Sailing for Survival

One survival option I have considered over the last year is a sailboat. Within the survival community there are two major camps, the bug-out doctrine and the castle doctrine. Needless to say, each has many variations and are highly tailorable to personal needs and available options.

I think for many families the castle doctrine is preferable, for solo young men probably the bug out. Being a young college student with minimal financial resources, I was mostly prone to bug out prepping, with the focus largely on skills (as I had a lack of gear or resources to acquire gear).


Now as a young professional, I face the prospect of raising a family in a growing police state, one where what my children eat, are taught, and medicated would be controlled by the state.

For us young preppers who see the writing on the wall and are desperate to to secure a viable future for our family, there is a perception that any survival prep would be woefully inadequate to sustain a family.

Of course, the perception of an insurmountable barrier to providing for your family is merely that, a perception. In reality, we can all take small steps to become providers for our families.

As I gain a financial foothold to begin my own homestead and family, I would like to share an option that began as an exotic fascination that may perhaps grow into a viable survival option, the sailboat.

A more detailed analysis could go in depth into the various nuances of sailboats and how they can be tailored to nearly any survival need, but I think as an introductory analysis it should be approached as simply as possible to encourage feedback and discussion. Let’s analyze how a sailboat can provide the basic essentials for survival: shelter, water, power, and food.

The first requirement would be a shelter. Living aboard a sailboat is not something that is difficult or even out of the ordinary. There are many liveaboards in the US already.

Some live year round in their boat, only occasionally sailing to vacation destinations. Others live on board with the intention of sailing every available weekend. As a survival option the sailboat can be much cheaper than purchasing a house or land, offers superb mobility, and is as self contained as any homestead.

A sailboat for living aboard, roughly 30 to 40 feet can be very reasonably acquired in a sailing condition for around $30,000 to $70,000. Sailboats, well all boats, sometimes get a bad rap for being a money pit that requires more money to operate than should be required.

I believe this is a common misconception from individuals who buy boats just like that fourth or fifth car, to use ‘every now and then.’ Then complain when the motor (or sails) has problems after not being maintained or run for six months.

A sailboat is just like any other vehicle or piece of property, it should be maintained and used to have utility. Using a sailboat as a home would help ensure that needed repairs and maintenance are kept up. Liveaboards who come from homes on shore to live on the sea, report that sailboat maintenance is not beyond the scope of home repair on land.

There are certain things that should be done yearly (cleaning the hull and boat bottom) and some every few months (motor and sail check), not unlike a home. The ability to be truly mobile is probably the biggest advantage a sailboat has to a homestead.

The second requirement is water. Water procurement and purification is probably the premier survival issue in 99% of situations. On a sailboat: water, water everywhere….

Water procurement would the easy part, one would just need to take care to only fill tanks with (purified) seawater from offshore, and not near major ports or sea lanes. The purification and storage are the possible problems.

To convert seawater into drinkable water, a sailboat must be equipped with a reverse osmosis system (referred to as watermakers). Watermakers do not run cheap and should not be considered lightly, as any water filtration system. The ability to turn seawater into clean drinking water provides an almost unlimited supply of the basic necessity of life.

A basic watermaker system for a sailboat will likely run anywhere from $7,000 to $10,000. I consider this as a necessary upgrade to any sailboat and should be included in the final cost analysis of a survival sailboat. Of course in addition to the ability to purify the water, the ability to hold it is important.

All liveaboard sailboats have clean water holding tanks that range in size from 25 to 75 gallons. For drinking and cooking this is plenty of water storage for almost a week. To keep the watermaker working, a power source is needed.

Generating power on a sailboat is no different than any other off grid power system. The bonus that sailboats have out of the box against a homestead is that they have a fossil fuel generator included in the function of the motor.

With a battery bank, this is enough to power most needs during a short trip. Similar to onshore off grid systems you can (and probably should) supplement the generator with solar and wind power generation.

Wind and solar generators are a familiar sight on sailboats and liveaboards, the prices for such systems can vary widely, but take the same approach one would take with an onshore off grid system. One must gauge their own power usage and tailor a system to meet those needs.

One concern is those with high power needs would not have the space for the requisite battery bank to provide. Those with low power concerns could find a sailboat very attractive. Expect similar costs and concerns with power generation for a sailboat in comparison to a homestead.

