ISAF Personal Survival Course 2014 - "Überleben auf See"

I was fortunate enough to have my slot on the waiting list for this course confirmed the day before the class was to start. While there are quite a few places that offer a survival course that satisfies the requirements for the ISAF certificate there is just one place in Germany where one can get training that surpasses all of the items set forth. The 2 day class is held on a German navy base that is used to train personnel in all aspects of damage control and the equipment used for simulating problems is nonpareil. It more than satisfies the requirements of “Offshore Special Regulations”, detailed descriptions of which can be seen in Appendix G.


The “Einsatzausbildungszentrum Schadensabwehr Marine” (German page here) is in the north of Germany, in Neustadt/Holstein on the Baltic Sea. The base is an old one quite picturesque (once one gets inside as a civilian) and is rather empty during the weekend, as most of the personnel are on leave. During most of the week the facilities are in constant round-the-clock use but a couple of times a year the German sailing association, in conjunction with the Navy, has some of their experienced trainer volunteer to teach civilians such as myself about select subjects with the kind of hands-on training on equipment that is generally not available.
While the theoretical components of the ISAF course can be replicated in other classrooms, we had officers and experienced seaman explain, in an organized and crisp military manner, the details of dealing with leaks, punctures, signalling tools, medical problems, etc. The classroom setting, with plans of frigates showing fire zones and fully-enclosed fire-fighting suits on one side and posters of ABC (Atomic-Biological-Chemical) reactions aboard a ship on the other, fit the subject matter and our workbenches even had that patina of age and pocket-knife engravings that I'd all but forgotten.
But the classrooms were nothing compared to our practical training sessions, split into the following:
1Oh look, a fountain!
2Bring out the marshmallows!
3We get to go swimming!
a Cosy in a 10-person raft with 15 aboard in big waves
b20 foot cliff dive into waves and pop goes the vest
cLiferaft entry while in a washing machine
dFull foulies liferaft entry - waters a-churning
4Nice, we get to shoot off fireworks!
Select members got to perform special tasks (or received special punishments, depending upon how one looks at it): such actions as trying to get in a small liferaft alone in heavy seas (that was me), or being held in the wave danger zone to show why a sprayhood can be a necessity in storm conditions, or having a simulated helicopter basket rescue or a simulated helicopter belt rescue.
Our class of 36 sailors was billeted on base, we were assigned 5 to a room in one of the barracks. After our classes on Friday night we had a late hearty dinner in the officer's mess and a goodly amount of drinks in the officer'S bar afterwards. Sometime after midnight I made it back to my room to discover that I was lucky enough to get a room where one of our 5 entertained us (at no extra cost) all night with a bewildering and fascinating collection of noises and I'm sure that at least four of us were somewhat relieved at 06:30 when we had reveille to prepare ourselves for the rigours of the day to come.
I wasn't able to get any pictures of the action while the wave pool was turned on, since I was in the water most of the time and preoccupied with trying to breath; but got a couple of shots during the other exercises.

Collage of pictures and video clips can be viewed by clicking here (you can up-size all the way to HD 1920x1080 resolution)

Things that go “bump” in the night

After donning our blue one-piece work suits (with just swimming trunks underneath) we were split into three groups, each was to enter the simulated hull section and given the same materials to work with - a couple of rubber mallets, balks of wood, crash-mats, assorted timbers and wedges. I suppose I was fortunate by being in the first group. We were only given basic instructions (if the water goes above a certain level the exercise is considered over and we could consider ourselves inductees to Davy Jones' locker) and thrown into the chamber. And then the water started pouring in. The easy one was a leak at head-level that could be stuffed, but then another popped up underneath a gangway and a leak from underneath the decks below us showed us that the hatch leading down was inoperable. After a lot of pretty bad improvisation we managed to barely survive the exercise. In the post-action review our trainer pointed out what we'd done wrong (and what we'd done correctly) and we were shown how we could have done better. Then the second group had their turn and their confidence was quickly shattered when only one of our leaks was turned on and they discovered two new ones! Of course they mastered the old leak but they had a long jagged tear along a bulkhead that was quite difficult to stop. The managed to survive as well and then were shown how they could have shored up their major leak much better. The third group now knew that they wouldn't have a cakewalk and, of course, were give new problems to overcome in addition to the difficult bulkhead leak. Luckily the tons of water that came aboard were both sweet and well-tempered at about 25°C.

