No one plans to end up like the Edmund Fitzgerald, but, then again, that included the crew of the Edmund Fitzgerald. Damages associated with boats sinking cost nearly $5.8M in 2015, according to the US Coast Guard. In that same year, new boats were commonly offered with everything from decorative underwater lighting to built-in cup holders. Yet, no one seemed to think about providing a dedicated space on deck for safety equipment, leaving owners to find storage spots throughout the vessel for gear that could possibly save lives.
Almost every boat can sink. And it doesn't take running into a rock to do it. A corroded hose clamp that fails will suffice, as will a following sea entering through a muffler that has rusted away unseen. And when water starts pouring in, a boat sinks fast. A recent online video recounts how a new 42' power cruiser sank in 50 seconds, with no more warning than smoke coming from the engine compartment.
In this instance, two adults and two PFD-clad children clung to a cooler for flotation until they were rescued. Flares were stored under a helm seat, but in the time it took to activate an EPIRB and get everyone off the boat, the vessel nosed 45 degrees then sank from view.
Some might ask: Why is centralized, easily accessible storage of safety equipment not made a priority? Owners who are boarded by the US Coast Guard will recount how it didn't matter how long it took to find an item, only was that it functioned properly and hadn't expired.
With seconds between the first signs of a problem and treading water, it's up to boat owners to find a solution.
Many boat owners keep emergency equipment in a "ditch kit" or "overboard bag." Typically a nylon sack or plastic container, it holds visual distress signals, such as a mirror, flares and smoke, a whistle or horn, and VHF radio—everything that's needed if suddenly in that position of treading water.
Unfortunately, ditch kits are all too often stowed in the cabin or lazarette. While this may be a convenient location if the boat runs out of gas, it's a different story if there's a fire on board or it's taking on water uncontrollably. Even if the ditch kit is grabbed before jumping in the water, it doesn't provide buoyance once opened.
Recognizing the problem and inspired to help save lives, Life Cell Marine Safety set about to redefine the standard of how safety equipment is stored on boats. Its Life Cell not only holds safety and survival gear, but provides flotation for up to eight adults, depending on the model. It's mounted outside on a special bracket that allows it to float off a sinking boat—like an EPIRB or life raft. Certified by the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS), it's currently being tested by the US Coast Guard for use as an approved throw able device.
Until standards or best practices are developed for on board storage of emergency equipment, boat owners should carefully consider where gear is stored and how quickly it can be accessed. Like a man-overboard drill, it's easy to time oneself to gauge where improvements can be made. Centralizing survival gear increases safety and could help save your life.