Will Your Liferaft Work When You Need It?

Last year’s “Baja Ha Ha,” the fleet cruise from San Diego to Mexico, provides yet another impetus for all ocean cruisers to reconsider their liferaft situation. You DO have one, right?  And it HAS been maintained, inspected and re-certified, right? And you actually know what’s stored in it and how to use it, right? And you don’t keep it in an old valise buried in some locker under a bunch of junk, right?  It’s okay to admit to one of these failings; but not okay to ignore it any longer.  The skipper and crew of J/World, a 40′ J/120 that sank after a collision with whales during the rally, did all of this right and they’re all alive and well today to talk about it.

In fact, the rescue of J/World’s crew is a textbook example of how smoothly things can go when you truly are prepared for the worst. Even some unlucky breaks didn’t prevent a successful rescue by U.S. Coast Guard helicopter. The specific equipment that kept this crew alive and got them rescued was their Viking RescYou liferaft and their EPIRB. The raft protected them in rough seas some 60 miles offshore southwest of San Diego and the EPIRB alerted authorities and brought the Coast Guard right to their location.

USCG Swimmer Hoisted Aboard MH-60 Jayhawk After J World Rescue

USCG Swimmer Hoisted Aboard MH-60 Jayhawk After J World Rescue

In this photo you see the USCG rescue swimmer AST3 Scott Mochkatel being hoisted back aboard the MH-60 Jayhawk after safely getting all five J/World sailors aboard the helo. The USCG Sector San Diego press release has a link to the actual rescue video (just click on the picture in the press release similar to the one at right).

Here’s how it was recounted by the crew to Viking, the makers of the Rescyou liferaft:

The annual Baja Ha-Ha cruiser rally from San Diego, California, to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, turned into a life threatening situation for five, San Francisco-based, J/World Performance Sailing School participants. Thanks to fast-thinking crew members, an eight-person Viking RescYou liferaft and the United States Coast Guard, they’re all alive today after their 40′ J/120 J World sunk, 60 miles offshore.

For J/World instructors Eugenie Russell and Barry Demak and three, adult J/World students, the rally started in fair conditions. Three days in, the team was enjoying swift passage to Turtle Bay, the first anchorage point, with 20-25 knot winds and 10-15′ swells.

On the third morning, just before 10am and about 200 miles southwest of San Diego, the crew encountered a pod of humpback whales. A severe collision caused the rudder to completely dislodge and J World started taking on tremendous amounts of water.

Captain Russell, an experienced offshore sailor, dealt with the situation calmly and methodically. The crew continued to sail the boat with just the sails to get clear of the whales, while attempting to secure the rudder post and stop the ingress of water with a manual bilge pump. Russell went below deck to retrieve the EPIRB and ditch bag, while Demak gathered additional food, water and equipment.

About 40 minutes after the initial impact, Russell and Demak decided the crew needed to abandon the sinking vessel. They activated the satellite-detectable emergency distress signal and deployed their Viking RescYou liferaft just as a large wave hit the submerging boat.

With the aid of the inflated boarding ramp, the five sailors entered the offshore liferaft, bailed out cold seawater and tried to keep themselves warm and dry. They took stock of the offshore emergency pack contents, read the survival instructions and awaited rescue in windy, high seas.

Soon the team saw a USCG Jayhawk flying past them. Demak radioed the aircraft, while Russell fired one of the SOLAS rocket flares. Once the Viking liferaft was spotted, the USCG executed a textbook evacuation of the five sailors.

Fortunately, the professionally prepared and operated teaching vessel was equipped with the best offshore equipment, including the well-maintained Viking RescYou liferaft. Russell and Demak agree that the Viking liferaft was paramount to their survival. “We were fortunate to have the best equipment in perfect working condition,” said Demak, “but it is just as critical to be confident that it will work as designed and to know how to use it.”

If you’d like to read the full account of the J/World sinking and rescue, the December issue of Latitude 38, original sponsor of the rally, has a fantastic article and interview with Eugenie Russell. And the blog of the J World Sailing School itself has an even more extensive account by the participants themselves.

Copyright © 2010 by OceanLines LLC.  All rights reserved

Posted by Tom in Boats, Cruising Under Power, Cruising Under Sail, Electronics, Gear & Apparel, Industry News, Passagemaking News, People, Powerboats, sailboat racing, Sailboats, Sailing Gear & Apparel, seamanship

OceanMedix Offshore Medical Kits

Denny Emory looked out at the audience gathered for his recent lecture on emergency medical preparedness and asked how many had invested in a good offshore life raft.  The universal show of hands didn’t surprise him.  Then he asked how many had invested in a real offshore medical kit, with equipment and prescription medicines.  There were no hands – and that didn’t surprise him either.

A typical OceanMedix Cruiser Prescription Medical Kit.

A typical OceanMedix Cruiser Prescription Medical Kit.

Of the 45 boat owners in the audience, virtually all had a typical first–aid kit, heavy with bandages and tape.  None were prepared for illness at sea, Emory said, even though getting sick is far more common than getting injured.  Six out of every 10 calls for medical consultation at sea result from illness rather than injury, according to the U.S. Coast Guard and offshore sailing organizations.

