Tag Archives: swimming

Drownproofing

ws boots

US Marine Corps Photo

10/01/14
To Do Today:

  • PT – 4Q Physical Fitness Test: Pull-ups (max), Sit-Ups (max in 2min), 3 Mile Run. Max 5 min rest between events. Strict form. Calculate results using this matrix. Extra credit for Push-Ups (max in 2 min). Record score and improve by a minimum of 15 points by end of December (+15 push-ups).
  • Practice the floatation and swimming methods described below in a pool or open water until mastered.

Drownproofing Methods

An object that floats on the surface has positive buoyancy. An object that floats a few feet beneath the surface has neutral buoyancy. An object that sinks has negative buoyancy. Most people have positive buoyancy and will float at the water’s surface. To test your buoyancy:

  • Stand in water that is at your chest level or deeper.
  • Take a full breath.
  • Bend forward slowly.
  • Relax and wait.

If you have positive buoyancy, you will slowly rise to the surface. If you have neutral buoyancy, you will float a few feet beneath the surface. If you have negative buoyancy, you will sink. Regardless of whether you naturally float or sink, you can remain at the surface for extended periods without a life preserver if you exercise the appropriate drownproofing methods or survival strokes, which are based on your buoyancy. Note: drownproofing should never be regarded as a substitute for normal safety precautions recommended for any water activity.

Drownproofing methods consist of the T-method and the sweep. The breast stroke, side stroke, and elementary backstroke are the most common survival strokes. With any drownproofing method or survival stroke, remember the acronym SAFE:

  • SLOW EASY MOVEMENTS. Move slowly to conserve energy and minimize heat loss.
  • APPLY NATURAL BUOYANCY. Use natural buoyancy to support the body.
  • FULL LUNG INFLATION. Fill the lungs with each breath. Do not hold air in the cheeks.
  • EXTREME RELAXATION. Tight muscles are denser than relaxed ones and do not float as well.

T-Method

The T-method is a basic drownproofing method. This is the best survival technique if you have negative buoyancy. To execute the T-method:

  • With your face out of the water, take a deep breath and submerge your face in the water while holding your breath.

tmethod

  • Float with your body in a horizontal position, arms extended from your side, and legs extended and joined.
  • Move your hands up to your armpits by tracing an imaginary line along your ribs. Extend your arms outward (horizontal) to your sides, your body position resembles the letter “T.”
  • Step out and forward with one leg and point your other leg to the rear, your knees should be slightly bent.

swim5

  • Simultaneously, bring your arms down to your sides. Then bring your legs back together.
  • You complete the steps by exhaling most of your air and preparing to surface your face to obtain another breath of air.
  • Hold your head out of the water. Tilt your head back slightly. Breathe normally.
  • Once your breath is complete, move your hands up and down directly in front of your body.
  • Do this two or three times to slow your descent into the water. NOTE: To avoid hyperventilating, hold your breath below the surface of the water for no more than 10 seconds.

The Sweep

Video: Here

The sweep (survival float) works well if you have slight to excellent positive buoyancy. To execute the sweep:

  • Float face down in the water.
  • Bend 45 degrees at the waist, arms and legs dangling, head hanging down, relax all muscles.

sweep1

  • Spread your feet slowly to prepare for a single kick (one leg is forward and one leg is rearward).
  • Cross your arms in front of your chest, palms outboard with the back of each hand touching the opposite ear. Exhale prior to raising your head for a breath.
  • Bring your legs together and sweep your arms down and out until the arms are fully extended out to the sides. This raises your face above the water and allows you to catch a breath of air.sweep2
  • With your air supply replenished, return your face to the water and relax while sweeping your arms in a downward motion in front of your body to prevent/slow your descent. Do not hold your breath for more than 10 seconds. More than 10 seconds enhances your chances of shallow water black out and subsequent drowning.

Swim Strokes

Combat Swim

Video Here.

The combat swim, or combat side stroke, is a variation of the traditional side stroke and is an efficient low energy stroke that allows a swimmer to perform without tiring for a longer period of time. It also allows for a reduction of the body profile in the water, making one less visible.

