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Tuesday, March 04, 2008


The post below about the fisherman who had to swim 9 miles to the beach to get help for his crew mates got me thinking about being prepared for the worst -- sudden and catastrophic loss of stability!

I know or have met more than a few mariners who have ended up treading water without a moment's notice.

In one case, a drag wire sawed a hole in the vessel's quarter. The lazarette filled with seawater before anybody knew what was happening. Vessel rolled and sank. They were lucky. They all got out in time.

Another time a small dragger took a freak wave over the stern while they were trying to boat a heavy bag of fish. Fish trays and polyballs on deck covered the scuppers and freeing ports. The vessel got top heavy and rolled.

I know of two other guys who lost their vessels to hangs.

I wish I could say everyone survived these mishaps but I can't. What's more, even though these vessels were USCG Safety and SOLAS equipped and fully compliant, not all equipment performed as expected. In one case, the EPIRB didn't go off. In another case, the raft got hung up in the vessel's rigging. In a third case, some of the flares in a compliant and inspected life raft were duds.

So, what's a mariner to do to be prepared for sudden and catastrophic loss of stability?

1. Rig a jump bag! A jump bag has personalized emergency supplies in it, including flares, VHF-handheld, meds, sunglasses, mirror, suntan lotion, fresh water, granola bars, knife and sheath, etc., and should be located where it can be grabbed in an instant. This is in addition to the USCG required flare kit, survival suits, PFDs and the equipment included in a life raft.

2. Keep life rafts and EPIRBs fully compliant and located where they can float free if the vessel rolls.

3. Maintain a schedule of communications with the mainland so that someone will know when to start worrying.

4. Locate your survival suits topside in an easily accessible place. If the vessel suddenly loses stability and starts to roll -- even if you don't have time to get in one on deck -- you can grab it and throw it overboard. Believe it or not, it's almost as easy to get into one in the water as it is to get into one on a sinking vessel.

5. Speaking of which, conduct abandon ship drills where you and your crew practice grabbing all survival gear and getting off the boat in as little as two minutes. Take your survival suits to a swimming pool and practice getting in and out of them in the water. Better yet, sign up for an STCW BST class. At the very least, take the personal survival module (Life Raft and Survival Suits) and the First Aid module.

6. Make sure every crew member knows how to navigate, use the radio, and run the boat.

7. Read the life raft manual and instruction sheet every year. If possible, go with your raft when it gets repacked. The company that repacks it will let you inflate your raft and show you what's in it and where it's stored.

8. Stay in decent physical shape. You won't be swimming 9 miles in these waters but you will be amazed at how much energy it takes to get in a life raft while wearing your survival suit, especially if it's full of water. (Don't forget, you don't pull someone into a raft face down when their suit is full of water. If you do you'll break their legs. Flip them over and pull them in face up; in other words, backside down.)

9. Light a flare off right away. At least one, maybe two. Then wait. The sooner someone knows where you are, the better your chance of survival. Even if there's nobody around to see the flare, it is still a good bet to fire off a flare as soon as possible.

10. Have a plan and stick to it. Keep cool. Establish a watch and lookout. Be positive.


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