In March 2019 Arne Murke set off sailing with his brother off the coast of New Zealand – and then disaster struck. The German was knocked overboard, in fact, and began fighting the rough waters raging around him. But when his thoughts turned to his young daughter, the struggling man knew that he couldn’t give up. Then Murke suddenly remembered a Navy SEALs trick that could possibly save his life.
This potentially fatal situation came about because Murke at the time was on a working vacation in New Zealand with his brother, Helge. And after the pair had spent some time working vineyards in the area, they discovered that there was another job the brothers had to do.
You see, part of the reason for the visit to New Zealand was for Murke and his brother to collect a yacht. The siblings had in fact been authorized to deliver the vessel, named Wahoo, to Brazil from its mooring in Auckland. But soon after the brothers set sail, their trip took a disastrous turn for the worse.
The Murkes were actually sailing south along the coast of New Zealand at around 2:00 p.m. But conditions were tricky; the ocean was rough, sending huge waves lashing at the yacht. A mainsheet onboard had then reportedly come loose, causing the boom to suddenly rotate and push Murke over the side of the vessel.
And as Murke fell from the boat, his arm apparently became entangled in a length of rope. Then, unable to free himself, the 30-year-old was towed alongside the vessel, the raging water surging around him. Yet if that weren’t already terrifying enough, the German was no doubt all too aware that he wasn’t wearing life preserver.
New Zealand’s Herald On Sunday later reported that Murke was then pulled beside the yacht for a couple of seconds. Fortunately for Murke, though, the force of the water seemingly helped to loosen the rope around his arm. So then the drowning man suddenly found himself adrift in the ocean in just the clothes that he had on his back.
Helge, who had seen what had happened, instantly sprung into action too. Yet although he tried to reach his brother, the conditions were apparently just too rough. So by the time Helge tried to deploy a rescue device, the current had already dragged Murke too far out. Helge therefore simply couldn’t get to his sibling to provide help.
The Herald On Sunday also related how Helge in fact attempted to save his drowning brother himself. But as Murke was apparently already engulfed in a ten-foot swell, he proved impossible to reach. And then, to make a dire situation even worse, the yacht’s motor seemingly burst.
Murke, then, was in big trouble: the waters were rough; his brother couldn’t reach him. And with the yacht now immobile due to a mechanical failure, the German was on his own. What’s more, he had no dinghy or lifeline to help keep him afloat, so the stricken sailor was in danger of becoming lost at sea.
Realizing that time was of the essence, however, Murke reportedly quickly came up with a plan. Amazingly, and with the situation working against him, a technique that Murke had once seen used by Navy SEALs suddenly popped into his mind. So the 30-year-old knew exactly what he needed to do to stay alive.
The trick that Murke recalled actually involves a pair of jeans, which, despite the absence of safety clothing, Murke was indeed wearing that day. And it’s a method that the German firmly believes saved his life. So what was the technique that the 30-year-old had remembered from all those years ago?
Well, it seems that jeans, with the clever use of knots in strategic places, can transform into flotation devices. “Luckily, I knew the trick with the jeans,” Murke explained to the Herald On Sunday in March 2019. “Without the jeans, I wouldn’t be here today; they were really the thing that saved me.”
“I saw it many years ago, and I always thought if I ever go overboard without a life jacket I’m going to do that,” Murke recalled. It’s lucky, then, that he remembered the approach with such great clarity. It’s luckier still, perhaps, that he was also able to execute it in such tricky conditions.
As Murke further described, “I took a deep breath, took [off] my jeans, made knots at the end of the legs and inflated the jeans. [I did this by pulling them out of the] water [to] get air inside and then push[ing them] under water. I had like an improvised life vest.” Talk about quick thinking…
So Murke did indeed now have a makeshift flotation aide to help keep him from plunging below the water. His problems, however, were far from solved. The sea was still rough, you see, and conditions were tricky. So, with no flares and his brother unable to reach him due to an immobilized yacht, how would the 30-year-old be found?
As Murke recalled, “The water was breaking over me, and it was getting cold. My legs started to shake. I needed to re-inflate the jeans because they lost a little bit of air; they were twisted somehow.” It’s clear, then, that despite his homemade buoy providing some assistance, the German still had a tough battle for survival ahead.
“I was quite exhausted so I went under,” Murke later explained. “But I couldn’t use my arms [to help stay afloat] because I didn’t want to lose my jeans.” But when he started to struggle in the water, Murke’s thoughts turned to the one thing that he knew would keep him going. Something very important indeed.
“I was under water, and I just thought… Do it for your daughter,” Murke further recalled. The German, you see, had been working in New Zealand to raise funds to support his little girl, a 10-month-old who lives in the Philippines with his partner. The yacht trip, then, was to provide for his family.
As Murke described, “While I was in the water, I was just thinking, ‘I can’t leave my daughter without a father.’ That was the biggest motivation.” So, with the idea of his daughter becoming fatherless spurring him on, the 30-year-old was not about to give up without a fight.
It was this train of thought, in fact, that forced Murke to gather a second wind. He later said, “I managed to somehow get the jeans right and floated again. That was one moment where I really thought I might die if I don’t give all my energy.”
