Do you often go on cruises? Have loved ones who enjoy scuba diving, canoeing, kayaking or surfing in the ocean? 

Keep these following tips in mind, and share them with family members and friends!

Prior knowledge always helps in life-threatening situations; you will never know when they may come in handy! Always be prudent and prepared for the worst.


Firstly, what are the causes of a ship sinking?

There are many factors that could result in the disaster, including:

Rogue waves/bad weather conditions
Missing drain plug
Leaking through the hulls
Leaking of cooling systems
Structural failure of boat 
Striking submerged objects
Navigation error/human error

& others..


1. Prior to setting sail

  • Explore the ship early to familiarize yourself with the locations of the emergency exits; evacuation maps as well as where lifeboats & lifejackets are stored that are nearest to your cabin. Learn where everything is.
  • Get a basic understanding of how a ship functions, and the handling of a lifeboat.
  • Pay attention to the safety briefing given at the beginning of every voyage. Every ship is slightly different so even if you have travelled by ship before, make sure to listen carefully. If the crew speaks a different language, find people who can advice you directly on what to do in the event of an emergency.

  • Knowledge of swimming is an added advantage. However, do note that swimming in the seas is far different as to swimming in the safety of a pool. Floating skills are valued more, and can decrease your chances of becoming ‘fish food’ in the vast, wild ocean.


2. During the time of sinking

  • Stay calm. Panicking won’t help anyone and it’ll only worsen the situation.

Studies shown that 70% of maritime accident victims tend to be bewildered and have impaired reasoning; 15% exhibit irrational behaviors and only the rest stay calm and alert. Remaining calm already places you 85% above the rest of the ship!

  • Practice square breathing (Inhale deeply for 4 seconds, holding your lungs full of air for 4 seconds. Exhale for 4 seconds, and hold your lungs empty for 4 seconds. Do this 3-4 times) Square breathing is used in the US military to sooth nerves and lower heart rate of snipers. It’ll be easier for you to focus on survival.
  • The opposite spectrum of panic can kick in; becoming stunned and unable to respond. Yell at people who are frozen with fear to jolt them to their senses. This is what flight attendants do to get stunned passengers to leave a burning plane.
  • Listen to the captain and crew as they have a better understanding on what needs to be done to ensure safety.

      Most of us already know about the ill-fated Sewol accident in South Korea. [read post click here - opens in new tab]

Image credit: Tumblr

The tragedy raised many questions regarding the cause of the accident. There are many factors that could cause a ship to sink, and for Sewol, the biggest reason would probably be: Human error. Many children on board did not question the captain’s orders to stay where they were (not questioning their elders is customary in the hierarchical Korean culture). In the end, they paid for their obedience with their lives. The ones who did survived were those who didn’t hear the instructions or had decided to take the leap into the frigid waters.

*The takeaway here is not for you to disobey your captain’s directions and recklessly act on your own. Think calmly and logically and use your discretion to decide what has to be done to ensure your survival.

  • Attempt to escape on your own only if there is no authority present to give proper directions. Someone should gather all floatation devices, put them on and get the life raft ready without wasting time.

  • If the hull is breached and the ship starts taking in water, the lowest parts will be filled first. Rats are known to be the first to abandon a sinking ship and they set the right example as to where to go as the ship fills up. Therefore, getting up to the deck as soon as possible is important. This seems to be common sense, but when panic sets in, it’s easy for one to lose orientation and get lost.
  • Focus on the quickest escape route, and not the shortest. Avoid using elevators (similar to what you would do in a burning building situation)
  • As the ship tilts, grab whatever you can to help you remain upright (handrails, pipes, hooks, light fixtures etc)

    • When in inner deck areas, watch out for objects floating/hurtling towards you. Those can knock you unconscious or even kill you! You wouldn’t want to be standing in the way of a grand piano sliding across the room, for example.


3. Abandoning Ship

  • The longer you stay aboard the sinking ship, the lower your chances of survival are. Your odds for survival also drop as much as 70% if you end up in the water instead of a life raft. Here is a table that shows how long a person can survive in the water, depending on the temperature:

 Credits to Wikihow

  • Don’t play the hero by staying back. This isn’t the movies – do what needs to be done to ensure the survival of you and your loved ones!
  • Any floatation device is better than none; it’ll greatly increase your survival chances.
  • Look before jumping. There may be people, boats, fires, and propellers in the way. Jump as close as possible to a lifeboat, and make your way there immediately.

If you’re on a lifeboat

  • Continue to remain calm.
  • Protect your skin from the sun.
  • Drink your fresh water sparingly. (Dehydration happens quickly on the open seas.)
  • Keep people’s brains occupied with conversation, singing or with games.
  • Unless help is already on the way, all you can do is to let the raft drift to shore, or use flares sparingly to attract attention of other rescue boats/aircraft.


If you’re without a lifeboat

  • Prevent shock by focusing on survival, counting or using mind games. Cold shock can render you unable to control your breathing while raising your heart rate and blood pressure, incapacitating you, as well as forcing you to take an involuntary breath and gulping in water.
  • Cling onto any support you can lay your hands on to keep afloat.

      Emergency floatation device: If you have no time to throw on a life jacket, make your own floatation device using your pants. Remove your pants and knot them at the ends. Wave them in the air above you so they fill with air. Push the waist end under the water to trap air inside and create a floatation device. Ultimately, this is better than nothing.

  • Chilly waters may cause hypothermia, making you feel drowsy and sleepy. Try your best to stay awake as falling asleep could raise risk of drowning! 

Myth or Reality?

In the movie ‘Titanic’, Leonardo DiCaprio’s character Jack Dawson was pulled underwater from suction created by the sinking ship. TV show ‘Mythbusters’ have tested it and declared it busted, but shipwreck survivors gave contradictory accounts. It’s better to be safe than sorry, so stay as far away from a sinking ship as possible!


In conclusion...

Be it for business trips or leisure purposes, you still have to get from Point A to Point B at the end of the day. No mode of transportation is guaranteed to be completely safe. The best you can do is to remember the above safety tips/procedures, and sit back and relax.

Most importantly, always stay positive and never lose hope! Hope gives us the strength to survive even the toughest of situations!


If it helps to give you peace of mind, get life insurance coverage to protect you and your loved ones at all times:

Alternatively, it'll be prudent to learn swimming and water survival skills. Sign your child up for swimming classes early on!