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How to survive a shipwreck

By Emily Smith, CNN
October 26, 2011 -- Updated 0858 GMT (1658 HKT)
Castaways on Gilligan's Island attempt to use a homemade CB radio to contact civilization after being shipwrecked.
Castaways on Gilligan's Island attempt to use a homemade CB radio to contact civilization after being shipwrecked.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Carry a VHF radio, lifejackets, flares and emergency beacons onboard
  • If it is safe, try to fix a leakage if possible
  • Only abandon ship if you know your boat is sinking and cannot be recovered

(CNN) -- They were able to make sturdy shelters from bamboo, pick up radio signals from Hawaii, design a pedal-powered car and house many frequent visitors, but still they couldn't manage to escape the island where they were shipwrecked.

The fictional tale of seven castaways on TV show Gilligan's Island entertained millions around the world for years. But how can you avoid getting into a real-life Gilligan's Island situation?

Here's the Mainsail guide to surviving a shipwreck if you should get into trouble sailing the high seas.

1. Preparing for launch

Before leaving dry land it is vital that to have everything you might need in the event of an emergency. "As a minimum guide, items you need to call for help should be high on the list," says Tony Wafer from the UK-based Royal National Lifeboat Institution.

This includes a VHF radio to communicate with other mariners, flares and, depending on how far you're traveling, an emergency position-indicating radio beacon (EPIRB) or a personal locator beacon (PLB). These items will help to draw attention to your boat and all those on board should you get into trouble.

Life jackets that are regularly checked are also a must, as well as a life raft in case you have to abandon ship.

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2. Pack the essentials

If you have to abandon ship, you want to make sure you've got what you need while waiting to be rescued. Wafer recommends preparing a "grab bag" of basic survival gear. That includes documents, keys, flares, water, a hand-held VHF radio and spare batteries for the VHF.

"A lot of what we advise you to take centers on how far offshore you are and when you might reasonably expect rescue," says Wafer. If you're going further consider adding to your bag more flares, water, food rations and thermal gear to combat cold weather.

A life raft is a last resort ... stay on the boat for as long as possible.
Tony Wafer, RNLI

3. Getting into trouble

One of the first things to ask is, can you fix the problem? "If you have the tools, spares and knowledge to fix it then attempt to do so if safe," Wafer says.

If your boat is taking on water, find the leak and stem the flow using whatever you can, such as sails or cushions. But if the hole is too big or you're not able to contain it, then call the coastguard for help and get everyone ready to abandon the vessel.

Collect your grab bag, put on your life jackets and assemble at the back of the boat where the life raft will be launched.

4. Abandoning ship

Wafer stresses you should only abandon ship if you know your boat is sinking and cannot be recovered. "A life raft is a last resort," he says. "Stay on the boat for as long as possible as it is a greater target for search and rescue crafts to find you."

If you have no other option but to leave your boat, keep your energy up by drinking water and eating the supplies from your grab bag. Carbohydrates are best for energy. Use flares and your EPIRP and PLB to attract attention from rescuers.

5. Ship to shore

While Gilligan and the crew were able to head to land and set up home there, experts recommend staying put in the water. It can be tempting to try to swim to land if you see it in the distance, but Wafer says the best thing to do is to stick together as a group. The larger target will make it easier for rescuers to spot you. Wafer explains that staying together will help to conserve heat and energy. Concentrate on looking after any injured people and raising the alarm to be rescued.

By following these guidelines you can increase your chance of being found safe and sound.

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