment or with additional engine room flooding and depends on ship construction and design. Additionally, life jackets are provided to easily stay afloat and swim to the nearest life raft or lifeboat.
2) Take whatever supplies you can carry while boarding the life raft.
It is hard to imagine a person survive at sea without food. A person can last up to several weeks without food, but eventually, die as he needs food to keep the metabolism going.
It’s much worse for clean water to drink with death in virtual certainty after seven days. This is important and thus must be remembered; if you have a water bottle/jug, take it with you. In the event of worst-case scenario; throw the water jug/bottle overboard so that you may get them later as they will float.
Canned vegetables are not just filled with nutrients but also packed in water, in some cases lighter and easier to digest.
So take those with you on life raft or boat if possible. Drink plenty of water before embarking lifeboat; once into the raft, drink water as needed and only if it is necessary.
Almost 2 Liters a day should be sufficient if you limit your activity. You can not survive at sea with a bunch of hungry eaters; plan and distribute accordingly for your available food stocks.
Try to collect and store rainwater if possible; never use your dirty clothes as they might be chocked with salt crystals due to prolonged sea exposure.
The best way is to wash them with seawater and soak before using them to collect rainwater. Make use of available jars and bottles to store much-needed drinking water.
3) If you’re in a cold region, get warm.
Out in cold sea; You are more likely to die off from hypothermia than of anything else. Stay out of the water and put on dry cloths. Prolonged exposure to saltwater may result in lesions, which are prone to infection.
You may also catch dermatitis, Pontiac fever, and stomach bugs due to prolonged seawater exposure. Stay covered, wear clothes covering full body parts with cold wear. Use waterproof life jackets with immersion suits in cold waters to avoid cold shock and subsequent hypothermia.
An immersion suit is a protective wear that helps protect the person from possible hypothermia; by restricting the total heat loss by the person’s body.
Under SOLAS ( International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea ) Regulations, it is recommended to have at least three immersion suits for each life raft or boat. If possible use proper embarkation method that does not require one to jump in the cold waters.
Get out of the water as quickly as possible and watch for common symptoms such as; high blood pressure, high pulse rate with uncontrolled or labored breathing, muscle stiffness, and change in lips color.
Today life raft has canopies, which protect its passengers from direct sunlight, wind, and rain. If the canopy is damaged or missing, wear a hat, long sleeves, and pants to protect yourself from the sun.
4) Look out for food, if you can.
You cannot survive at sea unless you know know how to manage available resources and skills to find food and cope up with the situation. In the survival kits of watercraft, there is a fishing hook.
Now if the craft is floating for several days, seaweed will eventually form on the underside of the raft and small fish will naturally amass in shade under the raft.
As an emergency food source, you can catch them using a hook. If no hook is available you can make one using wire or shards of aluminum from an empty can and eat the flesh raw.
Be watchful of other alternatives available such as; Plankton, small turtles, seaweeds, and birds in the vicinity as they are relatively easier to get hands-on.
Moreover, they don’t come with any strings attached such as with fish which can be sometimes poisonous. Beware not to eat food unless you have available water; as they are full of proteins and protein needs lots of water in our body to digest.
This is one of the reasons why most of the survival food ration is packed with stuff full of carbohydrates.
It has been finding many times that the best time to catch fish is during nights; when you can attract fish with a flashlight. Beware; bright object such as flashlight also attracts large fish which can be dangerous to handle with depending upon the situation.
Sundry fish or another food source to store for long. Drink the blood of birds and turtles in an emergency to survive at sea; as they contain very fewer salts and are a good source of water in comparison to salty blood of sea fish.
5) Try to get to land, if you know where it is.
If you are certain of the land in near vicinity try to get to it. Many times you find inhabited islands in the middle of the ocean while rescuer struggling to reach your position.
Almost all raft contains hand paddles and thus can be used to maneuver, but be aware that it won’t be of any use if the wind speed is above three knots as its impair the maneuverability of the raft.
Do not exhaust yourself- energy is a precious commodity to survive at sea; don not waste it fighting against the winds.
Watch for the following signs of land; shallow water, lighter color of the water ( usually dark blue or green in deep-sea ), floating woods, a flock of birds, clustered clouds in a clear sunny sky, greenish tint in the sky, musty order of mangrove trees, etc. If you find land nearby, don’t be in a hurry! Rather take a look around it looking for the best spot to land; always prefer sloppy beaches over straight or rocky ones.
Try not to land at night as just increase the percentage of risks; don’t fight opposite or rip current but find a way to get out.
Always keep your sea anchor intact dragging behind your raft; it helps stabilize your raft against the current to avoid surfing.
Stay in your raft as long as you can; jump to swim only if there is no other option. Once reached look for possible signs of habitat; if possible burn fire on beaches as the rising black smoke can be seen from long distance.
6) If you see a plane or ship nearby, try to signal them.
Out alone in the vast ocean EPIRB (Emergency Positioning Indicating Radio Beacon) is the best friend that you have. It sends continuous maritime distress signals at equal intervals asking authorities for help! In the meantime, you can always try to signal airplane flying by using VHF. You can also use the conventional methods of signaling such as distracting light from glass, aluminum foils, hand flares, etc.
A small mirror can also be used for signaling, which can be used during day time, flash at the horizon, using this visual signal to draw attention to your position. On a day bright light, these signaling instruments can be visible from 21 miles. Watch out for passing ships and signal them with light, on radio and VHF.
7) Maintain a calm and peaceful mind.
It’s hard to think rationally when we are filled with fear and anxiety. This is why it is advised to keep calm and relax for a while. Be calm amidst the situation, as panic will take away your ability to think straight and your decision-making may fail you.
Make sure the decision you will make is not an impulsive one. Have a strong will to survive.
Don’t force too much and take small breaks and try to sleep. If in group distribute the jobs and utilize the remaining time relaxing and making plans for the next day.
Another reason not to take stress is to avoid dehydration; as our body releases more water in forms of sweat when worried or fatigued.
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