9 anglers were left adrift in the South China Sea after a tragic accident off Tanjung Sedili in September 2011. While 7 men were rescued 19 hours later, 2 still remain missing till this day. One of the survivors of the ill-fated trip, Mr PAN POH LOH, shares from his experience some suggested safety precautions to take before embarking on a trip and what should one do in the unlikely event of falling overboard or being capsized at sea – with the hope that this awareness will help to save lives.
Safety Precautions and Survival Tips At Sea
- Life jackets or inflatable personal floatation devices (PFDs) should be worn at all times on board a boat. Accidents happen when you least expect it. Most inflatable PFDs these days are slim and do not restrict much motion when fishing.
- Keep a whistle in your pocket or life jacket for attracting attention. Most life jackets and PFDs will have a whistle attached.
- If possible, keep a small pocket knife and a small torchlight in your pocket. Having a knife allows you to cut ropes, lines or other materials when needed. A torchlight is useful for illumination and attracting attention in the dark. A small mirror is also useful in the daytime to attract attention from a distance. All these items can be packed into a small waist pouch which you can keep by your side at all times.
- Keep some sweets, candy bars or chewing gum handy as these are good sources of energy in an emergency.
- Keep some bottles of water and packed food such as buns or biscuits in cooler boxes. Cooler boxes usually float in the water and keeping rations in them may have higher chances of ensuring some water and food supply in an emergency.
- It’s best to assign a person to stay awake and keep watch at all times on the boat especially at night to warn of any approaching vessels.
- Be aware of the boat’s direction when heading out to fishing spots. Knowing the direction of the nearest body of land will enable you to swim towards it in an emergency. Swimming towards land may increase the likelihood of being spotted by fishermen or passing boats.
- Should you fall into the water, do not panic – try to reach out for any large floating debris or items to cling to for floatation.
- Remain calm and avoid kicking, shouting and thrashing. Apart from helping you to keep afloat, relaxing will help to conserve energy.
- Swim towards any visible “unjam” buoys or FADs and hang on to the ropes. There is a higher possibility of being spotted by fishing boats inspecting these “unjams” or FADs.
- Always notify your family or loved ones where you will be fishing as well as an estimated time when you will return to shore. It is also advisable to have contacts of fellow fishing mates and their points of contact back home.
- Always ensure you check the weather forecast before embarking on the trip. It’s best to cancel the trip should the weather be unfavourable. Foregoing the trip deposit is nothing compared to the risks of venturing out to sea in rough weather.
- Do your homework and research on the boat charter for vessel reliability and safety provisions (e.g. availability of floats, life jackets, two-way radio systems, etc.).
- Avoid anchoring at known shipping lanes where big vessels regularly pass through. The risks of a collision are very real and no amount of fishing enjoyment should be at the expense of one’s personal safety.
It may be a worthy safety investment for anglers who frequently fish at spots far away from any mobile network connectivity to purchase a satellite phone. While the airtime rates may be steep (use them for emergencies, not chatting!), satellite phone sets are now more affordable with some units starting as low as S$880 with prepaid options. Store important numbers such as local Maritime & Port Authority contact numbers and, if in Malaysia, Maritime Rescue Co-Ordination Centres (MRCC) and Rescue Sub Centre (MSRC) contact numbers in the phone in case of emergencies or mishaps at sea.