The final requirement for a sailboat is food. Food is a mixed bag for survival minded liveaboards and sailing cruisers. The limited storage space creates a problem for individuals who are keen to store much of their food.

This can be countered though by the relative availability of fish from the sea and fresh produce (often cheaper than in the US) from many cruising destinations. As a fisher and lover of fresh produce, I am more inclined to take the latter option over canned (you hear about BPA in cans now!?) stored food.

Now, given the smaller space on the ship you would need to acquire and use fishing, cleaning, and cooking skills. This is another important skill useful in many survival situations, remember practice makes perfect.

The predominant cooling method in sailboats is the tried and tested ice box method of our grandfathers, still requiring physical ice to cool the box. I believe this would be a better option in a grid down scenario, where power becomes a premium.

Coming from the bug out survival doctrine, this is not a huge change from the skills based food acquisition requirements for bugging out. The food requirement would require the least amount of initial investment but perhaps the most amount of skills investment.

After considering the four basic essentials for survival and the ability of a sailboat to provide adequately, I believe the sailboat should be considered a viable and worthy survival option to many along the costs of the nation. Pirate preppers, seafaring survivalists, please comment and discuss! Is the sailboat a viable survival option?


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11 thoughts on “Sailing for Survival”

  1. Interesting article, Rocky—I enjoyed reading it and would imagine that it will generate a good bit of conversation. On that note, a couple of comments on the subject:

    Initially, one would do well to get on board and do a bit of sailing with a friend to find out a bit more of the reality of life on the water (more than a sunny day-sail with a few beers—not that there is anything wrong with that). In doing this, ask to participate as much as possible—learn by doing—from working the boat while underway to maintenance in port. If you decide that this is the way to go, look into ASA certified (RYA in the UK) courses. While a lot of people balk at the prices and there are a great number of solid sailors out there who learned on their own, trying to insure a boat without logged experience and credentials will prove extremely difficult and even more costly in the long run.

    To get better idea of what’s available, check out; scroll over “Boats” in the top navigation bar and select “Advanced Search”. From there you can tailor your search to match any number of personal parameters. Of the number of books that are available, Herreshoff’s The Sailing Handbook provides a solid starting point. Barring that, pick up any of the books and magazines dedicated to sailing to start to get a better feel for the skill and work involved.

    Replace gutters or running rigging? Changing the fluids and filter in your car or boat? While there are big trade-offs and amenities that one will have to do without, Rocky aptly points out that this can be a viable option for the prepper interested in committing to life on the water.

  2. Before moving to a remote location, as a west coaster my sailboat was our bug out vehicle. Our biggest concern was getting to the boat in a SHTF situation. Quiet and self contained a well stocked sailboat would permit us to leave the congested city in any weather or at anytime. Weekend trips were in fact practice runs of what we needed to survive unassisted for days at a stretch. If a bug out location is unaffordable or impossible for you to acquire a sailboat could be your big ticket to get out of Dodge. Nice post.

  3. How do you go about keeping your firearms while sailing? I’m sure someone would be in deep crap if they set sail with any kind of firearm if they sailed into foregeign ports or even those of some US citys. I looked at this option after reading Survivors by Rawles but I’m not to sure on laws governing ownership in international waters, or others countrys who might be friendly to armed American’s coming to port.

  4. As a means to get to a destination a sail boat of sufficient size and capability affords one the ability to move at a relatively low cost. As a survival retreat it fails on all counts.. A fiberglass/wood sailboat is completely indefensible.. Lacking the speed for escape the ability to maneuver, the capacity to resist kinetic effects and the capability of mounting a legitimate defense. It is only transport.. High risk transport at best.

    As a Bug Out Vessel .. maybe… anything more … not a chance..


  5. This is an interesting concept. One I have explored in the past before I realized I was a prepper. My fantasy was to buy a sailboat and sail off into the sunset once the first opportunity presented itself. This was more of a retirement option than a survival option at the time.

    I’d recommend reading “Cruising in Seraffyn” if you haven’t already. This book was written in 1968 or so and describes a couple’s journey of building a simple sailboat and living onboard as their self sufficient lifestyle. They are still living on sailboats to this day.

    Their journey shows that at times food from the sea will be plenty, at time it is very unreliable. I’ve also read several sailing magazines and am familiar with the threat open water piracy is to sailors. There are certain areas of the world where yachts simply shouldn’t go. The power boat today’s pirates use can easily overtake a sailboat and they will probably have you our gunned as well. Add this to the fact that at a top cruising speed of 7 knots for a typical 30 foot cruiser and you’re basically a sitting duck as well.

