Body of Chinese Ocean Rower Found

On April 24, a body was found on the coastline of Kinapusan Island, Tawi-Tawi, Philippines near a wrecked boat. It has now been identified as the remains of Ruihan Yu of China, who set out to solo row the Pacific Ocean.

This had been Yu’s second attempt at a solo Pacific crossing. In 2017, he was rowing from California to Australia but he had to be rescued by the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) after a damaged rudder off the coat of Hawaii. He set off again in 2019 to attempt his Pacific crossing, but capsized on November 27. His last known position was 755km north of Majuro Atoll, in the Marshall Islands, within Hawaiian waters.

After capsizing, Yu’s boat did not self-right and he called for rescue. He told the Hawaiian USCG that he had lost all survival gear, including a life vest, and he was clinging to the hull of his vessel.

The Coast Guard carried out a three-day aerial search for Yu. On the first day, seven hours after his rescue call, he was sighted clutching the hull of his boat, but by now, the plane was low on fuel. Before they turned around, they dropped a life raft in the hope that he would be able to reach it.

He did not. When the plane returned after refueling, the crew spotted the life raft but not Yu or his boat. They continued searching but were unable to spot Yu again. After reaching the 120 hours of expected survivability in the 84°F water, the search was called off.

Fellow rower and friend Lia Ditton spoke to the USCG after the rescue attempt. She believed that Yu would have swum back inside his overturned boat. He had already survived one night inside the hull,  and in one famous shipwreck, solo sailor Tony Bullimore had successfully sheltered four days inside his overturned hull in the Southern Ocean. Ditton thought she would have done the same in a similar situation. When Yu had called for rescue, he had said that he had drilled holes in the hull to increase his intake of air.

His body was found alongside the 24-foot rowing boat on April 24. Its red, white, and blue stripes and number 88 on the hull identified it as Yu’s boat. The wetsuit-clad body was missing the head and feet. When Ditton was sent the images, she recognized both the boat and the wetsuit as Ruihan Yu’s.

Rebecca is a freelance writer and science teacher based in the UK. She is a keen traveler and has been lucky enough to backpack her way around parts of Africa, South America, and Asia. With a background in marine biology, she is interested in everything to do with the oceans. Her areas of expertise include open water sports, marine wildlife and adventure travel.

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Louis-Philippe LONCKE
2 years ago

Yu’s boat did not self-right. That’ is scary. I believe this safety feature was tested so I think someone should find out why it didn’t work. Lessons perhaps to be learnt to help future ocean rowers.

Bonny D Dunn
1 year ago

So sad. He had a dream and he gave it his best. He left Point San Pablo Harbor in Richmond, Ca twice in search of his dream to make this ocean crossing. I admire his perseverance. RIP Ruihan Yu