Survival At Sea

Formosa Plastic Tanker was under my management
First it was Hong Kong, then Philippines follow by Vietnam and now Phuket sea accidents, all these were caused by human error. On the road we can still control our own fate but out at sea, our lives are in the hands of the crews. 

I have been in the Marine Industry since 16 years old, it has been 28 years now. I have seen many kind of accidents. Proper trainings and knowledge are very crucial, every once a month the crews would  carried out drills such as man over board, fire drills etc. 

Being a Naval Instructor before, my drills were tough, I gave my trainees the toughest and most realistic drills till I was warned by my Superior. Few years after I left the Navy, met up with some Bruneian Officers and they thanked me for giving them the best lessons in their whole career. Some became Safety Officers from my guidance. 

I will share some knowledge on survival at sea. Sea survival is rather complex and there are many areas to cover. I will keep it simple and share what you need to know. 

  • Identifying Vessels
  • Safety Plan Location
  • Life Saving Gears
  • Personal Safety Gears 
  • Sea Survival 

Identifying Vessels
There are commercial vessels and boats, most of us would use boats or ferries to travel from island to island or land. The commercial vessel one might travel on is a Cruise ship just like the Titanic

Example of Safety Plan
Safety Plan Locations
If you are on board any vessel, first thing you need to do is navigate around the vessel. On board every vessel, there should have safety plan on every deck that is on the bulkhead (wall). Safety Plan will show you each deck layout with all the fire fighting and life saving gears location. Study them well.

On the main deck, there is a red container called Fire Plan, in it there is a Safety Plan. This Plan is for external rescue party to use. During emergency if needed to study the plan, read it and put it back.

Life Saving Gears
The life saving gear you need to know first is the location of life jackets and tried it on. Different life jacket are worn differently. If you do not know how to use it, approach the crew. Also ask them if they have any kid's life jacket. Always remember to put on your own life jacket first before the kids and elderly. As the saying goes "Help yourself before helping others

Life Raft
Life Raft will be your next objective to know how to use it just in case the crew are not there. Normally there should be a crew at the station. Life raft usually comes in White cylindrical shape place by the side of the vessel. Life raft have many different sizes ranging from 6men to 42men and comes with survival kit, water and ration. There are 2 ways the life raft can be activated, one is when the vessel sinks to a certain depth, it will inflate by itself. The other is to throw it overboard and that can be inflated by pulling the cord manually. Remember to tie the cord to a railing (see vid below how it can be done but NOT on the deck of the vessel). There should have instructions on the Life Raft itself.

Life Boat is not much of a concern as this must be operated by the crew. There are few different life boats as you can see on the pic below. Always allow kids and elderly to embark first. 
Life Boat Drill

Free Fall Life Boat

enclosed Life Boat
Personal Safety Gear
One item I always carry around with me is a lamp. Sometimes the vessel would blackout and this lamp came in handy. Today I am using Petzl e+Lite, it always in our EDC (Everyday Carry). I use it as a backup lamp for camping, hiking, cycling etc. If I do end up in the water at night, it has a bright flashing lamp for signal.

Whistle is next item I have, no point shouting for help while you are trying to stay afloat and exhaust all your energy. Use the whistle to signal for help.

I always have an EDC pouch with me. It goes where ever I go. 

Other safety gears are just warm clothes, cap or hat, bottle of water and some snacks that is it your carry bag. 

Sea Survival
Abandon Ship signal is when you hear ship's horn blasting away 7 short blast and 1 long blast. This is to signal nearby vessels and crew. When you hear this, do not panic. Gather all your Personal Safety Gears and get to the Life Raft Station.

SOS signal is 3 dots, 3 dashes and 3 dots (· · · — — — · · ·). Using whistle is 3 short blows, 3 long blows and 3 short blows. Same goes to light signalling.

Keeping a float is easy, if you can't swim you still can keep yourself afloat. Never never panic. First thing you want to do is get away from the sinking vessel. Feel the wind and current, swim in the same direction and you will be quicker to get away from the vessel. If you do not have a life jacket, see the diagram below how you can keep afloat.

Before jumping into the water, you need to know where you are. If the water is cold, it makes no sense to jump in, you will probably die of hypothermia within minutes. Observe what is below you, make sure there is nothing below. Next from the deck view lookout for the biggest floating object on the water that you can climb up.

Not worry about rescue  these days most vessels are equipped with SOS Beacon, rescue will come within 24 hours. Just stay in group making spotting easier.

Send your kids or yourself for swimming lessons. Learn till the stage where you know to use your pants to make a float. Glad my son had completed this stage.

If you study the safety plan carefully, you might find immersion suits location. These suits will help you stay warm and afloat. Normally is on board commercial vessels.
photo from

Diving in Fujairah, UAE - we would put on life jackets on a fast moving boat.

Knowing your exit is important. Most of the time I preferred not to be in the comfort of the boat's air-con cabin but rather out in the open deck. If there is any mishap, this will be the quicker way out. Sometimes you just simply do not have time to put on life jackets. On most ferries, there are either one or two exits. Imagine everyone wants to get out from there, it will be a trapped zone.
Anyway open deck is nicer, feel the sea breeze and enjoy a can of Ginness Stout under the Sun.

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