  • Body Position: A strong, engaged core will allow for the body to remain horizontal, decreasing the amount of drag caused by the lower body. While head position isn’t as crucial in the combat side stroke as it is in freestyle, it still dictates the position of your hips. The higher the head, the lower the hips, and the more resistance from the water. Additionally, both hands must remain under water at all times.

There are two main components to the combat side stroke: the pull and the kick. There are several options for both. Some prefer a stroke that alternates sides often; others prefer to swim on their strong side until tired and only then switching sides.

  • Arm Action: Two arms, two pulls. While on your side kicking, there will be one arm under your body, the underarm, and an arm that is higher in the water. The underarm is important in stabilizing and balancing the stroke. The pull on this arm is similar to that of a breaststroke pull, and depending on how strong and proficient you are at swimming, will determine the length of the pull. Some swimmers may opt to pull to waist level (this may lead to an imbalance in the stroke if improperly timed with the other arm), others to armpit level, while others may opt for small, rapid circular movements commonly referred to as sculling. The second arm, or upper arm, uses a pull largely similar to that of freestyle or front crawl. The difference lies in the recovery of the arm, which happens partially submerged. While your arm may recover outside the water, your hand must remain submerged at all times. This results in a more low profile stroke, with fewer splashes, making it discrete.
  • Leg Action: As with the pull, there are different kick preferences, and finding the one that works best for you is important. Many prefer the standard flutter kick on the side. Side kicking is fairly strong and effective as it displaces water in both directions equally, unlike the standard up and down kick (an upward kick is possible but can prove difficult to master). Most tend to stay on their side without significant hip rotation, keeping the head slightly up to breathe at most/all times. Others may desire a more fluid kicking style that allows them to corkscrew through the water and will use a scissor kick. In this case the kick should be timed so your top leg always goes forward (no matter what side you are on). You should kick just after both arms have pulled and are recovering allowing you to corkscrew and glide through the water. This style employs hip rotation significantly more than the standard flutter kick. You can perform the combat side stroke with or without fins, but if you are swimming with fins the scissor kick method is not recommended.
  • Coordination: Top arm pull, bottom arm pull-breathe, kick (if scissor kicking, otherwise kick throughout), recover arms, glide.

Crawl Stroke

Video: Here

The crawl stroke, sometimes called the front crawl or free style, is the fastest stroke. To execute the crawl stroke:

  • Body position: Lie horizontal, on your stomach, in the water. Look forward and downward at a 45 degree angle with the waterline between your eyebrows and hairline. Your head position is important as it assists in cutting a path through the water. If your head is too high in the water, your lower body sinks significantly, making your stroke less efficient. If your head is too low in the water, water washes over your shoulders and neck, causing unnecessary drag.
  • Arm action: Arm action occurs in three phases: catch, propulsion, and recovery. Fully extend one arm forward of your body, this positions your hand to catch the water in preparation for the propulsion phase. To catch the water, bend your wrist (with your palm pointing outboard) and make an “S” shape (or inverted “S” shape) with your hand, ensuring that your hand does not cross the center of your body. Your left hand makes an “S” shape and your right hand makes an inverted “S” shape with your hand finishing at shoulder level. Push with your hands in a rearward fashion toward your feet until your arm is fully extended along your side, keeping your hands close to your body. To begin the recovery phase, bend your arm at the elbow and raise your hand out of the water. Your hand breaks the surface of the water and maintains a height of 2 to 3 inches above the water’s surface. With your hand and arm moving in a forward manner, bring your hand past your head until your arm is about threequarters of the way extended. At this point, turn your hand with your palm outboard so as to allow your thumb and forefinger to enter the water first. Once your hand enters the water, continue to push your arm forward until it is fully extended. You are now prepared to catch the water again. These steps are performed in an alternating pattern: when one arm is catching and propelling, the other arm is recovering.
  • Leg action: Use a flutter kick to create the leg action for the crawl stroke. This kick is used for both propulsion and keeping the lower body horizontal with the water’s surface. The flutter kick is an alternating leg action: one leg is kicking in a downward motion while the other leg is recovering to the surface to prepare for the next kick. The size of the kick ranges from 12 to 15 inches and depends on your height. Maintain your legs in a semi-rigid manner. Generate power for the kick from the hips. Keep your feet loose at the ankles, they trail behind your legs and act as “flippers.” Execute the propulsion phase of this kick with a downward thrust of your leg. Execute the recovery phase by pushing your leg back to the surface. This phase is complete when your foot reaches the surface.
  • Breathing: Breathe during the recovery phase of the arm action. Roll your body and rotate your head to the side of your body where the arm recovery is occurring, this rolls the water away from your mouth. Keep your chin pushed back toward your shoulder. Exhale while your face is still submerged and inhale when your face breaks the surface. Breathe either bilaterally or rhythmically. To breathe rhythmically, breathe on the same side of your body every time your arm cycle occurs. Bilateral breathing requires you to breathe every one and a half arm cycles. To breathe bilaterally, breathe when your right arm is recovering, your face goes back in the water and the next time you breathe is when your left arm is starting its recovery three arm strokes later. Bilateral breathing is the preferred method for breathing; it prevents the chance of hyperventilation and allows your body to maintain a lateral position in the direction you are swimming.
  • Coordination: This stroke uses constant arm and leg action.

