How many of you have chuckled when you are flying,  let’s say, from New York to Los Angeles or from Hamburg to Munich or from Paris to Moscow and the flight attendant mentions the life vest that is under your seat?

I mean, seriously, the chances of needing a life vest while crossing the European or North American mainland are slimmer than just slim. A parachute, maybe!  But a life vest? Please! I didn’t chuckle so much when I first came to Koh Samui, southern Thailand, and went on a boat to take a day trip to Angthong Marine National Park. There was no safety instruction at all, let alone a mention of the life vests. And I didn’t dare asking because I was too sure the answer would have just made me panic.

Let’s face it, when it comes to safety standards, Thailand is not the top of the list. This goes for bus companies on overland routes as well as for constructions, boats and ships. There have been a number of news about road and boat accidents lately. The problem is far from being new.

The first trip I took to Thailand happened in 1997 when a thing called “Internet” was still young and mobile phones came in the sizes of small suitcases and were powered by diesel engines…or so it seems. With the ever growing speed and mass of information and the easy measures to pass news around, more and more of the (often fatal) accidents surface (no pun intended).

The latest tragedies happened on November 3rd when an overcrowded ferry sank in Pattaya, killing six passengers. On January, 30th, an illegal dive boat sank in Phuket. Luckily, there were no casualties reported on the last case.

Of course, you should mark the words “overcrowded” and “illegal”. These were accidents happening because some greedy people operated boats, which were not handled according to any kind of regulation.

And there are regulations in Thailand. That is not the problem. The problem is control and enforcement of these laws and regulations. Don’t get me wrong. There are a large number of companies that follow rules and at least try to make sure that their passengers are safe.

Additional "float- material" on the Suwan Macha!

My trip on the “Suwan Macha” was an example for this. The captain gave a short safety instruction that there were life vests on the boat (visible and accessible at all times) and safety buoys and fire exstinguishers .

You are never 100% safe anywhere in the world but at least you could feel that everything possible was done to minimize danger. But let’s not kid ourselves. All rules and regulations are bound to fail if corruption is rampant like in Thailand. As long as some shady operators and companies can avoid real regulations by passing out a few 1,000 Baht notes, no one is save.

So what can you do?

a)   Check the internet and have a look at guest reviews for diving companies and companies that offer excursions and trips. Good reviews may not give you a guarantee on safety but they give you a hint.

b)   Trust your instincts. You better leave a boat that seems unsafe and lose a few Baht or a few hours, instead of losing your life.

c)   Be vigilant. It may seem a bit odd but investing 5 minutes into finding out where the life jackets actually are placed could save your life.

d)   Some boat crews may offer you a life vest to wear on board. Be cool or be safe, it is your choice.