By Randy Boone
The Seven Steps to Survival Plan was created by the Alaska Marine Safety Education Association (AMSEA) as a plan to survive. In a survival situation, the decisions you make will be more important than the equipment you carry.
You must recognize that you are in danger. This step must start at the on-set of an unusual event such as an instrument warning, a noise or smell. It's human nature to deny these events. We try to justify them away and under-react. Announcing that you may have a problem NOW can save valuable time in preparing a search and rescue plan. Without recognition, you will not be able to move on to the following six steps. The event may seem surreal, but the sooner you can except that a traumatic event has and is happening, the sooner you will be able to perform the remaining six steps contained within "The Seven Steps To Survival" plan.
Let's face it, it has been discovered that men have a hard time admitting they are having a problem. It's called EGO. We don't like to stop to ask for directions, or let anyone know that we are not on top of the situation. This was discovered to be a trend in many survival stories after interviewing many of the Alaska fishing fleet survivors of sinkings. It was noted that many of the calls for help should have came much sooner. Several lives were being lost at sea and in many cases, a may-day was never even issued. When the survivors were asked why it took so long to sound a may-day over the radio, many of the survivors admitted that they were apprehensive to broadcast a call over the radio that they were losing control of the vessel. When they did make the call, it was too late..
By being able to recognize your situation early on, you can alert the Coast Guard or other boaters in your area that you are not declaring an emergency, but you are just letting them know that an event has happened, rather it be a gage indicating a drop in oil pressure, taking on water, or an engine issue, you are letting someone else know that you are experiencing an event that can (could) transpire into something much more serious. Once your radio contact receives all your information, it can be passed on to the nearest search and rescue facility. This information helps the SAR professionals determine what type of resources (aviation or marine) to be used should you declare an emergency.
By making this preliminary call, you have shaved about thirty minutes to an hour off of your survival stay. In colder water, cold climate, or with injuries, this critical thirty (plus) minutes can mean the difference between life and death. Don't wait until the boat sinks to make your call!
What do you have on you that will help you and what will hurt you?
This step actually starts prior to your trip. Did you place the life raft and ditch bag on board where it can be easily located and accessible for a rapid on-set ditching? Are you carrying survival or signaling devices on your person? What you have on you is what you will have with you if you fall overboard. Don't get caught empty handed! Treat all injuries during this step.
Once you enter your life Raft, you should open the survival equipment package located on the floor of the life raft and organize items (first-aid kit, signaling flares, PLB, etc.) so they are easily accessible. If you have storage pockets on the life raft, you should place these items in the pockets with signaling gear closest to the life raft opening.
Clothing is your first line of defense against the elements. Although it may not be desirable to wear long sleeves and long pants while sailing in warmer waters. They can actually help you if you make the plunge by retaining body heat, helping you to stay afloat, and protecting you from the direct rays of the sun.
Water whisks your body heat away 25 times faster than air, therefore it is always better to get as far out of the water as possible. Stay on the vessel if it is still afloat or overturned and be cautious of fuel floating in the area. Climb up on a piece of floating debris, a ice cooler, or climb into a life raft. It has been proven that a vessel (no matter how large) will not suck you down when it sinks. However, you should stay clear of lines that can snag you, and stay away from open doors that can pull you in with in-rushing water.
A signal must convey distress. For example, waving one hand above your head conveys "hello", whereas waving two hands conveys distress. Distress signals should be displayed in threes. Three logs laid together on a beach, three fires, three gun shots etc. and should you find yourself floating in the water with no signaling devices, simply grab and throw as much water into the air above you as you can. This should be done when searchers are in sight.
The M.S.T. Overwater Survival Pouch is loaded with signals. The signal mirror has been spotted as far as 60 miles away from a searching aircraft. The waterproof whistle can be heard eight times further than the human voice, the sea dye marker makes an excellent target from the air, and if you happen to have a PLB in your kit, the rescuers will know who you are, your *vessel type, *a/c color, and *equipment carried, along with your LAT/LONG position before they even take off! *You can, and should place this info on your 406 registration as well as your float plan in the remarks section. (see Downwind Magazine article)
Once you have experienced a traumatic event such as a water ditching and egress, your body has used up a large amount of water. You are already dehydrated. The ideology of rationing water has been replaced by technology. The visible signs of dehydration are: irritability, headache, dizziness, dark urine, poor judgment, loss of physical ability, nausea, drowsiness, depression, and eventually death. By drinking the available water, it will allow you to re-hydrate, thus giving you better strength and ability to think clearly. Use your renewed strength to expand on the other seven steps. In open water survival, rain will be your main resource. Be careful, those innocent looking rain squalls can produce mini storm conditions.
For sea survival, food is not an immediate concern. Although you may experience hunger within a short period of time, you can survive approximately 2-3 weeks without food.
It is important to know not to eat food unless you have water. Your body uses a lot of water to digest food, thus causing further dehydration.
Make light of your situation and keep yourself busy. You may feel helplessness and self pity. You must understand that a chain of events has led you to where you are right now. You have survived the ditching and you have recognized your demise, now is the time to take charge and overcome!
Go back and improve on the steps that you have so far completed. Use your imagination to deploy a canopy with your space blanket. You will not only block the sun's powerful rays, but you have also deployed a visual and radar target. Tie a signal mirror to the side of the life raft so that it continues to signal without you operating it. Think about your loved ones and how nice it will be when you are back home saying "and there I was".