Breast Stroke

Video: Here

Use this stroke to swim underwater, through oil or debris, and in rough seas. If you are a good swimmer and not wearing combat gear, the breast stroke is the best stroke for long-range swimming because it provides good visibility and allows you to conserve your energy and maintain a reasonable speed.

  • Body position: Lie prone in the water. Swim with your trunk and legs projecting back and down at an angle of 20 to 30 degrees. Extend arms out in front (hands together [side by side]), and extend legs behind (toes pointed) to prevent drag. Face downward, looking forward at a 45 degree angle to break the water and to prevent water from washing into the collar area causing drag. This is known as a glide.
  • Arm action: Turn your palms outward and bend your arms slightly. Sweep your arms sideward and slightly downward until your hands are opposite and slightly below your shoulders. Rotate your head up, breathe once your mouth breaks the surface. Bring your hands and arms up along your chest and thrust them forward until they are extended and ready to execute the next arm pull. As the arms start their recovery into the glide, the head should rotate forward, resubmerging the face.
  • Leg action: Draw your heels toward your buttocks, establish a 45 degree bend in the knees. Thrust your legs outward and rearward, then squeeze them together. The whipping action of the feet aids forward propulsion. This is known as the breast stroke kick.
  • Breathing: Inhale during the arm pull and exhale through your mouth and nose during the finish of the breast stroke kick and glide.
  • Coordination: The stroke movement is in three counts: Begin your arm pull. Near the finish of the pull, flex your knees and bring your heels toward your buttocks. The arm pull counteracts the resistance created by the knees. As the arm pull is completed, thrust your hands forward, kick your legs outward and rearward, and squeeze them together. Glide through the water for approximately 1 to 3 seconds or until your forward momentum decreases, then begin the next stroke.

Side Stroke

Video: Here

The side stroke is a survival stroke because you use both arms for buoyancy, with each arm creating a slight propulsion. The majority of your body’s propulsion comes from your kick. To execute the side stroke:

