Bug Out / Wilderness

How to Survive at Sea During a SHTF Scenario

When we start talking about survival situations, most people think of going off-grid, setting up a bunker in the woods, or retreating from civilization. But that isn’t the only option for survival in a SHTF scenario. If you’re a fan of boating, how long could you stay out at sea during a SHTF scenario?

Choosing Your Bug Out Boat

Surviving at sea for long periods requires a lot of research and preparation, starting with choosing the right bug out boat. Sure, you could grab any watercraft at the marina and hope for the best, but there are many things you’ll want to consider before turning a boat into your go-to bug out vehicle.

Small boats are easy to transport but often lack shelter and storage space. Large craft, however, can be difficult to fuel, so you could find yourself drifting until you can find or make a new fuel source.

Large craft are also difficult to launch and can be challenging to navigate. Sailboats don’t require fuel for engines but require a specific skill set to operate. You’ll also be at the mercy of the winds, making it hard to reach your destination.

Getting your hands on the perfect bug out boat can also be costly. Boat prices have risen by nearly 10% in recent years, so finding a used model is likely to take a large chunk of your prepping budget.

Start by choosing your bug out boat. Make sure you have the tools you need to navigate the ocean and enough storage space for all the supplies you’ll need to stay at sea as long as possible.

Food and Nutrition

Every survival plan starts with the basics: food and water. One of the biggest benefits of staying at sea during a SHTF scenario is sitting on a perpetual food source. If you can fish, drop lobster or crab traps, or toss out a net, you’ve got something to fill your belly. Unfortunately, access to the ocean and its bounty is also the downside of surviving on the ocean.

Fish don’t have all the nutrients you need to survive and stay healthy for extended periods. A lack of vitamin C in your diet from fresh or preserved sources could cause scurvy, a malnutrition-related condition that claimed the lives of more than 2 million sailors before the rise of steam engines. It was so common that governments went into any major voyage assuming a 50% death rate directly related to scurvy.

A small hydroponic setup could allow you to grow fresh vegetables and fruits to help combat scurvy and other malnutrition-related conditions, as long as you have enough water and power to keep them alive.

Another challenge you’ll face when dealing with food and nutrition on a boat is weight and storage space. Unless you’re commandeering a yacht when the world ends, you’ll have to be very careful about your supply weight and storage space.

Freeze-dried food is ideal because it locks in the essential nutrients while removing the water weight from the items. The only downside of freeze-drying your supplies is that you need water to reconstitute them, which brings us to our next point.


Water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink. Spending time at sea means you’re surrounded by salt water, but if you try to drink it, you won’t survive very long. The human body can only consume so much salt before it starts causing severe dehydration.

Stocking up on bottled water is one way to stay hydrated while you’re at sea, but you’d need a large ship to store enough water for an extended period. Early sailors often struggled to store enough water to prevent death by dehydration throughout their journey, where getting stuck at sea could be a death sentence.

Your best bet for water supplies during a SHTF scenario will be a solar-powered desalination system. These require no fuel or power other than what they can generate using built-in solar panels. They can take water in from the ocean surrounding your ship, remove the salt, and store the now-drinkable water.

Rain capture is another option to keep your water supplies topped up, but that relies on often-erratic weather patterns, so we don’t recommend counting on that alone.

It’s important to remember that you can only last for a few days without water before dehydration can be fatal. Without a source of water and a way to replenish that source, you won’t be able to stay out at sea very long.


You might be safe from whatever disaster ended the world while you’re underway, but that doesn’t mean you don’t need shelter. This reason is why small fishing boats – or anything that doesn’t have some sort of enclosed cabin – aren’t going to be the best option as a bug out vehicle. Spending too much time in direct sunlight – which often happens at sea – can cause sunburns, sun poisoning, heat stroke, and more.

Too much exposure to seawater, especially on broken skin, can also cause salt blisters. Plus, if you get caught in a storm, you don’t want to try and weather it on the open deck unless you’re keen on getting swept away by a rogue wave.

A good cabin will protect you from wind, rain, water, and weather. It should also have a comfortable place to sleep because trying to survive in a SHTF scenario is much easier if you’re not sleep-deprived.

Health and Hygiene

Staying healthy in a survival situation is hard enough when you’ve got dry land under your feet and can – hopefully – find help from other survivors.

But what do you do when you’re hundreds of miles from shore and potentially thousands of miles from the next human being? For long-term survival at sea, you’ll need to have everything on hand you could need to stay healthy.

That means stocking up on OTC and prescription meds and herbal remedies that are easier to restock once manufactured options run out. You’ll also need a comprehensive first-aid kit and the means to make or manufacture anything else you might need.

