Hey, Who’s the Guy in the Life Jacket?

By Cam Mather

Here’s another reason why I don’t go on cruises… because I’d be the guy wearing my lifejacket from the minute I got on the boat. The staff probably wouldn’t like it. I think the other passengers might find it a little disconcerting at the all-you-can-eat buffet when the guy beside them in line looked like he was ready to abandon ship… at any minute.

My family likes to laugh at my philosophy of “always have a Plan B.” It’s so nerdy. It’s so uncool, when everything is just going along normally.

I have a healthy respect for authority but I have to admit that I find myself subscribing more and more to the “Question Authority” mantra. This crystallized on September 11th after the first plane had hit the North Tower. There were announcements made in the South Tower telling everyone that everything was fine, and that they should just go back to their desks. I think if I’d been working in the South Tower that day watching what was going on in the North Tower, I would have taken the rest of the day off regardless of what the voice on the PA told me. It turns out that questioning authority and getting out of there would have been the right thing to do. I think it’s what you would have done instinctively. Always trust your instincts.

If I was on a cruise ship and the lights went out after feeling a big bump, the last thing I’d do was listen to the announcement telling me it was just an electrical problem and to relax and carry on. Forget that baby. I’d find my life jacket. Find a lifeboat. Get my bearings. Trust my instinct. And if it turned out to be just a power failure, well, at least I would know where to find my life jacket.

I have a feeling that the people who work on cruise ships today probably aren’t highly paid. And they probably don’t receive the best training. They just aren’t equipped to help evacuate an entire cruise ship full of passengers in 5 hours, let alone 20 minutes. As for the captain … well it looks like the Captain just didn’t give a sh*t about the passengers. It was every man for himself. It seems like things have changed since the days when Captains went down with their ship. But at least we now know the drill. You’re on your own. It’s like New Orleans. You might be standing on your roof in the flood zone for a long time before the authorities come to the rescue.

I remember seeing a TV interview with a Canadian who was working in one of the Twin Towers, in a floor above the impact zone. The elevators weren’t working. But it turned out that he had actually practiced a fire drill, and knew where the stairs were. And when he got down one staircase and discovered that it was blocked, he knew to go back to another, and try it. And when the power went out and the staircase was dark and disorienting, he pulled out his flashlight. Really? He had a flashlight in his office desk drawer? What a nerd! Bet he took lots of ribbing about that by his co-workers.

If I’m sounding like a crazy “Dwight from The Office” kind of character, well I am. Dwight is my role model, although I’m not a big fan of beets. Michelle and I don’t stay in hotels anymore, but whenever we used to, I always took the stairs. This was a pain, because hotels seem to be more concerned about security and bad people sneaking in than they seem to be about people getting out in a fire. Sometimes I would be able to get into the stairs, but then find doors locked when I tried to get out. But I had decided that if I was ever in a hotel when it caught fire I was going to know where the stairs were and where I would end up when I went down them. Michelle would take the elevator and I would take the stairs and that way if I got locked in to the stairwell Michelle would be able to find someone to let me out.

In my book, “Thriving During Challenging Times” I talk a lot about strategies, some of them big picture, some of them little picture, but always with the theme of having a “Plan B.” I once read a book about the people who survive disasters. There was common theme throughout their stories of escaping burning buildings and surviving plane crashes. They had a plan. They sat down in their seat and found out where the emergency exits were and they figured out how they were going to get to them, when there was panic and smoke and confusion. They made a plan and when the panic and smoke and confusion set in, they executed it. Air travel is safe. Most people will never, ever, need to execute a plan like this. So really, why bother?

I understand, you can’t always avoid risk. Bad things happen. I accept this. But I am not going to be taken out in some hotel fire just because I was too afraid of getting stuck in a staircase where all the doors were locked. Someone would find me before I starved to death. Michelle would wonder where I was… eventually.

I will never take a cruise. I have read way too much about the fuel they burn, and how many of them deal with their garbage and human waste. And in a world where there is still starvation and hunger, I find all-you-can-eat buffets repugnant. But if I did take a cruise, I’d be the one at the railing, on one of the lowest decks, in a life jacket… and wet suit… with a waterproof flashlight… and shark repellant … ready to abandon ship at a moments’ notice. Sounds like a fun week!

10 Responses to “Hey, Who’s the Guy in the Life Jacket?”

  • Lorna:

    Agree 100%.