  • Body position: Lie on your side with your lead (bottom) arm extended beyond (with a slight bend in your elbow) your head and in line with your body. Palm is down and your hand is submerged 6 to 8 inches. Extend your trail (top) arm down the length of your body over your thigh. Keep your legs straight and together, toes pointed rearward. Keep your face out of the water, this allows for free breathing. This is known as the glide.
  • Arm action: With your lead arm, pull your arm downward, while flexing at the elbow, until it is straight down from your shoulder. Rotate your shoulder and pull your elbow into your side. This should put your lead hand at shoulder level. At the same time, turn your palm toward your face and thrust forward to your original, extended position. Draw your right hand upward in front of your chest to shoulder level. Rotate your palm toward your feet, then push it downward in front of your body toward your feet to catch the water. Push your trail hand backward to its original position on top of your thigh. (Your trail hand starts forward and meets your lead hand at your chest/shoulder.)
  • Leg action: To perform the scissor kick, the top leg always goes forward and the bottom leg always goes rearward. From the extended position, draw—or recover— your feet toward your buttocks until your legs are bent at a 45 degree angle at the knees and the hips are flexed at a 45 degree angle with the thighs. Once the legs have completed their recovery and while maintaining a 45 degree bend in the knees, extend the legs fully into a “V” shape in order to catch the water for the propulsion phase. Once the legs are separated and extended forward and rearward to the “V” position, sweep the legs together until the feet are together. You are now in the glide position.
  • Breathing: As long as your face remains clear of the water, it is a free breathing stroke. However, it is recommended that you exhale then quickly inhale when the legs are sweeping back together in the scissor kick. This is when the body reaches its highest point in the water, thus clearing the face completely from the surface of the water making it the optimum time to breathe.
  • Coordination: Begin the stroke with the downward pull of your lead arm. At the same time, bring your trail arm upward and draw your knees up to begin the kick. Let the thrust of the lead arm, push of your trail arm, and the kick of your legs coincide in order to finish the glide position. Glide through the water for approximately 1 to 3 seconds or until your forward momentum decreases, then begin the next stroke.

Elementary Backstroke

Video: Here

The elementary backstroke is also an excellent survival stroke. It relieves the muscles that you use for other strokes, and it is the recommended stroke for weak swimmers or nonswimmers. To execute the elementary backstroke:

  • Body position: Start on your back. Face up, chest up, and hips up, keeping an arch in your lower back with arms pressed to your sides and your legs extended and joined to prevent drag.
  • Arm action: Trace your hands up your sides to an area near your armpits then extend your arms out to the sides to form the letter “T” (palms facing feet), locking out the elbows. NOTE: Don’t raise your arms above your head. This creates drag, changes your body position, and submerges the head. Slap your palms to your thighs using a strong sweeping motion.
  • Leg action: Bend both legs at the knee (90 degree angle) slightly separating your knees and drawing your heels downward to a point under and outside your knees. The knees are spread as wide as the hips or slightly wider depending on the body type of the swimmer. Circle around in a whipping action, ending with legs in a glide position.
  • Breathing: Breathe anytime during this stroke. However, it is recommended that you exhale then quickly inhale when your arms are sweeping back toward your sides and while your legs are sweeping back together. This is when the body reaches its highest point in the water, thus clearing the face completely from the surface of the water and making it the optimum time to breathe.
  • Coordination: The stroke movement occurs in three counts (recovery, catch, power). Begin the arm pull (recovery). Near the finish of the pull, flex your knees to a 90 degree angle. The arm pull counteracts the resistance created by the knees. Kick out your legs, and squeeze them together as the arm pull is completed (catch, power). Glide through the water for 1 to 3 seconds or until your forward momentum decreases, then begin the next stroke as your momentum slows.

Information contained on this website is for general information and educational purposes only. Please refer to our Disclaimer and Terms and Conditions before attempting any technique described herein.

Survival Float

sknot

09/26/14
To Do Today:

  • PT – Cardio – 1hr Swim // Strength – Leg group
  • Tie the square knot (or Reef Knot), described in the graphic above, until you can do it behind your back with your eyes closed. It is easy to remember: Left over Right, Right over Left. The Square Knot is used for connecting lines but can be unreliable after repeated use so do not use for climbing/belay/etc.
  • Review additional details of the square knot here
  • Practice the floatation methods described below in a pool until mastered
  • Friday rules in effect 1730

Staying Afloat Without a Life Preserver

If you find yourself in open water without any floating objects or a life preserver these techniques may help you survive. These expedient flotation techniques are best used with a standard military blouse, trousers, and boots but other loose fitting or outdoor style clothing will work as well.

