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March 2009    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 35, No. 3   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Stranded At Sea? Buy Yourself Some Time

from the March, 2009 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Undercurrent frequently reports on divers stranded at sea. Those who are fortunate to get rescued report extreme hypothermia and dehydration, both of which contribute to delirium, incoherence, and the inability to make good decisions. Brad Bowins (Toronto, ON), one of our loyal readers, has read our many pieces, and tells us how he prepares himself should he be so unfortunate as to find himself adrift.

* * * * * *

The article in the August 2008 Undercurrent, “Rescue Devices for Saving Your Bacon,” concisely summarizes options for being spotted when adrift. While certain devices such as flashlights, mirrors and folding fluorescent yellow flags are of assistance, nothing guarantees you will be spotted and picked up sooner, later, or at all. However, there are precautions one can take to stay alive and coherent for two to three days while lost at sea, which theoretically will significantly increase the probability of rescue or reaching land. Here are my suggestions for a $20 practical and reliable survival kit.

The first component is an oversized contractor’s bag or heavy-duty garbage bag with dimensions about 36 x 58 inches, to reduce heat loss. With fins off, divers of small to moderate build can place one or two bags around themselves to shoulder height, tying the open end to BCD straps. I have experimented with this and it works with knees bent. The water in the bag will warm up from body heat, and it should discourage any unwanted attention from sharks because waving limbs emit vibrations characteristic of wounded prey. Drawing the top of the bag tight around your shoulders and neck will further minimize heat loss. The bags fold up compactly and can be carried within a survival pouch. You can also use one to cover your head to protect against wind, rain, cold and sun exposure, problems that can contribute to heat loss, dehydration, and fatigue. Unfortunately, an oversized diver will not fit in an oversized garbage bag, but an extra large plastic bag from a source such as industrial wrappings might be located.

The next items for your survival kit are small screw-top plastic bottles filled with fresh water, which can be carried in a pouch or your BCD pockets. Fill the bottles prior to your first dive; carrying more than one bottle means if you spill one, you have another. An average-size diver might need as little as 200 ml. of water per day to excrete wastes on a shortterm basis. Most divers can comfortably store 500 to 1,000 ml. of water per day for two to three days. Please lift your own BCD and tank out of the water if you overdo the water supply, otherwise you will be sacrificing the back of the boathand for your excessive survival resources.

The final item is power bars, perhaps one per day. They are light, well wrapped, not prone to going bad, and pack substantial calories. Also take a piece of aluminum foil; placed inside your aluminum mask, it can provide a reflective surface if you face the sun or searchlight. If nothing else, the observer will be curious to check out a marine creature with such large reflective eyes. All these items fit in one or two large zip-lock bags placed in the pockets of your BCD. Alternatively, a pouch can be clipped onto your buoyancy compensator to store the survival kit.

What happens if you are stranded with a group and you are the only one who has read this article? In all my years of diving, I have never really found a use for a dive knife. Could this be the first truly valid one?

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