Personal Survival Techniques

Wednesday, September 27th, 2006 at 23:00 | by Alistair Baillie

Today I had my Personal Survival Techniques (PST) short course. The morning involved sitting in a class room discussing the theory side of the course, namely; Abandon Ship signals, what action is taken before abandoning, during and after abandoning ship. As well as instructions on how to don survival suits, life jackets, the different types of life rafts and the rations. During the first 24 hours you do not eat or drink anything.

After lunch we boarded the mini bus which took us down to the pool which is located off campus at a commercial diving centre 10 minutes down the road. Once there we launched (chucked the closed capsule into the pool), and inflated (pulled on the painter – rope you use to attach it to the side) the life rafts before carrying out a dry boarding of the rafts. We then sealed ourselves inside and floated around the pool for a bit while one of the instructors who was in with us asked us questions about the raft and procedures we should use once entering. We then floated back to the side and everyone climbed out with not a drop of water on us.

There was two teams while we were doing it, each with their own life raft. The next stage involved entering the water from a height (3 meter diving board) while wearing a life jacket, and then swimming on your back to the other end of the pool where we had to float for a few minutes before swimming to our raft, and then pulling ourselves unaided out of the water into the raft – surprisingly difficult to do, and not something any of us did very elegantly most of us just flopped in head first, the lucky managed to land on their sides.

Entering the water from a height basically involves stepping (not jumping) off the edge – a rather strange sensation as you have to physically force yourself to walk off the edge. Before you can just step off, you need to look down to check the water – and 3m looks very high when your looking down at the pool below, then you put your arm across your life jacket, take a deep breath, pinch your nose and seal your mouth with your hand, look directly ahead close your eyes and step off bringing your legs together as soon as possible (or it apparently hurts a lot if you don’t).

After that, we floated back to the side and everyone got out. We then had to enter the water swim on our fronts to the middle of the pool, lie face down in the water and play dead. The idea behind this was to show us that if you fall unconscious the life jacket will automatically force you round onto your back and lift your head clear of the water. We then practiced linking up in a circle, and then moving as a group, which is basically where your all lying on your back with legs round the waist of the person in front of you. The leader then shouts “right arm only” / “left arm only” / “both arms” and everyone then does this and you move like a snake through the water.

We had to make our way across the pool like this to our raft where we had to climb back onto it again out of the water; although this time we could help each other, and had to help drag people out of the water into the raft. Essentially it was shoving people’s arses from behind if you were in the water, and pulling them by their shoulders if you were on the life raft.

Then as if that wasn’t enough we all got out the life raft and they flipped them over. We then had to individually prove that we could turn them over. Its actually quite easy to do, you basically put your feet on either side of the entrance (or where marked by the manufacturer), and then pull yourself up using a rope, as you do so the raft flips over and comes down on top of you – which you just let it do, if you try and stop it chances are you break your arm, and there’s a large air pocket underneath it anyway, you then follow one of the ropes back out and can then climb up into it.

To end the day we had an exercise to do which combined all the individual parts together. They also closed all the blinds and turned out the lights and turned on rain. We had to enter the water from height, swim to far corner of pull and form a circle and wait for all your team members. We being team 1 had to wait on all of team 2 entering the water as well so they didn’t land on top of us, since our raft was at other side of diving board. We then had to make our way in a group over to the raft, where we had to enter it, and carry out the normal procedures. We all successfully entered the raft, deployed the sea anchor and sealed the entrances. At which point we discovered a torch in the emergency pack, and then started to bail out the water from the raft over the side – this went well until I accidentally chucked the bailer out the raft on the 4th go. We then posted a lookout, and awaited rescue 🙂

We then headed back to Warsash where after a quick break we had the last part of the course which was going over hypothermia and GMDSS, First Aid, Ailments which people can get in survival craft and then briefly over how the UK Search and Rescue Organisations work.

Today (and yesterday) was brilliant fun, although I must say I preferred today over yesterday, fire fighting although great fun was really hard work and it is really tiring to do. While we did our training today in a nice warm indoor swimming pool (25’c I think they said) reality is that if we ever need to abandon ship its highly unlikely to be in flat calm conditions and it’ll be a hell of a lot harded to do, especially in the water where you wont survive long.

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