Randy's Soap Box


I would recommend anyone who flies over water frequently or who owns a boat to read "Not Without Hope". I do not sell it on my site, but it can be purchased at Amazon.com.

This book describes the horrific ordeal encountered by Marquis Cooper, Corey Smith, Will Bleakley, and Nick Schuyler as they suddenly found themselves in the water with only the clothes they were wearing and no survival equipment. Nick Schuyler, the sole survivor, describes the events, including the detailed passing of his friends who succumbed to hypothermia.

This book is an excellent learning tool. It shows how even the best physically conditioned athlete in the warmest waters in the U.S. is vulnerable to hypothermia. Its shows how fast a good event can turn to bad and just how vulnerable we are to the open sea. It also shows the determination of each of these men to stay alive and how Nick Schuyler (the sole survivor) refused to give up even against all odds.


Ego before Lifevests?

After reading yet another story about a tragedy in the gulf, I feel compelled to add a few thoughts. A small boat off the coast of Louisiana capsized. Four persons are dead and one survivor. Water temperature 52 degrees. Lifevests were in the clasped hands of the deceased.

When the originators of Alaska Marine Safety Education Association created the Seven Steps to Survival, they went out among the fishing fleets in Alaska and talked to the fishermen and rescued survivors. One of the questions asked of the survivors was, why didn't you call for help before your vessel sank? The number one answer was, we didn't want the others to know we were having a problem. Most of these fishermen are three and four generation long. In other words, "great grandpa owned the boat, then grandpa, dad, and now me. The last thing I wanted to do is let all my peers know that I am the one having a problem". After receiving several comments of this nature, AMSEA made "Recognition" as the first step to the Seven Steps to Survival.

What it mostly boils down to is ego. The AMSEA group concluded that the very thing that causes a man to not admit he has lost control of a situation, or that causes him to drive lost for hours before he will stop to ask for directions (my hand's up), is the same ego that can cause very costly time in making a distress call, or to prepare for egress.  

I am convinced that this is the same block that prevents persons from wearing life vests or from buying the equipment needed to ensure safety. Many boaters and aviators are locked onto their excuses as to why they do not need to carry and wear safety equipment. "I always stay within gliding range of land", or "we stay within twenty miles from shore". But yet, the facts show that most water ditchings result from the take-off or landing phase of the flight and that ninety-percent of U.S. Coast Guard rescues take place within twenty miles from shore.

I believe perception may also be a factor to why some people do not wear lifevests. It's hard for me to believe that some individuals will not put a lifevest or lifejacket on because they are afraid of how others may perceive them. They may be perceived as weak swimmers, or boating novices. Other excuses include, they are intrusive, to bulky, or had a bad smell to them, etc.

Welcome to the world of inflatables! I'm glad to see the fishing programs on T.V. showing the competitors wearing inflatable lifevests. Actually, I think they look kind'a cool!

The inflatable lifevest requires a little extra T.L.C., but I'll take that inflated 35-37 lbs. of buoyancy over the 15-17 lb. buoyancy of a bulky foam vest any day! What do I mean by T.L.C.?

A lifevest can be the very item that saves your life. If you take care of it, it will be there for you.The bladder material cannot get any type of petroleum (fuels, oils, etc.) on them. They cannot be placed in the aircraft, or boat, where they will be sat on, stepped on, or used as cushions to place your suitcases or fishing gear on. If possible, keep them in a controlled environment when not in use, vs. leaving them in a hot aircraft or deck box. They need to be hanging, either from a hanger (as shown below), or from a hook. Tip: When you recieve your new lifevests, keep them stored in the plastic bags they come in. The Revere Comfortmax lifevest has a very thick and heavy-duty bag (shown below) that hangs nicely.  

So, as I said, they require a little extra care, but what's wrong with giving a little extra care to the items that will save your life!

The buoyancy provided by a 35 lb. inflatable vest will help raise your head, neck, and the core (heart) areas up and out of the heat robbing water. (See Hypothermia in the Gulf) For aviators, foam vests are not recommended due to restricting movement required for a speedy and successful egress.