Preparing for wet leaks We've all got our bathing suits on underneath the coveralls and are getting our briefing before entering the leak chamber on the left of the picture
(2014-11-21 10:53:43 NIKON D7100 with a "18.0-250.0 mm f/3.5-6.3" lens. [f/3.5, 1/100s] ISO 400)
Preparing for wet leaks
Bulkhead leak mitigation Our instructor, at the right, showing how to correctly shore up the leaking bulkhead
(2014-11-21 11:46:44 NIKON D7100 with a "18.0-250.0 mm f/3.5-6.3" lens. [f/3.8, 1/60s] ISO 400)
Bulkhead leak mitigation
Water coming in! A simulated puncture on a curved part of the hull. How does one solve that.
(2014-11-21 11:53:14 NIKON D7100 with a "18.0-250.0 mm f/3.5-6.3" lens. [f/3.5, 1/60s] ISO 400)
Water coming in!
Water ingress from a bulkhead This was a tough leak to plug, as it was coming in quite high and under pressure.
(2014-11-21 11:53:33 NIKON D7100 with a "18.0-250.0 mm f/3.5-6.3" lens. [f/3.5, 1/60s] ISO 400)
Water ingress from a bulkhead
Getting the gear together The third group getting the wood bits and pieces together to stop this big leak. Note the other leak on the left doing it's thing at the same time!
(2014-11-21 11:53:39 NIKON D7100 with a "18.0-250.0 mm f/3.5-6.3" lens. [f/3.5, 1/60s] ISO 400)
Getting the gear together
Teamwork! The team did a good job in sealing this leak.
(2014-11-21 11:55:00 NIKON D7100 with a "18.0-250.0 mm f/3.5-6.3" lens. [f/4.5, 1/60s] ISO 400)
Teamwork!
Mr. Happy Although his clothing is somewhat scorched, he's still go a smile on his face
(2014-11-21 13:14:54 NIKON D7100 with a "18.0-250.0 mm f/3.5-6.3" lens. [f/4.5, 1/60s] ISO 400)
Mr. Happy

