This manual is concerned solely with human lives. Its purpose it to aid you to get off a sinking ship and to eventual safety in the best condition possible.

The time has passed when you can indulge in boat-drill lethargy, when you can fiddle with a rope or two, while you "let George do it." When a torpedo hits, "George" may prove to be even more panicked and less skilled in launching a lifeboat than you, and it may be that he is depending on you to get him safely off the sinking vessel.

Remember that after this war many sunken vessels will be salvaged. But there will be no salvaging the two messmen on the torpedoed tanker Republic, who were drowned when they jumped overboard from a ship that did not sink. There will be no salvaging of the Pan-Massachusetts seamen who launched a lifeboat into burning oil slick, or the City of Atlanta crew, whose lifeboat, even on the low side, capsized in lowering, costing the lives of eighteen men. Nor will pontoons resurrect the Allan Jackson men who were


cremated alive within the sheet of fire spreading over the water around their stricken tanker.

Four men on the torpedoed Malay died for want of knowledge they could have acquired in ten seconds. They cast off the forward fall first and were flung into the sea. The crew of the Belgium freighter Gandia was twenty-six days in a lifeboat. During that time twenty-four men died -- because they were not ready for an emergency before it arose.

Within sixty-six hours after the torpedo struck, seventeen men from the Norwegian freighter Blink went mad and died. The cause of their death is recorded as exposure. Actually they died for lack of preparation.

Compare the Blink tragedy with the case of another Norwegian freighter, the Nybolt, torpedoed in the North Atlantic. For nine days during January the survivors were in an open boat. On the eighth day heavy spray covered the boat with an inch-thick layer of ice.

Arne Egenes, surgeon of the Nybolt, reported: "In my lifeboat there were twenty-four men. Out of these, twenty-two wore life suits. The two not using the suits were the captain and second mate. The captain died of exposure, and the second mate had to have both legs amputated on account of frostbite."

Most casualties at sea are actually the result of


panic, which is the product of ignorance. In a life-or-death emergency you are not going to be entirely free of panic. But you will be able to cut down the fatal intensity of panic if you have previously applied what is offered in this manual to the peculiar circumstances of your own ship and follow these simple don'ts:

Don't depend on peacetime experience and regulations. Keep your eye out for recent and current bulletins issued by the Marine Inspection Service, which has gathered a large amount of data and from it proposed many improvements and changes in safety and lifeboat regulations. Moreover, peacetime regulations do not prevent the operator from acquiring all the safety gear he wants, and the Marine Inspection Service earnestly urges that he secure additional equipment before he is required to do so.

Don't depend on what is in the lifeboat.

Don't stint yourself on safety gear for your own protection. Steamship operators are like all other businessmen -- except for providing five thousand dollars insurance on each seaman, from the captain to the messboy -- and they wish to keep expenses at a minimum. So if the steamship operator does not do the supplying, you yourself do the buying. A few dollars from your pocket may mean all the difference between your be becoming a 1943 casualty or a 1983 veteran.


Don't let human nature trick you into indifference. A man will readily pay for comfort and a good appearance; but he is reluctant to part with dollars to protect his most precious possession -- his own life. The reason for this indifference is plain. He is constantly aware of the benefits of comfort and a good appearance, but death is beyond his experience. He cannot identify himself with it. Death is something that happens to the other fellow.

We earnestly advocate that American seamen urge upon their Congressional representatives and seamen's organizations the advisability of equipping every ship with at least one pair of skates.

A skate is a curved iron, with a narrow edge or runner, which follows the line of the lifeboat from gunwale to keel. The inner part of the skate has a wood lining which fits snugly against the strakes -- or fore-and-aft planking -- of the boat, and serves to cushion impacts against the ship's side during a launching. The upper part of the skate clamps over the gunwale and the lower part hooks around the keel. The skate is secured on the gunwale either with wooden wedges or fastening screws.

Skates will enable you to launch a lifeboat down the high side with as much as a 46-degree list. Skates protect a lifeboat from being stove in


against the side of a rolling ship. Skates eliminate the possibility of a lifeboat capsizing because of extending gangway fittings, rims, bolts, portholes, or plate edges. Forty thousand merchant seamen were killed in World War I. Skates could have saved thousands of them.

This manual is the result of open boat experience in the time of stress, danger, and sudden death. It contains no armchair theory. It is a digest of the lessons learned by the survivors of torpedoed ships.

John J. Banigan, the co-author, was an officer on the Robin Moor, the first American vessel sunk by a Nazi torpedo. For nineteen days in a twenty-six foot lifeboat, Banigan and his crew of ten encountered mountainous seas, tropical storms, doldrums, and blistering equatorial sun. They traveled 898 miles. Yet when they were picked up by the Brazilian freighter Osorio, every man was in good condition.

Prepare yourself adequately and, barring a direct hit, you will end up in this war in as good condition as the Robin Moor survivors.

Phil Richards

New York City
June, 1942


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