In a survival situation, hygiene is just as important. You might not need to hoard toilet paper, but keeping your body and boat clean can reduce the chance of contracting a related illness like cholera or typhoid.

On the positive side of things, if the disaster you’re trying to escape is a global pandemic, you’re less likely to encounter the virus or anyone carrying it if you spend all your time at sea.


Modern boats are chock full of battery-powered devices for everything from finding fish to navigating the waterways and communicating with the shore. If you plan to use any of these tools once we hit a SHTF scenario, you’ll need a way to keep them charged. Off-grid power options like wind and solar work incredibly well on a boat.

Ensure you have enough knowledge to maintain or repair your off-grid power sources. A solar panel becomes an expensive paperweight if you don’t know how to fix it when it breaks.


For spending long periods at sea, your best option is sailing. It requires no power, leaving you at the mercy of the winds. If you’re not planning to learn how to sail, you’ll need to store fuel to keep your engine running.

In this case, diesel is your best option. It stores longer and is easier to stabilize. Plus you get more bang for your buck – diesel fuel contains more energy per liter than gasoline.

Modern diesel engines are also easy to convert to use biodiesel. If you invest in learning how to make your biofuel, as long as you have a source of organic waste, you can create a perpetual fuel source to keep your engines running.

Leaks and Repairs

Staying at sea as long as possible is only an option if you can stay afloat. Depending on the size, a leak can send you to the briny deep before you can blink, taking all your survival supplies with it.

First, make sure your ship is seaworthy. Second, ensure you have everything you might need to patch a leak.

While you’re navigating, make sure you’re avoiding any obstacles that could punch a hole in your hull. You might be prepared to patch small cracks if they occur, but a massive missing chunk of hull might be more than you can handle.


We love a good thunderstorm on land, but once you’re out at sea, these storms can be devastating. You’ll need to do two things to protect yourself from storms.

The first is forewarning. In a SHTF scenario, chances are good you won’t receive weather alerts, so you’ll need to learn how to monitor the weather and prepare accordingly.

The second thing to do is navigate carefully. Monitor any foul weather and do your best to avoid it. Try to navigate your ship in the area with the smallest waves and lowest winds, usually counterclockwise from the storm’s leading edge.

Stay away from land during these storms unless you have a safe harbor to dock in. Otherwise, the increased wave size and dangerous winds could drive you into the rocks and put holes in your hull.


Modern boating relies heavily on the network of GPS satellites in orbit around our planet, which means you might find yourself lost at sea if that network fails. Thankfully, our ancestors navigated the globe for centuries using nothing more than a magnetic compass, a sextant, and the stars above.

Learn how to navigate at sea without GPS before you need the skills. We’re not suggesting getting lost at sea, but start using your navigational skills and then double-checking your work with the GPS. These exercises will build your confidence and skills so you have them ready if you need them.


We’re not talking about the Blackbeard-style pirates in “Pirates of the Caribbean” or “Our Flag Means Death.” We’re talking about hostile boats full of people always looking for a boat to raid, cargo to steal, or people to ransom. Pirates are still a problem in 2022 and we can guess that brigandage will continue among survivors in a survival situation.

Do your best to avoid encounters with pirates whenever possible. If you can’t avoid them, make sure you’re stocked up on guns and ammo – as well as the skill to use them – to defend yourself. Opt for firearms that are designed for use at sea. Regular rifles or pistols might not stand up to the salt or sea spray long-term.

Morale and Entertainment

Staring at the horizon for weeks or months is enough to drive anyone mad. How long can you spend alone, with just your ship chores to keep you motivated? Make sure you stock your bug out boat with books, music, movies, or other things to keep you entertained and keep your morale boosted.

It might sound like a waste of space, but humans aren’t designed to be alone for long periods. If you don’t have something to keep you sane, survival becomes more difficult.

Abandon Ship

Finally, do you have a plan in place if you have to abandon the ship? If your boat catches fire or a shark takes a bite out of your hull and it starts to sink, are you planning to just go down with the ship?

Make sure you have a backup plan – and a bug out bag full of supplies – ready in case the worst happens. Inflatable life rafts or dinghies can get you to shore as long as you have enough supplies ready to keep you alive while you drift. Don’t cut corners on your escape craft. The goal is to stay alive, so a secure raft or boat that can support that endeavor is worth every penny you might spend on it.

How Long Could You Stay out at Sea?

When it comes to how long you could stay out at sea during a SHTF scenario, the answer depends on how much time you had to prepare. With a bug out boat stocked with everything a survivalist could ever want, you could potentially stay out at sea indefinitely.

You might need the occasional supply run inland for things that you can’t manufacture at sea, but for the most part, if you have enough preparation, a bug out boat could be a better option than a land-based survival shelter.

[Note: This was a guest post.]

By Damian Brindle

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