There’s no hard and steadfast rule for exactly when you should abandon ship. Rather, it really depends on you, your situation, your boat, and your crew.
When you find yourself in an emergency situation, take the time to assess the situation. In a possible abandon ship moment last year, Ryan Taffet, Marine Sales Manager said “If sinking a boat at the Hudson Canyon back in 2008 and boarding a life raft taught me anything, it was that when things don’t seem right, they usually aren’t.”
Are you dealing with an uncontrollable fire that you can’t extinguish? Then yes, you should abandon your boat. If on the other hand, it is a small fire or one that could be extinguished, like Ryan experienced this past Thanksgiving, do everything you can to combat the fire and stay on board.
Taking on water is a tricky situation. First, begin attempting to plug it, using pumps and buckets to try and get rid of the water. As long as the boat is stable, this is the best route to stick with, trying to stop the water from coming in. This solution may hold up or you may need to abandon ship.
And of course, if your boat has capsized and can’t be righted, you’ll need to abandon.
Preparing to Abandon Ship
Abandoning ship is your last resort. While your boat is still floating, it will be easier for rescuers to find you. The length of time to wait with your ship is again, dependent on your situation. You’ll want to be prepared to ditch, grabbing your ditch kit and other supplies that will become necessary in your raft. After whales holed their boat on route to Honolulu, William and Simone Butler, having to abandon ship grabbed sewing needles, Perrier, and dominos in addition to their survival kit—all of which keep in to make quick fixes to the raft and ease boredom.
Preparation is always key to seamless execution during moments of duress. You should be familiar with how to work your life raft, “having a life raft onboard won’t keep you safe unless you need to use it” says Ryan, “and it especially won’t keep you safe if it doesn’t work properly or isn’t sufficiently equipped or built for the task at hand. When you have to fire the raft, you’re already in a perilous situation and the raft is literally your best last chance at survival.”
Another crucial item in your preparation to abandon ship is communication. There is no shame in communicating with the Coast Guard at the first slight sign of an issue to let them know the position of your vessel, the nature of your condition, your intended float plan and the condition of the people onboard. “On more than one occasion, be it from small electrical fires, mechanical failures, or water intrusion, I have notified the Coast Guard well in advance of any direct imminent loss of the vessel. They are happy to monitor your condition and offer you comfort and advice as you “limp” back home.” Ryan says. In an abandon ship situation, be sure to communicate all essential details to both the authorities and to any vessels within radio range. You will also want to make sure to deploy and keep your EPIRB (Emergency Position Indication Radio Beacon) close by if you need to abandon ship.
Not sure how to work your life raft? Check out Using your Life Raft for helpful tips on how to launch, board and cast off.
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