Alone At Sea In An Inflatable Boat

This morning while I was perusing some documents for an EOD group I was brought back to a conversation I recently had with a sailor. We went on about our experiences in the inflatables as part of our military duty and one thing that came up was how utterly alone you feel when it’s just you and the Z Boat on the open ocean. Some of my experiences in the 80s and 90s mirrored his while serving in the U.S. Navy today. Spend a night with just you and the ocean in an inflatable boat and you begin to get an idea of just how hard Dr. Alain Bombard’s journey really was.

To those of you who are scratching your heads on this name it was likely before your time. You have to go back to 1952 in order to remember the achievement of crossing the Atlantic adrift in a prototype Zodiac Inflatable Boat. 

Up until then the World really didn’t understand the oceans at all and those that did were a salty bunch who spent very little time ashore. Everyone knows who Cousteau is and his legend lives on through his children and grandchildren, but who was Dr. Bombard? Suffice it to say Dr. Alain Bombard was the man who wrote the book on surviving at sea, much of which is still utilized today.

Reading his book “Naufragé Volontaire” imparts some of the feelings he had, but spending time on “The Pond” is it’s own lesson learned and once you have you begin to see the incredible fortitude it takes to survive being lost at sea. I used Zodiac Inflatable Boats as a support tool to accomplish whatever mission laid before us but I always had a place, a ship, or a submarine to go to when it was done. Bombard didn’t, Bombard only had the wind in his face and the weather on his head day in, and day out, for months. If that won’t test a person’s resolve nothing will!

Dr. Bombard believed strongly that inflatable boats could save lives and he was right, so much so that virtually every ship at sea has to have an inflatable life raft in order to make passage with it’s precious cargo. Many pleasure boats utilize Zodiac Life Rafts like commercial and professionals do because of the sheer size of the oceans, and the ability to survive until rescue aboard one. Modern Life rafts have supplies such as fresh water/food rations and are designed to accommodate a certain number of people. 

My rule of thumb is to have a life raft with capacity for every soul aboard plus 2 if space allows. If not then multiple smaller boats to cover the full crew and it’s passengers at a minimum. Life rafts can come in a soft pack valise or a canister packed above decks model, and some may even offer hydrostatic release mechanisms that will deploy by themselves if there are no hands available to launch one in an emergency.

Life rafts are inspected and packed with a duty cycle and a shelf life. Reinspection and repacking of provisions or rations occurs when the time is up on the initial or subsequent pack dates. While I served this was a deck dept. job and the bosuns keep a sharp eye on things if a duty falls to them. Pleasure sailors and power boaters should follow the recommended pack dates and reinspection period to ensure that their life raft will be there when or if they need it. Hopefully none of us ever will need to get into a life raft in our lifetime but accidents can and do happen. You may be responsible for your own rescue once you are over the horizon.

Be prepared, have confidence of your ship or boats ability to withstand incredible damage and stay afloat, and always have an abandon ship plan in place. You can’t simply pull to the side of the road like you do when you’re driving a car, and you can’t swim forever either. Take a page from Dr. Bombard’s book and learn from his experiences alone on a big ocean.

To speak with Mike about a life raft call (503)235-2628 

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