You probably heard about the MS Costa Concordia cruise ship that partially sank off the cost of Italy this past month. There were 4,200+ passengers and crew aboard, and as of this writing, eleven are dead, and twenty-three remain missing. Numerous reports from passengers aboard the sinking ship paint a story of crew confusion and an inefficient emergency plan.
Mike Tyson once said that everybody has plan until hit in the mouth. The wisdom in those words often applies to sinking ships as well. Carnival Cruise had an elaborate plan in place, but it wasn’t practical, the crew didn’t possess enough training and the passengers knew nothing about it until circumstances demanded they execute it.
When boats sink, a lack of knowledge is the number one reason that people die. It’s for this reason that local governments all over North America require boat licensees to demonstrate knowledge of proper protocol for sinking and similar disasters. The boat license Washington State exam is particularly demanding in that regard.
Unfortunately, not everyone who takes a commercial cruise or captains a private cruiser has to master this skill. It probably should be required learning for all, but in the meantime, we aim to pick up the slack. Knowing is half the battle, so this is what you should know:
Bring a sinking survival kit. Don’t rely on the captain, crew or boat owner to do it for you. The kit should be easy to carry, such as in a knapsack, and compartmentalized. This way, if the knapsack is too unwieldy for the current situation, you can place the vital aspects in your pockets. At a minimum, the kit should have as follows:
• First aid kit
• Pocketknife and multi-tool
• Waterproof matches
• Handheld mirror
• Fresh water and food rations
Preparation through Familiarity
Before embarking, familiarize yourself with the entire ship. This is particularly important on commercial liners. Know where the evacuation maps and emergency exits are, and familiarize yourself with the ship’s emergency plan. If the emergency plan has multiple options, which is likely on large ships, focus on the lifeboat closest to your cabin.
Grace under Pressure
The second leading cause of death during sinking and other disasters is panic. Grace under pressure is not ability but skill. You can achieve it through a concerted effort. When the warning signal blares, stop what you’re doing, breath, slow down and think clearly. Be independent, and don’t be reactive. Square breathing is a powerful tool:
• Count to three while breathing through the nose slowly.
• Count to three while holding that breath.
• Count to three while exhaling that breath through the mouth.
• Count to three while holding that non-breath.
• Repeat the process until you’ve achieved a state of calm.
Follow the Rats, Not the Mob
According to statistics, 70 percent of people will panic. Therefore, never assume, and never follow the mob simply because. There’s an old adage about rats and sinking ships, and there’s a lot of truth there. If you’re lost or confused and you see vermin, following them is a better course of action than doing nothing or moving without a strategy.
Call for Help
If you’re on a commercial liner, it is safe to assume that the crew has called for help. On a private vessel, tune to marine VHF 16, or Frequency 161.400 or 156.800 MHz. The Coast Guard monitors these channels at all times.
Life Jackets & Life Boats
Find a lifejacket. Put it on before helping anyone else, including your children. Get yourself onto the lifeboat in an orderly fashion. Never push and shove. Turn the other cheek, if need be, lest it set off a lethal chain reaction.
When on the lifeboat, follow these precautions:
• Remain calm using you breathing techniques.
• Use your sunscreen; it will help you stay hydrated.
• Drink your freshwater supply sparingly.
• If it rains, top off your supply, and drink any excess.
• Maintain a positive outlook through social interaction, including conversation, songs and games.
Learn more at BoaterExam.com.