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Surviving In The Ocean / Open Water

Whether you are stranded in the ocean due to a plane crash, a sinking boat, or getting swept out to sea by an undertow, the isolation of being in stranded in the ocean can be a frightening experience. By following the survival tips in this section, you'll learn some strategies to keep yourself alive until rescue arrives.

Disclaimer: The survival tips on this website are for informational purposes only. The authors take no responsibility for the reader's individual actions or usage of the information presented on this page.

1. STOP and Think

Use the Boy Scouts mnemonic device of "STOP", which stands for "Stop, Think, Observe, and Plan".
You've just discovered that you are stranded in the ocean. You're unsure about whether or not rescue will be arriving. Here is the list of survival actions:

1. Stay afloat.
2. Find shelter during the day.
3. Wait to see if rescure arrives.
4. Travel at night in one direction until you reach civilization.
5. Find a source of food.

2. Floating

Your first priority when isolated in the open sea is to stay afloat. This means that you need to find any floating items that will support you within swimming distance. Your preference would be a life boat or raft, but any item will be better than exerting the energy required to paddle and keep yourself afloat.

If there are no floating items to hold onto and you are stranded in the ocean completely on your own, then use the following techniques to keep yourself from exerting energy from having to paddle.

Calm Water Back Floating:
Step 1: If the water is calm, then lie on your back.
Step 2: Allow your body to float, but keep your head above the water line.
Step 3: Continue to lie like this until you are rescued or come within swimming distance of land.

Rough Water Front Floating:
Step 1: If the water is rough, then lie face down in the water allowing your body to float.
Step 2: Continue to float this way until you need air.
Step 3: Lift your head from the water only to take a breath, then bring it back down again, exhaling underwater.

The rest of the steps in this guide assume that you are on a raft or other similar floatable structure that allows you to stay out of the water and move about with relative ease.

3. Finding Water

The body can not survive for longer than 3 or 4 days without water, so your first priority should be to find water to stay hydrated.
Sources of Drinking Water:

Recycled Water (Urine):
There have been stories of survivors using urine as a last resort to replenishing the body. The truth is that many survival instructors (as well as the US Army Field Manual) advise against drinking urine as a means of hydrating the body. The salts in urine will worsen dehydration and make you even more thirsty.

Rain Water:
If it rains, try to set out as much material as possible to collect it and funnel it into containers.
Before bottling rain water that has fallen into the raft, make sure it hasn't mixed with ocean salt water that may have also splashed into the raft.

Fish Liquids:
Fish not only provide a source of food, but they also contain liquid in their flesh, eyes, and spine. To extract the liquids, cut open the fish, break the vertebra, and suck.

Drinking Salt Water:
Ocean salt water should be off limits as it might cause kidney failure.
While this guide recommends against drinking saltwater, there are others who may disagree based on an experiment by Dr. Alain Bombard in 1952.

In 1952, Dr. Bombard deliberately drifted across the Atlantic for 65 days without provisions of any kind to prove that it was possible to survive on plankton, saltwater, and raw fish. Since he was alone, it is not known how much saltwater he consumed in proportion to rain water or liquid squeezed from fish.

What his experiment did show was that it is possible to survive many days in the open water without anything, but your raft and your survival skills.

4. Finding Food

Since digestion requires water, it's probably better that you not eat unless you have an adequate supply of drinking water. The food sources available in the ocean are fish, plankton, and as a last resort, cannibalism.

In order to catch fish, you need access to some type of fishing equipment. You can fashion lines from any rope or string (eg. shoe laces). If you have a knife, an aluminimum can may be used to create shiny hooks that attract fish.

Seaweed Foraging:
Pull in any seaweed that you come across and look through it to find edible fish, crabs, or shrimp.

Some would rather die than resort to this, but if a fellow survivalist dies from starvation or dehydration, then their flesh can be used as a source of nourishment.
Remember, this is survival and while the idea of cannibalism isn't the most appetizing, it is a way to allow one person to survive to get home to their family in one piece.
You might want to make a pact with the group that if anyone dies, it's ok to use their deceased body as a source of nourishment to survive.

5. Traveling/Resting:

In the open ocean, there's not a lot of options regarding controlling where you go.
Your best chance of survival relies on the current taking you to land or getting rescued.

While you practice the other techniques in this section, simply allow the current to take you where it must. Don't waste your energy trying to fight it.
Only when you see land and it is within paddling distance, should you take the time to paddle ashore.

If you see a ship in the distance, your more likely to get rescued by signaling it, rather than paddling toward the ship.

6. Beware Predators

The most common predatory threat in the open water are sharks, so you will need to avoid attracting them at all costs. Do not allow any cuts to get in the water, so as not to attract the sharks.

7. Getting Rescued

Your best chance of getting rescued is to stay near the location of where the rescue party will most likely be searching for you.
If you are stranded in the ocean due to a downed air plane, then try to stay near the crash site.

The ideal signal to use for rescue planes would be a flare gun. If you don't have a flare gun, then use mirrors or any other reflective surface to signal any planes that are within sight.

If there is more than one raft, then join rafts together to help increase your visibility from the sky.

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