What to Do When a Ship Lands in the Ocean: A Guide for Pilots

View from clifftop over the caldera after sunset, illuminated cruise ship anchored off the volcanic island of Nea Kameni, Fira, Santorini, Thira (aka Thera), Cyclades Islands, South Aegean, Greece, Europe.

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Landing a ship in the ocean is every pilot’s worst nightmare. Even with years of training and experience, accidentally landing in open waters can be terrifying and dangerous without proper preparation and protocol. This guide will walk through the key things pilots should know and do if their vessel ends up in the ocean unexpectedly.

Remain Calm and Assess the Situation

The first and most critical step when a ship lands in the ocean is for the pilot to remain calm. Panicking will only make the situation more dangerous. Take a deep breath and quickly assess:

  • Is the ship taking on water?
  • Is it currently stable?
  • Are there any immediate dangers to the crew?

Getting a handle on the severity of the situation will allow you to prioritize next actions appropriately.

Alert Crew Members When Ship Lands

Once you’ve assessed the immediate situation, alert all crew members about the emergency landing. Make sure all hands are on deck and prepared to follow emergency protocol.

Key things the crew should do:

  • Put on life jackets
  • Gather emergency equipment
  • Secure any dangerous materials on board
  • Prepare life rafts

Getting the crew primed early will make evacuation smooth if the boat becomes unstable.

Call Maritime Emergency Services

After briefing the crew, the next critical step is to notify maritime emergency services. Every major port has an emergency number that connects directly to Coast Guard stations. Provide as much detail as possible, including:

  • Name and ID number of ship
  • Exact coordinates of location
  • Situation on board – taking on water, stable, tilting, etc.
  • Number of passengers and crew

The Coast Guard will dispatch rescue boats and helicopters as soon as possible. They can also provide guidance on stabilizing the ship while you wait.

Attempt to Restart Engines

If the ship still has internal power, pilots should first try to restart the engines and propulsion systems. The priority is to get the boat moving again to get to shallower waters.

Follow engine restart procedures while crew checks for damage. If unable to restart, determine if flooding, electrical failure, or other issues are preventing engines from turning on. Alerting the Coast Guard of engine status will help them prepare proper rescue vehicles.

Implement Emergency Anchoring Procedures

If engines remain down, the next priority is emergency anchoring to stabilize the ship’s position. Deploy anchors from both sides of the bow to stop the boat from drifting further. This also helps counteract wave motion preventing capsizing.

Ensure anchor lines have enough slack to account for tides and weather changes. Anchoring is a temporary measure but can buy precious time for evacuation if the boat becomes unstable.

Ready Life Rafts and Survival Gear

While anchoring helps short term, all pilots must prepare for potential evacuation. Have crew fully ready life rafts, EPIRB devices, immersion suits, flares, food, water and other emergency gear. Go over steps to safely board rafts as a group.

Constantly monitor weather and ocean changes. If waves grow too large or the boat starts taking on more water, give the order to abandon and evacuate. Waiting too long after anchors fail greatly reduces survival odds in the open ocean.

Guide Evacuation into Life Rafts

In a controlled evacuation, have crew assist all passengers into life rafts first before boarding themselves. Keep groups small (6-8 people) in each raft. Make sure to grab EPIRB or other emergency transponders so rescue teams can locate rafts.

Have passengers put on immersion suits if needed and keep warm. Ration food and water appropriately accounting for number of people and estimated rescue arrival. Continue signaling rescuers with flares, mirrors and indicators.

The captain should evacuate last after confirming everyone else is in rafts safely.

Survive in Life Rafts while Awaiting Rescue

Once evacuated into life rafts, survival depends greatly on weather, equipment and training. Follow these tips to persist until rescue arrives:

  • Check raft equipment and inventory supplies. Redistribute items between rafts if needed.
  • Set up canopy/tent to protect from elements if possible. Keep partially inflated for stability.
  • Huddle together under canopies for warmth.
  • Drink water and eat food sparingly to make supplies last.
  • Take seasickness medication if needed to avoid dehydration.
  • Contain and dispose bodily waste to keep raft hygienic.
  • Take shifts to keep watch for rescue boats. Continuously signal location when possible.
  • Tend any injuries with first aid. Prevent infections with proper wound care.
  • Keep spirits high through reassurance, prayer and positive mental attitude.

The open ocean is treacherous but staying calm, working together, rationing supplies and signaling properly all improve chances of rescue dramatically.

