NC%20life%20raft%20rescue_edited.jpg

Life Raft Survival

The Seven Steps to Survival provide a guide to the necessary tasks for surviving aboard a life raft.

Seven Steps to Survival

Adapted from, Beating the Odds: A Guide to Commercial Fishing Safety, 7th Edition, Jerry Dzugan and Susan Clark Jensen, 2018

Once you have abandoned ship and boarded your raft, you are in a whole new survival environment. It will help to apply the "Seven Steps to Survival."

  1. Recognition

  2. Inventory

  3. Shelter

  4. Signals

  5. Water

  6. Food

  7. Play

Although the Seven Steps are listed in order of priority, you may be able to do more than one step at a time.


Recognition
Recognize that you are not out of danger, but that your survival situation has changed.

 

  • Stay tied to your vessel as long as it is safe. When you need to cut yourself free, use the raft’s safety knife (always located near the door) to cut the raft’s painter. Be careful with other knives around the raft.

  • In very rough seas or high winds, too many people in one part of the raft could cause it to flip more easily, so keep the crew’s weight evenly distributed over the raft.

Inventory
As you inventory your situation, equipment, and the crew’s condition, think about what can help and hurt you.

  • Provide first aid for seriously injured or hypothermic persons. Less serious injuries, such as sprains or minor cuts and burns, can be treated once you have gone through the Seven Steps.

  • Open the life raft’s equipment pack and secure everything to the raft, including the paddles. Not doing this is a common mistake among survivors, and is always regretted.

  • Take seasickness medications as soon as possible and before people get seasick. Even the most seasoned fishermen have been known to get seasick in a life raft.

  • Inventory everything you have, including what people have in their pockets and immersion suits. This may be a verbal inventory until the canopy is up, the doors are closed, the raft is bailed and dried, and the floor is inflated. Make sure sharp objects cannot puncture the raft.

  • Inspect the raft for damage, and repair it as needed using the kit in the raft’s equipment pack.

  • Stream the sea anchor. This will reduce your drift rate, helping to keep you near your last reported position, and will also help prevent capsizing in heavy seas.

  • Gather up useful floating objects. Be creative, and don’t throw anything away unless it will hurt you or damage the raft.

  • Establish duties. The person on watch should have signals readily available.

Life Raft with Sea Anchor Deployed. Streaming the sea anchor will slow the drift of your life raft.

Streaming the sea anchor will slow the drift of your life raft.

Equipment Required on USCG-Approved Life Rafts

Equipment
Coastal Pack
SOLAS B Pack
SOLAS A Pack
Quoit and Heaving Line
1
1
1
Knife (Buoyant Safety)
1
1
1
Bailer
1
1
1
Sponge
1
2
2
Sea Anchor
1
2
2
Paddles
2
2
2
Whistle
1
1
1
Flashlight with spare batteries and bulb
1
1
1
Signal Mirror
1
1
1
Survival Instructions
1
1
1
Immediate Action Instructions
1
1
1
Repair Outfit 1 1 1 (1 set sealing clamps or plugs)
1
1
1
Pump or Bellows
1
1
1
Tin Openers
0
0
3
First Aid Kit in Waterproof Case
0
1
1
Rocket Parachute Flares
0
2
4
Hand-Held Flares
0
3
6
Buoyant Smoke Signals
0
1
2
Copy of Life-Saving Signals
0
1
1
Fishing Tackle
0
0
1
Food Ration
0
0
2,378 calories per person
Water
0
0
1.5 liters per person
Rustproof, Graduated Drinking Vessel
0
0
1
Anti-Seasickness Pills
0
6 per person
6 per person
Seasickness Bag
0
1 per person
1 per person
Thermal Protective Aid
0
Enough for 10 % of persons or 2, whichever is greater
Enough for 10 % of persons or 2, whichever is greater
Pressure Relief Valve Plug
1
1
1

Note: The quantity of each item may change as regulations change. Know what is packed in your raft. Within strict space limits, other small items such as an EPIRB, medication, eyeglasses, a desalinator,
etc., can be specially packed in your raft.

Shelter
Do as much as possible to manage your body’s heat.

  • Put up the canopy.

  • Inflate the floor with the air pump.

  • Bail out the water.

  • Close or open the raft’s doors to control the inside temperature of the raft.

  • Top off the buoyancy tubes as needed. The CO2 in the tubes lose volume as they cool and expand volume as they heat.