Nice and Toasty

This time we got to put on fire-retardant suits and were given breathing masks to filter out the particulate matter that was going to fill the (brick) building used for fire exercises. Half the building was designated as the “Burn Zone” while the other was where we got respite from the flames and heat. The hot side was well-ventilated by extraction fans that did their job well; although it was still pretty warm.
We were once again broken into groups and received individual instruction on using CO2 extinguishers on various fires. We used rather large units, much larger than usually found aboard sailboats but once it was demonstrated how little a typical small boat extinguisher can accomplish (think extinguishing a cigarette rather than a flaming mattress) I decided to upgrade aboard “Zanshin” soonest. After the carbon dioxide we got to play with big powder extinguishers, each of us getting to extinguish a simulated helicopter on fire. What a blast!
After those sessions we all got to participate in other types of fire - a wood fire that had been burning in the background during our session had generated a good amount of coal and we saw how little effect a carbon dioxide extinguisher has; then we had two demonstrations of what happens when water is used on liquid fires - but the instructors were protected by full fire-fighting gear and were not harmed in the process. As a finale we had a really big fire that was extinguished with big hoses. While this was fun and made for some nice pictures, I don't know of any fellow yachties with anything much bigger than a wash-down hose and that doesn't require 3 people to operate...
Preparing the extinguishers Our various extinguisher getting set up in preparation for the big fires about to laid in the fire hall.
(2014-11-21 13:16:46 NIKON D7100 with a "18.0-250.0 mm f/3.5-6.3" lens. [f/4.5, 1/60s] ISO 400)
Preparing the extinguishers
Demonstrating proper procedure One of our instructors demonstrating proper methods and procedures before we are let loose with the extinguishers
(2014-11-21 13:21:32 NIKON D7100 with a "18.0-250.0 mm f/3.5-6.3" lens. [f/4.5, 1/60s] ISO 400)
Demonstrating proper procedure
CO2 extinguisher being used A CO2 extinguinsher in action against this small fire
(2014-11-21 13:34:30 NIKON D7100 with a "18.0-250.0 mm f/3.5-6.3" lens. [f/4.8, 1/250s] ISO 400)
CO2 extinguisher being used
Successfully extinguishing a small fire The fire in the metal bucket being extinguished by a C02 burst, note the big nozzle.
(2014-11-21 13:34:33 NIKON D7100 with a "18.0-250.0 mm f/3.5-6.3" lens. [f/4.5, 1/60s] ISO 400)
Successfully extinguishing a small fire
Small extinguishers suck This small extinguisher, the type often found on boats, has a tough time in getting a small fire under control. The flame only went out as it gasped the last burst of CO2.
(2014-11-21 13:36:46 NIKON D7100 with a "18.0-250.0 mm f/3.5-6.3" lens. [f/4.5, 1/250s] ISO 400)
Small extinguishers suck
Our rescue helicopter is on FIRE A simulated burning helicopter (flames assisted with a good amount of kerosene) is attacked with our large powder extinguishers
(2014-11-21 13:45:29 NIKON D7100 with a "18.0-250.0 mm f/3.5-6.3" lens. [f/4.5, 1/60s] ISO 400)
Our rescue helicopter is on FIRE
Clearing the entrance One of our group giving the flames in the body proper the good news with a burst of powder.
(2014-11-21 13:45:41 NIKON D7100 with a "18.0-250.0 mm f/3.5-6.3" lens. [f/4.5, 1/60s] ISO 400)
Clearing the entrance
Heli pilot feels the heat The pilot is getting a bit toasty as the flames consume the simulated helicopter.
(2014-11-21 13:46:24 NIKON D7100 with a "18.0-250.0 mm f/3.5-6.3" lens. [f/4.5, 1/250s] ISO 400)
Heli pilot feels the heat
Flames in the heli The inside of our rescue helicopter is aflame.
(2014-11-21 13:47:18 NIKON D7100 with a "18.0-250.0 mm f/3.5-6.3" lens. [f/4.5, 1/160s] ISO 400)
