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How to Survive a Shipwreck

Staying calm is the most important factor in increasing your chances of shipwreck survival and allowing you to make appropriate life-saving choices.

Signaling for rescue with flags, smoke and flares was once the first step. With radios and electronic equipment, this initial measure now involves radioing in a “mayday” or a “panpan” signal with a GPS position so rescuers can reach the location quickly.

The next step is to enter a lifeboat, or, if you are cast into the water, to swim slowly to the nearest floating object or raft. Once aboard, it is necessary to take stock of the situation, including any injuries, and the state of rations and shelter. Wring out your wet clothes to prevent hypothermia. Whether on board or after reaching land, try to arrange some means of shelter from the elements. Refuse, sacks and boxes, and tree boughs can all be used.

If rescue is delayed, your most urgent requirement for survival is a source of warmth. During the winter, hypothermia can result in death in just 20 minutes in the cold Pacific waters. Many mariners have warm, buoyant and brightly coloured survival suits for this purpose. A source of clean drinking water is the next concern. The collection of rain water and condensation can contribute to your shipwreck survival. Drinking sea water will only ensure rapid dehydration as your kidneys use what little water your body has left to filter out the extra salt from your bloodstream.

If you have food rations, it is beneficial to eat starches and fats but very little protein in order to maintain hydration. Finally, be sure to conserve your energy and to sleep whenever possible. Common lifeboat ailments to be aware of include dehydration, salt-water boils, inflammation, fever, and frostbite. Knowledge of basic First Aid procedures will help to keep these afflictions in check.

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