Floating With an Inflated Blouse

It is possible to float by a bubble of air trapped in the shoulders of your blouse or loose fitting cotton/poly blend shirt. The air rises to the back and shoulders of the blouse and supports you at the water’s surface. An inflated blouse is also a temporary flotation device used by weaker swimmers while trying to remove their trousers. There is a primary and an alternate way to create a bubble of trapped air in a blouse:

A. Primary Method

  • Turn the collar inside the blouse to help create a seal.
  • Unbutton top button and pull collar around mouth and nose.
  • Take a deep breath and bend forward slightly at the waist.
  • Exhale one-half to three-quarters of a breath into the blouse. Grasp and twist the collar with one hand to create a seal, this prevents air from escaping out from the collar.
  • Use your free hand and feet to stroke and kick to the surface.
  • Gather and hold the blouse tightly at the collar and stomach level to prevent the blouse from losing air if it floats up too high.
  • Splash water on the blouse periodically to prevent the material from drying, dry material allows air to escape.
  • Repeat inflation as required.

 B. Alternate Method

  • Turn the collar inside the blouse to help create a seal.
  • Unbutton the second button from the top.
  • Take a deep breath and bend forward slightly at the waist.
  • Place your mouth and nose inside the hole created by the open button and exhale one-half to three-quarters of a breath into the blouse.
  • Grasp material at the unbutton portion and pull downward.
  • Use your free hand and feet to stroke and kick to the surface.
  • Splash water on the blouse periodically to prevent the material from drying, dry material allows air to escape.
  • Repeat inflation as required.

Floating With Inflated Trousers

In warm water, trousers can be used as a primary expedient flotation device. However, in cold water, submerging your head to remove and inflate your trousers results in heat and energy losses that negate the benefit of using the trousers as a flotation device. Once your trousers are inflated, you float motionlessly as if wearing a life preserver. If needed, assume the heat escape lessening posture to slow heat loss. As trousers dry, air leaks out of the legs. To slow this process, occasionally splash water on the fabric. Re-inflate trousers as needed.

Sling Method

The sling method works if you are a strong swimmer or naturally very buoyant. Take the following steps to inflate trousers using the sling method:

  • Take a deep breath, bend over, and remove your boots.

WSF1

  • Retain your boots. Tie the boot laces together and suspend the boots from your blouse or hang them around your neck so that they rest on your chest.
  • Remove your trousers. Button or zip the trouser fly closed. This allows you to control airflow.

WSF9

  • Tie the bottoms of the trouser legs in a square knot.

WSF3

  • Ensure that the front (fly) of the trousers faces you.
  • Hold the trousers above the water’s surface and behind your head. Grasp both sides of the waistband and open with both hands.
  • Kick strongly to stay on top of the water while slinging the trousers overhead in order to trap air into them. Once the waistband is submerged in the water, air is trapped in the legs.

WSF4

  • Hold and seal the waistband underwater.

WSF21

  • Slip the inflated legs over your head. Hold the waistband in toward your chest, the fly facing your body. To prevent air from escaping from the trousers, seal the waistband by either folding it or twisting it.
  • Lie back and relax, resting the back of your neck against the knot.

WSF6

  • Splash water on the trousers periodically to prevent the material from drying. Dry material allows air to escape.

WSF20To replenish air in the trousers, you will use a technique known as the scooping method. With one hand on the open waistband, extend the trousers in front of you just below the surface of the water and scoop air bubbles with your free hand into the open waistband until the trousers have sufficient air. Repeat as necessary.

WSF15


Splash Method

The splash method is an alternative to the sling method. As with the sling method, you must kick strongly to remain at the surface. To inflate trousers using the splash method, perform the following:

  • Take a deep breath, bend over, and remove/retain your boots as described above.
  • Remove your trousers. Button or zip the trouser fly closed. This allows you to control airflow.
  • Tie the bottoms of the trouser legs in a square knot.
  • Ensure that the front (fly) of the trousers faces you.
  • Hold the trousers at the water’s surface out in front of you by the waistband with the fly up.

WSF22

  • Grasp the waistband at the surface with one hand. Insert your free hand into the waistband, palm down.
  • Flutter your hand rapidly to create bubbles. This sends a mixture of water and air bubbles into the trousers. The water passes through the fabric. The air remains trapped in the legs.

