Carter Lowe Creator, entrepreneur, and self-care advocate
Reading time: 16 min

Survival on the water, or how to escape from a sinking ship

You like to relax by the water, like most people, and it doesn’t matter what kind of body of water it is, the sea, lake or river.

Sometimes there is a desire to ride a catamaran, a boat or a speedboat. Take a trip on a river tram or a pirate brig, along the river surface or sea waves. Or even go on a trip on a large tourist liner, look at other cities and countries, immerse yourself in the romance of a sea cruise.

And when your desire goes beyond a simple “want” and you buy a ticket on a ship, there comes a time that is better spent learning how to survive on the water.

What to do and how to behave in order to survive a shipwreck, we will tell further.

Ships get into trouble

An accident can happen with by any ship, even non-sinkable ships sometimes sink. Has everyone seen the movie Titanic? The film adaptation of the maritime tragedy clearly shows how a disaster can happen and what will follow.


In addition to icebergs, there are many dangers in the sea that pose a threat to the ship. For example: shallows, reefs, rocks, storms, fires, other vessels that have lost their course.

Before boarding

You must clearly determine for yourself which rules cannot be neglected.

First and foremost, listen carefully to the instructions given by the captain of the ship or his representative. He will talk about the ship, and what everyone should do in case of an emergency in order to ensure their own and the general safety.

Second: Study the plans for evacuation from the ship, fire safety instructions, they are usually posted on the walls of the cabins, in the corridors, in the wardroom. It is better to spend a few minutes now than to waste time in an emergency when every second counts.

Third: At the very beginning of the voyage, drills will be organized. Be sure to take part in them. Practiced actions save lives in extreme situations. Most of the casualties in shipwrecks are due to the careless attitude of passengers to rescue training. Unfortunately, all safety rules are written by human victims, so do not neglect them, and you will increase your chances of survival.

Means of self-rescue

Life jackets are provided for each passenger and crew member on board.

You must know where your life jacket is and how to properly put it on. There have been cases when an incorrectly worn life jacket only accelerated the death of the victim.

Try it on, make it fit. Check the presence of a whistle, a signal flashlight and the length of the rope (bait) with which you can become attached to the rescue equipment.

On what we will escape from the ship

Each ship is equipped with collective means of rescue:

  • boats of open and closed type;
  • inflatable and solid boats;
  • life rafts are rigid and fully inflatable.

All of them are located on the boat decks. Each passenger is assigned a seat in a life-saving vehicle. Go all the way from the cabin to the boat to which you are assigned. Work it out to the state of "legs themselves know the way." In case of trouble, there will be no time to think, you will have to act clearly and quickly.

Prepare a set of essentials, pack it tightly and put it so that you can quickly take it if necessary, and not waste time collecting.

Remember the Boat Alert - seven short blasts and one long blast. It is served with a ship's whistle or blows to the ship's bell (rynda) and is repeated several times.

How everything will happen

On large sea and river vessels, the main actions of passengers for self-rescue come down to the fastest exit to the boat deck and the clear execution of the commands of the captain or his representative, from the crew members, who in charge of rescue operations.

Don't think for a second if it's a training alarm or not. Grab a life jacket, a blanket, a set of things, documents and run to the boats.

On small vessels

On yachts and boats, it is necessary to act a little differently. If an accident occurs, in no case do not give in to emotions. To begin with, get rid of personal fear, evaluate the situation as a whole. It is necessary to understand what threatens the ship and its crew in the first place, what in the second and what to expect in the near future.

The ship's damage control is led by the captain. He distributes tasks among the crew members. If you feel that you can help, tell the captain about it, if not, then just don't interfere. At the same time, you should be not far from the rescue equipment.

It is impossible to save the boat

It will have to be abandoned, but this must be done only in case of an immediate threat to life. Even after you are in the boat, do not swim far from the sinking ship, it is bigger, it is more than just a boat and it is easier to see it from the air.

There were cases when the crew left a sinking ship and died before it went to the bottom.

While you are waiting to board the boat

All the clothes that you have, it is better to put on yourself. On top of everything, something waterproof. The rule of layering works here, two thin sweaters are better than one thick one. This will help to keep warm more effectively and avoid cold damage in air or in water.

Try to protect the chest below the armpits, neck area, head, groin area. These places are most prone to heat loss.

Children, women, wounded and weakened people are the first to go to the means of salvation. For insurance, a healthy, adult man must be in the boat. After loading, people in the boats are given emergency kits, first aid kits, and other things necessary for survival on the water, according to the principle, first the essentials, only then everything else.

The captain is the last to leave the ship, after making sure that all passengers and crew members have left the ship.