Flames in the heli
Clearing our path Clearing the ground-level flames prior to approaching the heli to get some powder distributed inside.
(2014-11-21 13:48:26 NIKON D7100 with a "18.0-250.0 mm f/3.5-6.3" lens. [f/4.5, 1/50s] ISO 400)
Clearing our path
Water and burning liquids don't mix One of our instructors, suitably attired, showing that using a water extinguisher on burning liquids is NOT a good idea! He's surrounded left and right with colleagues who are going to spray him down, as he's caught flame!
(2014-11-21 14:01:55 NIKON D7100 with a "18.0-250.0 mm f/3.5-6.3" lens. [f/4.5, 1/250s] ISO 400)
Water and burning liquids don't mix
How to extinguish flaming liquids After our instructor was engulfed in flames from trying to spray water on a liquid fire, his colleagues had to extinguish him.
(2014-11-21 14:01:56 NIKON D7100 with a "18.0-250.0 mm f/3.5-6.3" lens. [f/4.5, 1/250s] ISO 400)
How to extinguish flaming liquids
Where are the marshmallows? Nary a marshmallow in sight!
(2014-11-21 14:03:20 NIKON D7100 with a "18.0-250.0 mm f/3.5-6.3" lens. [f/4.5, 1/250s] ISO 400)
Where are the marshmallows?
Fire extinguishers prior to use Our trusty gear waiting to get used in training.
(2014-11-21 14:05:17 NIKON D7100 with a "18.0-250.0 mm f/3.5-6.3" lens. [f/4.5, 1/60s] ISO 400)
Fire extinguishers prior to use
Rapt attention in class Attired in flame-retarding gear and wearing particle masks, we listen attentively as the next phase of instruction is explained to us.
(2014-11-21 14:05:59 NIKON D7100 with a "18.0-250.0 mm f/3.5-6.3" lens. [f/4.5, 1/60s] ISO 400)
Rapt attention in class
Burning timber and embers After the CO2 extinguisher had no luck in extinguishing the wood fire, the power ones did a better job and our instructor shows how the powder has melted and formed a protective layer around the wood.
(2014-11-21 14:11:15 NIKON D7100 with a "18.0-250.0 mm f/3.5-6.3" lens. [f/4.5, 1/60s] ISO 400)
Burning timber and embers
Water and Oil - bad... Demonstration of what water on a burning oil-fryer (which we all have aboard, right?) will do.
(2014-11-21 14:13:21 NIKON D7100 with a "18.0-250.0 mm f/3.5-6.3" lens. [f/4.5, 1/250s] ISO 400)
Water and Oil - bad...
Toasty fire Note the steam coming off the back of our instructors' jacket - we couldn't get that close to the flames with our gear (and eyebrows) intact.
(2014-11-21 14:19:39 NIKON D7100 with a "18.0-250.0 mm f/3.5-6.3" lens. [f/4.5, 1/25s] ISO 400)
Toasty fire
The big fire prior to our attention This large container, filled halfway with water and with a thick layer of flaming kerosone and a small engine block in the middle is our big extinguishing project
(2014-11-21 14:19:53 NIKON D7100 with a "18.0-250.0 mm f/3.5-6.3" lens. [f/4.5, 1/250s] ISO 400)
The big fire prior to our attention
Using two streams of water The two streams of finely dispersed water from opposite sides are used to cool down the fire in order to extinguish it.
(2014-11-21 14:25:25 NIKON D7100 with a "18.0-250.0 mm f/3.5-6.3" lens. [f/5.6, 1/60s] ISO 400)
Using two streams of water
Powder 1 vs. Flames 0 Although it looks like the flames are winning, this streams of powder and two other extinguishers actually managed to get this fire out.
(2014-11-21 14:29:41 NIKON D7100 with a "18.0-250.0 mm f/3.5-6.3" lens. [f/5.6, 1/250s] ISO 400)
Powder 1 vs. Flames 0
Poweder extinguishers at work 3 large powder extinguishers managed, with some effort, to extinguish this large fire.
(2014-11-21 14:29:44 NIKON D7100 with a "18.0-250.0 mm f/3.5-6.3" lens. [f/5.6, 1/250s] ISO 400)
Poweder extinguishers at work
Teamwork in getting a fire under control We had three extinguishers working together to get this big fire out.
(2014-11-21 14:29:46 NIKON D7100 with a "18.0-250.0 mm f/3.5-6.3" lens. [f/5.6, 1/250s] ISO 400)
Teamwork in getting a fire under control

