Into the drink

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If you’re a boat owner, and you probably are if you’re reading South Africa’s most popular power boating magazine, then there is a very good chance that you, or someone you know has had to exit a boat at short notice. Regular boat maintenance and safe boat navigation are the key factors that will keep you aboard your boat, but when the uncommon situation arises that you need abandon ship due to it sinking, you need to be properly prepared. Regular maintenance, which includes through-hull fittings, stuffing boxes and outboard brackets, among other maintenance exercises can be done to prevent problems, but occurrences such as fires or the boat striking an object and taking on water are sometimes unavoidable. Abandoning ship is always the absolutely last resort.

The aim of boating is to guarantee the safety of all those aboard. If the boat needs to be abandoned, those on the boat need to be well versed in leaving the boat in a safe manner and what procedures to follow. Guests on the boat should wear PFDs or be made aware of where they are stowed in case of emergency.

The captain should transmit the position of the boat by making a Mayday call to the coast guard as soon as it is evident that the boat is in trouble.

Are the flares on the boat accessible and are they unexpired? In a survey recently completed targeting the safety compliance of boats, up to 35% of boats were not compliant with standard safety and flare regulations. A well positioned flare makes a sinking boat that much easier for sea rescue operators to find.

It is imperative to have a life raft on board, even on a small boat. Life rafts range from large canopied affairs to small dinghy type life rafts. Ensuring that your boat has a life raft will save lives if you ever find yourself in the predicament of having to use it. Do some research as to what life raft best suits the type and size of your boat.

life ring

A ditch bag is important to store essentials such as small amounts of water, first aid supplies, flares, a hand held VHF radio and whistles. You’d also do well to keep some energy bars in there too!

The instances of anyone being aboard a sinking boat are very slim, but this does not detract from the fact that each and every boat needs to be well prepared for this eventuality. Prior preparation will often save the lives of the people aboard.

7 steps to follow if you’re sinking

1. All crew must put on their life jackets and assemble the ditch bag with personal locator beacons and VHF radio.

2. Captain makes a Mayday call to the coast guard.

3. Try and find the leak and plug it sufficiently to limp back to the marina.

4. Sterndrive and inboard owners can disconnect the raw-water intake and use it as a crash pump if they have the know-how.

5. Immediately head for shore and if necessary, ground the boat on the beach or a sand bank to prevent it from sinking.

6. Most boats will not sink completely and staying with the boat, even if you are in a life raft, will present a bigger target for sea rescue boats and helicopters.

7. Have a clear plan in place at all times and know the drills required if your boat gets into trouble.


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