You ended up in the water

Even if you did everything right, the risk of being overboard cannot be ruled out.

Reasons why this may happen:

  • not enough room in the boat;
  • was late for loading;
  • the vessel has received a strong heel, it is impossible to stand on the deck;
  • slipped;
  • washed away by the wave;
  • jumped into the water for his life.

Survival on the water requires certain rules to be followed, whether you are a good swimmer or not able to swim at all.

Any body of water, regardless of whether it is a sea or an ocean, a lake or a river, carries a potential danger. In case of an accident on any water, there is a golden rule: "The less a person bathes, the longer he lives."

Numerous facts prove that in a life-saving device, even not the most experienced person can fight the elements for weeks. And in the water, even a very good swimmer dies in a matter of hours, in rare cases - days. He will have the ability not to drown, and the strength to swim, but even if the water temperature is plus thirty, he will inevitably die from hypothermia. Hoping that in the event of an accident you will swim to the shore and not rely on collective means of salvation is the greatest stupidity.

Bathing is unavoidable

In a situation where the ship is sinking, the boats are lowered and contact with water is inevitable, it is important:

1. Go down to the water on storm ladders, rope ladders or jump from a low side on the leeward side.

2. Before jumping, inspect the splashdown area. There should be no foreign objects, especially floating people. Otherwise, you will be injured or damage the life jacket. Jumping is best avoided, because its ending is not one hundred percent predictable.

3. Before jumping, you need to take off your glasses, women - earrings, so as not to be injured when hitting the water.

4. Stand on the edge of the board, take in more air and jump down with your feet. Feet together, slightly bent at the knees, arms to chest, head slightly tilted, but not much. The smaller the area of ​​​​contact with the water during the jump, the safer.

5. During the jump, hold the rescuer close to the body, pulling it down to the legs to avoid injury from a jerk at the moment of entering the water.

6. If the vessel has a list, it is much easier to get close to the water, along the sloping side, but very carefully and carefully, there is a risk of injury from shells or protruding rivets.

7. As soon as you find yourself in the water, immediately move away from the ship for a few meters, the wave can hit the side, and turn around to face him. If necessary, you can push off from the body with your hands and feet.

Look around. Nearby there are floating objects. Hold on to them. The main thing is that nails, metal cables, any sharp edges that can damage the life jacket do not stick out of them. It is better to stay away from dangerous floating parts of the ship, if possible, push them away from you, as far as possible.

No life jacket

If this happens, no matter for what reason, it is important to remain calm.

Try to pick up floating debris, plastic bottles on the surface of the water. Take off your jacket and fill it with everything that floats, fasten all the buttons, tie the sleeves around you.

Try to tie a raft together from the wooden wreckage of the sinking ship and the pieces of Styrofoam that is under the skin.

Use anything that floats. A pair of empty canisters, tied together with a rope, can withstand the weight of an adult on the water.

Keeping warm keeps life

So, you're in the water in a life jacket. Take a semi-sitting position, cross your legs and pull up to your stomach. Place your hands on your chest. In this position, water less affects the most susceptible to cold places - the back of the head, neck and especially the head. The more parts of the body in ordinary air, the less heat loss. Even negative temperatures in the atmosphere are safer than near zero in water.

Immobility in the recommended posture significantly reduces heat loss, hence increasing survival. With active movement, hypothermia occurs twice as fast.

It is necessary to swim quickly, when rendering assistance to comrades or to a rescue vehicle.

If you still have to swim, then try to do it without sharp sweeping movements of your arms and legs. It is better to swim at a calm, measured pace, with short strokes under water.

Avoid cramps

Sometimes, due to general or local hypothermia, prolonged exposure to the same posture, cramps may appear in the muscles of the legs, arms, abdomen, neck and fingers. They are very painful, but they will not lead to death if you are wearing a life jacket.

To avoid cramps, vigorously massage a tired limb, a supercooled muscle. Move your toes, hands, change your posture. Remember one thing, convulsions are much less life-threatening than hypothermia caused by physical activity.

If you don't have a life jacket on, then seizure prevention is a must. Usually severely reduces the toes, calf and thigh muscles. This is facilitated by sudden movements and excessive muscle tension.

There was a convulsion. Breathe more air into yourself, bend in the water and, while swimming with your back up, prick or pinch the contracted muscle a couple of times, try to straighten your leg with your hands. Do not strain other muscles - this will help to avoid extensive cramps throughout the body.

The main thing is not to panic. Survival on the water without a life jacket is quite possible. You can stay on the surface of the water with the help of active limbs.