As a pilot, you are the one who sets the standard of safety for your aircraft. Wearing a lifevest does not portray weakness any more than wearing a chemical suit into a potentiality hazardous room. It shows that you are a responsible pilot and that you are able to recognize that there is a potentionally dangerous/fatal scenario ahead. It shows that you are taking steps to advert that first domino drop and hopefully, head off imminent danger. You have to set the example! Make it a rule! No one comes in this aircraft (for over-water flight) or this boat unless they are wearing lifevests. I guarantee you this, your passengers will have a much higher regard for your safety concern towards them, and since they are required by you to wear the lifevests, it takes any possible perception issues away.

How does a lifevest help you survive in cold water? It allows you to stay afloat without having to flail your arms and legs. Because of the movement of the water around you, you are already losing your core body temperature aproxamately twenty-five times faster than dry ambient air. By flailing your arms and legs under the water (to stay afloat), you speed-up the heat loss process even more.The five largest heat loss areas to the human body are:  The sides of the torso, groin, arm pits, neck, and head. Because the inflatable lifevest has a 35 lb. buoyancy, it will make you ride higher in the water keeping most of these areas above complete submersion. 

To assume the H.E.L.P. posture, place your elbows down covering the sides of your torso, cross your arms across your chest, cross your feet and pull your legs up into a near sitting position. This should cover most of the heat loss areas that are submersed. Having a lifevest on helps provide some insulation around the neck and chest area and it also enlarges your target size. Not so much because of the size of the inflated bladder but because of the contrasting bright orange or yellow color of the bladder.

 Heat Escape Lessening Position (H.E.L.P.) or HUDDLE position. (Shown Below).

 By assuming the H.E.L.P. or Huddle position, you can extend your survival time by hours.

 Note: These positions CANNOT be performed without floatation.



Airline Vests Belong on Airliners

The only safe way to fly over water is with your life vest on. It should not be set aside as a "grab item" when you ditch.  

Some time back, while doing a offshore survival seminar, a participant walked up with a small pouch with a yellow life preserver inside. He said, could you go over this inflatable with us? I took the pouch, tore it open and proceeded to don the vest. After about two to three minutes of turning straps and re-trying to place the vest on... Well, you can imagine my embarrassment as I stopped to read the instructions.

These preservers are designed to place under a seat of a commercial airliner. When the pilot sounds the alarm, you reach under the seat and with instructions from the flight crew you place it on. This has to be done while standing due to strap placement.

In a small aircraft, there is not enough room in the cockpit to don this vest. You cannot stand-up while flying the aircraft and if you have never donned one of these vests, chances are good that you will never get it on! Then, if you should happen to wriggle it on, you will have a couple straps (snag hazards) dangling down. Once snagged, these straps can prevent you from egressing your aircraft.


By wearing an un-intrusive inflatable life-vest with signaling equipment attached, you eliminate the need to search for and don a life-vest and signaling gear during and after the ditching. Remember, what you have on you, is what you will have with you after egress. Believe me when I tell you, when that aircraft comes to a stop on the water, you will concentrate all your efforts to egress from that sinking airframe. This is where practice comes in (see "Egress Must Be Practiced" below).




Survival is not about how long you can stay lost, it's about how soon you can be rescued. With water submersion, time is urgent! To be rescued, you must be found now!


"They flew over me several times. I don't understand why they didn't see me!"

We have all heard the 'after rescue' stories. The one comment that I find most prevalent in these stories is; "They flew right over me several times. The survivors seem so fixed on this statement. "How could they not have seen me"?

As a side window scanner for Coast Guard C-130 aircraft, I made it a point to search for every person in the water (PIW) as if I were searching for myself. If I were the one out there, I would want the persons searching for me to do the very best they can.