Let's go for a swim

Our instructors had effectively been prepping us psychologically for the rigours of the wave pool since we'd arrived. Although they admitted that they hadn't quite lost a student to date, there seem to have been some close calls. Some took the warnings of getting a light breakfast to heart, but I needed some energy and lots of coffee so got my fill; only to discover that we went straight from brekkie at 07:30 to the hall-of-waves. This is a good sized swimming pool with a very deep section (for training divers) sloping up to a depth of only about 1.5m. The waves are generated at the deep end and don't seem so bad, until they get reflected back at the shallow end and cause some very confused seas. The normal water level had been lowered by 80cm (another tidbit that the instructors had, repeatedly, informed us of. This meant that the waves could made 80cm higher than normal).
After another shower and changing into flecked green BDUs, all of which were tailored to young sailors rather than old salts like us with our accretion of body mass, we had were given and fitted with inflatable vests (switched to manual arming) and got our briefing. The first major exercise was to enter a liferaft without going into the water while the seas were stirred up, then the raft was sealed up and we were let into the really confused waters in the “Danger Zone” for what seemed like an eternity but was only about 10 or 15 minutes. I was a in a 10-person raft with 15 people aboard and we had a couple of folks aboard whose facial colours started resembling our BDUs. After our session in the rough waters our raft was pulled to a 5m high wall with a wide rope ladder attached to it; climbing up this simulated going up the side of a rescue ship.
Then we had to jump back into the waters from our 5m high vantage point and manually inflate our vests on entry, then got to practice various activities while the waves whipped us about and the two halves of the inflated life jackets did their best to cut off our air supply. Then we had to assist each other and get back into the liferafts; we had two large 10-person ones and a much smaller civilian 8-person Viking. The smaller raft was significantly more difficult to get into and, as a single-hander, they had me try to board that one alone while the waves were going. I was still out of breath from getting in and out plus helping others and I couldn't enter the raft by myself. I think I might have either deflated or removed the vest in real life and might have made it, but it wouldn't have been easy.
We got to test our sprayhoods and then everyone but myself went to put on their normal foulies and their own life vests. I didn't have any of my own, but was supplied with some military-issue equipment to make my life tough. Everyone returned with their collection of Musto, Helly-Hansen, Gill, Plastimo and other assorted manufacturer's offshore gear. The hard-core members also wore their work boots. This time around it was even tougher to get into the liferafts and most of us wouldn't have been able to enter without help.
The session then went to show how to act and respond for helicopter pickups at sea, one of our lot was lifted up out of the water to show how difficult it can be, even with a lot of helping hands.
Inflating a 8-person raft Demonstrating the deployment of a Viking 8-person liferaft in the pool
(2014-11-22 04:50:50 NIKON D7100 with a "18.0-250.0 mm f/3.5-6.3" lens. [f/3.5, 1/60s] ISO 250)
Inflating a 8-person raft
Raft almost inflated the Viking 8-person liferaft in the process of inflating
(2014-11-22 04:50:59 NIKON D7100 with a "18.0-250.0 mm f/3.5-6.3" lens. [f/3.5, 1/50s] ISO 250)
Raft almost inflated
10 person raft inflating This 10-person raft, of the type found on commercial and military vessels, was thrown from 5m and deployed.
(2014-11-22 04:56:11 NIKON D7100 with a "18.0-250.0 mm f/3.5-6.3" lens. [f/3.5, 1/50s] ISO 250)
10 person raft inflating
We've got BDUs and lifevests on - what can happen now? Final briefing before the waves are turned on and we have to enter the liferafts. The lady at the right isn't praying, she was just caught in the act of sneezing. Although I do believe that the odd participant did make the sign of the cross before embarking on this part of the journey.
(2014-11-22 05:05:58 NIKON D7100 with a "18.0-250.0 mm f/3.5-6.3" lens. [f/3.8, 1/30s] ISO 250)
We've got BDUs and lifevests on - what can happen now?
Everyone has their foulies on This is the second part of the exercise, we all have full foul weather gear and our own vests on and are going to jump in (once the waves are turned on again) and attempt to board all of the liferafts
(2014-11-22 06:26:54 NIKON D7100 with a "18.0-250.0 mm f/3.5-6.3" lens. [f/3.5, 1/160s] ISO 250)
Everyone has their foulies on
Teamwork in retrieving a POB Despite the instructors choosing one of our lightest classmates, the task of getting this waterlogged person from the water to the pool's edge took several of us!
(2014-11-22 06:59:26 NIKON D7100 with a "18.0-250.0 mm f/3.5-6.3" lens. [f/4.2, 1/25s] ISO 250)
Teamwork in retrieving a POB
Liferafts waiting for us Our trusty steeds awaiting us, becalmed with the wave machine turned off.
(2014-11-22 07:00:38 NIKON D7100 with a "18.0-250.0 mm f/3.5-6.3" lens. [f/3.5, 1/100s] ISO 250)
Liferafts waiting for us
Staging area The staging area, with dive tanks and other gear for those coming after us,
(2014-11-22 07:01:59 NIKON D7100 with a "18.0-250.0 mm f/3.5-6.3" lens. [f/3.5, 1/20s] ISO 250)
Staging area
Simulated helicopter rescue A floating survivor before being picked up by a simulated helicopter basket
(2014-11-22 07:03:56 NIKON D7100 with a "18.0-250.0 mm f/3.5-6.3" lens. [f/5.3, 1/60s] ISO 250)
Simulated helicopter rescue
Rescued at last! I'd be smiling as well if a helicopter picked me up out of inhospitable seas.
(2014-11-22 07:04:07 NIKON D7100 with a "18.0-250.0 mm f/3.5-6.3" lens. [f/4.8, 1/80s] ISO 250)
Rescued at last!
How to get winched up from a raft Another class participant showing how the ring (rather than the basked) is used to exit a raft.
(2014-11-22 07:08:36 NIKON D7100 with a "18.0-250.0 mm f/3.5-6.3" lens. [f/4.8, 1/60s] ISO 250)
How to get winched up from a raft
Winched aloft Despite looking uncomfortable, she later said it wasn't that bad.
(2014-11-22 07:09:00 NIKON D7100 with a "18.0-250.0 mm f/3.5-6.3" lens. [f/4.0, 1/80s] ISO 250)
Winched aloft

