Surviving Disaster At Sea … Don’t Take It Lightly

While taking 5 weeks of courses in basic survival and communication at MITAGS, the educational facility of Masters, Mates & Pilots, I ran into the 50th commemorative edition of How to Abandon Ship, published by Cornell Maritime Press. Written in June 1942, at the height of torpedoed American and allied merchant ships, its colorful accounts were intentioned for sailors with valuable lessons shared by the authors Phil Richards and John J. Banigan. Their basic thesis suggested the simple things, that made the difference between survival and disaster, as they had experienced it.

Aside from the book’s fascinating accounts of incredible human drama confronted at sea, two statements stand out in my own mind, which I feel, are most applicable to every sailor who sets out from his local marina. Whether it be for a couple of hours around the harbor or a long planned blue water cruise most sailors are ill prepared to meet potential disasters.

Having survived being washed overboard myself in rough weather on a 300 ton supply vessel 22 years ago, what stands out in my own mind, aside from my stupidity, is how completely helpless I became, in just a matter of seconds after disaster struck. Confronted with bobbing up and down in 15 ft seas, without a life preserver 50 miles offshore, what went through my mind was all the tuition money my mother and father wasted on my education. Not a living soul knew I went over the side. As quickly as disaster struck, I was saved only through a chance of good fortune.

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