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How to Abandon Ship (1942)

by Phil Richards and John J. Banigan

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The world is at war.

Thousands of young sailors are dying needlessly.

They do not know how to abandon ship.

You thought all one had to do is jump overboard.


You would have joined those young dead sailors in Davey Jones' Locker!

UNLESS ... unless you read this book.

(If you are considering walking away from a job, this week's book is dedicated to you.)

  • Don't stint yourself on safety gear for your own protection. Steamship operators are like all other businessmen ... and they wish to keep expenses to 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 becoming a 1943 casualty or a 1983 veteran.
  • Few men caught within the suction area of a swiftly sinking ship, except those wearing life suits, have survived.

    [What?!? You mean Titanic wasn't true-to-life?!?]

  • Every man should have a whistle made fast around his neck, so that if he is in the water, he can blow the whistle to draw attention.

    [Okay, Titanic. You win this one.]

  • Do not jump overboard unless you have no alternative.

    When the torpedoed tanker Gulftrade broke in two, nine men were on the stern. Seaman Leonard Smith wanted to jump overboard. Guy F. Chadwick, the chief engineer, reminded Smith that the water was cold. "Let's stick with the ship," Chadwick advised, "as long as she'll stick with us." At the very least, the chief's understanding of buoyancy spared a man from exposure and frostbite.

    [Titanic scores again.]

  • Swinging out is a simple process on all types of davits. Even so, a seaman should never attempt something he knows nothing about.

    [Swing out, sister!]

  • If your lifeboat is without a navigator, these directions are for you. There is nothing difficult about them. They are as simple as the directions for a child's game.
  • William Caves, the bosun of the torpedoed tanker Harry F. Sinclair, Jr., said that flames from the gasoline spreading over the water were 75 feet high. In view of such a frightening picture, it is difficult to warn you against panic. Yet the records of torpedoed tankers bear out that, barring a direct hit, panic is your greatest danger.

    [Did someone say panic?]

  • Since coastwise tankers are not required to carry slop chests, all lifeboats should be supplied with watertight cartons of cigarettes.

    [That way, if you are spared a fiery death among 75-foot flames, you still have a shot a lung cancer.]

  • Do not under-value morale. It is the state of mind which backs you with courage and confidence. The lack of it has proved fatal far more often than the lack of water. The lack of it has killed more seamen than bombs and torpedoes. Do not slight the trivialities which contribute to it.

    Said Eugene Schaflin, second engineer of the torpedoed tanker Charles Pratt: "Luckily we thought of cigarettes and grabbed cartons before we jumped into the boats. I think that saved some of us from going mad later."

    There is magic in cigarettes. The crazed second cook who stepped over an open boat's gunwale to go "across the street to buy some pineapples," would probably be alive now if he had had cigarettes to steady him.

    [Oh. Well, if you're going to put it that way, lung cancer be damned!]

  • A lifeboat is not the place to acquire a suntan. To conserve your body's water supply, as well as to avoid sunburn, keep well covered up.... Give special consideration to the heliophobe -- the person who reddens and blisters, but who does not tan.
  • Sighting a ship is no cause for growing reckless with the food. Many vessels, fearing a submarine trap, will not stop for you.
  • Unable to strike back at this foes on the U-boat, unable to revenge himself against the Japs or Nazis who blasted him from the comfort of a steamer to the hardship of an open boat, he -- through a tricky mental process of which he is entirely unaware -- turned his raging hatred and hostility for the foe against himself! He did not want to die. He wanted to kill!

    Accept this explanation. It is backed by lifetimes of clinical research. If you become imperiled by a suicidal impulse, you can fight it down with this knowledge. It is not difficult to swing reversed hostility away from yourself. Take it out on the wind and the sea. Throw yourself into your open-boat duties. A game is a battle. If you are still bent on self-destruction, postpone the act until after a session of poker. We will wager a pretty penny that the cards will change your mind.