  • Empty water out of immersion suits and wring out wet clothes. You may not be able to do this if it is too rough.

  • Inspect the raft for holes or areas of wear at least once a day, and pump up the buoyancy tubes as needed.

Using life raft repair clamps.

Using life raft repair clamps.

Signals
Make sure your signals both attract attention and convey your need for help.


EPIRBs
EPIRBs are similar to Emergency Locator Transmitters (ELTs) carried in aircraft. They emit a signal that can be picked up by an aircraft or satellite, and then transmitted to a ground station (land user terminal) to begin the search and rescue.


The COSPAS/SARSAT (Cosmicheskaya Sistyema Poiska Avariynych Sudov/Search and Rescue Satellite-Aided Tracking) satellite system is an international search and rescue effort. Russia and the United States own the satellites, Canada developed the repeaters, and the processors are European.

 

Category 1, 406 mHz EPIRBs are more effective than other types because they have a higher power output and improved frequency stability. In addition, the satellites can hold the 406 mHz signal information until a ground receiving station is in sight, something they could not do with the older 121.5 or 243 mHz signals that were discontinued in February 2009. This added power, improved frequency stability, and signal holding capability gives the 406 mHz EPIRB much broader, global coverage, which other EPIRBs did not have.


Inmarsat are geostationary satellites that are now being used to relay more instantaneous EPIRB signals. GPIRBs are 406 EPIRBs that also transmit a GPS (Global Positioning System) position. PLBs (Personal
Locator Beacons) are hand-sized. Some do not float, but they all transmit via the 406 frequency. Thousands of mariners have been saved because of EPIRBs.

Emergency Position Indicator Radio Beacons (EPIRBs)

EPRIB Type
Frequency (mHz)
Locating Accuracy
Minimum Signal Life
Self- Activated?
Float Free?
Comments
Category 1
406 & 121.5
<1-3 miles
48 hrs. at -20°C
Yes
Yes
Each unit digitally coded to its owner. Satellite can receive and hold 406 mHz signal. Global coverage.
Category 2
406 & 121.5
<1-3 miles
48 hrs. at -20°C
No
No
See comments for Category 1.
GPIRB
406 & 121.5
100 meters
48 hrs. at -20°C
Available as Category 1 & Category 2 devices.
Available as Category 1 & Category 2 devices.
See comments for Category 1. GPIRBs will give GPS accuracy on first satellite hit.
PLB
406 & 121.5
100 meters if GPS equipped
48 hrs. at -20°C
No
No
Digitally coded to owner. Pocket sized.
How an EPIRB signal is picked up and relayed. Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) EPIRBs are now available that are pocket sized and broadcast on 406.

How an EPIRB signal is picked up and relayed. Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) EPIRBs are available that are pocket sized and broadcast on 406.

Follow These Guidelines for Signals

  • Turn on the EPIRB and leave it on until you are rescued. The EPIRB should be securely attached to the raft and placed outside on the ocean for best signal. In rough seas a half submerged EPIRB wobbling wildly in the water will not provide an optimum signal. In that case keep the EPIRB near the doorway with the lookout.

  • Fire one signal flare as soon as possible, but keep others for when rescuers are in sight. Treat flares like a gun, and never point them at anyone. Hand-held flares must be held out over the water on the downwind side at an angle to prevent hot “drippings” from burning either you or the raft. Burning rafts make bright signals, but they don’t float!

  • Carefully study the directions for each signal and make sure each person in the raft knows how and when to use each type of signal.

  • Keep other signals available for when rescuers are in sight. It may help to divide the signals into day and night types, keeping the appropriate ones near the lookout, ready to be deployed at a moment’s notice. The muzzle of some flares operate from the same side as the triggering mechanism. Some don’t. Be familiar with your flares before you need them at night in rough seas.

  • Always post a lookout to spot ships, aircraft, land, and useful debris; to signal rescuers; and to listen for aircraft and surf. A routine of lookout watches is important to help establish a sense of being more in control of the situation and to maintain some sort of command structure.

  • To operate a signal mirror, position yourself with the mirror, sun, and potential rescuers in front of you. Using one outstretched hand as a sight, locate the rescuers and aim the mirror’s reflected light through the sight. Polished metal will also work as an improvised signal mirror. Sweep the horizon often with your mirror’s signal. You may attract the attention of someone you cannot see with your naked eye. On a sunny day, the mirror’s reflected light can be very bright, so take care not to blind potential rescuers, especially pilots.

  • Arrange for other duties and watches.

