Sea Survival is the official handbook for the one-day Royal Yachting Association’s “Basic Sea Survival” course, and the two-day RYA/ISAF “Offshore Safety” course. It is extremely thorough in some respects but I feel it skims too lightly over many of the most vital aspects of safety and survival at sea.
For example, there are 11 pages on the subject of life jackets, including two pages on how to don the jacket, a full-page illustration showing an inflatable life jacket and all its various fittings, plus about 20 other illustrations. The subject of “Life rafts” is given 16 pages and “When to Abandon Ship” and “Abandoning Ship” are covered very thoroughly in 28 pages, replete with illustrations.
On the other hand, “Preparing for Heavy Weather” is on the frothy side with just five pages, and two of those are given over to full-page illustrations. Indeed, the whole of Chapter 4, ”Handling Heavy Weather,” is barely six pages long and half of those are on damage control and repair, with almost nothing on setting up a jury rig after losing the mast. The chapter does include two short paragraphs on sea anchors, with one rather pointless illustration, but nothing on sizing the sea anchor to the boat, making an emergency sea anchor, the length of warps, use of oil bags in extreme conditions, or other essentials.
In case of damage to rig or hull, one essential for survival at sea is a good toolkit and adequate spare parts, but the writer provides no comprehensive list of tools or spares. A first-aid kit is mentioned but, again, no list of essential instruments, equipment, or supplies.
Sea Survival has a lot of bones but not enough meat, too many fancy drawings but not enough text. In many ways it seems to be created for the neophyte and there it may serve well. Still, the book does provide valuable information for the offshore sailor — life rafts, survival kits, man-overboard recovery, searches, etc. If you buy the book I recommend that you study it thoroughly, perhaps making a small pad of notes, then read it again. When you are thoroughly familiar with some of the techniques, go out in calm water and practice the search, the MOB recovery, and righting the life raft. In any case, do not wait until someone’s life depends on it and then open the book; that will be far too late.
For those sailors who would like solid (and free) information on such subjects as heaving to in a gale, storm sails, sea anchors (and how to make one), securing the rudder, oil bags, etc., I recommend you go to the web and type in The Venturesome Voyages of Captain Voss. The whole text of the 1913 book is available. John C. Voss was a Canadian mariner of the early 1900s, the Captain of sealing schooners, the man who sailed a 26-foot Sea Bird yawl through a Japanese typhoon, and the man who sailed a 35-foot Haida Indian dugout canoe from the west coast of Canada to England via Australia and South Africa. Voss knew the sea in all its moods.
If you have the time, read the fascinating stories of Voss’s small-craft voyages but, first, go to the long and detailed Appendix for the Captain’s valuable advice on weathering storms at sea in small craft. And, for the more modern sailor, K. Adlard Coles’ Heavy Weather Sailing, which was recently updated, has long been the bible for surviving that extreme storm at sea. Combined with Sea Survival, these books could someday save your life.