I posed a similar question earlier but was told maybe I should ask another one. I hope I am doing the right thing, so here goes.

The setting is a post-catastrophe Earth that is entirely or almost entirely covered in water, so naturally people live exclusively on big oil/tanker ships. For safety and community people usually develop fleets of ships that travel together, let's say that during a particularly strong storm, unnaturally strong that is, one of the ship's engines become damaged beyond repair and that ship is now adrift. Just to clarify the engines got damaged during the storm and the storm is still ongoing and the ship is adrift, the situation must be addressed during the storm.

  • The technology level is today's commercially available technology
  • The ship has lifeboats
  • Is near the rest of the fleet, uncomfortably near
  • It is otherwise in normal functioning condition - no fire, hull intact, only the engines are gone, the only risk is of ramming into the other ships
  • The fleet has lifeboats and a couple of helicopters

How can the people on the ship be saved?
Can the ship itself be saved?

  • 5
    $\begingroup$ You have lifeboats and a fleet of fully-functional ships very nearby -- isn't the question then how you could fail to rescue the ship? Where's the catch? There seems to be at least one more complication in your head than made it into the question, because as stated the answer is to man the lifeboats and move to any of the myriad of nearby ships. I'm not trying to be rude or anything, but I don't understand why this is a question in the first place? $\endgroup$
    – Kromey
    Jan 2, 2015 at 18:16
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Are people still travelling around? Seems like if there is no land you would just be floating, not burning fuel heading to another spot of ocean. In that case, just moor the ship to one of the others. Moor them all together actually. $\endgroup$
    – Samuel
    Jan 2, 2015 at 18:16
  • $\begingroup$ i don't know a lot about seafaring so i thought lifeboats and helicopters are not to be used in bad storms, also i thought a huge ship gone adrift might be a problem for the other ships. Would the absence of lifeboats and/or helicopters make it more worthwhile to wonder that? :) also, they travel around to scavenge what's left of civilization beneath the waves. $\endgroup$
    – mathgenius
    Jan 2, 2015 at 20:15
  • $\begingroup$ @Kromey, I don't agree about 'manning the lifeboats', the risk of loss-of-life in taking to the lifeboats in very bad weather is rather high, whereas if all persons stay on board the ship then (so long as collision with another ship can be avoided) there is no threat to their lives. $\endgroup$
    – A E
    Jan 2, 2015 at 21:47
  • $\begingroup$ @AE That this rescue was taking place during the storm was not evident until matthgenius' comment 2 hours after mine; the English language has a lot of ambiguous constructs, and this question perfectly illustrates that -- it can be read that the ship was damaged during the storm and then post-storm a rescue is underway (how I originally read it), or that the rescue is taking place during the storm (how mathgenius seems to have intended it). During the storm, yes, those aboard are probably best served to stay aboard, but I wouldn't be talking about "rescuing" them until afterward... $\endgroup$
    – Kromey
    Jan 2, 2015 at 23:02

3 Answers 3


That doesn't sound too bad at all.

There's no threat to either the ship or the lives of the people on board (other than possible collision with another vessel), if I understand correctly. This is therefore a situation of 'urgency' rather than distress.

So the obvious thing to do is:

  • Ship communicates "vessel not under command" to nearby vessels (using radio, lights, etc). Crew and passengers remain on board (much safer than evacuation in bad weather).

  • Other vessels manoeuvre to avoid collision.

  • All parties wait for the storm to die down and then think about next steps: repair, towing, etc.

Lights and shapes:

International Collision Regulations‎ > ‎Part C - Lights and shapes‎ > ‎ Rule 27 - Vessels not under command or restricted in their ability to manoeuvre

(a) A vessel not under command shall exhibit:
  (i) two all-round red lights in a vertical line where they can best be seen;
  (ii) two balls or similar shapes in a vertical line where they can best be seen;
  (iii) when making way through the water, in addition to the lights prescribed in this paragraph, sidelights and a sternlight.

Radio transmission of urgency message:

The format of the urgent message is as follows:
PAN PAN (repeated three times) Your vessels name (repeated three times).
Your International call sign and MMSI.
PAN PAN (once) your vessels name (once).
Your Position (in Lat and Long) or compass bearings if you have no way of working out your position. Or position unknown.
Contents of urgent message

for example:-

This is fishing vessel LL307 Early Dawn Early Dawn Early Dawn call sign 2CSG2 MMSI 235075333
PAN PAN fishing Vessel LL307 Early Dawn call sign 2CSG2 MMSI 235075333
My position is Five Zero degrees, Four Six minutes, North: Zero Zero Five degrees, One Seven minutes, West
I have a crewman who has passed out, breathing and pulse steady, I require medical advice.


  • $\begingroup$ thanks for the good answer, however won't leaving the ship adrift in a storm with huge waves cause a risk of capsizing? Also, like i said, it is uncomfortably close to the rest of the ships, what about then? $\endgroup$
    – mathgenius
    Jan 3, 2015 at 17:05
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Depends on the strength of the storm relative to the size of the ship. I'm assuming that the ship is large and strong in a futuristic kind of way - if you want to make the story more interesting then make it a historic sailing ship (read the Patrick O'Brien novels for historically-accurate details of how Napoleonic era sailing ships handled in heavy weather). If the ship needs to be stabilised a bit then the crew could put out a sea anchor. Without main engines the ship could still have a bit of propulsion e.g. bow thrusters. $\endgroup$
    – A E
    Jan 3, 2015 at 17:43
  • $\begingroup$ And the other ships just need to use their own engines to stay upwind! ;) $\endgroup$
    – A E
    Jan 3, 2015 at 17:44

If ship is only way to survive (no land), you would NOT want to abandon the ship if it is afloat and not sinking. Other boats would stay in safe distance and crew would do everything to repair the engines and make her sea-worthy before next storm hits.

But you have problem: with no safe harbor, no dry docks, your civilization will last few decades max. Unless you build floating factories, oil refineries and steel producing facilities.

Your ships doesn't have to float all the time - you can use things like stationary oil platforms, place them in shallow areas/reefs, and start mining iron.

If situation is extremely dire, only the rescue crew will try to save ship, and non-required crew and resources would be evacuated. But with no land, situation is pretty desperate and you will risk a lot to save ship. Without ship, you cannot support the population, so other ships might be reluctant to get more mouths to feed. They may select some of rescued crew which skills are important, but others - tough bad luck but we cannot feed you.


You can quite easily do both.

Rescuing the ship's people is the easier task. Deploy the lifeboats of the stricken ship with as many crew as possible in them (with current regulations, there should be enough for all crew but in a post apocalyptic society there may not be). Any remaining crew can be evacuated with helicopters equipped with winches. Sea Kings and Merlin helicopters often come with this equipment already on board.

You can recover the ship in one of two ways.
1. Take it under tow
You can come reasonably close in another ship, throw a catching line across to a remaining crew member, who can then pull a steel tow hawser across from the tow ship. Once fastened, this line should be made as long as possible to reduce the collision risk, but you would at lease have some control.

2. Side-along tow or Sandwich Ships
This solution is better suited for calm weather. A ship comes alongside the stricken ship, fixes lines bow and stern, and moves away taking the unfortunate with it. However, given that the stricken ship has no power, the tow ship needs to use its side thrusters for movement to avoid going round in circles.
This problem can also be solved with "sandwich ships", where a ship comes alongside on both sides and fixes on. Although this requires two ships, it does solve the problem of going round in circles.


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