In order for a CG C-130 Scanner to become qualified, he or she must complete a syllabus for pre-flights, post-flights, fueling, servicing the aircraft, and standardized search procedures. When searching for PIWs, they are trained to scan parallel to the trailing edge of the wing, out to the wing tip, then back in (aprox 1 mile). They are also trained to scan by keeping their eyes moving. This procedure is used in conjunction with the tracking pattern entered into the aircraft's NAV system. The wing-tip rule ensures a one mile search range for the Scanner while the aircraft is set at two mile tracking. This means that the Scanner searches one mile out from the aircraft and when the aircraft turns to do the reverse tracking, he scans the remaining mile. In essence, the two mile track is divided and searched twice. The Scanner is not trained to directly spot a PIW so much as he is trained to spot an unusual occurrence via peripheral vision. In other words, we all know that it is nearly impossible for a person in a aircraft moving at around 150 knots to actually see a PIW with no signals. The repeated survivor and non-survivor stories tell us that. A live PIW will be positioned head up and feet down. The only thing visible from the air is the PIW's head. By keeping your eyes moving in an up and down motion (fuselage to wing-tip), the PIW will only be spotted by the unusual occurrence ( a change of seeing just gray water with occasional white caps) via peripheral vision. This scan method helps to relax the brain and lessens fatigue. If you tried to stare at the water, you would become fatigued within minutes.

Usually when a Coast Guard C-130 does a known search, they will place an extra Scanner on board to help rotate positions. With three Scanners, you can do a rotation every hour with a break between shifts. My longest search took place off of Sitka Alaska where we searched for a downed aircraft for thirty hours within a three day period. Ten hours each day searching for any signs in the water, shoreline, and mountains with no results. 

As a PIW, you have to make an unusual occurrence happen in order to be spotted. If a scanner's peripheral vision passes over an orange object, or a color different from the usual gray, it sounds an alarm in the scanners brain (that was different). Now he goes back to see again, It's too late, it's gone. It's now up to the scanner to make his report. "Pilot -Aft, I think I just spotted something at three o'clock". "It looked orange and I only saw it for a second or so". The navigator will automatically lock on to the position and they will turn to intercept that position to do a low level search. Now let's complicate that with flying in Alaska. Most have seen the TV series, "Deadly Catch". Notice what color those buoys are that they are throwing overboard? Yep, international orange. Now take that fishing area (actually entire Alaska offshore area) and search for a PIW there. After seeing hundreds of small orange buoys floating in the gray water it becomes an even greater challenge!

To be spotted you must change normalcy, you have to attract the scanners peripheral vision on the first pass. If I were an Alaska fisherman, I would consider changing my signaling colors. Maybe a florescent green from a sea dye maker, or a bright green hat or signaling cloth while keeping in mind that the scanner will spot change of scenery and color before he spots you. Waving your arms above your head (while in the water) does about as much good as yelling at the aircraft. Instead, change the scenery by throwing as much water straight up as you can. The spray from the water will catch ultra-violet light and each water drop will cause a prism that reflects light similar to that of several tiny signal mirrors.                                                      

As a PIW, your main objective is to be rescued and to be rescued quickly. Time is of essence! The rules to survival change when you are submersed in water. You are now completely surrounded by a dangerous and fatal environment that you have absolutely no control over. Your body is losing heat at a very fast rate and you must act fast! Your only chance is to get yourself out of the heat robbing water.

By pushing the ON button of a Personal Locater Beacon (PLB), you not only let search and rescue units know of your distress, but it also provides them with a position to locate you.    The PLB will bring searchers your area within hours or possibly minutes (Some U.S. Coast Guard aircraft can lock onto your PLB acquired position from over 100 miles out!). Once they begin searching in your area, you will need to catch the scanner's eye with signaling devices such as a signal mirror, sea dye marker, flare, bright colored flag, or by simply tossing as much water into the air as you can. There have actually been survivors found at sea with just a flicker of a lighter.



 Egress Must Be Practiced!

 Egress (land or water) training goes much further than visualizing it. It is a cognitive learning skill that MUST be practiced. Practice both daylight egress and night egress. Place your family members or whoever you normally fly with (seat-belted) in their usual positions. When you say "go", they should, in a controlled yet hurried manner, be able to egress single file (hand over hand) out of the aircraft. To practice for night time egress, use a blindfold. This is where it gets interesting. The Keystone Cops come to mind here. People will be bumping into each other, heads will get bumped, and someone is sure to get kicked, but after a couple tries you will know when to keep your head down, when to move from reference point A to B (without letting go) and so on. Emphasize how important it is to never let go of a reference point until the other hand has found one. Once you lose a reference, you are pretty much lost. 

