Tragedy at sea is a common occurrence where it is likely for the vessel to be uncontrollable as equipment will malfunction and crew will endure mental and physical struggle; adding possible mutiny to the equation; creating an extremely difficult situation. Assume that a vessel is stranded in bad weather and has trouble keeping afloat; decreasing surviving chances for the crew .

It is in human nature to flow the “fight-or-flight” instinct where flight is more likely in times of large-scale disasters which will drive the crew to abandon ship. However, this option is riskier as chances of survival in open seas is considerably lower for the crew. Along with that, jumping onto lifeboats is also relatively unsafe, unless the weather at sea is calm; creating risk of death for the crew attempting to board it as the lifeboat will not be still and will be hard to board, increasing likelihood for the crew to fail and drown due to running out of strength while swimming and attempting to board.

Panic is a natural reaction, especially for the inexperienced crew members which will cause them to abandon a stable vessel without any side-thoughts; before the order to abandon ship is given. This action will cost the owner of the vessel as well as the cargo the possibly stable vessel carries. There were cases of stable vessels being abandoned and later on discovered years later; making companies lose finances on replacement and damages of the cargo; making abandoning ship a costly error.

While abandoning ship, sometimes may be a logical option during events that may not be associated with natural disasters at sea; especially now with numerous diseases and piracy being prominent.
Abandoning ship during a pirate attack to avoid captivity or death may sound logical at first as it is simply evading a threat; however this is only at first. Jumping ship will be twice as dangerous as survival chances in open seas, again are low and present death from starvation and thirst.

Before jumping ship, one has to understand and weigh all possibilities of survival and reaching safe ground; with both being unlikely in open seas especially in a pirate attack where pirates would shoot on-sight during an escape attempt; making abandoning ship a more risky action.

Another variable to consider is that the human body is not as strong as its owner thinks it is; an important variable due to the fact that during disasters humans sometimes assume that they will overcome the challenge and thus ignore the obstacles such as loss of strength, harder obstacles such as wide distances. For example, out of panic and fear for life a human being will focus on one thing; saving his life and will, unthinking, jump ship and attempt to swim away, eventually drowning out of loss of strength.

So far, we have seen that abandoning ship is an expensive decision costing millions in losses and possible damages to vessel and cargo; as well as that, it is also dangerous for the crew as chances are that they can either die or obtain serious injuries. However, when the ship lost all stability and has minimal chance of survival, making abandoning the only logical option, there also exist useful procedures that will increases chances of survival for the crew.

  • Firstly, depending on geographical locations of the sea there is a cold factor which warrants thermal insulation in rafts. Heat insulation is reduced by presence of any liquid in the life-raft. Dry clothes help insulating heat along with heat generated by occupants.
  • De-hydration is a common problem and in excess of 5% body weight and associates with headaches, irritability and light-headedness; with all conditions influencing decisions of passengers of liferafts. May result in physical conflict, death and poor decision making and planning. 10% results in hallucinations and 15% results in death; with death occuring at 15-20% loss which occurs after 6-7 days in a marine environment. De-hydration can be controlled by careful planning; firstly by knowing the proper consumption. An average resting adult’s recommended fluid consumption is 1 litre while in a survival situation that can be reduced to 150-450ml daily for a limited of 6-7 day period. Water balance can also be maintained with a diet of fats and carbohydrates with minimum protein.
    It is also essential to control water requirements by careful planning; with no drinking for for first 24 hours except the injured. Not drinking and/or mixing sea water with fresh water, minimizing activity, resting during heat of the day and utilizing use of shade and breezes.
  • Starvation is another common issue which leads to death after 40-60 days; the aforementioned fat and carbohydrate diet is the optimal method; preventing catabolism and dehydration.
  • Morale is nevertheless essential as low morale leads to chaos, suicides, disorientation; lowering chances of survival. Key to maintaining morale is firstly, maintaining comradeship among survivors and use the factor of distraction; assigning each survivor with an individual task which 1) works towards survival 2) diverts attention from negativity of the situation.

Overall, jumping ship is not always the only solution and results in consequences that are more dangerous. However there are times when it is inevitable and warrants careful approaches to survival. Regardless, before jumping ship it is essential to fully see the ship’s potential to remain stable and avoid unnecessary risks of putting crew in danger for no reason.