Comparison: Landing in Ocean vs. Emergency Water Landing

While somewhat similar, a controlled ditching or emergency water landing differs greatly from a ship inadvertently landing in open waters. This table outlines key differences in these scenarios:

 Ocean LandingControlled Water Landing
CauseAccidental/unexpected engine failure or sea conditionsIntentional ditching due to aircraft failure
LocationRandom, remote oceans based on ship route and driftNear airports and coastlines when possible
Vessel StabilityDepends on weather and wave action on vesselAircraft unlikely to stay afloat for long
Occupant Safety EquipmentSome crew may lack immersion suits or life jackets when accident occursAll passengers in aircraft have life vests on during flight
Emergency SignalingShip has more capabilities to signal location with flares, beacons, etcPlanes have limited signaling devices that may be lost in crash
Timing of EvacuationWhen ship becomes unstable and is in danger of sinkingImmediately upon controlled landing before plane sinks
Rescue ChallengesFinding accurate location of ship in large search areaRescuing all passengers quickly before aircraft sinks

The randomness and potential lack of safety equipment make ocean landings much riskier for crews compared to controlled ditching with passengers. But in both cases, staying calm, coordinating evacuations quickly and signaling rescuers accurately improves survival odds exponentially.

Comparison: Pilot vs. Captain Responsibilities in Ocean Landings

When a large vessel like a cruise ship or cargo ship lands in the ocean, both the captain and pilot play critical leadership roles. But their respective duties and chain of command differs greatly as outlined below:

 PilotCaptain
RoleNavigation direction and technical operation of vesselOversight of entire vessel and all crew/passengers
TrainingExtensive technical training on specific vessel typeBroader nautical training on various vessel types
Chain of CommandPilots still answer to Captain who runs shipHighest ranked officer in charge of ship
CommunicationAdvises Captain on navigation decisions and technical recommendationsGives orders to crew based on pilot guidance
Emergency DutiesAssesses damage and attempts to restart enginesEnsures crew follows protocols, prepares evacuation plan
EvacuationAssists as needed with launching life rafts and survival gearDirects and oversees controlled evacuation of all passengers and crew

The pilot focuses more on direct operation of vessel systems while the Captain takes ultimate responsibility for emergency plans, crew oversight and passenger safety during catastrophic ocean landings.

Key Takeaways for Pilots

Accidentally landing a vessel in the ocean is harrowing but improving readiness, response, signaling and survival procedures greatly improves outcomes for all involved. Keep these essential tips in mind:

  • Stay calm and quickly size up vessel’s stability, damage and timeline
  • Alert crew members to follow emergency landing procedures immediately
  • Call maritime emergency lines for Coast Guard assistance right away
  • Attempt to restart engines first to regain control if possible
  • Use emergency anchoring techniques to stabilize vessel’s drift
  • Ready life rafts, immersion suits and survival equipment early on
  • Assist evacuation into life rafts when ordered by the Captain
  • Share duties surviving in life raft while waiting for rescue
  • Comparison tables outline key differences in ocean vs. ditching and pilot vs. captain duties

No amount of training can prepare for the shock of landing in the open ocean. But following these tips as a pilot gives you the best ability to save passengers, crew and yourself by staying coordinated with the Captain. While a challenging situation, keep faith in your survival training – help will come as long as everyone works together toward that common goal.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What emergency equipment should ships have for ocean landings?
Ships should carry extensive emergency equipment including life rafts with canopies, immersion suits, life jackets, flares, mirrors, EPIRB devices, first aid kits, food, water and other survival gear.

Can a ship survive ocean landings without engines?
It depends on damage, weather and waves. A ship may stay afloat with moderate stability for a certain period of time before anchors fail or waves overtake the vessel. Survival greatly depends on quick evacuation if engines cannot restart.

How long can passengers survive a ship sinking in the ocean?
In a life raft under moderate conditions with proper supplies, a healthy adult can survive for typically 1-2 weeks floating in the ocean. But cold water, storms, injuries and lack of food/water can shorten this to 2-3 days before risk of death from exposure.

How far do emergency beacons transmit from life rafts?
EPIRB devices can transmit emergency locator signals to satellites and rescue aircraft from up to 50-100 miles away depending on ocean conditions. Newer MEOSAR signals using updated satellites offer near global coverage for maritime rescues.

Does the pilot or captain hold the highest authority in an emergency?
The ship’s captain retains highest executive authority in any onboard emergency. While pilots handle navigation and technical recommendations, the captain assesses situations from the entire ship’s safety standpoint. All crew ultimately follow captain’s orders under maritime command chain.

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