Prior to impact, make a mental note as to what side your exit is on. Let's say your exit is on your right side. Place your right hand on the arm rest close to the door release. This is your exit reference point. Now, even if your aircraft flipped upside down and your right hand is your reference hand for your exit, you have to remember right hand for exit regardless of instincts or feelings to convince you otherwise. As the body rolls to an upside down position, your internal gyro can cause you to become confused. It may seem that the exit is to the left now but you have to trust your reference hand. If the exit was on the right before the aircraft rolled, it's still going to be on the right after it rolls.

Once the first person is out and on the wing (or ground) they should turn their attention back to the exit and help pull and direct the others out of the aircraft. Practice land egress and water egress (with lifevests on). Assign someone to come out with the liferaft. Discuss the liferaft inflation instructions. Talk about which exit to use or not use in a water ditching. Practice using a secondary exit if available (Check to ensure the liferaft will fit through these secondary exits as well). Of course you cannot practice doing this drill upside down, but you can have everyone visualize from their positions, what their reference hand over hand path would be. This entire drill should only take about a half hour to an hour and makes a good family event for a weekend day. I would recommend doing this drill prior to any over water trips or at least once a year.





Using your Personal Locater Beacon (PLB) On Water

By Randy Boone

There are two types of signals, Active and Passive. An active signal is one that you have to operate, such as aiming a signal mirror or firing an aerial flare. In either case, you have to actively use your hands and attention to operate it. A passive signal is one that you deploy, then leave it alone, allowing you to use your hands and attention elsewhere.

So, here's the question. Is a personal locater beacon an active or passive signal? I say that, on land, it is a passive signal, but in the water, it becomes an active signal. "Well, wait", you say, "my PLB floats!" Here is what you need to know about "floating" PLBs. 

Although a PLB may be designed to float, it does not mean that it will stay upright, or that the antenna will stay above the waterline. Why is this important? Because the PLB will not transmit a full signal as long as the antenna is submersed in water! By submersing the antenna (no matter how deep), it cuts the signal transmission enough that it probably will not reach the satellite. 

Get the PLB up and out of the water! You can hold it up in the air, making it an active signal, (not recommended, as this will get very fatiguing in a water survival swim), or you can attach it to a high point (up and out of the water) on your person or lifevest bladder, making it a passive signal. 

Unfortunately, most PLB manufacturers failed to design the PLB units to easily attach to a belt or piece of clothing, so you will have to improvise. Most lifevest bladders have either a strap of material going across the face of the bladder or a point where a whistle and light can be attached. This location will make an excellent attachment point for your PLB. Take the hand-strap from the PLB and securely attach it to the bladder face strap or the whistle attachment point. 

Another method requires some preparation steps that can be performed at home. You can attach a piece of pile (soft side) Velcro w/adhesive back, to an upper area on your lifevest bladder. To do this, you must open the lifevest casing, exposing the bladder. Place a 2"x2" piece of pile Velcro (soft side) in the top area of the bladder close to where your head comes out. Then close the bladder back. Next, add a 2"x2" piece of "hook" (coarse side) Velcro to the back of the PLB and place it in your survival kit or PLB carrying bag. Once you go into the water, you will inflate the lifevest, place the PLB onto the bladder Velcro to Velcro, then tie off the PLB hand strap to the bladder face strap or whistle attachment point as a back-up to hold the PLB should a wave knock the PLB off the Velcro.

Wear a lifevest with a PLB attached!. I see many pilots who keep the PLB in a separate place. This only causes you to grab one more item prior to egress. If the PLB is already attached to your lifevest (in a kit or the PLB bag), and you are wearing the lifevest, you will have both hands free for the egress and the lifevest and PLB will be there for you once you are in the water. By attaching the PLB to a high (out of the water) point, you now have a passive signal that will free up your hands to perform other signaling and survival functions. 

To view AST Deluxe Signal/Survival Kits with PLBs, go to: AST Survival Kits






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