Lloyd Figgins is an adventurer and speaker, and a risk management specialist. He has visited over 60 countries, and (of course) has rowed across an ocean – the Atlantic in 2011. He used that voyage to conduct scientific research into marine creatures, and continued that work in summer of last year up in the Arctic, particularly focusing on whales and dolphins.


When Life Gives You Lemons, Forget The Lemonade – Make A Risk Assessment Plan

Lloyd Figgins
Lloyd Figgins

“There I was lying paralysed in a hospital bed… one route was to go and wrap myself in cotton wool and never do anything adventurous ever again…. or [the other route was] I know how short life can be: I want to go and live it to the absolute full.”

(Lloyd Figgins)

Lloyd Figgins could have been forgiven for taking a broken neck and a half-paralysed body as an excuse for living a soft life. But he chose the opposite route, choosing to go out and see as much of the world as possible, pushing himself beyond boundaries both physical and geographical.

Rather than avoiding risk, he chose instead to manage it, following his philosophy that crazy things are only crazy if you’re not properly prepared.

I loved the metaphor he quoted, of risks being like a row of lemons on a slot machine. One or two lemons probably won’t have consequences. But if all your lemons come up, you’re in real trouble. The point of having a risk assessment plan in advance is to reduce the likelihood of a full row of lemons.

Let’s take a couple of examples:

1. Captain Scott, attempting to lead the first expedition to successfully reach the South Pole in 1911, had a mounting list of lemons (source: Wikipedia):

– The ponies were chosen by the dog expert who knew nothing about ponies, and proved to be poor quality and ill-suited to Antarctica

– Their ship was trapped in pack ice for 20 days, allowing less time for preparation before the Antarctic winter

– One of the motor sledges fell through the ice and sank as soon as it was unloaded from the ship

– These problems led to the main depot being laid at an easier location, 35 miles north of its planned position

– Scott chose not to take the advice of Oates, to kill the ponies and use them for food

– Atkinson countermanded Scott’s orders to rendezvous with him at latitude 82

– Finding the Norwegian flag already at the South Pole, planted there 5 weeks earlier by Amundsen, had a huge impact on the morale of the men.

A fierce blizzard kept the dwindling team tent-bound 11 miles short of the food depot. The three men died of cold and starvation. If the depot had been at the position originally planned, they would have reached it 24 miles before the spot where they died.

Even Scott acknowledged their strategy had been risky: “We took risks, we knew we took them; things have come out against us, and therefore we have no cause for complaint, but bow to the will of Providence, determined still to do our best to the last.” All very noble and stiff-upper-lip, but certainly not the intended outcome of the expedition. Just too many lemons to contend with.

lloyd figgins all is lost
All is Lost – and deservedly so

2. All is Lost, as discussed by Lloyd and me. Lemons galore.

– Running into a container was not his fault, but a lemon nonetheless, and one for which he could have been better prepared

– A weak repair due to inadequate repair kit

– Completely inadequate communications

– No emergency beacon (EPIRB)

– No grab bag, and if he’d had one, it should have had a GPS and a VHF radio in it

– Leaky water can so his emergency water rations were contaminated by seawater

– Inadequate storm preparation

– Inadequate liferaft survival kit

– Not enough marine flares (and lack of skill in using them)

And worst of all, an apparent lack of will to live. Check out the links below for some incredible stories of sea survival, the common denominator being an indomitable will to survive.

So, if you’re thinking of doing an expedition – at sea or otherwise – do please think carefully about the risks. The point is not to scare yourself out of going, but to make sure you’re ready and prepared – not just for your own sake, but for the sake of the general reputation of the adventure community.

As my erstwhile crewmate Andrew Morris once said, announcing our decision that the Olympic Atlantic Row 2012 was just TOO risky and would be cancelled: “We came here to do something inspiring, not something stupid.”

“Risk comes from not knowing what you’re doing.”

(Warren Buffet)

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Show Notes

1:00 Childhood as an army brat in Singapore, eating grubs and millipedes

3:50 From poacher to gamekeeper, via the police force, a bar, and a broken neck

9:30 Learning to walk again

12:00 On the path to international expedition leader

15:00 Expedition risk management: All Is Lost as a case study

17:30 What is your get-out plan?

21:10 The vital importance of self-belief in a survival situation

26:00 The lemons story

29:30 When the going gets tough, the tough get shaving

31:00 Saying yes to crazy things (and making them less crazy)

32:00 Staying in touch with Lloyd



Lloyd’s website

Royal National Lifeboat Institute

True survivors:

– Bailey family

– Steven Callahan

– Poon Lim

– Rose Noelle


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