Shipwreck van Haneghem Indonesia
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You’re on a boat that’s run into a coral reef and is slowly sinking. You’re in the open ocean with no other boats in sight. What do you do?

Wilbert van Haneghem survived such a situation and knows the proper protocol.

Van Haneghem was on vacation in Indonesia back in August when the GPS on his tourist boat malfunctioned, causing the boat to crash into a coral reef.

On the blog KLM, van Haneghem offered up these important tips to keep yourself and those around you safe in the event of a shipwreck:

Tip 1: Use What You’ve Got

High waves had put the engine room underwater. We were in open sea, far from the coast. There was no communication or emergency equipment. We could only hope to get a signal on our mobile phones. We had no flares, so clothing would have to serve as torches. And still, no help came. The crew pulled down the four-person supply sloop—with no engine—from the roof. Planks would have to serve as paddles. There was no food or drink at hand.

Tip 2: Stay Calm

The 25-meter boat was beyond saving. We would have to get into the water. A few of the passengers started to panic. The five crew members provided no instructions to the passengers, so I took the leadership upon myself. I instructed the 19 passengers about how to use the life vests and I showed them positions they could use to stay warm and visible in the water. I handed out snorkeling equipment and checked the available exits. The window openings were one option and I freed up the doors. The sense of calm that I was able to radiate helped to calm the people around me.

Tip 3: Make Preparations and Rely on Them

A gigantic wave pulled everyone through the windows and out into the sea. Thanks to my preparations—and some luck—the sloop lay just outside my door, ready to board. I was in a perfect position to pull people out of the water and into the boat, and to call everyone together. It took just a couple of minutes.

Tip 4: Have a Plan B Ready (and a Plan A!)

Make sure you have a Plan B to fall back on, but think clearly about your Plan A.

Our Plan A: The ship had not sunk. The stern deck was still above water, but was sinking slowly. Should we stay here?

Or, Plan B: Should we swim for at least eight hours to a volcanic island in the strong current?

What was the lesser of two evils? But, before starting our swim, we took a few hours at the ship to think about the possibilities. We collected anything usable, discussed the options, and equipped ourselves before taking off. Only then did we leave.

Tip 5: Remain Positive

Very soon, the group split in two. Many started swimming as hard as they could towards the island. I was convinced that the boat would save us. Six of us were in the boat (looking something like a sweeper truck) behind the swimmers. And, in so doing, we managed to save seven exhausted swimmers. However, all of this pushed us off course. It can be hard to remain positive when a situation goes from bad to worse. We were exhausted. Some of us were hurt. Even so, we kept paddling, we kept encouraging each other, and we kept thinking of home. All of that kept us going. After forty hours at sea, we were saved.

For more on van Haneghem’s experience, please visit his blog at Blog.KLM.com.

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