Sea Survival Guide

Looking at the see mingling endless expanse of water that is the open ocean is an awe inspiring and humbling experience. It’s easy to feel tiny bobbing in the immense expanse that is unpredictable and violent yet beautiful at the same time. Now imagine you’re lost in the vast expanse that is the sea. The first word that comes to mind is sheer panic.

With water as far as the eye can see in any direction it’s easy to let fear take the wheel.

  • How do I find food?
  • How do I find my way home?

These questions can make the very prospect of surviving this scenario impossible, but the truth is surviving on the open ocean boils down to knowledge and preparing. While it’s true that the resources on the open ocean are not conducive to easy survival scenarios, survival is possible. The task of survival till rescue may seem insurmountable, but with a little knowledge and preplanning you can survive on the open ocean.

The Dangers of the Sea

Before we get into the ins and outs of survival on the open ocean lets first look at what you will be fighting against to survive in this particular scenario. The most daunting of these challenges has to be the sea itself. I say it’s the most daunting because there isn’t much to be done to combat it.

Regardless of how big your boat is there is a storm that can capsize it if you find yourself trapped in the midst of it. From water spouts to hurricanes and extreme storms the open ocean is an extreme environment to have to survive for any length of time. Your best defense against the perils of the open ocean lies in preparation and proper gear. You can’t control the weather you find yourself surviving in.

The weather can change in an instant and there is no way to get out the way. When severe weather strikes you can only dig in and suit up in wet weather gear to ride it out. Watch the sea and take note of the changing conditions whenever possible.

  • What does the sky look like to you?
  • Is it humid?
  • Does the air feel heavy as if it may rain?

If it looks like rain than you should assume it’s coming and head below your shelter, if you have one.

In addition to the weather, the other big danger is the threat of dehydration. Surrounded by undrinkable water is a maddening experience to be sure, but take heart. There are a few ways to surmount these obstacles. Foremost is proper preparation


When it comes to survival on the open seas there is no substitute for proper preparation. Those who find the most difficulty surviving on the open ocean are those who cast off without any emergency provision or planning. This is extremely common among those setting out to sea. After all, who expects to find themselves stranded in the middle of the sea?

Well the fact is that people find themselves in open ocean survival situations all the time. Boats break down and navigation equipment malfunctions; In truth, there are a number of reasons you may find yourself having to survive on the open ocean till help arrives so it’s better to prepare and never need the equipment than to ignore the possibility altogether.

The sea isn’t a forgiving place and preparation in part can mean the difference between life and death on the open ocean. So what exactly do you need for survival on the open ocean? Well like any survival situation you need the essentials of food and water to sustain yourself until rescue comes. You have to keep in mind that land is where most of the tools necessary to sea survival are going to be found, so please bring them with you because once you are out on the open ocean there are few natural resources that can be drawn on for your survival.


Water is a primary concern in surviving the open ocean.

Short of the collection of rain water there are no fresh water sources to speak of on the open ocean so your primary source of water is going to be desalinated water from the ocean itself. There are several ways to accomplish this task including solar stills that work through distillation or evaporating and condensing salter water to make fresh water that you can drink. There are also desalination kits that use either reverse osmosis or multistate flash methods of desalination.

In reverse osmosis conversion to fresh water occurs by using pressure with a series of pumps in multiple stages to force the water through a semipermeable membrane effectively separating the salt from the fresh water. In the multi-stage flash method heat and pressure are applied in multiple stages to separate the salt from the fresh water, sort of like a combination of boiling and reverse osmosis.

The use of these devices is one of the better ways to obtain fresh water when out to sea. If you find yourself without those methods, then the only other option will be the collection of rainwater. This is why having the proper equipment in your survival pack is so crucial to survival on the open ocean.


Thankfully the open ocean is teeming with aquatic life. When you find yourself stranded out to sea fishing is the best way to acquire food. It’s for this reason that fishing tackle is a must have in your ocean survival kit, which we will break down in later sections.

However, there is a certain level of skill required when relying on the sea for sustenance. Any fisherman can attest to days of daily fishing that yield not even a single fish. This is why having patience is extremely important and there is no substitute for good old fashion persistence. Though you may be hungry and fatigued try not to let frustration cloud your judgment. A clear head is just as important to a successful fishing trip as to survival in general on the open sea. When dipping into your food rations, be sure to keep track and eat only when necessary.

How successful at fishing you are likely to be and how long you are likely to be surviving until rescue are two very clear unknowns so moderation is important. The last thing you want is to be stranded without food while trying to obtain sustenance from the sea.

Survival Kit

There are a handful of essentials when putting together an open ocean survival kit. The unique survival scenario requires an equally unique set of tools to ensure survival. These tools will vary only slightly depending on the region of the world you find yourself in and you are welcome to make personal additions, but these are the bare bones essentials.

  • Fishing tackle – With the majority of your sustenance coming from the sea itself it’s a must that you have some form of fishing tackle that at least has the rod, reel, hooks, lure and bait.
  • Sturdy knife – You can use either a fixed blade or a folding knife with a sturdy locking mechanism. This tool is essential to pretty much any survival scenario. From cleaning fish to improvising tools, this tool is likely to see a lot of use
  • Flares/other signaling equipment – Your primary concern in ocean survival happens to be rescue. There is only so song you can exist on the open ocean without endangering your health so a speedy rescue should be your primary function. Flares or any signaling equipment will do, but you need to have some way to signal passing ships and planes.
  • Water Source – Be it a canteen, camelback, water bladder or bottle you need to have some way to store the fresh water that you collect.
  • Food Rations – You should always have some form of food rations regardless of the landscape or survival scenario you find yourself in. This is especially important at sea where fishing is a tedious and sometimes difficult way to obtain food. You want some form of prepackaged and non-perishable food to bring with you.
  • Aid Kit – No survival kit is complete without some type of aid kit to deal with the injuries that can occur in a survival scenario.
  • Poncho/Wet weather gear – You need some way to keep dry so a poncho as well as rain boots and other wet weather accessories are a necessity on the open ocean. It helps to avoid hypothermia and other illness related to being wet over an extended period of time in cold weather.


Survival on the ocean is a unique scenario that can seem daunting at first glance. The violent weather and difficulty obtaining food and water make surviving this climate one of the more extreme survival scenarios one is likely to encounter. When confronted by a seemingly endless expanse of water with unrelenting weather it’s easy to lose site of the goal, which is rescue, but knowledge an preparation go a long way and if you remember these tips and properly prepare before you cast off survival on the open ocean is possible for anyone.

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