  • Check to make sure the raft’s outside canopy light works.

  • If you have a VHF radio, transmit a Mayday on channel 16. Consider your location to help determine how often you transmit.

  • Conserve the flashlight batteries by only using the light when it is absolutely needed.

BTO7thEdFinal%20109_edited (1).jpg

When firing a flare, hold the flare away from the raft,

and turn your head away.

Orange Smoke, Flares, Signal Mirror, and Dye Marker

Type
Image
Optimum Visibility
Signal Duration
Advantages
Disadvantages
Orange Smoke
3 to 5 miles at water level, more from the air
50 seconds to 2 minutes
Compact, good for day use, can show helicopter pilots wind direction, can help locate a person overboard in daylight.
Smoke dissipates rapidly in windy conditions, must be used in well-ventilated area, container can damage raft or cause personal injury.
Handheld Flare
3 to 5 miles
50 seconds to 2 minutes
Compact, longest burning of any flare type, secondary use as a fire starter, inexpensive. Helps rescuers locate you.
Ash and slag can damage raft, signal is low to the water.
Meteor (Aerial) Flare
10 to 20 miles
5.5 to 8 seconds
Compact, helps alert rescuers. Maximum height about 100 feet.
Ash and slag can damage raft, can be difficult to operate with cold hands.
Pistol-Fired Meteor Flare
19 to 40 miles
5.5 to 30 seconds
Easy to use, helps alert rescuers. Maximum height about 100 feet.
Flares unusable if the pistol breaks, flare can cause personal injury or damage raft.
Rocket-Propelled Parachute Flare
40 miles
30 to 60 seconds
Most visible flare on the market for night use. Maximum height about 1,000 feet.
Flare may drift or be blown from your area, flare can cause personal injury or damage raft.
Signal Mirror
40 miles
As long as there is enough light.
Compact, easy to use, good for day use, doesn't deteriorate in bad weather.
Needs sun or other light source to work, must be manned constantly.
Dye Marker
10 miles at 3,000 feet of altitude
20 to 30 minutes in calm seas, dissipates more rapidly in rough seas
Compact and easy to use, can also be used on snow, doesn't deteriorate is bad weather.
Only visible during the day, not as visible from the sea as from the air, dissipates rapidly in rough seas.

Actual visibility of signals depend on weather, altitude of rescuer, and whether it is day or night.

Outdated signal flares and smoke have a high rate of failure.

Aiming a signal mirror

Aiming a Signal Mirror

Water

You need a safe source of drinking water.

  • Whenever possible, gather and store rainwater by using the raft’s water collection system.

  • SOLAS “A” life raft survival kits (required for fishing vessels operating beyond 50 miles from shore) have food and water rations.

  • Decide on a daily water ration for each person.

  • Never drink seawater or urine. In a study of long-term sea survival, it was found that drinking seawater was the second leading cause of death, following cold.

  • Vomiting dehydrates you, so take seasickness medications before you feel sick.

Food
Most people can live for weeks without food as long as they have water to drink.

  • Do not eat if water is not available. Eating without drinking water accelerates dehydration.

  • Food helps lift spirits, so if it is available, decide on food rations. Captain Bligh wrote about a method of dividing food that was time-honored even in 1789: “I divided it [a noddy, about the size of a pigeon], with its entrails, into 18 portions, and by a well known method of the sea, of ‘who shall have this’ it was distributed, with the allowance of bread and water for dinner. . . . One person turns his back on the object that is to be divided; another then points separately to the portions, at each of them asking aloud, ‘Who shall have this?’ to which the first answers by naming somebody. This impartial method of division gives every man an equal chance of the best share.”

 

Play
Keep busy and take measures to improve morale.

  • Focus on constructive ways to improve your situation.

  • Practice “dry runs” with your signals, catch drinking water, clean up the raft, stay positive.

  • Tell jokes. This is where practice can really make a difference.

  • Try your luck at fishing.

  • Be creative. Your brain is your best survival tool.

  • Keep to a schedule, assign duties, and rotate tasks.

  • Think like a survivor, not like a victim.

  • Do not give up.

Prolonged Sea Survival

When Nature Calls
Avoid the urge to urinate and defecate in your suit; urine and feces are irritating to the skin and can cause body sores. Instead, use the bailer and empty the contents outside the raft. Do not be surprised if your bowel action stops because of short rations and the lack of activity. This is not unusual.


