Castaway, Six Days Seven Nights, Lord of the Flies, The Blue Lagoon, … Hollywood has a thing for films set on a strange, deserted island. It does make sense, though. Watching the survivors get through the many physical, emotional, and mental challenges of being trapped on an island has its allure. That’s probably why Survivor, the hit reality TV series, is still quite popular after more than 20 years. It’s a different matter in real life, however. If it was you, what would you do to survive on a deserted island?
If you’ve read Robinson Crusoe or Gulliver’s Travels, you should know that they’re based on the story of Alexander Selkirk. The Scottish sailor survived four years on the island of Juan Fernández after his captain got tired of his bickering and left him there.
Tom Hank’s Castaway is also based on real events. Lucy Irvine accepted the challenge of living as a castaway on a deserted island switch British adventurer Gerald Kingsland. The two spent a year (from 1982 to 1983) on the uninhabited Tuin Island managing to live that long with their survival skills. However, the lack of a clean source of water almost did them in if not for some Badu Islanders that rescued them in the nick of time.
How about you? Do you think you can last that long if you were stranded on an uninhabited island? You may think this will never happen to you but it won’t hurt if you know what to do, right? Here are some vital skills and gear you’ll need to survive on a deserted island.
Swim for your life
You’re on a boat or ship that has capsized or is sinking. You’re riding a plane that, unfortunately, has to make an emergency landing on water. Someone kidnapped you and threw you out to the sea. Such dreadful scenarios, right? Do you think you can survive each one until someone rescues you?
Surviving in open water is an entirely different dilemma. It’s actually worse than having to survive on a deserted island. In both situations, you have a better chance of surviving if you know how to swim.
Obviously, you need to swim or at least tread when you’re in open water. It’s great if you manage to hold on to floating debris but you still need this skill to improve your chances of survival. If you see an island, for example, your best option is to swim to shore.
The chances of survival are higher when you’re on dry land than in the water. That said, learning how to swim is a vital skill not only for enjoying the beach but to keep yourself from drowning. This skill will also be useful when you have to rescue someone else from drowning.
Control your emotions
It’s normal to be in a state of shock after accidents or emergencies such as the scenarios above. However, it’s important that you get a hold of yourself as quickly as possible. Once you’ve calmed down, you can think more clearly and assess the situation. You should also try to comfort fellow castaways. Once the panic and hysteria have died down, you can all work together to do what’s necessary to survive your predicament.
Look for other survivors
Look around and check if there are other people nearby. If you were on a plane or boat, look for other survivors. Check the waters. There might be someone who needs help getting to shore. If someone is hurt, help them out immediately. It’d be great if you have some first aid training.
Once everyone has calmed down, start delegating tasks. It’s important to act fast, especially before nightfall. The sooner you do what’s necessary, the better your chances of surviving the night.
It’s a good idea to know everyone’s expertise or special skills. If there’s a survivalist in your group, you’re in luck. A doctor or anyone with a medical background will also be a huge plus. Find out if anyone knows how to start a fire, build shelters, forage, hunt, and do other survival tasks.
Skillsets should not dictate the hierarchy of the group, however. Even those with no specific skills are critical to the group’s survival. It’s a good idea to identify roles at the onset but, of course, everyone can help each other out.
Of course, you have to do everything yourself if you’re all alone. That’s why you should learn all survival skills possible so you can fend for yourself.
Scavenge for useful items
Let’s say your ship sank or your plane crashed on the water and you’re trying to reach the nearby island. Aside from grabbing on floating debris to make it easier to paddle to shore, try getting some potentially useful items.
Some debris may have been washed ashore. Gather what you can and see if there are useful items among them such as bottled water, plastic sheets, and suitcases that may contain some treasures. If you can go back to the water, try gathering the things floating nearby and take them back to shore.
Find drinking water
One of the first things you should do to survive on a deserted island is to find a source of drinking water. Yes, you’re on an island surrounded by water. However, saltwater is not fit for human consumption. In other words, you’ll be better off not drinking the ocean or seawater.
You’re in luck if a case of bottled water is washed ashore though that will only last you for some time even if you ration your supply. Even better if you still have your trusty personal water filter. What you have to do now is collect from a non-salt water source.
Look for freshwater sources
While investigating inland, look for a creek, pond, river, or other bodies of water. You’ll need containers to take water back to your camp. Strain and boil the water first to get rid of dirt particles, viruses, bacteria, protozoa, and other pathogens.
