When you need to abandon ship


When you need to abandon ship

Abandoning ship is always your last resort. If your boat is rapidly sinking or there’s a fire that can’t be extinguished or contained, then it’s time to abandon.

In this moment of duress, you need to be prepared to act. Having a life raft on-board won’t keep you safe unless you have a plan on how to use it. When you need to abandon ship, you should have a well-oiled crew ready to react in an organized, efficient manner.

How to abandon ship

  • Don life jackets and any foul weather gear
  • Call in a Mayday, with your current location, to the Coast Guard
  • Activate and keep close your EPIRB
  • Retrieve your life raft. Your raft should be stowed where it can be easily accessible in the case of an emergency.
  • Launching your raft.
    • Secure the painter to a strong point on your boat.
    • Throw the raft overboard, downwind.
    • Pull the remaining line from the container until you feel some resistance and no more line comes out of the container.
    • Give a hard tug and the raft will begin to inflate, breaking out of its container.
    • Secure the life raft close to the boat. When it’s inflated, pull in the line and secure it close to the boat.
  • Grab your ditch kit and any other supplies.
  • Board the raft. The goal is to board the life raft directly from the vessel and not from the water. Staying out of the water is essential to remain as dry and warm as possible.
  • Either untie or unshackle the mooring line from the boat or cut the line when everyone is in the raft. On most rafts, a safety knife is mounted on the raft near the attachment point of the mooring line. 


These are only guidelines, not iron-clad rules. Try and anticipate the many different ways things can go wrong and how you and your boat’s strengths and weaknesses can affect survival. You may only have 30 seconds to launch your life raft and get your crew into it, so know how to do it. You may seem to have more time, so plan ahead on how you’ll use it. What seems to be, often changes rapidly, and with no warning, so be prepared to drop your plan and go into your 30-second drill.  Talk about it with your crew and formulate your plans ahead of time for each and every circumstance.