Shipwreck is definitely on the list of “worst case scenarios” for boaters, and even though the probability of it happening to you may be small, it does happen, and it’s best to be prepared*.
First, it’s important to remember that panic can and will be the downfall of your survival operation, and the first rule to follow is to stay calm and maintain the capacity for rational thought and team work!
Attention on deck, we’re takin’ on water!
If you find a hole below deck, and you’re taking on water, patching or plugging it is your number one priority. The main goal here is to be pumping out more water than you are taking on. With any luck, you and your crew may be able to get the situation under control long enough to get to safety, but if the hole seems too big to plug, and your situation looks bleak, it’s time for action!
Make sure to continue trying to slow water intake – in the mean time, delegate members of your crew to:
1) Radio a mayday signal
2) Prepare a raft or other floatation devices for everyone
3) Collect some necessities for use while drifting
Place emergency items in a waterproof bag prior to evacuating your craft. Some of these emergency items handy in the case of shipwreck include:
- Flare gun & flares
- Food rations
- Fresh water
- Mirror for signaling
- First aid kit
Once you’re adrift in the drink, continue to remain calm, and reassess the situation. If not in a single raft, use a rope to tie separated crew members together; this will make it easier if crew members lose consciousness or fall asleep. Estimate how long you might be waiting for rescue (an over-estimation is better here for obvious reasons), and ration out food and fresh water accordingly. Apply sunscreen frequently if possible, and take turns attentively watching for nearby boats or aircraft – the last thing you want is for everyone to be asleep when help draws near!
It might be beneficial to try to locate a nearby island, but not always. When you are adrift, you might not be finding shelter, food, or water, but at least you’re moving, and if for some reason you weren’t able to send a mayday signal, your chances of being spotted are measurably higher.
If you do end up on an island, prepare to gear up big time into survival mode! With your timeline for rescue potentially stretching out a bit, it’s time to prepare for a prolonged stay in a solitary, sandy wilderness.
Priority number 1: Finding Water
Spread out and see if there is a source of fresh water in the vicinity. If not, coconuts hold water, and larger leaves may have collected rain water. Do what you can to set up a water collection system for the next time it rains. The more water you collect, the better your chances of survival!
Priority number 2: Build a Shelter
If your raft made it to shore, it can be used as a temporary shelter, at least just to keep you off the ground and away from harmful island critters. Search for palm fronds or bamboo poles in order to construct a basic shelter. A lean-to is the easiest form of shelter to construct, and are more effective than you might think.
Priority number 3: Make a Fire
Not only is a fire a source of heat for your now exhausted body, it also acts as a signal for nearby rescue vehicles. If your matches didn’t survive the journey, and glasses, binoculars, or camera lenses are scarce, you’ll have to resort to the old Fire-Plow method.
What now, Skipper?
Once the above three priorities have been met, you can start foraging for food, spear-fishing, and doing your best to signal for help. The best way to do this is to arrange rocks, leaves, or clothes into geometric patterns; triangles, circles, Xs, anything that will contrast sharply with the ground. Spell out S-O-S if you’ve got enough material on hand. Using your mirror to signal from the highest point of the island is also a good move.
If you get really desperate to leave the island, there’s always the Build Your Own Raft option. This can be dangerous and difficult, but some have had success with it.
*Disclaimer: This post is not intended to be used in an emergency situation; it is provided for entertainment purposes only.