A bad day at sea is difficult to imagine


Date: Sun, 8 Oct 2006 08:31:04 -0400

From: Dave Cooper

Subject: Re: [PUP] Where to place a life raft?


<Peter wrote: I wonder, what pushes someone to make a decision to abandon ship when the ship does not sink? How does an offshore sailor prepare mentally to make the right decision?>


In hindsight one has the time to envision a better solution to a bad day at sea that they may have chosen at the time of the difficulty.


There are many things that the Safety at Sea Seminars and other good sources of information don't tell you about when you are faced with a "stay or leave" decision in a floundering boat.


The cause of the floundering and the sea state have a greater bearing on this, IMO, than that is realized.


For example if the boat is merely taking on water from a malfunction in a relatively mild sea state then one has time to deal with the situation in trying to stem the flow of water and prepared the abandon ship gear along with the deployment of the raft in an somewhat orderly fashion.


If on the other had the cause of the floundering is cause by wind and/or sea state then the parameters become more of a wrestling match between Mother Nature and the crew both physically and mentally.


It is difficult to maintain your orientation and balance when one is repeated in a boat that is alternately upside down, right side up and being tossed at the mercy of the sea state. Trying to make the correct moves at this point is quite difficult no matter what your "Armchair" or "Seminar" information has told you.


It is more difficult to keep you mind focused on the task at hand in order to make the correct decisions to best get your butt and the crews out of this situation alive.


The chaos inside a boat in a significant sea when it has water inside cannot be described with my knowledge of the English language. The action of the sea water going from one end of the vessel to the other and from top to bottom virtually turn the contents of the boat into a slurry while ripping out bits and pieces of the boat. This makes the inside of the boat a dangerous and very inhospitable place to be. Trying to gather or fetch any item inside is a life threatening process. Wearing any kind of gear or clothing inside the boat will get you entangled which is also not good for your well being.


I can certainly see why people would physically want to leave the place of chaos for what is perceived as a better less chaotic ride in a raft or dinghy or anything. The mental picture, especially if it is your yacht/boat, is one of great destruction of you pride and joy. This can lead to distorted actions very easily. "Everything I have is ruined/gone/destroyed" in fact is not the case and the perhaps the basic boat is still OK and a better haven than the raft.


No two cases are alike but one needs to work very hard at keeping on top of the game in these kinds of circumstances. Unfortunately there isn't much in the way of simulators to prepare for this. Those that have been through it and survive generally keep a lot of it to themselves. Sort of like some of it is too painful to speak about publicly. If you made what the armchair lawyers think is a wrong decision and something or someone is lost because of an action you took they will hound you forever.


In 1991, if my memory serves me correctly, the US Coast Guard was trying to promote the new 406 EPRIB system that had just gone on line. They decided that they would round up a few of us "survivors" and parade us around at boat shows in front of an audience of reporters/writers and anyone else who wish to attend. They would get to listen to the oh's and ah's of the 406 system and then get to listen to a half a dozen folks who were still breathing having been rescued well offshore by them. I forget the criteria exactly but I think it was something like 200+ miles off shore so no land based service was in range....might have been a bit more. In any case after 3 or 4 boat shows...Annapolis, Ft Lauderdale, NY and Miami... I think they gave up or at least didn't want me anymore ;-) Few folks showed up and the reporters/writers didn't generate any articles of great importance other than a few of the 406 system. They thought the "speakers" were to grim and negative about there experiences. Hell, I thought we were all damn positive as we were alive, breathing and to a person still out on the seas as often as before!


In a nutshell you have to have been in these circumstances to be able to speak of what one might do, should do, could do and would do the same or differently when these events happen the first time or the second time. But the person you are trying to convey this information to can't begin to absorb it as there worst mental picture is far better than a really bad day at sea can be.


I hope I've answered Peter's question at least to a degree. It's not a pretty picture as it unfolds and each of us will react in a different way. As Master of a Vessel you are responsible for everything thing. As crew you are responsible to carry out the orders of the master. In a recreational boat these tasks are clouded generally. Having several well intentioned folks doing things to save themselves in their minds may cause the loss of more. So this further clouds the picture. One person may decide to step down into the raft while another wants to wait to step up. Once the raft is inflated it is in danger of being torn loose and departing the vessel. Once this happens those left on the vessel have lost their raft as there is no way for a raft to be maneuvered once it is inflated. Coordination and discipline are large success factors. Someone in charge and the rest following instructions to a t. Not action/reaction.


My best advice is to keep out of harm's way, be very smart on preparing your vessel in all ways to keep her afloat and dry in the worst conditions expected, and never, never encounter conditions which can cause your boat to flounder!


More than I wanted to say but thanks for reading this far.




Dave & Nancy, still paddling about on the sea

Swan Song

Roughwater 58

Puerto La Cruz, Venezuela




Dave, this is perhaps the best posting I have ever encountered.  Thank you for sharing your insight.  You have motivated me to research and train myself with new information.  Again, thank you!


Scott Bulger

Alanui, Nordhavn 40II, Seattle