Let’s take a moment to consider your abandon ship system. Yes, it is a system and in this document we will look at each component part and how they are related. There are four essential components to this system.
LIFE RAFT: It’s an essential part of the system but there some considerations you should take into account. If you bought the life raft yourself, you will have taken the crew numbers into account and sized the raft accordingly. You will have taken note of the emergency pack contents and have a comprehensive list of every item included along with the expiry dates of items such as first aid supplies, flares and batteries. You will also have noted the manufacturers recommended service intervals and as far as is possible, are in compliance. If the raft is a canister model, you will have given some thought to its position on the boat so that it can be easily deployed in an emergency. Yacht design varies so much so it is impossible to recommend an ideal life raft stowage position. However, ease of deployment must be a top priority before you consider weight and balance calculations or aesthetics. If the raft is a valise model, then a different set of challenges exist. Some owners prefer to stow valise rafts in a cockpit locker whilst some prefer to stow down below. Whatever location you choose, ensure that the raft can be located readily and easily brought on deck for deployment. Valise rafts should also be kept completely dry during stowage. If the life raft came with the boat, then the same requirements listed above regarding service dates and date sensitive emergency pack items should be noted. If the previous owner is unable to provide documentary evidence of this then you should consider having the raft opened for inspection. Most manufacturers recommend three year service intervals up to year 10 and annually thereafter. This is a sensible guideline but in practice most properly serviced leisure rafts just need three year intervals. We recently performed a service on a regularly inspected 22 year old raft which was in much better condition than a seven year old raft undergoing its first service.
TETHERING POINT: It may seem obvious that canister rafts should be secured to a strong point on the deck. In practice though we have seen more than a few which were not secured at all or were secured in a way in which deployment of the raft would have been compromised. An average leisure raft will have a painter length of between 6 – 15 metres (20 – 50 feet) before the firing mechanism is activated so pulling an extra foot or two to secure to the tethering point is preferable than joining a weaker line to the painter. If you must join a line to the painter, then try to use a knot which allows the loose ends to be whipped and inspect regularly for signs of UV degradation. Securing the raft in a deck cradle is best done with purpose made webbing straps secured with a quick release pelican hook. If the raft is mounted on the push pit then a quick release pelican hook will also work well. If you incorporate a hydrostatic release unit with this option, then make sure you change it every two years and also ensure it is sized to the life raft you own. Some catamarans incorporate a purpose made locker designed specifically for life raft storage and all that is generally required is some stabilization and/or strapping to avoid the canister moving in a heavy sea in addition to a secure tethering point. Other catamarans use a life raft cavity under the rear deck with a pad eye below the cavity to secure the painter. This system needs to be inspected closely to ensure that the raft will slide free of the cavity. If it does not, attach a line or strap to the lower pad eye, take it under und over the canister to a stanchion or other point on deck. One pull on the line will start the raft on its way into the water. With a valise life raft, it is best to decide in advance where you are likely to board the raft from and select a strong point at or adjacent to that location. You may not have time in an emergency to think about tying knots so consider a carabiner or other device which is attached to the painter and which can be quickly clipped to a lifeline or part of the rigging just before deploying the raft. GRAB BAG(S): This is one part of the system where most confusion exists, even amongst professional charter crews who have undergone STCW qualifications. Before we go further let’s just consider a few points. Since the new ISO 9650 standards were introduced in 2005 there are four different emergency pack types as follows: Less than 24 hours Over 24 hours SOLAS B SOLAS A The items included in each pack vary with some commonality existing also and it is possible to have your raft packed to SOLAS A standard. However, if your raft is packed with a less than 24 hour pack it is possible and acceptable to upgrade to SOLAS A by including the additional items required. Therefore, the grab bag is in integral and important part of the system. But what should it contain – let’s take a step back. You have just abandoned ship and are now in a survival situation. Your life and the lives of your crew are in peril so your previous planning should have focused on SURVIVAL. Just focus on the following: Water Food First Aid Communications With EPIRB’s, Sat Phones and VHF we have probably seen the end of those epic stories where people drift for months in a life raft eating fish and sea birds. Once your EPIRB has been activated (it is registered, right?) you are most likely looking at a two to five day window at most before the SAR authorities can divert a resource or commercial ship to your location. However, the time that you spend in a life raft will be a very uncomfortable and dangerous time. There is virtually nothing you can do to alleviate the discomfort so don’t even try. However, there is a lot you can do to minimize the danger and this is where your focus should be. Water is the first priority, at least 1 ½ litres per person is the SOLAS requirement. If you have a SOLAS B or A pack then this will be in the life raft in the form of foil packs which have a five year expiration