All in all, then, Murke was at sea for around three and a half hours that afternoon. Search and rescue had, thankfully, been deployed pretty swiftly. And a chopper from Hawke’s Bay Rescue finally spotted Murke during their hunt for the German. Or, more accurately, the stricken sailor spotted the helicopter that was looking for him.
“Two times [the chopper] was really close to me, but they didn’t see me and flew away,” Murke recalled. “At that moment, I was really doubting if they were going to come back for me.” The ocean is vast, after all, and the German had no means of alerting his rescuers to his location.
Fortunately, however, the chopper soon returned. As Murke described, “It took another 20 minutes, but, luckily, I could see the helicopter again. They let down the rope, and I was so glad.” So the German was at last safe, and it was in a large part thanks to his improvised flotation device. So how, exactly, did this trick work?
Before going on, however, it’s worth noting that it is, of course, best to avoid situations where you may be in danger of becoming immersed in water without safety equipment. But if the unfortunate ever does occur and you happen to plunge into the sea, a river or lake with nothing but the clothes on your back, you might now be grateful for those garments.
It’s certainly useful, then, to know how to survive falling overboard without a life jacket, just as Murke did. And the pair of pants you’re wearing could actually be key to saving your life if you’re castaway with no sign of help. A simple pair of jeans, in fact, can seemingly be the difference between life and death.
There are, however, several variations of the Navy SEALs’ technique of converting a pair of jeans into a flotation device. Yet they all follow the same basic principles, and all produce the same result. The process is therefore highly adaptable to whichever situation you may find yourself in.
But perhaps the most important thing to remember is to try to stay calm. That will help you to focus on what you intend to do and how you will manoeuvre in the water to refashion your garments. So when you are calm and focused, begin by treading water and continue to do so throughout the process. This movement frees up your arms and keeps you afloat while you work.
The next thing you need to do is, of course, remove your shoes. Whatever shoes you happen to be wearing will in fact hinder your movement or possibly even drag you under, which is the last thing you need in such a situation. And besides, removing them will make it easier for you to take off your pants.
When your pants are off, then, bind the legs together so that they can trap air. The best method is to simply tie the pant legs to each other with a basic double knot. That is, cross the bottom of the jean legs over and pass one leg through the loop, then repeat with the slack above the first knot. Make sure it’s good and tight too.
Once the legs are tied together, close the waist of the jeans or pants. So fasten the zipper and slip the button through the button hole. This will give the air less opportunity to escape the jeans once the legs are full. There are then several ways to inflate the jeans, and each method works well.
The first way to get air into the jeans is what the SEALs apparently call the “overhead” technique. So, leading with the waist band, the jeans are whipped over the head, back to front, to fill the tied-off pants with air. This method reportedly uses the least energy, which is better utilized in other ways.
A second way to fill the jeans or pants with air is what is known as the “splash” method. So, by holding the waist of the pants at the surface of the water, air can be manually pushed into the tied-off garment, inflating the makeshift flotation aide. This techinique uses more energy than the overhead version, of course, but it can be equally as effective.
The final way to inflate the improvised life buoy is by simply blowing air into it. So take a deep breath, duck under the water and inflate the garment as if you were blowing up a balloon. This method is perhaps the most useful for everyone to remember, as it can also be deployed if your flotation device begins to lose air at any point.
Regardless of which method of inflation you choose, though, once the jeans are full of air they are then placed around the head, with each leg wrapped around the neck and the knot placed behind the head. The waist of the pants can then be clutched to the body with your arms to keep the makeshift life jacket full of air.
The principle here is that the air trapped in the garment will float on the water. This, in turn, removes the need for you to expend too much energy staying above the surface until help arrives. And remember, by utilizing the third method of inflation, the air can be topped up if necessary by blowing into the jeans.
Other garments, too, can be employed in the same way. In the absence of, or indeed in addition to, a pair of jeans or pants, a shirt will work just as well. The shirt can, for example, be taken off and tied at the sleeves and neck before being inflated and knotted at the bottom.
You may well have other clothes or accessories that could also double as flotation aides. A sun dress, for example, or a tank top. With the right fastening, in fact, even a canvas bag can turn into a makeshift buoy. It’s actually possible that any items of clothing that can be tied off and inflated will help. Just pray you didn’t opt for shorts that day.
Other practical advice includes jettisoning any objects about your person that might weigh you down. And if you can attach yourself to the makeshift buoys using shoe laces or belts then definitely do so. If you also happen to be wearing bright colors, then be aware that you already have a flag to draw attention.
It was lucky, then, that Murke knew this Navy SEALs technique. Without it, in fact, he may not have made it back alive. “I really want to thank everyone who was involved in the search and rescue operation,” the German told the Herald On Sunday. “They did an excellent job, and I’m very thankful.”
After the ordeal, though, Murke was forced to remain in New Zealand because the yacht Wahoo was deemed to be infested with a marine pest. Nevertheless, his life-threatening experience hasn’t put him off sailing again in the future. He said, “I know the risk, but I’m not scared of it. I’m just going to be super careful in the future.”