How to jump off a sinking vessel

When a boat or ship is sinking, every second is vital. Yes, it is unlikely this will ever happen to you, but in the event it did, the right knowledge could save your life.

That’s why we’re blogging about how to escape a sinking vessel.

The mechanics of a vessel taking on water

Okay, we’re not blogging about how to avoid a boat collision or how to prevent your pride and joy from sinking. We’re staying 100% focused on what to do if a vessel you are on goes under.

Knowing how a vessel takes on water is useful, since you’ll understand the mechanics of how a boat actually sinks.

The first rule of thumb, is that there is no uniform way for a boat to sink. The shape of the hull, the centre of gravity of the vessel and the cause of the sinking vessel will all impact how it goes down.

Water typically enters a vessel at the lowest point, which is the bilge. It’s normal to have some water coming into the bilge, through valve seals, shaft bearings or sea chests.

This leaked water is removed via a bilge pump, once it rises to a specific level. Of course, if a boat collides with something and water rushes in, the pump isn’t going to be able to do a whole lot.

Know where safety equipment is

Whether you’re traveling on a ferry or Skippering your own boat, you need to know where life jackets are stored, so you can access them as soon as possible in an emergency.

If you boarded a ferry with children, be sure to check there are PFDs (personal flotation devices) for kids too. Alert crew if you’re not sure where they are.

On a public passenger vessel, your priority will be taking care of yourself and your family, so you’ll need to understand evacuation procedure.

In Australia, passenger vessels should perform a safety demonstration at the beginning of a voyage. Pay attention to where life rafts are located, so you know where to head in case of emergency.

Of course, there is not always time to climb aboard life rafts, as was the case with the Lusitania, which sank in just under 20-minutes.

In this case, no one had time to board emergency life boats. So, it’s vital you know where life jackets are stored.

Put on your life vest as soon as you know the vessel is sinking, and only inflate once you are in the water.

Head up and off

If you’re in charge of your own vessel, you will need to send a mayday call to alert authorities about your emergency.

This blog offers information on what to say when you’re making the call, and other steps to take before exiting into the water, like releasing flares.

Today, we’re staying focused on getting into the water.

Once your PFD is on, get as prepared as you can to leave the vessel. Collect as many survival items as you can, but don’t do so at the cost of your life.

Here is what to consider if time permits:

  • Put on as much waterproof gear as you can, like head gear, a jacket and gloves.
  • If an emergency survival suit is available, put this on too. These tend not to be available on passenger vessels.
  • If you’re a crew member on a passenger vessel, you may have practiced putting these suits on (in under 2 minutes).
  • Attend to kids, infants and pets only once you have your own needs sorted.

If you’re on a passenger vessel, or a member of the crew, you’ll need to follow the directions of the Captain or people in charge.

The crew in charge should be trained in rescue operations and know how to direct you.

Of course, if you are the crew or don’t understand the language of the people in command (for example, if you’re on a ferry overseas), keep in mind the following:

  • Escaping on your own is only recommended if you don’t have clear direction.
  • If you do need to exit the boat on your own, head ‘up and off’ the vessel.
  • Stay on the top deck. Don’t be tempted to head to the middle of the boat or lower levels. Other people may do this because of panic.
  • Do your best to stay calm. Listen to instructions if they are being given. If there is a muster point, go there and do your best to help, if you can.

Leaving the vessel into water

Get to the top deck

  • Try to escape using the quickest route, rather than the shortest one.
  • Sometimes the shortest route off the vessel can be more dangerous, so be careful to use a route that is safe, but also fast.
  • As the boat starts to tilt, grab onto something to remain upright – for example, handrails, hooks or any other stable object.
  • If you’re not on the top deck, make your way there. If you’re on a large ship, don’t take the elevator.
  • Watch out for loose items, which may smash into you as the boat or ship is sinking. This is especially the case if you’re on the inner levels of a vessel.
  • Head to where the life boats are (which you noted when you first came aboard).
  • Follow instructions and climb onboard the life raft when instructed to by the crew. Crew are supposed to be the last to escape, so don’t wait around for them.
  • Ideally, you’ll want to be on a life raft without being wet, since hypothermia can kick in.
  • However, if there are no life rafts, try to locate a life preserver ring or a flotation decide to assist you with staying afloat in the water.

Jumping in

  • Always look before you jump. This may sound obvious, but it’s really important.
  • If you do need to jump into the water, don’t dive head first. (Yep, that means you need to jump in feet first.)
  • If you can’t jump into a life boat directly, aim for deep and clear water, and be wary of obstacles, like propellers. This applies to jumping off a small boat or a large ship.
  • Try to jump from the part of the boat that is closest to the water. This will help prevent injury from jumping in, as you can ease in.
  • When you’re in the water, swim to the closest life raft and get in.
  • If there isn’t a life raft, hold onto your life preserver or find something that is floating in the water to hang onto.

Hypothermia in the water

If you are in the water and not in a life raft, hypothermia is a likely risk. Even seasoned swimmers have a hard time fending off the cold when in the ocean for long periods of time.

If there are a number of you, huddle together to preserve heat and maintain morale. Staying in a group will also may you more visible to search parties and passing vessels.

Are you covered?

We provide comprehensive marine insurance to boat owners all over Australia and overseas. Ask us for an obligation free quote, and stay safe out there on the water.

Finally, for information on what to if your boat takes on water, please head here.

And thanks to this blog for supplying information for this piece.