Bright lights in the sky

The final session was using pyrotechnic means of signalling. By the time we went out on the dock the wind had picked up and it was very, very chilly out there. We did our work next to a decommissioned German Frigate called the “Köln” which is also the reference model of the frigate class "Köln" (the city name of "Cologne", for non-Germanic types). It has been remodelled to provide a perfect ship within which they can practice very realistic fire drills. We didn't go that far, we just got to fire off smaller signalling rockets, flares and smoke signals. Because of the strong winds and the dangers of fire, we only fired off one big parachute flare and the smoke signals had to be white rather than the normal orange since our dock was adjacent to an active shipway.

Waiting outside for the next session We've exited the classroom and are about to walk to the docks where we get to play with fireworks.
(2014-11-22 10:03:17 NIKON D7100 with a "18.0-250.0 mm f/3.5-6.3" lens. [f/3.5, 1/50s] ISO 250)
Waiting outside for the next session
Frigate KLN used for training The whole inside of this decommissioned frigate are used for fire drills and training.
(2014-11-22 10:29:53 NIKON D7100 with a "18.0-250.0 mm f/3.5-6.3" lens. [f/3.5, 1/125s] ISO 200)
Frigate KLN used for training
Our fireworks pandora box This little box held our flares and other signalling devices.
(2014-11-22 10:35:05 NIKON D7100 with a "18.0-250.0 mm f/3.5-6.3" lens. [f/3.5, 1/100s] ISO 200)
Our fireworks pandora box
Hand-Held rockets launched The little plastic six-guns work pretty well, but the height the flares reach as well as the duration of burn is nothing compared to the bigger parachute flares. We only shot one of those off, due to the winds and proximity of shore.
(2014-11-22 10:40:07 NIKON D7100 with a "18.0-250.0 mm f/3.5-6.3" lens. [f/3.5, 1/500s] ISO 200)
Hand-Held rockets launched
Those flares are HOT The aluminum tubing around the flares actually started to melt - a good reason to hold those flares where you are supposed to.
(2014-11-22 10:47:57 NIKON D7100 with a "18.0-250.0 mm f/3.5-6.3" lens. [f/3.5, 1/80s] ISO 200)
Those flares are HOT
Fireworks practice with flares We all got to use our flares. Note: we had a bucket of water to cool them down after use and disposed of them properly in a metal container after use.
(2014-11-22 10:50:48 NIKON D7100 with a "18.0-250.0 mm f/3.5-6.3" lens. [f/3.5, 1/80s] ISO 200)
Fireworks practice with flares
Yes, flares are bright AND hot. Yes, flares are bright AND hot.
(2014-11-22 10:51:32 NIKON D7100 with a "18.0-250.0 mm f/3.5-6.3" lens. [f/5.3, 1/60s] ISO 200)
Yes, flares are bright AND hot.
White smoke signal Since the area behind the docks in this picture are a major waterway we couldn't practice with the normal orange smoke canisters but had to make do with white ones (used for parachuting and airplane aerobatics).
(2014-11-22 11:04:22 NIKON D7100 with a "18.0-250.0 mm f/3.5-6.3" lens. [f/3.5, 1/8s] ISO 200)
White smoke signal

All in all the 2 days were a great learning experience, vastly different from the prior course I'd taken a couple of years before and described here. While this one was longer and significantly more expensive, it was worth every penny - even if I never have to apply anything of what I've learned.

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