Emory is a licensed captain and an experienced circumnavigator, and it was the idea that few cruisers understand the realities of medical emergencies that prodded him to create a company called OceanMedix, which provides fully–stocked emergency medical kits, complete with an array of prescription medicines for the kinds of illnesses that occur at sea.

The kits are expensive and may be overkill for weekend boaters.  But for those making longer passages, the company offers a simple way to prepare for common medical problems.

OceanMedix Founder Denny Emory

OceanMedix Founder Denny Emory

“Guys will take every diesel class and radar seminar they can, and they’ll buy every conceivable spare part for the boat,” Emory says, “but they rarely think about this side of preparation.”


Professional mariners aboard commercial vessels are required by international convention to have detailed medical training and equipment, and sailors competing in sanctioned international races must follow the preparation rules of the Offshore Racing Congress (ORC) of the International Sailing Federation (ISAF).  But recreational boaters are on their own to prepare for emergencies.

Illnesses at sea vary from seasickness to a toothache to upper respiratory infection.  A trained Wilderness Emergency Medical Technician, Emory knows what is required to be self–sufficient when away from modern medical resources and he saw a significant gap in emergency preparedness for boaters doing ocean voyages and significant coastal cruises.

OceanMedix, based in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, provides medical kits, sterile packs and prescription medical products to coastal cruisers and ocean voyagers.  All the prescription medications in the kits are authorized by the company’s co–owner, who is a medical doctor.  He writes the prescriptions and issues directions for use, and these documents are packed with the medicines in the kit.

The OceanMedix Cruiser Kits come packed in custom nylon bags.

The OceanMedix Cruiser Kits come packed in custom nylon bags.

This is important when traveling, in order to avoid having to explain an unmarked vial of little white pills to a customs official or other authorities.  For the same reason, crewmembers who take prescription medicines for chronic conditions should have copies of their prescription and keep the medication in its original container.


The three basic kits available correspond to the size of the crew and the length and remoteness of the voyage.  The smallest – the Individual Prescription Kit – is for the individual crewman aboard a voyage.  A larger kit, called the Coastal Prescription Kit, would be suitable for a couple cruising coastal regions where medical care might be available only within 24 to 48 hours.  OceanMedix says this kit is appropriate for a crew of one to 10 people, voyaging up to 21 days.  The Voyager Prescription Kit is for an extended ocean passage where medical care is more than 48 hours away.  This kit supports a crew size of up to 12, and a voyage time of up to 28 days.

These prescription kits are not intended to replace medicines that individuals may be using themselves for chronic ailments such as hypertension or asthma.  Rather, they are intended to prepare the voyager to treat unexpected illness and injury.

A typical Auto External Defibrillator Kit with oxygen.

A typical Auto External Defibrillator Kit with oxygen.

These kits are not cheap.  An Individual Prescription Kit starts at more than $800 and may increase in cost based on what’s included.  The top–of–the–line Voyager Kit starts at about $2,200.

All of OceanMedix’s prescription kits are assembled to order, to insure prescription medicines are fresh.  They are all stored in specially–designed nylon bags and include the doctor’s prescription order, and instructions for use.  Equipment such as sterile packs and IV packs can be added.  They are designed to supplement a basic first–aid kit.

The idea is to use the OceanMedix kit in conjunction with medical advice, preferably a doctor reached via radio.  At a minimum, users are encouraged to consult a good offshore medical reference text.  Emory points out that with modern satellite communications becoming more available and affordable, it is becoming easier to get in touch with a personal physician or one of the remote medical consulting services, such as Maritime Medical Access or the WorldClinic at Leahy.

OceanMedix recommends several textbooks as suitable for offshore medical care.  Among them are A Comprehensive Guide to Marine Medicine by Eric A. Weiss, M.D. & Michael Jacobs, M.D.; and Advanced First Aid Afloat by Peter F. Eastman, M.D., edited by John M. Levison, M.D.  The standard reference for commercial ships is the International Medical Guide for Ships, now in its 3rd edition, published by the World Health Organization.  First released in 1967, and updated for the second time in March 2008, this is also the book required to be aboard all ships sailing in accordance with International Maritime Organization rules.  Emory also likes to have the Merck Manual onboard, which is a thick desk reference.

A Sterile Suture Pack.

A Sterile Suture Pack.


One issue in the offshore medical realm that still stirs some controversy is the use of automatic external defibrillators (AEDs) by non–medical personnel.  While these devices have been credited in the lay media ashore with the resuscitation of many heart attack victims, some doctors question whether they’re useful aboard a boat, where the patient may not be able to receive immediate follow–on treatment.

Emory disagrees.  As he puts it, if you are one of the small percentage of people who are saved, then you will think carrying an AED is a good policy.  His company sells defibrillator kits.

OceanMedix also sells the basic first–aid kits that should be aboard every boat, no matter where it is cruising, as well as other safety and emergency equipment, such as inflatable life preservers, EPIRBs and cold–water immersion suits.

The key in all of this, Emory said, is to make informed decisions about emergency preparedness.  Many boaters take the time to research, purchase and install a capable life raft to counter the risk of having to abandon ship.  Yet the odds of getting sick are much higher.  A good prescription medicine kit will probably cost about the same as a good life raft, he said – and it will almost certainly get more use.

Copyright ©  2008 by OceanLines

Posted by Tom in Industry News