If you are in an aircraft that goes down at sea, take the following actions once you clear the aircraft. Whether you are in the water or in a raft, get clear and upwind of the aircraft as soon as possible but stay in the vicinity until the aircraft sinks. If you spot fuel or oil in the water, stay clear of that as well. The fuel could ignite as it flows from the aircraft. Once you are away from harm, try to find other survivors.
A search for survivors usually takes place around the entire area of and near the crash site. Missing survivors may be unconscious and floating low in the water.
The best technique for rescuing individuals from the water is to throw them a life preserver attached to a line. Another is to send a swimmer (rescuer) from the raft with a line attached to a flotation device that will support the rescuer’s weight. This device will help conserve a rescuer’s energy while recovering the survivor. The least acceptable technique is to send an attached swimmer without flotation devices to retrieve a survivor. In all cases, the rescuer wears a life preserver. A rescuer should not underestimate the strength of a panic-stricken person in the water. A careful approach can prevent injury to the rescuer.
When the rescuer approaches a survivor in trouble from behind, there is little danger the survivor will kick, scratch or grab him. The rescuer swims to a point directly behind the survivor and grasps the life preserver’s backstrap. The rescuer uses the sidestroke to drag the survivor to the raft.
If you are in the water, make your way to a raft. If no rafts are available, try to find a large piece of floating debris to cling to. Relax; a person who knows how to relax in ocean water is in very little danger of drowning. The body’s natural buoyancy will keep at least the top of the head above water but some movement is needed to keep the face above water. Floating on your back takes the least energy. Lie on your back in the water, spread your arms and legs, and arch your back. By controlling your breathing in and out, your face will always be out of the water and you may even sleep in this position for short periods. Your head will be partially submerged but your face will be above water. If you cannot float on your back or if the sea is too rough, float facedown in the water.
The following are the best swimming strokes during a survival situation. Dog paddle stroke is excellent when clothed or wearing a life jacket. Although slow in speed, it requires very little energy. Breaststroke can be used to swim underwater, through oil or debris or in rough seas. It is probably the best stroke for long-range swimming: it allows you to conserve your energy and maintain a reasonable speed. Sidestroke is a good relief stroke because you use only one arm to maintain momentum and buoyancy. The final technique is backstroke. This stroke is also an excellent relief stroke. It relieves the muscles that you use for other strokes. Use it if an underwater explosion is likely.
If you are in an area where surface oil is burning, discard your shoes and buoyant life preserver. Note: If you have an uninflated life preserver, keep it. Quickly cover your nose, mouth and eyes, and go underwater. Swim underwater as far as possible before surfacing to breathe. Before surfacing, use your hands to push burning fluid away from the area where you wish to surface. Once an area is clear of burning liquid, you can surface and take a few breaths. Try to face downwind before inhaling. Submerge feet first and continue as above until clear of the flames.
If you are in oil-covered water that is free of fire, hold your head high to keep the oil out of your eyes. Attach your life preserver to your wrist and then use it as a raft. If you have a life preserver, you can stay afloat for an indefinite period. In this case, use the “HELP” body position: Heat Escaping Lessening Posture (HELP). Remain still and assume the fetal position to help you retain body heat. You lose about 50 percent of your body heat through your head. Therefore, keep your head out of the water. Other areas of high heat loss are the neck, sides and groin.
If you are in a raft, check the physical condition of all on board. Give first aid if necessary. Take seasickness pills if available. The best way to take these pills is to place them under the tongue and let them dissolve. There are also suppositories or injections against seasickness. Vomiting, whether from seasickness or other causes, increases the danger of dehydration. Try to salvage all floating equipment — rations; canteens, thermos jugs and other containers; clothing; seat cushions; parachutes; and anything else that will be useful to you. Secure the salvaged items in or to your raft. Make sure the items have no sharp edges that can puncture the raft.
If there are other rafts, lash the rafts together so they are about 7.5 meters apart. Be ready to draw them closer together if you see or hear an aircraft. It is easier for an aircrew to spot rafts that are close together, rather than scattered. Remember, rescue at sea is a cooperative effort. Use all available visual or electronic signaling devices to signal and make contact with rescuers. For example, raise a flag or reflecting material on an oar as high as possible to attract attention. Have signaling devices ready for instant use. If you are in enemy territory, avoid using a signaling device that will alert the enemy. However, if your situation is desperate, you may have to signal the enemy for rescue if you are to survive.
Check the raft for inflation, leaks and points of possible chafing. Make sure the main buoyancy chambers are firm (well rounded) but not overly tight. Check inflation regularly. Air expands with heat; therefore, on hot days, release some air and add air when the weather cools. Try to decontaminate the raft of all fuel. Petroleum will weaken its surfaces and break down its glued joints.
Throw out the sea anchor or improvise a drag from the raft’s case, bailing bucket or a roll of clothing. A sea anchor helps you stay close to your ditching site, making it easier for searchers to find you if you have relayed your location. Without a sea anchor, your raft may drift over 160 kilometers in a day, making it much harder to find you. You can adjust the sea anchor to act as a drag to slow down the rate of travel with the current or as a means to travel with the current. You make this adjustment by opening or closing the sea anchor’s apex. When open, the sea anchor acts as a drag that keeps you in the general area. When closed, it forms a pocket for the current to strike and propels the raft in the current’s direction.
Additionally, adjust the sea anchor so that when the raft is on the wave’s crest, the sea anchor is in the wave’s trough. Wrap the sea anchor rope with cloth to prevent its chafing the raft. The anchor also helps to keep the raft headed into the wind and waves. In stormy water, rig the spray and windshield at once. In a 20-person raft, keep the canopy erected at all times. Keep your raft as dry as possible. Keep it properly balanced. All personnel should stay seated, the heaviest one in the center. Calmly consider all aspects of your situation and determine what you and your companions must do to survive. Inventory all equipment, food and water. Waterproof items that salt water may affect. These include compasses, watches, sextant, matches and lighters. Ration food and water. Assign a duty position to each person: for example, water collector, food collector, lookout, radio operator, signaler and water bailers.
Note: Lookout duty should not exceed two hours. Keep in mind and remind others that cooperation is one of the keys to survival.
If you have access to any writing implements, try to keep a log. Record the navigator’s last fix, the time of ditching, the names and physical condition of personnel, and the ration schedule. Also record the wind, weather, direction of swells, times of sunrise and sunset, and other navigational data.
If you are down in unfriendly waters, take special security measures to avoid detection. Do not travel in the daytime. Throw out the sea anchor and wait for nightfall before paddling or hoisting sail. Keep low in the raft; stay covered. Be sure a passing ship or aircraft is friendly or neutral before trying to attract its attention. Decide whether to stay in position or to travel. Ask yourself, “How much information was signaled before the accident? Is your position known to rescuers? Do you know it yourself? Is the weather favorable for a search? Are other ships or aircraft likely to pass your present position? How many days supply of food and water do you have?”
Information courtesy of the U.S. Army Survival Manual