For best time in wild, plan for the worst
Trainer offers tips on how to survive a plunge into the deep
In 30 years of survival training around the world, the closest Peter Kummerfeldt came to dying was in the surf on the Tillamook bar.
During an Air Force seashore survival program some years back Ñ and against Coast Guard advice Ñ he and six students jumped into fearsome surf and almost drowned.
'The Coast Guard said the surf's too high and the current's too strong, but my boss said, 'Over the side,' and like dummies we jumped,' he says.
Kummerfeldt landed in his one-man raft, but a wave punched him through the bottom of the raft and tore his survival suit. In the 50-degree water he knew he was in trouble. The Coast Guard picked up the others, but Kummerfeldt was swept into the surf.
'It was like being in a giant washing machine,' he recalls. 'I was scraped across the bottom, totally hypothermic, beyond my ability to do anything to save myself. The good Lord intervened and washed me up on shore.'
One of the results of his experience was that Kummerfeldt went on to found the Survival Consultant Group and OutdoorSafe in 1992. He'll be in Portland teaching survival classes this week at the Pacific Northwest Sportsmen's Show.
Kummerfeldt, 57, spent 30 years teaching in the Air Force and since then has expanded his expertise to include travel safety, especially in the Third World, where American tourists may be regarded as cash cows.
His outdoor skills range from jungle to arctic conditions, but he'll concentrate on boating safety in one of his classes at the show because it's an ever-present issue in the Northwest.
'People go out across the Columbia River bar in blissful ignorance,' he says. 'Safety isn't rocket science; you need to acknowledge the possibility you could get into trouble.'
Boating accidents happen terribly fast, Kummerfeldt says; cold water is disabling, and the gasp reflex can cause people to suck in seawater and panic. 'And if you add the complication of getting out of a capsizing boat,' Kummerfeldt says, 'well, it's not a pretty picture.'
But he has some advice:
• Plan for the worst-case scenario. Stop before you get aboard ship and think: What can go wrong, and what can I do about it?
• Give thought to emergency equipment, life jackets and survival suits. Where are they, and can you get to them quickly? Go through a drill with people who haven't been on your boat before so they know where everything is.
• Buy equipment that will help rescuers find you Ñ flares, beacons, sea markers (brightly colored floating plastic sheets that open up to 25 feet long) and laser signal devices that will reach 20 miles. Consider buying a life jacket with signaling devices built into the pockets. A good one costs about $180 Ñ what's your life worth?
• Panic is a killer. If you can't keep your wits about you despite all the flotation devices and drills, the gear and practice may be for naught.
In an emergency, 10 percent to 15 percent of people will typically know what to do, 75 percent can be told, and 10 percent to 15 percent will do the wrong things. People who have never thought about what to do in an emergency may go completely to pieces or sit there numb and have to be saved by somebody else.
• Don't count on anybody to help you. Kids depend on Dad, and he may be a macho outdoorsman, but if he drowns and they're left to their own skills, it can be catastrophic. Kids should be taught how to run the boat, know where everything is, how to use signal mirrors and so on.
Kummerfeldt's hero is British explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton, who never lost a man in all his polar expeditions Ñ including crossing 900 miles of the Antarctic Ocean in an open boat.
Kummerfeldt says the one factor that gets people past the point where they could die is the desire to be reunited with loved ones.
'I recommend people carry a small picture of people they want to be back with. People who don't have that mental image don't have anything to live for. They can have all the training all the equipment and no spark.'
As for the 'Survivor' TV shows, Kummerfeldt calls them 'absolute rubbish.'
'There's absolutely no connection with a true survival situation,' he says.