Survival Guide Series: How To Survive Being Adrift at Sea

"3 boys found after drifting 50 days on the Pacific Ocean."
"3 boys found after drifting 50 days on the Pacific Ocean." | Source

Alright, I have to be honest. I was inspired to write this after watching It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, season 7 - episode 2. In the middle of this episode Mac and Frank (Danny Devito's character) fall asleep on a small lifeboat, only to wake up a few hours later far out at sea without any sight of the shoreline. The two hapless sunbathers are eventually rescued by a party boat filled with Jersey Shore stereotypes, but the experience left them visibly scarred and sunburned.

But back to my point. What if you were the one stuck in the middle of the sea/ocean with no shoreline or party boat in sight for miles in any direction? We will approach this question from two situational reference points. In one instance, we will have a raft, flotilla, or else we're just extremely fat. In another instance, we don't have a floating device...in which case we're screwed.

We On a Raft

"Gilligan's Island minus the Island."
"Gilligan's Island minus the Island."

So now you're in a life raft, gently rocking with the steady movement of the waves. Rays of sun are beating down on you and the other five survivors of the sunken cruise ship, the SS. Titanic Redux. Receiving regular doses of heatstroke and sunburn, you and your fellow rafters have been adrift for five days...no food...no potable water...no hope.

It would have been nice if you'd had a few rescue supplies. Say for instance these:

  1. Mirror or other reflective surfaces like tin foil, rockin' bling, disco ball
  2. Matches
  3. Batteries
  4. Flares -- red, green it doesn't matter.
  5. Two-way radio (e.g. Marine VHF)
  6. First-aid kit
  7. Sunscreen, or at least a hat.
  8. Bottled Water
  9. Plastic Wrap
  10. String/Rope

Each one of these nifty little trinkets and gadgets serve an essential purpose in keeping you both alive and sane through this harrowing experience. Mirrors and flares are the perfect means by which to signal potential rescuers. Sunscreen, bottled water and first-aid kits to will go far in keeping you alive and hydrated. The string can be used in conjunction with a metal hook for fishing. Meanwhile, you'll need the proper batteries to operate any portable rescue device...including that two-way radio that you will undoubtedly use to beg for the assistance of passing planes and cargo ships.

Even without the gizmos and comforts of the modern world, you know what they always say: "necessity is the mother of invention." In the most desperate of situations there have always been amazing tales of ordinary people pushing the boundaries of human courage and endurance to find creative/practical ways to stay alive. Take this story of two sailors stranded in the massive pacific ocean as the perfect example. The pair were marooned on a small raft-like vessel for a total of 33 days. Lacking in supplies they had to improvise with whatever they had. They were eventually found on an "isolated atoll on the southern fringes of the Marshall Islands." Or take the story of 65 year old Richard Van Pham, a Vietnamese-American who remained adrift on his small sailboat for close to four months. He survived by trapping and eating seabirds using turtle meat as a lure and collecting rainwater whenever available.

No Raft, Big Problem

"You feelin lucky...mmmmm (gasp)...punk...mmm."
"You feelin lucky...mmmmm (gasp)...punk...mmm."

Without a raft...well have you ever seen the movie Open Water. Yeah, you won't be lasting very long. Your best options are to conserve both energy and body heat, get to a spot that is noticeable or has a lot of traffic, and signal anyone by any means possible. If you can float in the water for long periods of time do so to conserve your strength. Otherwise, you'll be treading your way to an early grave (now I wish I had more blubber). If you happen to have a life jacket/preserver, curl yourself up into the fetal position to conserve heat. Also, if you happen to have handy knickknacks such as a flashlight or a whistle...use them.

Helpful Pointers

Of course you can have all the resources in the world, your as dead a door nail without the proper means to use them. Here is a list of methods and practices that could mean the difference between seeing solid ground again or sleeping with the fishes.

  1. Keep a level head and focus on surviving: You'd be surprised how many folks throw in the towel when confronted with this type of situation.
  2. Ration your food: For obvious reasons.
  3. Everything from your raft to your toothpick should be a bright, noticeable color: Don't get that aqua marine blue life jacket.
  4. If as in our scenario, you are stuck near the wreckage of a ship. Stay near the wreckage as long as possible.
  5. Establish a daily survival routine: Get up, brush your teeth, check for scurvy, etc.
  6. Focusing on the horizon may held delay or stave off seasickness.

Some Comforting Thoughts

First of all, the life rafts being made today are akin to nuclear survival capsules. They are equipped with flares, paddles, covers, pumps, two-way radios, signaling mirrors, repair and fishing kits, insulated flooring, and a trident to cement your place as god of the sea. Also, there are literally hundreds of thousands of ships and planes traversing the globe each day many of which are listening for emergency transmissions in the off chance they may have to help someone. (See Global Maritime Distress Safety System.)

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