time. If there is none in the raft, or even if there is then a 20 litre jerry jug should be lashed securely on deck with a rope attached securely to the jug at one end and a carabiner at the other. Once the raft is deployed the jerry jug is clipped to the raft painter and sent overboard. You now have water on board. Food is where we see the worst ideas. Tuna in brine, tins of pineapple chunks in syrup, baked beans, beef jerky, granola bars….the list goes on. Let’s say it again – you are in a SURVIVAl situation so the only food you need in a life raft is the vacuum packed, scientifically formulated, low sodium, horrible tasting emergency ration biscuits which are designed to keep you alive and reduce your requirement for water. One granola bar will require a ½ liter of water just to digest, beef jerky is saturated with salt, pineapple contains citric acid which will promote seasickness. As for Tuna chunks in Brine….enough said. If you are savvy enough to find a foodstuff which contains a similar formulation to emergency rations with the required amounts of protein, carbohydrates and low sodium then please feel free to substitute. I guess the real message is to avoid any foodstuff which will increase your requirement for water and which is likely to cause stomach upsets. It is very important to avoid any food stuff which is likely to cause any kind of upset and build up of stomach gas. Seasickness is debilitating at the best of times and will cause rapid dehydration. Combine this with Diarrhea and you have a life threatening situation. The first aid supplies in your grab bag should firstly focus on any prescription medication which may be required and then include copious amounts of anti-motion sickness and anti-diarrhea medication. It is a sensible idea to include painkillers, sterile wipes, antiseptic and/or antibiotic wound creams, gauze, bandages, scissors etc. This is a largely subjective area where each person differs but the overriding idea is to plan for what may happen in addition to your level of competence and pack accordingly but without lugging an entire trauma clinic along with you. It goes without saying that you must carry an EPIRB and/or a Sat Phone with a hand held VHF radio as the minimum level of communications. Think about where they go. One customer proudly showed me his auto release EPIRB which will auto activate and float free whilst sending that important position signal to the COSPAS SARSAT satellite. The only issue is that after two days at sea with the life raft being blown along at two knots his EPIRB is likely to be over 100 miles away! It is quite acceptable for your EPIRB or SAT phone to live in its cradle at the chart table whilst the vessel is at anchor. It is equally good practice to ensure they are stowed in the grab bag before each and every passage because in the confusion of an emergency situation it is all too easy to overlook something. So, we have covered the four most important grab bag contents and now it’s time to look at what else should be in there. Bear in mind that this is a subjective area and people will have different ideas. As long as you consider everything we have said so far then the rest of the contents are optional. Here is what we recommend and in no particular order: Measuring cup - to ensure everyone receives equal water rations. Sunscreen – sunburn will contribute to dehydration! . Copies of ships papers, passports, credit and debit cards and insurance in a Ziploc bag bound in duct tape. Extra Flares – 2 parachute red rockets and 3 handheld red. Strobe light with interchangeable red and white lens/spare batteries. Spare waterproof torch and batteries. Playing cards Spare battery for the Sat Phone if carried. Additional Ziploc bags for water collection. Thermal protective aids. Signaling mirror. In reality, people pack their grab bags with items they feel they may need should the worst happen. This is fine as long as you consider the four essential items listed above and realise that the focus is on survival. PLAN This is the final component of the system and should not be overlooked. Having a well rehearsed plan can avoid confusion and panic in an emergency. The plan should include a rehearsal of the life raft deployment method specific to your boat as well as the location of the grab bags and emergency water. As an example, here is the plan that we recommend but bear in mind that yours may be just as good or even better. This scenario assumes a rapid uncontrollable ingress of water in rough weather. After the Mayday call all crew assemble in the cockpit wearing auto inflate life jackets and safety harnesses. One person deploys the life raft which quickly floats away to the extent of the painter and inflates. The life raft ballast bags and drogue have deployed under the raft and it is no longer possible to maneuver the raft closer to the stricken yacht due to the sea state. The person who launched the raft now clips the water jerry jug to the painter line using the carabiner tied to the jug and releases it overboard. The person responsible for the grab bags now passes the bags with the attached carabiners. These are clipped to the painter line and released overboard. The evacuation of the crew begins with the strongest, fittest person going first. Tethered to the painter line with their safety harness each person swims on their back to the raft where they are helped onboard. Water and bags are now hauled onboard also. Using the emergency knife which is normally located just inside the entrance to the raft, the painter line is cut. Each crew takes a seasickness pill. However, it is important that no water is consumed for the first 24 hours to use the body’s store of water and to decrease the chance of sickness. The only exception to this rule is if one person is injured and needs attention. The EPIRB is now activated. Your plan can be modified depending on the circumstances, for example fire evacuation in calm seas where you would most likely board the raft directly from the yacht. However key elements of the plan such as clipping everything and everyone to the painter line must remain.