"The time to get into a life raft," says IYTD President Mark Fry, "is when your right foot is already wet, and you have to step up into the raft with your left."
Simply put, there are occasions when you just don't have a choice. Fire can cause smoke and toxic fumes, forcing abandonment even if your boat's still afloat. Collisions with other vessels, despite advances in radar, are far from unheard of in fog and other low-visibility conditions. And, as bizarre as it may seem, each year a handful of vessels are sunk by amorous whales, who can mistake small craft for potential mates or rivals. A more common hazard is the thousand or so 40' cargo containers that annually slide off freighters and float mere inches above the surface, lying in wait for unsuspecting boaters.
How any given individual will fare in the face of catastrophe is hard to predict, but studies of survival-at-sea situations suggest about 15 percent of boaters have the right stuff to triumph over even the most horrid adversity, another 75 percent can be trained to survive, and the bottom 10 percent are pretty much doomed.
"No one knows why this is the case," Taylor tells us during today's "Sea Survival and Rescue Boat" lecture. "Everyone hopes to be in that top 15 percent. But the truth is, you won't know until you're actually tested."
ONE STORY, YEARS OF RESCUES
Taylor also relays more optimistic news. Thanks to evolving signaling technologies, the reality of life raft survival has vastly improved. "Today, only a few hours at most are likely to separate disaster and your collection by the authorities."
But even short-term survival requires well-honed skills. Failure to successfully deploy and maintain a life raft following a shipwreck in cold waters, for instance, can lead to death by hypothermia long before even the speediest rescuers can find you-in fact, the Four Vital Actions, which maritime survival experts say increase one's chances of survival, were developed 25 years ago after just such an incident.
In the winter of 1975 the freighter Lovatt sank in frigid waters off the English Channel. The crew of about 15 managed to deploy a single life raft designed to carry 10. So a handful of crewmembers remained in the bitterly cold water, hanging on via lines. This was their first error. Life rafts can generally handle twice as many people as they're rated for. If the crew had packed themselves in like sardines, the raft would not have sunk, and lives might have been saved.
Their second error was failure to stream the sea anchor that comes as standard issue with all life rafts. As a result, the raft drifted miles from the scene of the shipwreck, making it harder to locate by rescuers.