In no case should you leave even a half-flooded watercraft, it gives more chances to survive than a rescue. Hold on to the circular handrails, and even better, sit on them facing the raft or boat, lean forward with your chest.

Attract attention

Are you in the water, but you are not seen by life-saving equipment?

There is a whistle on the life jacket, use it. Wave your arms at the same time. In the dark, turn on the signal light, it is also on the rescue. It consists of a water-filled battery and a two and a half volt light bulb, which is protected by a transparent cap. To start it, you need to pull out a special cap from the battery, water works as an electrolyte. After three to five minutes, depending on the temperature of the water, the signal fire will start working and will shine for about eleven hours.

Climb into the boat

You've been found. It is a boat or an inflatable boat. They will approach you as close as possible and help you on board. To avoid a rollover, you need to get into the boat from the stern or from the bow.

If it is a raft or a large boat, then they will throw you a lifeline or the end of the Aleksandrov from some distance, pull you up and help you get out.

In most cases, life-saving appliances, boats, rafts are equipped with rope or rigid ladders, which facilitates the lifting of people in the water.

When the rescue equipment is full, you can fasten it with a special pin, which is also on the life jacket, to rope lines and stay in the water.

Emergency warming

On large boats, survival craft are equipped with survival kits for survival on the water. It usually includes kits for warming a person removed from the water. They are hermetically packed in polyethylene or vulcanized in a rubber bag.

The emergency warming kit includes:

1. Terry towel - for wiping and drying the victim.

2. A wool blanket or sleeping bag.

3. "Wool" - pants, sweater, socks made of camel hair. To replace wet clothes.

4. A small alcohol stove with a supply of dry fuel.

5. Shelter bag made of dense polyethylene. It can accommodate two or three people. It is designed to protect those affected by bad weather.

6. A small metal can with a holder for boiling water.

7. A can of condensed milk is fast calories and carbohydrates.

8. A leaflet with instructions for first aid in case of hypothermia.

In the absence of such a set, rubbing can be applied. But remember one golden rule. Blood throughout the body spreads from the heart, therefore, you need to start rubbing from it, that is, from the chest. If you start rubbing the limbs, then hot blood through the veins will run to a colder heart, and this can cause it to stop.

You're in the boat

So you're alive and the chances of rescue are growing. Now is not the time to get depressed. Everything has already happened, now it remains to wait for help.

The lifeboat is manned by the captain or the most experienced and authoritative member of the crew. As soon as you are in the boat, you automatically become a member of the crew of this watercraft and must unconditionally obey the leader.

The leader seats people in such a way as to maintain centering and avoid overturning due to violation of stability.

Survival on the water in a survival craft depends on the correctness of the actions of the captain and the team under his command

And must know

Survival in a group will bring salvation to everyone, but if every man for himself, then, most likely, there is little chance of survival.

When you find yourself in the boat, everything that you managed to save, personal belongings, food, clothes must be handed over to the captain. He will redistribute them correctly for further use. In such situations, there simply are no personal things.

If possible, secure the lifeboat close to the sinking ship.

The SOS signal has already been received by shore rescue services and nearby ships. Help moves to the crash square. Look for survivors will be in it. Your task is to stay in place for as long as possible.

When the ship went down

Drop anchor and wait.

Even one day on a raft is a very long time.

Thirst, hunger and fear overtake a person very quickly. Only knowledge and lack of time to think can defeat them.

A few practical tips to keep from going crazy:

1. Set up a 24-hour watch. Monitor the sea, air and the condition of the boat.

2. The elder keeps a diary from the first day, in which he describes all the events and decisions made. Data about each person who is in the means of salvation is also recorded there.

3. Collect all products in one place and organize N. Z., for the safety of which the person appointed by the captain is responsible.

4. Establish a rigid food and drinking diet.

5. Try not to eat for the first two or three days and conserve drinking water.

6. Organize the extraction of food and drinking water. Fishing, hunting, rainwater harvesting, desalination.

7. Eat food all together at the same time. The division of water and food should take place in front of everyone.

8. If there is not enough water, then it is better to refrain from eating, the process of digestion increases thirst.

9. Everyone on the raft should try to lie still, any movement increases water consumption. The exception is watchmen.

The above recommendations are suitable for a warm climate, you can’t lie down for a long time in the cold. Here it is better to sit, clinging to each other.

Many tips are suitable both for the sea and for large fresh water bodies, with the only difference being that the banks are visible on the rivers, which means you can try to get to them and wait for help there.

But in any case, survival, between catastrophe and salvation, depends largely on you and your actions.

Knowledge is power. When you are in a new unfamiliar place, always ask yourself the question: “What will I do if this or that happens?” Answer it correctly, and then no trouble will take you by surprise.