Water
Maintaining your body’s water balance is one of the prime requirements for survival. You can last weeks without food, but not much more than a week without water. The good news is that frequent rain in many areas of the world will permit you to gather water with the raft’s water catchment system.


It is important to remain hydrated at all times while in the life raft, even the first 24 hours. Some raft manuals erroneously say to not drink for the first 24 hours. Use a sponge in your life raft SOLAS kit to capture the condensation inside your canopy.


If you do not have water, don’t eat. Digestion uses water, and in even greater amounts for food that is high in protein. Thirst can be a problem and it helps to remember that it is not always due to water need. The sensation of thirst can be created by sugar and salt, and even by sweetened beverages. So when water is scant, avoid such food and drink. Thirst may be reduced by chewing gum or practically anything as long as it’s not saltwater soaked, but this relief does not reduce the body’s need for water.


Don’t drink seawater, urine, or alcohol even if your water supply is limited. They all lead to dehydration. Seawater has a salt content of 3.5 percent, the equivalent to a full teaspoon of salt in a six-ounce glass of water. By contrast, the human body has less than 1 percent salinity. Drinking seawater exaggerates thirst and promotes water loss through the kidneys and intestines, shortening your survival time. The toxic waste products in urine add to the agony of thirst, contribute to dehydration, and lead to a body temperature of 105°F and above. Alcohol, too, promotes water loss through the skin and kidneys. The thirst and dry feeling experienced during a hangover is from dehydration.


Every bit of body water you conserve will increase the length of your survival. Much of your body’s moisture is lost through breathing and sweating, so try to avoid unnecessary exertion. Ration your sweat, and save your energy until you truly need it. Don’t try to paddle your raft upwind or up current.


If you are completely without water, you are apt to get delirious in about four days. If someone becomes delirious, it may take physical force to keep them aboard.


Flipped Over
Supplies can be lost out of a raft in both calm and rough seas. Secure all items. If the seas get rough and the wind howls, use human ballast to help keep the raft from flipping. Keep your weight low in the raft,
anticipate the waves and, at the proper time, shift your weight toward the waves.


If you find yourself ejected out of or tumbling inside a capsized raft, your means of righting it will depend on the sea state and number of crewmembers that can help. The people inside may be able to right it by crawling up onto the floor and using the wind to help flip it over. An outside person may be able to assist by using the righting strap. He should stay on the same side as the CO2 bottle. When a raft flips, don’t get separated from it. A surge of energy and determination not to give up will help immensely.

Psychology of Survival

Are some people more likely to survive an emergency than others? Survival is determined to a large degree by how people react to their emergency. Before discussing the actions and attitudes that lead to survival, let’s cover some of the general reactions.

 

A percentage of survivors, estimated to be as low as 12 percent, feel calm during an emergency. Being calm can help you make the right moves, but being too calm can be dangerous, especially if it leads you to inaction or a failure to acknowledge the emergency. Fear, likewise, can be healthy if it motivates you to action, but too much fear can be deadly. Panic occurs less frequently than is commonly believed, but when it does occur it is very contagious.


It has been proven that preparation and training help decrease fear and panic. Initial reactions to an emergency can also include denial, and feeling numb, stunned, or bewildered. Some people may be in psychological or physical shock, while others may exhibit inappropriate behavior such as searching for a flashlight instead of taking action to rescue someone. Still others may become hyperactive, doing much
but accomplishing little.


During a survival situation, emotions may change from day to day or even hour to hour. Anger, both at companions and rescuers, is a common feeling. The participants in one life raft drill were ready to fight after only eleven hours in a raft. In a real emergency, tempers often flare and accusations fly after unsuccessful attempts to signal rescuers. Anger is not surprising, considering the cold, cramped, wet conditions of a life raft, but sustained anger can be deadly. A good rule is to resolve your anger before the day ends.


While some survivors experience rage, others may be totally passive and unable to help themselves. Although passivity can be a psychological reaction to the emergency, it can also be brought on by seasickness, hypothermia, injury, lack of prescribed medications, hunger, and thirst. If the cause is psychological, some people will perk up when asked to perform simple useful tasks such as bailing
or keeping watch, or when directed to help an injured companion.


Some people experience guilt about what they did or did not do, especially if they think they contributed to the disaster. This can be a debilitating emotion if allowed to continue. Guilt does not help resolve the survival dilemma. After rescue, the guilt of surviving while others died can persist for years.