WSF12

  • Hold and seal the waistband underwater.
  • Slip the inflated legs over your head.
  • Hold the waistband in toward your chest, the fly facing your body.
  • To prevent air from escaping from the trousers, seal the waistband by either folding it or  twisting it. Lie back and relax, resting the back of your neck against the knot.

WSF6

  • Splash water on the trousers periodically to prevent the material from drying. Dry material allows air to escape.

To replenish air in the trousers, use the scooping method and repeat as necessary.


Blow Method

The blow method is an alternative to the sling method. Use the blow method if you are a weak swimmer. Take the following steps to inflate trousers using the blow method:

  • Take a deep breath, bend over, and remove/retain your boots as described above.
  • Remove your trousers.
  • Button or zip the trouser fly closed. This allows you to control airflow.
  • Tie the bottoms of the trouser legs in a square knot.
  • Ensure that the front (fly) of the trousers faces you.
  • Hold the trousers at the water’s surface. Grasp both sides of the waistband and open with both hands.
  • Take a deep breath. Drop 2 feet below the water’s surface, pulling the waistband underwater. Hold the waistband open with both hands and blow air into the trousers.

WSF17

  • To fill the trousers with air, surface while keeping the waistband underwater, breathe in again, drop below the water’s surface, and blow air into the trousers.

WSF18

  • Repeat these steps until the trousers are filled sufficiently. Once trousers are filled, hold the waistband underwater.
  • Twist and pinch it off. Slip the inflated legs over your head.
  • Hold the waistband in toward your chest, the fly facing your body.
  • To prevent air from escaping from the trousers, seal the waistband by either folding it or twisting it. Lie back and relax, resting the back of your neck against the knot.

WSF6

 

  • Splash water on the trousers periodically, to prevent the material from drying. Dry material allows air to escape.

To replenish air in the trousers, use the scooping method and repeat as necessary.


Information contained on this website is for general information and educational purposes only. Please refer to our Disclaimer and Terms and Conditions before attempting any technique described herein.

Abandoning Ship

sinking_ship_crop

09/23/14
To Do Today:

  • PT – Cardio – 1hr run // Strength – Back and Shoulder group / abs.

 

Abandoning Ship

The decision to abandon ship is usually very difficult. In some instances, people have perished in their life raft while their abandoned vessel managed to stay afloat. Other cases indicate that people waited too long to successfully get clear of a floundering boat.

Once the decision is made:

  • Put on all available waterproof clothing, including gloves, headgear, and life jacket.
  • Collect items for a survival kit.
  • Note present position.
  • Send out MAYDAY message.
  • Launch life raft attached to ship.
  • Launch dinghy attached to life raft.
  • Try to enter life raft directly from the boat (if impossible, use minimal swimming effort to get on board).
  • Don’t forget the EPIRB (emergency position indicator radio beacon).
  • Get a safe distance from the sinking vessel.
  • Collect all available flotsam. The most unlikely articles can be adapted for use under survival conditions.
  • Keep warm by huddling bodies together. Keep dry, especially your feet.
  • Stream a sea anchor.
  • Arrange lookout watches.
  • Use flares only on skipper’s orders when there is a real chance of them being seen.
  • Arrange for collecting rainwater. Ration water to maximum one-half quart per person per day, issued in small increments. Do not drink seawater or urine. If water is in short supply, eat only sweets from survival rations.

Be Calm

In emergency situations, crew and passengers look to a leader in an almost unconscious way to determine their own level of anxiety. If the captain projects a calm and confident attitude, the crew will be reassured and since an anxious crew means poor judgment and performance, a captain should do all he or she can to keep the crew calm. The idea here is not to lie to your crew, and certainly not to fake a fearless, macho manner, going down with the ship is a pretty dumb plan. The idea is that, by maintaining a calm, deliberate attitude in the face of a dire situation, you can help your crew remain effective and perhaps help save lives. If you need to fake that attitude to some degree, so be it.

Emergency Communications

When trouble strikes, there are many ways to communicate your distress and seek help. Use your VHF or single-sideband radio and follow the procedures for distress.

