Becoming stranded on the water is every mariner’s worst nightmare – but with a little extra knowledge, you can survive at sea for extended periods of time. So before you shove off on a long-distance cruise or head out to the canyons for a fishing trip, commit these at-sea survival tips to memory.

Will you know how to survive at sea?

Will you know how to survive at sea?

1. How to “make” freshwater, while afloat in the ocean. Fresh water is the most important item in the world when you’re stranded at sea, and luckily, with a piece of plastic, vinyl, or canvas, you can make your own. First, roll the material into a cone shape, making it as large and wide as possible. Then, insert the end of the cone into some sort of container; an empty bottle, jar, can, or cup will do the trick. Let your cone-shaped contraption sit out overnight, and at dawn, the inside of the cone will be covered in dew. Shake or tap the cone so the dew droplets run down the sides and into the container, and you have a life-giving freshwater drink ready to keep you sustained. Bonus freshwater tip: when short on freshwater, if you can catch a fish eat the eyes first—they’re over 90-percent water!

2. Live off of seaweed. Hey, this might not be the most appetizing meal in the world, but it’ll fill the empty void in your stomach when nothing else is available. Leafy green seaweeds are edible, and even sargassum can be eaten. Seaweed is, however, very hard to digest and will do more harm than good if eaten without sufficient drinking water and/or if it’s not thoroughly chewed. If you have a way to boil it first, this also helps greatly with digestion.

3. Survive a shark attack. Triangular fins circling your drifting boat or life raft? Few things can strike as much fear into the hearts of stranded seamen. If you’re being attacked act aggressive; playing dead doesn’t work, but if you can make the shark think you’re a threat it may decide to hunt elsewhere. Use poles, boathooks, and any other potential weapons to strike the shark in its eyes and gills. If you have no defense other than your bare hands, attempt to claw and scratch its eyes. What about the underside of the snout? While it’s true that this spot is sensitive, striking at it often results in a glancing blow which ends with your hand or arm in or next to the shark’s mouth—not an ideal location for a body part. And if a shark does chomp down on your arm or leg, attempt to latch onto the fish. Once it bites it’ll usually thrash around violently, and if you can hold on instead of being whipped around, there’s less chance a limb will be ripped off.

Remembering these three tips for survival at sea will make you better prepared to get through your ordeal. Now let’s hope you never need to use them.

- Lenny Rudow

Written by: Lenny Rudow
With over two decades of experience in marine journalism, Lenny Rudow has contributed to publications including YachtWorld,, Boating Magazine, Marlin Magazine, Boating World, Saltwater Sportsman, Texas Fish & Game, and many others. Lenny is a graduate of the Westlawn School of Yacht Design, and he has won numerous BWI and OWAA writing awards.