Scavenge through all the debris and look for things you can use as water containers. Spread and tie the corners of a tarp, poncho, or thermal blanket to trees leaving about a few feet of space from the ground. Place a small rock or any slight heavy item in the middle of the tarp to create a depression. The wide surface will help collect more water faster while the depression will pool the water making it easier to scoop it out.
Rainwater should be clean enough for drinking as long as the container is clean. But if you let the rainwater stand for some time, you will have to sterilize it just to be sure.
Collect morning dew
Each morning, tie clothes or rags around your ankles or shin (depending on how tall the grasses are) then walk through the grass or foliage to let the fabric absorb the dew. Do this before it gets too hot as the sun will dry up the dew. Once you’re done, rung or squeeze out the absorbed water into a container. Boil to sterilize before drinking the water.
Coconut trees are easy to spot since they grow really tall. The problem now is how to climb a coconut tree. Once you figure that out, you’ll have an ample supply of coconut water and meat.
Melt snow and ice
If you find some snow and ice, you can melt and sterilize them. Avoid consuming them while frozen. If you do so, you risk lowering your body temperature and causing dehydration.
Find or build a shelter
You can survive for up to 3 weeks without food and 3 days without water but you can only last for 3 hours without a proper shelter during extreme weather conditions. Remember, it could get really cold at night so being out in the open is not a good idea. You can also suffer from hypothermia if it rains. You’ll be in great danger if you can’t find any shelter before night falls.
As you go around the island looking for food and water, keep your eyes open for some kind of shelter. If you can find a 5-star hotel, your luck might just have changed. Look for abandoned structures (in case people inhabited the island before) and natural shelters like a cave, rock overhangs, or rock formations.
Another option is to build your emergency shelter. Check the wreckage of your plane or boat if you can use something for your shelter. Make sure it won’t fall apart while you’re under it. Keep your shelter together using a paracord. If you don’t have one, fashion a rope out of vines.
Gather materials you can use to build an emergency shelter. Hopefully, the island you’re on is not a barren one. Use straight branches and vines to build the frame for your shelter. Place smaller branches, leaves, and foliage to create the roof and walls. Then make bedding out of more leaves foliage. This will keep you from directly lying on the ground, which can get really cold or wet.
Start a fire
One of the most crucial survival skills is the ability to start a fire. It provides you with light and keeps you warm. The flame can be seen miles away at night while the smoke is highly visible during the day. You need to always have a fire burning in case a plane or boat passes near the island. Fure is also necessary for cooking food and sterilizing water.
Use fire-starting tools
Hopefully, you had some waterproof matches, lighters, and firestarters on you when you were marooned on the island. These survival tools will definitely make your life a whole lot easier. In case you don’t there are still ways you can start a fire.
Use a reflective surface
Perhaps the easiest method aside from using fire starters is to use a mirror, eyeglasses, magnifying lens, bottled water, shiny metal, or anything that will reflect the sun. Simply reflect the heat of the sun toward a piece of paper or tinder nest until it burns. Once you got the flame going, add kindling and then firewood.
The hand drill method is one fire starting skill that has withstood the test of time though it does require a lot of effort and patience. This one involves spinning a two-feet long stick or spindle against another piece of wood with a notch. Other ways of starting a fire without matches include the bow drill and fire plough.
Use tinder, kindling, and firewood
All the methods of starting a fire mentioned here would be easier if you use tinder such as dry grass, dry leaves, and tree bark. A knife or even a pencil sharpener is perfect for making wood shavings, which are highly flammable tinder.
You also need to gather kindling like twigs and small sticks. These will help keep the fire burning until you can add firewood to make it larger.
Look for food
You need to eat it to survive. You should find plenty of food resources on a tropical island. It’s a different matter if it’s completely barren or covered in ice. Nevertheless, there are ways you can find food in such situations.
Catch your food
When Alexander Selkirk was stranded on a deserted island near Chile, he was lucky enough to have spiny lobsters and feral goats at his disposal. He got plenty of milk and meat to survive all four years he was marooned on the island.
In 1915, the Endurance was trapped in ice and sank leaving all 28 crew members stranded. Amazingly, all of them survived thanks in part to the food supply they had on board along with the seals and penguins they hunted.
