Hypothetically speaking, you are currently stranded on a boat. The engine’s dead and there’s no one around in your vicinity. Gladly, your boat is not damaged at all. It’s just that your engine is dead. What would you do? In this article, we are going to talk about increasing your chances of survival on the sea in South Africa.

Sea Survival? What is that?

You may be familiar with this term if you are a sailor working commercially in the maritime industry. As STCW is mandatory for commercial maritime workers, the Personal Survival Techniques (PST) course is a part of the package. It is an extensive course that educates on handling different emergency situations arising in territorial and international waters. 

While recreational boaters do not necessarily have to take the STCW course, it does not mean they cannot. In fact, if you are a boating enthusiast, you should definitely learn these essential safety ropes through an STCW course. It is open to everyone!

Of course, even if you do not take the course, you should have some basic knowledge related to sea survival. In this article, we will be following some basic steps to increase your chances of survival on the sea in South Africa.

So, how can I increase my chances of survival on the sea?

Before we dive into this, remember these two things. Always don your lifejacket and always wear your engine kill switch. These are essential and we cannot stress enough how important these two things are. Okay? Now let’s see…

 ​1. Stay calm

This is probably the most heard, yet least followed advice in the marine world. It’s understandable to be fearful for your own life and safety in an emergency. But staying calm is how you are going to get through this.

Stay calm and assess the situation. Is it the boat engine? Are the navigation system and other essential electronic devices still functional? Is the boat hull intact or are there holes? Whatever the emergency is, the situation is dire, but don’t let it get out of your hands. There is always a way out unless you are really not prepared for such situations.

So, step one. Stay calm and assess the situation.

2. Use the Radio to call for help

Whatever you have learned in your VHF Radio Course will come in handy here. You should be familiar with the Channel 16 VHF frequency. If you are out in the ocean and need emergency assistance, you will be tuning into this frequency to call for aid. Remember to use the word ‘MayDay’ if you require immediate assistance or if you or an onboard passenger’s life is in immediate danger.

Alternatively, you can also tune into DSC Radio Channel 70 to call aid. Remember to mention your ship’s registration number, the call sign, and your position as seen on the GPS; or if your GPS systems are failing, then you will have to use charts to determine your location. Both of these frequencies are monitored by South African coastguards.

Remember, having an SRC (Short Range Certificate) is mandatory to operate a radio legally.

3. Radios are not working? There are alternatives!

Just because we have gone digital, does not mean we have to forget our old ways. In fact, they can prove much more helpful than you can imagine. For example, you can use flares to attract attention or mirrors and lights to signal other nearby ships.

Have no ships in sight around you? There is a potentially risky alternative, but it does work. The old school fire and smoke. You can start a fire in a safe, confined area to raise a smoke signal. Remember, this is a last resort and should only be used when other options absolutely fail you.

Alternatively, you may also be able to use your cell phone for emergency calls.

4a. Deploy Lifeboat(s)

If your boat’s hull has taken significant damage, it is time to deploy lifeboat(s). Make sure everyone is secured and equipped with PFDs and signalling devices such as whistles, flashlights etc. Make sure everyone follows an order for everyone’s safety. Once everyone is secured on the liferaft, stay afloat and wait till the help arrives. Or if you know where to go, you may start rowing towards that direction. Be mindful of the weather and the tides.

4b. Use a First-Aid Kit as required

If the emergency includes someone injured on board that may require professional medical assistance, make sure you ask for emergency aid and then consider using the first-aid kit or other means to keep the patient/victim as stable as you can. Do not attempt to perform any advanced operations if you do not have the knowledge.

4c. No lifeboats and a capsized boat

In this case, make sure you have the lifejackets on and that everyone has their necessary signalling devices. The water will be most likely cold for our bodies. Make sure to stay away from potentially harmful debris, such as broken metal rods or pipes.

Stay in the vicinity of other survivors if there are any and try to conserve your energy as much as you can. Focus on staying afloat and staying calm until the help arrives. Remember, you must help yourself first before you help others else you may end up jeopardising both lives.


Increasing your chances of survival in an adverse situation at sea in South Africa completely depends on how calmly and appropriately you handle the situation. While being anxious is normal in such a state, having knowledge will definitely save your life.

All sea-going ships are required to have life-saving and safety equipment onboard. Failing to do so may even result in punishment from the law as well. Make sure all the safety gear is in tip-top condition and is enough for everyone onboard. And lastly, be sure to follow these essential precautions while driving a powerboat out there.

Oh, are you looking for Skipper’s License in South Africa? Connect with us for more information and we will gladly assist you.