There are three levels of priority communications: distress, urgent, and safety, identified by MAYDAY, PAN-PAN, and SECURITE. Panicked radio communications can confuse a rescue effort. Learn the proper procedures. Try to stay calm.

Why Ships Sink

Ships and boats are made to float on top of the water, but there are quite a few things that can go wrong to turn your boat into a swamp. Taking on water is inevitable — large waves often break over the sides, and tiny leaks are common. This water will usually find its way to the lowest point of a boat — the bilge area. For this reason, boats are equipped with bilge pumps to usher the water back out once it’s reached a certain level. Boats often sink while docked, but unless you’re like Sonny Crockett and you live on your boat, that’s not a life-threatening scenario.

Common reasons a boat might sink at sea are:

  • Low transom — The transom is the flat vertical surface that forms the rear, or stern end, of the boat. For outboard vessels, the motor is mounted onto the transom. For larger inboard vessels, you’ll find the boat’s name on the transom. The idea is for the transom to be high enough that it won’t take on water. Sometimes, simple design flaws can leave your transom too low. Improper weight distribution can also lower a transom to the point that waves can come over it and flood the deck. To keep this from happening, don’t store all your heavy gear in the stern of the boat. Scuba gear, coolers, fishing equipment and bait should all be distributed evenly along the ship to keep the transom at a safe height. You should also never anchor from the stern side — it could pull the transom down even further.
  • Missing drain plugs — This one seems like a no-brainer, but boats sink all the time because of missing drain plugs. When a boat travels forward, the entire vessel sits higher on the water than it does at rest, with the front higher than the rear. Water collected from waves or sea spray is allowed to exit the boat through a drain located at the rear of the boat at about deck level. Once you’re traveling forward, the boat tilts up and the water will flow toward the drain and back out. The problem arises when the captain forgets to stop the drain once the boat is at rest with a small, watertight plug. When the boat stops moving, it sinks lower and begins to take on water through the drain. Carry extra drain plugs and try keeping one near the ignition as a reminder.
  • Cooling system leaks — Boat engines are water cooled, pumping about 30 gallons of water through the system per minute for a 300 horsepower engine. If a hose bursts or isn’t tight enough, this water can collect in the bilge and once again, you could find yourself sinking. Check for corrosion or obvious splits and breaks in the hoses and fittings of the cooling system before you depart. Replace anything that looks suspect, and you should be fine.
  • Navigation error — Simply put, this means striking an object with your boat. It could be rocks, ice, reefs, logs, or anything else large enough to do damage to the hull, or body, of your boat. The best way to combat this is by being careful. Slow down if you see debris and be especially cautious after storms, which can wash in a great deal of foreign objects. If you see something floating, there’s a good chance there’s more under the surface. If it sounds like you’ve hit something, stop the boat immediately and check outside and below for holes or leaks. Stick that plug in the drain and click forward to read about what safety equipment you should have on board.

Boat and Ship Safety Equipment

Having the proper safety equipment on board is just as important, if not more, than being a well-schooled captain. Even the best captain doesn’t have a shot at surviving a sinking ship without a life vest or raft. The first piece of gear you’ll want to have in working order on any boat or ship is a bilge pump. Unwanted water is supposed to drain from the deck through openings on the side called scuppers, but oftentimes the water finds its way to the bilge.

The bilge pump sucks up the water from the floor of the bilge area and pumps it out through a hose. There are many types of bilge pumps and it’s important to get one that’s sufficient for the size of your vessel. If a boat has a 2-inch hole a foot below the waterline, nearly 80 gallons of water can pour in per minute. Once that same hole is 3 feet down, the flow can increase to more than 135 gallons per minute [source: boatus.org]. Many boats sink because the pump they have can’t get water out faster than it’s coming in, or because the pump is damaged. Regular maintenance of the bilge pump is vital to keeping your boat on the water.

