When I hear the word ‘lifeboat’ my first thought is a lifeboat of the Titanic variety. Of course these lifeboats are much larger than my primary boat (they had three different kinds, the largest at 30’ long that had a capacity of 65 people). Also the Hitchcock movie ‘Lifeboat’ of the same kind. But modern lifeboats/liferafts are very different animals. Modern lifeboats are completely enclosed, engine driven and self-righting. This is not to say that they’re comfortable, but chances are if you can make your way to one you have a better than even chance of survival (which is what they’re for) and that’s a good thing.
Commercial ships (freighters, tankers, container ships, ad nauseum) go even further with the lifeboat capability in that the mounting and launching of lifeboats is not a swing-out-and-lower-away-from-davits kind of thing. They do it with free fall launches where the lifeboat is mounted on rails that point down toward the water. After the crew is aboard they batten down the hatches and let it slide down the rails, probably screaming ‘Geronimo!’ at the same time.
Maybe for trained seamen, but frankly, not this cowboy.
There’s another advantage in having a lifeboat of increased capabilities. Survival rates for shipwreck survivors increase markedly if there is a capacity for their lifeboat/liferaft to be sailed or steered. It’s a psychological effect of having something to do, of being able to do something that will have a positive outcome. Being able to steer and make progress toward some goal however small, fish, make repairs, and to be able to determine where you are and what progress you’ve made makes a great difference in mental attitude and maintaining mental attitude makes a great difference when it comes to sea survival. So survival is to a great extent, a matter of just not allowing yourself to fall into a complacency of death, of maintaining an attitude of grit-your-teeth-don’t-give-up.
Proof of maintaining mental attitude in survival has many examples in the individual category of life raft experiences. Steven Callahan’s 21 foot sloop collided with something in the water (he thought that it might have been a container that had fallen off a ship or more probably a whale) whilst he was sailing at night. As his boat foundered under him and sank he was able to inflate his life raft and retrieve a few things including a sleeping bag, his ‘bail out’ bag (containing extra water, navigation tables, solar stills for producing fresh water from sea water, a copy of ‘Sea Survival’ by Dougal Robertson and a spear gun that had been given him by a friend.) He was afloat on his raft for 76 days and drifted 1800 nautical miles. He survived by tending his water stills (he never used most of the emergency cans of fresh water), fishing, navigating, getting exercise every day as best he could in the 6 person Avon inflatable life raft, pumping up the raft tubes every morning after it cooled at night, fixing leaks and solving problems as they arose.
I’ve never been in that kind of survival situation and hope that I never shall. But if I am, I hope I will remember at least a few of the hard won lessons that people like him have to teach, the first lesson being: Don’t ever give up.