In-water survival. Could you survive being lost at sea?


This issue is dedicated to surviving in-water without a life raft.

While all commercially certified crew members have been through the Shipboard Safety Skillset, previously Elements of Shipboard Safety (ESS) course recreational operators have not.


Having to survive in the water after your vessels sinks or through a person overboard situation can be a terrifying ordeal and one that I hope you or your crew don’t have to go through!

The question is…

…if you found yourself in that situation could you survive?

The sad fact is that most people don’t really consider it until it’s too late. On commercial vessels it’s a requirement to undertake drills to ensure all crew have the knowledge and skills to deal with emergency situations.

But do you take into account how to survive if you found yourself in the water with other people around you or what if your alone?

Over the last few months, we’ve been delivering onboard safety training to commercial crews around Australia, and what stood out was a serious lack of knowledge and/or complacency about emergency situations.

The all too common attitude of “it won’t happen to me” was highlighted yet again.

While it’s a situation that we all hope does not happen, the simple fact is that every time you put to sea there is a possibility you may find yourself in the water waiting to be rescued.

Taking that into consideration let’s look at some in-water survival techniques.

Here’s a few points to consider first…

  1. Does anyone know you’re in the water?
  2. Are you alone or are there others?
  3. Are you injured or is anyone with you injured?
  4. Do you have a lifejacket on?
  5. Is there an inflatable life raft?
  6. Where are you?
  7. What are you wearing?
  8. What are the conditions?

These are some of the major factors influencing if you survive. If nobody knows you’re in the water then that’s a major problem to start with.

Injuries represent another issue depending on the nature of the injury while not having a lifejacket on puts you in a serious survival situation.

Where you are, what you’re wearing, and the prevailing conditions all represent major problems in surviving!

If you’re 50nm offshore and find yourself in the water with no lifejacket or anything else to support you in the water and nobody knows then you’re in a heap of trouble. Survival in this situation is not impossible but to be honest chances diminish by the hour.

Hypothermia is a major issue no matter where you are. During our training sessions too many crew members thought that hypothermia didn’t happen in the tropics. Simple fact is that is does!

First things first

The very first thing you need to do is ensure everybody is accounted for then check for injuries. Once you’ve dealt with the injuries the next step is critical to everyone’s survival because it’s one of the biggest dangers you’ll face.

Panic is the one thing that’s hard to control because suddenly finding yourself in the water miles from anywhere and floating in the water is a traumatic experience.

It’s critical for all that you get everyone calmed down, easy to say: not so easy to do but it’s a major step to surviving.

On most commercial vessels EPIRBs are now “Float Free” but for those that are not fitted with float free EPIRBS and for recreational vessels ensure you activate it as soon as possible.

Survival Strategies


If there’s more than one person then you use the HUDDLE technique. This is where you all huddle together in a group to reduce the heat loss of all persons. 

Wearing a lifejacket of PFD allows you to draw your knees to your chest and your arms to your sides. Huddling with other people in the water lessens the loss of body heat and is good for morale.

By huddling together, you make it easier for rescuers to see you in the water. A group huddling together with lifejackets on is much easier to spot than you alone.



If you’re alone in the water you need to use the HELP which stands for Heat Escape Lessing Posture to minimise the amount of heat loss from your body.


Shorlink’s Recommendation

Here’s a couple of recommendations that can enhance your chances of survival!

  • Ensure all life jackets are in good condition; and 
  • They are stowed in an easy to access location; and
  • Ensure everyone onboard knows how to don their life jacket correctly

Additionally, it is good to ensure you conduct regular training that includes in-water survival.


If you’re working in rough weather or undertaking a solo voyage then we strongly recommend wearing a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) that’s GPS activated. This greatly increase the potential for a quick rescue.