The majority of power boats shorter than 35 feet either have too few pumps or not enough battery power to run them. Most sailboats, regardless of size, have only one pump on board. Bilge pumps are prone to failure because they’re so overworked and sometimes improperly maintained. Experts recommend a backup pump for every two you have on board, just to be on the safe side. You should also have several manual pumps in case of an extreme emergency. Bilge pumps are typically triggered to turn on automatically by a float switch. Once water rises to a certain point, the switch floats up and turns on — crisis averted. Oil, sludge and debris can affect the pumps’ ability to operate, so keeping the bilge and pump clean is important.

Life vests and flotation suits are also mandatory for any boater. In fact, at least one life vest per passenger is required by law. Keep the vests handy but secure so they don’t have an opportunity to go overboard. Flotation suits are a little more advanced than your average life vest. They’re full body suits, with built-in shoes that keep you afloat and insulated — even in icy waters — depending on your needs and how much money you can spend. Top-of-the-line floatation suits that will protect you from hypothermia run you about $1,300 to $1,600 [source: chetcomarine.com].

Life rafts have come a long way in recent years. Modern rafts have canopy covers, paddles, insulated flooring, bailing buckets, ladders and a variety of emergency items — flares, water pouches, signaling mirrors, reflective tape, fishing kits and much more. They’re packaged with all the bells and whistles in cases that look like luggage and are self-inflating. But a good life raft isn’t cheap. A deluxe four-person model costs about $4,000 — well worth the price if you ever need to use one.

Life rafts are packed by the manufacturer and require regular servicing to ensure usability. Unfortunately, even the most expensive life rafts aren’t always leak-proof. The ocean is tough on a small vessel, and you may end up with water coming into your safe haven. All modern rafts come with pumps and repair kits for this reason.

Good Tips for Sinking Ships

You’ve maintained your boat inside and out. The bilge pump is pumping, the motor is humming and you’ve steered clear of all rocks. There isn’t an iceberg in sight, there’s no Celine Dion playing — all is well. Enter Mother Nature — a storm comes along, sending your vessel crashing into a shallow reef and before you know it, your boat is sinking.

If you find a hole below deck and you’re taking on water, the first thing you need to do is try and plug it. Your goal here is to be able to pump out more water than is coming in. Be creative — use cabinet doors, table tops, seat cushions or sails. Start with the largest hole if there’s more than one. The last resort in any sinking scenario is to abandon ship. Your boat is safer and more visible than a life raft.

Try and stay calm and listen to the captain’s directions. If you’re the captain, assign jobs to your passengers. Someone should immediately gather all flotation devices and get the life raft ready. While others block the holes, radio for help and give your exact location coordinates. Have another passenger gather up emergency items for the raft, including:

  • flashlights
  • flares
  • fresh water
  • food rations
  • mirror for signaling
  • Sunscreen
  • Batteries
  • radio
  • matches
  • first-aid kit

If everyone remains calm and works together, you have a chance of keeping the boat above water or safely making it into the life raft. The captain’s evacuation notice should only come when it’s certain that the boat is going down.

If you’re on a cruise ship, it’s even more important to stay calm. Panic leads to pushing, shoving and trampling, which can lead to other injuries, like broken bones or concussion. Studies have shown that 70 percent of victims of a maritime accident are bewildered and have impaired reasoning, 15 percent exhibit irrational behaviors and only 15 percent stay calm and alert [source: mcga.gov]. Larger boats take longer to sink, so there should be plenty of time to get everyone into the lifeboats. Modern lifeboats are large, often fully covered and sometimes come equipped with motors. Once full, they’re lowered into the water mechanically by large davits that hang over the edge of the ship. The International Maritime Organization’s guidelines require that all cruise ships be able to get passengers lowered into the ocean in lifeboats within 30 minutes of passengers being gathered on deck.

When a large ship sinks it will probably tilt, making it difficult to make your way to the deck. Hold handrails and go slowly to avoid slipping. Also keep an eye out for objects that could be sliding around. The last thing you want is to be near evacuation and get plowed by a grand piano. Try to stay behind large, fixed objects for protection. You’ll know it’s time to evacuate when you hear the signal from the captain — seven short horn blasts followed by a long one. The crew of the ship should be the last ones off the boat and assist each passenger in getting to their preassigned lifeboat.