How Personal Survival Training Helps You Survive an Abandon Ship Scenario

9 June 2021 By Ted Morley
Cold water survival training

Capt. Ted Morley was raised aboard a schooner and has made a career working on board vessels ranging from superyachts to super tankers. During his tenure at sea, he worked his way up from seaman to master. He currently holds a USCG Master’s License, Unlimited Tonnage as well as several foreign certificates. Capt. Morley actively participates in maritime advisory committees in the U.S. as well as overseas and is involved in regulatory policy review in the U.S.. 

The idea of being thrust into a cold, churning sea is not something that any of us want to think about, much less experience. Proper training and utilization of the safety equipment will go a long way to ameliorating those concerns. The IMO, through the STCW Convention, has mandated Personal Survival Training as part of the Basic Training requirements in STCW VI-1. This is the minimum training a crewmember needs, with additional training for Proficiency in Survival Craft under STCW A-VI/2 mandated for training and assessment for those assigned the use of rescue craft such as rescue boats and lifeboats. These training requirements will give you the knowledge to help you survive an abandon ship scenario. However, that training isn’t enough.

Training is a part of a safety system — beyond training, that system must include equipment and proficiency building drills. Vessel operators must ensure that the proper equipment is on board for a given area of operation. More yachts are going to far-flung destinations and experiencing a myriad of conditions and weather; items such as immersion suits, SOLAS-compliant life rafts, and enclosed lifeboats are all vital components to survive exposure if the unthinkable happens.

Training is a part of a safety system — beyond training, that system must include equipment and proficiency building drills. 

To increase your survival odds, the first thing you should do is stay dry. The effects of hypothermia and cold-water shock are severe and can quickly result in death. Recent studies have shown that around 60 percent of fatalities attributed to cold-water immersion occurred within 10-15 minutes, long before the effects of hypothermia fully took hold. The use of immersion suits helps reduce those effects, but it is imperative to stay as dry as possible, remembering that water cools the body 25 times faster than air of the same temperature. Cold water can also cause you to hyperventilate and panic. Stay calm and control your breathing, conserve your body heat, keep your head above water, keep still, and stay huddled with the group.

All the survival classes taught for STCW address how to right and board a life raft from the water. However, cold water will greatly add to the difficulty and mightily shorten the time you have to successfully do it. Most experts agree that you have about a minute to get your breathing under control, around 10 minutes that you will have the strength to conduct “useful movements,” and about an hour before you may become unconscious from the effects of hypothermia.

For those working on vessels that operate in cold-water climates, be sure you’re familiar with the safety equipment on board, be able to quickly don your personal equipment, and be an active participant in proficiency drills. Act as if your life depends on it, because it does.

This column is taken from the November 2020 issue of Dockwalk.


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