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How to Survive a Shipwreck

Sinking ship? Check out these tips to survive a shipwreck.


  • Step 1: Locate a lifeboat, raft, or dinghy. Keep it attached to the sinking ship with a rope until you launch it. Help anyone in need of assistance before you get in, staying out of the water as much as possible. Then, detach the rope and float a safe distance away.
  • TIP: If you can't get to a lifeboat, hold onto any floating object to stay out of the water.
  • Step 2: Once you're afloat, treat any injuries, dry your clothes as best you can, and huddle with other survivors to prevent hypothermia. Use items from the survival kit or flotsam from the shipwreck as shelter from the elements, and set up a system to collect potable rainwater. Then, hunker down, set off intermittent flares, and wait for rescue.
  • FACT: When the SS Andrea Doria shipwrecked in 1956, 1,660 of the 1,706 people on board survived.
  • TIP: If possible, include an Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon, or EPIRB, operating at 406 Megahertz, to help others locate you.
  • Step 3: If your boat does not have a ready-made survival kit, assemble one as quickly as possible. Place food, water, survival gear, first-aid supplies, and signaling equipment, including flares, in a waterproof bag you can carry with you.
  • TIP: Find a crew member if possible -- most are trained in how to survive a shipwreck.
  • Step 4: Find a life jacket and put it on, along with any waterproof clothing you have. Check the life jacket’s label to see if it automatically inflates in water -- if not, remember to inflate it once you leave your shipwrecked vessel.
  • Step 5: Locate the ship's VHF radio, turn it to channel 16, the international hailing and distress frequency, and issue a Mayday call. Include as much information as you can, such as the boat's name, location, physical characteristics, the shipwreck's cause, and the number of passengers.
  • Step 6: Don’t panic -- it will only exacerbate the problem. Take deep breaths and focus on ways to survive.

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