Avoiding on-water tragedy

A few weeks ago I watched a 60 Minutes story on the MV Dianne, an ex-trawler that was being used as a Sea Slug diving boat off the small town of 1770, located near Bundaberg. Tragically, the vessel rolled over whilst underway and six lives were lost, with only one survivor. After personally spending many thousands of hours at sea, I was drawn to this very sad story and found it hard not to put myself in their shoes. I also have survived a very rapid sinking at sea and it still sends a shiver up my spine every time I hear a tragic scenario like this.

Unfortunately, there are many thousands of lives lost each year around the world due to capsize, sinking and swamping. Recently, at the Sydney International Boat Show, I was talking to a colleague of mine from Papua New Guinea National Marine Safety Authority and he told me the conservative estimate of lives lost in this relatively small South Pacific nation was 1800 per year. Multiply this by every developing and developed country in the world and the figures are astronomical. That means thousands of men, women and children are not going home to their families at the end of the day.

So how can we try to stop these unnecessary deaths or even at best reduce them?

Everyone enjoys a day out on the water, many people work on the water and many more use the water and boats as their main mode of transport. So what do you do, and what do you need, when it all turns ugly and you only have a few seconds to save your life? In my experience I believe there are four main steps which one needs to consider if you are going to survive an unforeseen incident on the water.

Safety equipment - Location of safety equipment onboard. Keep your safety equipment within easy access, it must be highly visible, able to be grabbed in seconds and must be kept in a buoyant container and float free from its position onboard. If not, I equate it to keeping your seatbelt in your boot of your car. You are never going to get to it in a split second when you need it most. Remember, it is not necessarily the incident that will kill you; it is not being able to alert somebody as to your peril. You do not want to be looking in the wrong place onboard when you may only have seconds to exit. In my experience this can be a fatal mistake. If I had have spent another five seconds onboard trying to locate my flares when my boat was sinking, we all would have died as a result of me being trapped within the cabin confines.

Check expiry dates - It is no good ending up in the water with safety equipment that does not work. Always check expiry dates on flares; check anything with a battery such as your EPIRB, torch, or electronic flares and regularly inspect your fire extinguisher. All of these can easily be overlooked and it’s essential for these to be in good working order.

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Buoyancy - Life jackets (personal flotation devices, or PFDs) are a mandatory part of boating in Australia. Make sure they are well fitted and are in good order. Always service PFDs, as they are not much use if they do not inflate. Also having a buoyant device onboard such as a life ring or Life Cell, will give you two bites at the cherry and ensure your survival, as buoyancy is crucial if you do find yourself in the water for any period of time.

Stay together - More than likely there will be only one set of signalling equipment on board so it is imperative to stay together (especially at night). Buoyant devices with lanyards, handles or tethers are a must. Remember, the ocean is a very big place and you don’t want to end up being the needle in a haystack.

In my opinion, each time you hop onboard you should give your passengers a quick induction on safety equipment location – it might save your lives! Happy boating.

Scott Smiles - Courtesy of Nautilus Marine Magazine

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