Regardless of which ship you might happen to be sailing on, lifeboat drills are even more dreaded than the dentist’s drill, and yet they are just as necessary. Safe to say, too, that they are frequently far more noisy.
Let’s be clear; nobody likes doing boat drill, and that includes both crew and passengers. When you’ve done it a hundred times, it seems like the most tortuous thing imaginable. Most people would rather have their nails pulled out one at a time, while listening to a Justin Bieber mega mix, than endure one more lifeboat drill.
How have we come to this?
Look at it from the point of view of a ship’s crew. Embarkation day is the busiest of the voyage. There are a million and one different things for everyone on the ship- from pursers to pot washers- that require immediate attention. Adding something as laborious, unloved and time consuming as conducting a lifeboat drill is seldom viewed as manna from Heaven.
The crew knows full well that the embarking passengers do not want to take part. They are on holiday, newly embarked on some glittery, shiny wonderland that will soon cast them away to new horizons. They board with the eagerness of puppies that want to explore everything, They want to see all the fun stuff, not partake in something than can sometimes seem interminable. In many cases, they simply do not understand the point of it.
When sailing from a foreign port, many of the newly embarked passengers are fresh from arrival and processing in some charming airport. They are frequently frazzled, tired and hot; most just want to get to their cabins to shower and change, or chill out over a first lunch in the sun. Lifeboat drill has no appeal whatsoever.
And the crew know the drill (so to speak); how the passengers simply talk over the top of any instructions that they are supposed to listen to. Often as not, they turn up carrying items of food and drink, despite being specifically told in advance not to do so. They ignore the drill; and sometimes screaming children often make it impossible to hear anything. It is anything but ideal.
For the passengers, lifeboat drill represents an abrupt brake on their first, fun day; an unpleasant slice of reality that brings their joyride shuddering to a temporary halt. Corridors and staircases become packed with people heading to and from cabins to grab lifebelts, before embarking on the struggle to find their proper lifeboat station. People get confused; children cry and, of course, the elderly and less infirm move so, so, slowly. None of this does anything positive for the blood pressure. And, at the conclusion of what seems like a string of endless, convoluted announcements, the entire process goes into a grinding, tortuous reverse.
Speaking of languages… if you are on one of the huge mega ships that carry several large groups of different nationalities, you will be required to listen as the instructions are repeated in French, Italian, German, et al. It will make you feel like contacting the European Court of Human Rights. But there it is.
Thinking of giving it all a miss, and just hiding out? Don’t go there. The crew do a full check of all names and cabin numbers and, if you don’t show up for the drill, you will be summoned to another session later on. Trying to take what seems the easy way out is ultimately counter productive. For everyone.
Best, then, to adapt an attitude that helps everyone get through the damned process as quickly and painlessly as possible. Try and be as attentive as practical in the surrounding hubbub; don’t add to it. Put your phone on silent or, better still, turn the damned thing off altogether.
If it’s one of the old style drills that still require you to bring your life jacket from your cabin, then please, please, don’t let the straps trail along the floor after you’ve removed it at the end of the drill. All it takes is one inattentive person to trip on those flailing straps, and there’s a real potential for a serious accident to take place. You don’t want to be travelling with the knowledge that your carelessness has crippled somebody, after all, do you?
Grit your teeth, and have patience with the slow moving, the poor, confused folks and yes, even the terminally stupid and inconsiderate ones. Even if you would prefer to see some of them in the Atlantic rather than at your dinner table. At boat drill, short fuses are in plentiful supply.
And, if you really need some truly sober perspective, remember why you are obliged to go to boat drill at all.
Visualise a giant ocean liner in the mid Atlantic, her stern pointing up at the sky like some great, accusing finger. 2200 people on board a ship with lifeboats for less than 1200, and even those filled with just over seven hundred souls. Remember the rest; catapulted into a pitiless, freezing ocean where the temperatures will kill you within minutes. And the nearest responsive rescue ship is still more than two hours’ away.
This might seem a stark, overly dramatic way to end a blog like this. But so many passengers today treat lifeboat drill with the same flippant, impatient lack of concern as those victims back in `1912. We all know how that one worked out.
The bottom line? Suck it up. It’s a necessary evil. And just remember that everybody else would rather be somewhere else, too. It’s not all about you.