    Regarding building safety, when we moved to the UAE our employer housed us on the 16th floor of an old high-rise. If you think about the people who build the buildings over here, you realize there are few skilled workers who know what they’re doing. We both walked down the emergency exit stairs only to discover all sorts of trash, tires and broken glass just chucked in there. We had two toddlers who couldn’t possibly navigate that in an emergency, so I stored two duffel bags with backpack straps near the door-we could stuff a kid in each and strap them on to make the decent! If I was alone with the boys it would’ve been tougher-but I could’ve carried the littlest in my arms with the bigger boy on my back if I had to(and I did try once just to make sure!)

    I second you, “always trust your instincts.” After we left the building, there was a fire. We had friends who tried to exit but were sent to the roof instead. They waited over four hours in 110+heat with no water before they were allowed back in. It turns out they could’ve continued down and out, but the building managers had been told to always send people to the roof! Oh, and the roof door was chained and locked-to get out they had to use some of that discarded trash to break the chains.

    Great post.

  • Great point! Everyone calls me a worry wart, too, even though I don’t spend as much energy as I used to figuring out Plan B’s everywhere I go. Maybe it’s because I don’t go many places anymore… But I’m getting this message a lot from many perspectives so I’m beginning to think I better stop expecting hubby to dig me out (of whatever situation I end up finding upself in) and learn how to do it myself! Guess I better find me a shovel and learn how to use it…

  • Thanks! Nope, a different Paul. I don’t know if our Paul reads this blog or not…. ~Michelle~

  • One of your best. Is the replier Paul “our” Paul?

  • Traci:

    Nerds unite! Thought I was the only one who always was looking for emergency exits, counting the rows of seats in airplanes, etc. Took a lot of kidding in college for being a worry wart, but my friends were always glad I knew how to get us home from parties, etc., when plan “a” fell through. Guess it takes all kinds of mindsets and some of us were just born to plan ahead!

  • Paul:

    About the last place I want to be is trapped on anything with 4,000 other people, includes large buildings, ships, airplanes, stadiums etc… The more people I meet the better I like my dog(s) !!! with some notable exceptions like the author 🙂 !!! TOO MANY PEOPLE.

  • Cathy:

    If you hang out in any public places be it a building or a ship it still is safer than driving on a public road especially if you are the driver. I have been on 3 cruises before I found Eco-religion. I loved every moment.
    Better give up your vehicles, bikes and walk, or better yet, stay home. Don’t have anything to do with the public…you might get sneezed on. Don’t buy anything in a store, if it is packaged, it’s processed and therefore probably junk food anyway…that will kill you too. Think of the energy wasted in packaging. Especially Costco, who does packaging inside of packaging. Then it is sealed in more plastic. It’s no wonder the cost of packaging is 30%+ of the product.

    I’ll pray for you Cam and your many phobia’s or is it OCD?….

  • Mike the carpenter:

    I couldn’t agree more. I’m not going to entrust my life, let alone my loved ones lives, to a pimply-faced, tattooed teenager with a nose ring who makes minimum wage. God forbid there is ever a fire at a McD’s or a T-Bell or any other fast food joint because that kid surely is going to run screaming for the door, right past that little old woman in a wheel chair. When I’m on the road, I occasionally end up eating at one of those places just out of expediency. My food is always served by one of those kids I just described. It makes me wonder “Is this kid even smart enough to wash his/her hands properly?” I guess my Plan B should be to hit the grocery store instead for a loaf of bread, a jar of mustard, some deli meat and a 6 pack of V-8 juice. I’ll no doubt live longer.

  • Andy:

    I’m sure that cruise ship employees, maybe even their captains are victims of the McDonalds mentality whereby every semblance of skill, where possible, is removed from the job in order to reduce the cost of having that role filled.

    End result, unskilled workers who don’t get paid enough to care let alone accept responsibility for anything or anyone beyond themselves.

    The same principle can probably be applied to the waste disposal methods you mentioned, do the least you have to do and pay the least to get it done. Who cares what the “actual” cost of it all is.

  • I’m with you on this Cam. I served four years in the Royal Canadian Navy and I can tell you the Navy runs regular scheduled and unscheduled emergency drills so that the crew can find their stations in a darkened ship. It was very reassuring. You’re right, most of us do not have enough Plan B’s for a challenging future.

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Cam Mather and his wife Michelle live independently off the electricity grid using the sun and wind to power their home and their CSA. Cam is working towards the goal of making his home “zero-carbon” and with his extensive garden he aims to grow as much of his own food as possible. He is available to speak at conferences and other events and has motivated many people to integrate renewable energy into their lives, reduce their footprint on the planet and get started on the path to personal food, fuel and financial independence.
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