Sea Survival: A Boater's Emergency Guide

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Intro to Sea Survival | Life Rafts | Provisioning


Obviously, any food that you can bring with you will be to your benefit. Most life-raft emergency kits contain only candy. The usual purpose for including candy in emergency rations is that sugar (and also carbohydrates) assimilate quickly in the body and hold up well under long-term storage. Candy requires less fluid to digest than does more nutritious foods high in protein.

Many authorities advise you not to eat any protein when there is a shortage of water because protein requires a considerable amount of body fluids for its assimilation and digestion. Remember, the control and preservation of your body fluids is crucial in conditions of heat and limited water supply.

A “grab bag” (see below) of normal food is a good idea, but you should update it periodically to ensure that it has not spoiled or merely powdered away. You could include nuts, granola, nutrition or protein bars, evaporated milk, seeds for sprouting, or lemon juice in a plastic container. Seal them against moisture and make sure they will float.

Vitamins are another necessary item to include in your emergency rations. They take up minimal space and can provide you with the nutritional needs you will be lacking over the period of time afloat.

The prolonged deficiency of any vitamin can hinder the normal functions and abilities of the body. One of the most prevalent dangers in the survival situation will be the lack of Vitamin C. Vitamin C deficiency causes “scurvy.” Maritime history is documented with accounts of scurvy, and it is still as much a threat today.

Fresh fruits supply us with most of our Vitamin C. Emergency stores are not able to provide such a luxury as fresh fruit, so a supplement must be taken along to ensure that this very important vitamin is included.

Considerable amounts of vitamins can be obtained from eating raw fish. Substantial levels of vitamins A and D are present in the oils of many fish. Turtles also contain high levels of A and D. Fish, liver, and egg yolks will provide some of the B vitamins.

Dehydrated foods are not recommended for your survival rations pack. Their digestion requires far too much water to make them practical.


Preparing a grab bag (for food, clothing, medicines, or whatever) is probably the most effective way of equipping yourself for an emergency. Because space is a very limited and valuable commodity on a boat, the decision of what to pack is essential and will require some serious consideration (see image below).

Above: Flotation grab bag for abandon ship supplies.

You also must decide what items will be stored and considered untouchable and what will be available for use on a daily basis. Food stores set aside for emergency situations, such as the grab bag, must not be tampered with or taken from for any reason.

A well-stocked medicine kit poses different problems. A kit designed for daily needs would be larger and more complete than a kit compiled exclusively for the life raft. For economic reasons, it would be difficult to provide a duplicate of every thing necessary for both the boat and the life raft. Weigh your decisions carefully, however, and attempt to reach a balance that will leave you as well prepared as possible.

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