Surviving the Seven Seas

By Tyler DeWacht


If you’ve been paying attention to the news lately, you may recall the story of the sailors lost at sea. I’ll give a quick recap for those who haven’t heard it. Two sailors and their dogs set out from Hawaii for a sightseeing trip that was supposed to last two weeks, but a large tropical storm knocked out their communications and left them adrift for almost 6 months before they were rescued by the USS Ashland around 900 miles southeast of Japan.

However, some discrepancies have appeared in their story. They claimed the storm occurred on May 3rd, the first day of their voyage. However, the National Weather Service found no signs of a tropical storm occurring on or around that date, which was further confirmed by NASA satellite imagery records. There was a functioning emergency beacon on board which was never activated because they didn’t see the situation as severe enough yet. They also claimed they had six alternate forms of communication, all of which failed simultaneously. These inconsistencies are currently being investigated.

That sums up most of what we know right now. Regardless of the validity of their story, I’d like to pose a question to you: Could you survive if you were stranded in the middle of the Pacific Ocean? Hopefully you’ll never end up in a situation like that, but if you do, you should be prepared.

Your first concern is water. A good rule of thumb is to bring more than you think you’ll need for the time you plan to be gone, but once that supply is gone, you’ll need to turn to other strategies. You can go for a while without food, but you’ll be dead before a week passes without a drinkable source of water. You may be surrounded by water, but don’t drink straight from the ocean. You’ll only get thirstier due to the high salt content, not to mention all the potential diseases you could catch. Bring something along which can purify it, like a couple of water filtration machines or a lot of purification tablets. Collecting rain water is a good idea, though that’s dependant on the weather. As a last resort, you could be like Bear Grylls and drink your own urine. Not exactly the most appealing option, but it’s still marginally better than saltwater.

What about food? You should always bring emergency rations in addition to your planned food stock, no matter how long you plan to be out. At least a month’s supply of rations is preferable, but more is better depending on how much space your boat has. Don’t eat more than you need to survive; you’ll want to ration what you have since you don’t know when help will arrive. Animals are a good food source provided you have a way to catch them, and the blood of birds or turtles can be used to satiate your water needs in a pinch. Not fish blood though–too salty. Things get caught in seaweed sometimes, so try pulling it in to see if there’s anything edible or useful in it. The option of cannibalism exists if you’re not alone. While I do not personally condone cannibalism, desperate times may call for some desperate measures.

Next up, shelter. Assuming you’re on a boat or raft, you already have a source of shelter. If you’re not on a large floating object…it was nice knowing you. Unless rescue comes quickly, you don’t stand much of a chance. Also, don’t fight the current, you’ll just waste energy and die faster. To those on a large floating thing, stay in the shade when the sun is strong. If there is no shady area or cabin, improvise with a secure tarp. In stormy conditions, grab your stuff, secure it, and stay below deck or underneath your tarp, because there’s a lesser chance of you and your belongings getting washed overboard. A tarp in general is a good idea. It has many potential applications.

Aside from what I’ve just mentioned, make sure you have a way to stop leaks. A flotation device such as a life jacket should go without saying. As well, bring something you can entertain yourself with for long periods of time, because there’s only so many things you can do on a boat in the middle of the ocean before you get bored. Rope is useful for tying things down when the weather gets rough. A sharp object like a knife is always useful, both for cutting things and defending yourself if the need arises, such as in the case of a shark attack. In the event of a shark attack, keep calm and attack their eyes, snout, and gills.

Let’s talk about communication. Don’t be like those sailors. If you have a functional emergency beacon, use it as soon as you realize you’re stranded–don’t wait until you’re close to death. It usually only takes a day or two at most for someone to pick up on that signal and find your location. The less time you’re stranded, the less likely it is you’ll die. If you don’t have a working beacon, there are other ways of calling for help. You could try your phone, but don’t expect good reception. A radio is helpful, especially if it’s a two-way radio; you can attempt communication with other vessels that way.

As for when a potential rescuer is visible, smoke signals are effective during the day. However, please remember that you’re on a boat in the middle of the ocean. Your resources are very limited, so most things will be wet or damp anyways. You can use a mirror or some other reflective surface to catch the attention of your rescuers, but be careful with that, because setting your boat on fire is a very bad idea. If you have flares, try shooting those off. Wave a flag, tarp, or large piece of fabric around, as moving objects tend to attract more attention than still objects.

Now you have some helpful survival information. If you ever go sailing out on the ocean, it might be a good idea to remember some of these points, because they may just save your life one day. Stay safe out there, and make sure you’re prepared for what the future may bring.

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