L is for Lifeboat/Liferaft

Lifeboat from titanic 03


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.

modern lifeboats in use

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.

freefall lifeboat

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.

avon 6 person life raft

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.





4 thoughts on “L is for Lifeboat/Liferaft

  1. Bob, that was a fabulous post and I’m looking forward to sharing that with my kids and the sea scouts and I’m also going to really process your comments about what it takes to survive, as a survivor myself, it’s something I write and read a lot about and am constantly refining my thoughts.
    I live with a severe auto-immune disease, which I’ve now had for 9 years, which to be honest, is a pretty good result already. About 4 years ago, they found signs of fibrosis in my lungs and I had an absolute mental collapse. You could say, that was my shipwreck. I’d all but drowned in the 3 week period where I was waiting to see the lung specialist and I was praying my little heart out as well. I was prepared to do whatever it took to save my life and be there for my kids and with my kids. As it turned out, that was a false alarm but it triggered a very strong campaign to fight to save my lungs because the fibrosis can kill you within 12 months. Rather than focusing on the parts of my lungs which weren’t working, I looked at the capacity I had and how to get that working harder. I thought about opera singers and trumpet players who have incredible lung capacity and started from there. That meant exercise. I also found out that I’m not an ideal candidate for a lung transplant and that these really aren’t great anyway so my best chance was doing the best I could with what I had.
    This pretty much parallels what you’ve said about surviving a shipwreck.
    Also, there’s a book about Victor Frankl who survived a concentration camp in WWII and he claims that those who had a reason to live had a better chance of survival. Great book, if you haven’t read it. xx Rowena

    • Thank you for this. I admire your courage at facing such a disease. There are people in my life who are in similar conditions to yours and they expressly work toward a state where their lives are more than just living the disease, they are living their lives. I cannot tell you how inspiring that is. I will check out the book, thank you.

      • You’re welcome, Bob. I have met some incredible people who have achieved so much despite their disability or poor health and so many who have it all going for them and don’t use it. Hard to comprehend but what’s coming through the research now, is the importance of resilience and getting those hard knocks and learning how to overcome them. I used to work for a guy who said rich kids always flake in a crisis and it has turned out to be an astute observation. I know that my kids’ involvement in scouting is really going to set them up for life…as long as they don’t get evicted first. The boy sprayed aerosol on the camp fire. He wasn’t the only one but as you could imagine, he was read the riot act!! Our daughter and her friend went on a detour while on a bushwalk and were found on the waterfront. Humph! They are challenging notions of independence and heading for the leash although they seemed to pull their socks up.

  2. I’m learning all sorts of stuff. Life boats on rails! Imagine that. I’m more familiar with the smaller life boats carried by circumnavigating sailors. A good lesson from Steven Callahan, and a tribute to the human spirit..

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