Fishing, hunting, and making traps are vital survival skills in such a situation. It’s best that you learn as much about them now.
Buy that book on foraging right now. You’ll be grateful for this knowledge or skill if you’re forced to survive on a deserted island. Foraging will also come in handy if you’re lost in the woods or in the case of a zombie apocalypse where restaurants and grocery stores will no longer be relevant.
Seaweed has more vitamins and minerals than you can imagine. You can surely find plenty of them growing on and around the island. Avoid the ones that are washed ashore from the ocean. They’re likely toxic. Gather the seaweed that is safe to eat and dry them under the sun for preservation. Crush some of your dried seaweed and use it as a salt substitute.
One thing that you should remember when foraging for food is to avoid bright colors. You may think that they’re edible after watching Timon and Pumbaa gobble down some colorful bugs. In real life, though, bright colors on plants, bugs, marine life, and amphibians are signs that they’re poisonous.
Signal for help
Your immediate goal if you’re stranded on an island is to have food, water, shelter, and fire. What you really want and hope for is to be rescued immediately. You need to send out signals so rescuers and passersby know where you are and that you need help.
Hopefully, you find a satellite phone among the wreckage and it still works. Try cell phones, too, in case there’s reception. If a call pushes through, be clear and concise. Tell the person on the other line that you are stranded on an island along with important details such as your possible location, names of survivors, and the name of the ship or the airline and flight number. Authorities may be able to narrow down your location and dispatch a rescue squad by working with your wireless provider.
Use fire and smoke
If you can’t contact anyone, there are plenty of other ways you can signal for help. One is to always have fire burning so the flames and smoke can be spotted from far away.
Use a mirror
Another method is to use reflective materials like a mirror, shiny metal, or Mylar blanket to catch the attention of passing planes and ships. Just get to higher terrain and reflect the sun towards the potential rescuers.
Spell it out
Use big branches, palm leaves, rocks, colorful clothes, and similar items to spell out HELP or SOS. The letters should be big enough to be read from high above.
Use a flare
If you manage to find an emergency flare, use it wisely. Don’t play around with it so you won’t accidentally discharge it.
Make tools and weapons
Ancient humans fashioned tools out of rocks, branches, vines, and whatever they could find. There’s no reason why you can’t do the same.
Juana Maria, a Native American known as the “Lone Woman of San Nicholas,” survived 18 years of being the lone occupant of the island near the coast of California. She was left alone after most of her tribe were butchered by hunters while the remaining survivors were evacuated by missionaries. Juana Maria survived on fish caught using hooks she made out of seashells. That’s a good example of using what you have to survive.
In any emergency situation, you should be able to make your own tools and weapons. You’ll need them to build structures, make things, catch food, and protect yourself from wild animals. Your tools will also help you build a raft once you decide to leave the island and find rescue.
Be ready to leave the island
The best thing that could happen if you’re stranded on a deserted island is that rescue comes quick. If that doesn’t happen, you should do everything to stay alive while hoping that there are people who actually want you back home safe (Of course, they do!).
Even if you manage to do well while marooned on an island, you should still prepare in case you have to leave the place. If you read up on stories of some famous castaways, you’ll see that many of them spent more than a year on an island waiting to be rescued. While these people will leave you in awe of their perseverance and will to survive, not every castaway is that fortunate. Surely, there are more people who never made it out of a deserted island to tell their story.
If it comes to it, you should be ready to leave the island. You’ll need a raft. Build one using materials you have saved from the wreckage along with those you find on the island. A raft made of bamboo trees is quite easy to make. The problem is that it may not hold up against a powerful storm. Your best option is to combine different materials to make your raft as sturdy as possible.
Make sure your raft can handle your weight combined with your supplies and gear. Collect as much sterilized water and food for your trip.
You can prolong the life of meat from your catch by using saltwater. You just have to turn seawater into salt and use it for preserving your food. Pack lots of fruits, and other edibles you find on the island.
It’ll take more than sheer luck to survive on a deserted island. Well, you’re pretty unlucky if you do end up in such a situation but the fact that you’re still alive with hopes of being rescued should count for something, right? But you shouldn’t depend on luck alone. Surviving on an uninhabited island will depend more on your knowledge and skills. The more survival know-how you have, the better your chances of getting back home in one piece. So learn different survival skills, attend first aid training, and discover more life-saving tips over at Gentleman Pirate Club.