The suicidal impulse is no stranger among survivors. The crewmember who suddenly starts over the side, saying, “I’m going down to the corner for a glass of beer,” is suffering from hallucination and disassociation of time and place. It is your duty to restrain them Survivors tell us a great deal about why they survived. Whether their ordeal involved drifting in a life raft, being shipwrecked on land, or being held as a prisoner of war, there are common themes that run through their stories. Some of them read like headlines:


• ACCEPT YOUR SITUATION BUT DON’T GIVE IN TO IT.
• ACT LIKE A SURVIVOR, NOT LIKE A VICTIM.
• DON’T GIVE UP.
• BE POSITIVE.
• HAVE A PLAN.
• PRAY.

 

Survivors report that it is important to try to regain some sense of control over your situation, especially by acting to improve your circumstances. Schedules and routines can also help.

When you don’t think you can climb back into the raft after it has flipped for the sixth time, or you don’t think you can stand another day, don’t give up. Live your ordeal one hour or one minute at a time if necessary. Remember your family and friends, and concentrate on returning home to them. Plan your future.


Be positive by talking about when, not if, you will be rescued. Of course, if you have filed a float plan, sent a Mayday, or turned on your EPIRB, it is easier to be positive. Remember the seventh step: Play. Keep a positive mental attitude. Focus on what you want to live for. Many survivors describe the power of prayer in an emergency. Don’t underestimate it. Do not downplay the role your emotions can play. You can do
many things to help yourself survive an emergency. Force yourself to stay on your team. Find the will to live.

Rescue

After you have abandoned ship, there is hardly a more exciting sight than a vessel or aircraft headed your way. Since a raft is difficult to see from sea or air at any substantial distance, keep signaling until you are sure you have been sighted, but then stop. Don’t keep firing flares at rescuers after they have located you. Most pilots and skippers take a dim view of flares fired at close range.


An aircraft will clearly show when they see you, perhaps by “buzzing” you or dipping their wings. However, an aircraft that has spotted you may have to leave for periods of time due to weather, lack of fuel, or darkness. Sit tight and save further signals for their return. Many people become depressed after a rescue craft has sighted them, but then had to leave for some reason. Don’t fall into this trap.


If you are approached by a Coast Guard helicopter, make sure all your gear stays securely lashed. Pilots don’t like objects flying up into the aircraft’s rotors, nor are they happy when someone secures the helicopter’s trailing line to the raft. Would you want a raft tied to your flying machine?


The U.S. Coast Guard may use a rescue swimmer to assist you. These aviation survival men and women drop into the water and swim to the raft or person in the water. The chopper’s nearly 100-knot rotor wash may make communication difficult, so pay close attention.


You will be hoisted into the helicopter in a basket or litter. Keep your body, especially your hands, inside the lifting device. One person will be hoisted at a time.

Beaching

Your chance of survival is much greater on land than on water, so if you haven’t seen any potential rescuers and you are near shore, try to get there. You will need to judge the beaching situation to determine your best course of action. If you go ashore in just your immersion suit, try to head in feet first, to the most gradually sloping beach.


As you drift toward shore, you may encounter high surf, rocks, cliffs, strong currents, and floating logs. Life rafts have limited maneuverability, but try to come ashore in the least hazardous area. Use the paddles in the raft’s survival kit to help you through the surf. Your raft makes a great shelter and signal, so keep it if you can.

Reactions to a Traumatic Situation

After your rescue, you may find that your ordeal is still not over. Some people who survive a traumatic situation continue to feel the stress of the event afterward. This is as true for vessel sinkings as it
is for assaults, hurricanes, tornadoes, war, shootings, and other emotionally devastating events.


Common reactions may include questioning why you lived and other people died, or wondering what you could have done differently. People who experience post-traumatic stress often have flashbacks, nightmares, and difficulty sleeping. Depression, irritability, fear, mood swings, and loss of appetite are also common. All of these reactions are normal but can be debilitating.


Once you have physically endured the experience, how can you survive it emotionally? Three things can help considerably: accept your feelings, talk to professionals, and try to find something positive in the experience. All three are much easier to say than do, especially if you have a difficult time dealing with emotions or talking.


People who have the hardest time recovering are those who refuse to talk about what happened. It is best to talk with people who can understand how you feel and who will really listen to you. Your friends, pastor, or local mental health professional may be able to help you by listening.


Trying to find something positive in what happened may sound trite, but it helps. Some survivors buy more survival equipment and take training. Others, through their personal testimony or quiet talk, spread the word that being prepared and having the will to live increases your chances of survival.