    Acquiring fresh fruit and veggies can also be a problem if you don’t have some way to make something to barter. If fishing is good I guess you could barter for veggies, but what if it’s not?

    Then there’s the problem of clearing customs. Many countries are extremely apprehensive about some sailor coming into their county with guns. Many times they will confiscate those weapons only to be returned upon departure…..if the customs officials are honest.

    Live-aboards aren’t as self sufficient as I once thought. They are incredibly dependent on shore side society for resources. This is why I opted for the remote retreat doctrine of survival. In reality it has everything a sailboat does except the travel, but it has the ability to provide a sustainable food source in a position that is easier to hide than the open sea and easier to defend if discovered.

  6. I made the earlier comments not to say the idea of sailing is bad. It is a solution for some, but just like any other survival plan, it deserves to have the good and bad considered so you can be fully prepared.

  7. A boat is one of my bug out options, but only as a mode of transportation. The main problems I see with long term survival on a boat is defensibility, fragility, and dependence.

    First of all, while fighting it out is not a particularly desirable option if it came to that a sailboat is a sitting duck: slow, not very manueverable, with a skin lighter than most houses I would hate to get caught on one by the Government or pirates. It’s only defensive aspect is stealth in terms of silent opertain and small radar signature.

    Fragility calls to mind that sea faring occupations remain to this day one of the most dangerous professions in the world. In the face of the types of weather we see every year, never mind the occasional SHTF weather events, a boat is very fragile.

    This of course leads to consideration three refitting. A boat if heavily dependent on refitting, on pulling into a friendly port to replace broken masts and torn sails and lines. Much of this stuff can’t be done by a boat owner without land based supply and so you really are dependent (I.e. Not sustainable) if you are thinking long term. You may be able to catch your own fish but are you going to make your own rope, and sails? Even the fresh produce you plan to pop in to ports for will cost something…

    People transit major oceans and even the globe regularly (even teenaged kids) and so inthe short term a boat is a great SHTF mode of transportaion, but I think ithat live aboard is not a viable option long term in a WROL situation unless you move to a stable country where you can live aboard but work in a local economy.

  8. Great post. I’ve spent the last year prepping a boat for this scenario. One thing I would say is that thousands of family’s spend 5 to 10 years cruising around thewod on these types of boats. You need ample, solar, wind gen,water maker and back up manual watermaker, solar oven, drogue, books, fishing gear, electronics for nav, Single Side band radio for global emergancy communications and physical navigational charts. I also put on battery powered refrigeration and ice box. This is a discrete and viable BOV for a SHTF scenario. Not cheap though as costs are in the $150k plus range to do this right with a boat that can handle the ocean and be big enough for 6 to 10 people. Watch this year as the best bluewater sailboat bargains get snapped up this year by marine preppers.

  9. Personla Soverignty awaits only 200 miles offshore.
    Living off the bounty of the sea is easy if you know what to do and where to go when. Selling surplus fish.
    Sailing nowadays is quite safe but you should be well versed in doing without the electronics just in case.
    There is already a vibrant, thriving, loving community of Cruisers all over the world who will help you with everything gladly, usually.
    There are 7000islands in the Phillipeans alone. Many Many (countless?) far flung blessedly isolated and boring places to drop anchor. Many many places nobody cares about at all that will support a garden and fishing/hunting life. So very many…
    Pirates ? OF Course ! But a boat is very easily defended if you know what to do… They will go somewhere else that’s easier than you. You let them know this upfront – but for he most part if one is prudent about local conditions, the going is about as laid back as you want it to be. Plenty of adventure but easy to disappear as well.
    Ithink it much more appealing than hiding in a hole somewhere cold.
    A small armada of 30 something footers that can be had for anywhere from 2k to 10k are perfectly seaworthy after some fix up. Traveling in a group of 5 or so would afford magnitudes greater security than solo.
    2-4 persons per boat. Very cheap to buy in.
    It’s not for everyone. Great amount of exposure to the elements out there. Glaring glaring sun. Saturated in sun.
    Many rivers to navigate as well.
    It’s the ultimate survivalist tool, because it gives you mobility, a food source and the real possibility of stability within a couple of weeks. One can travel several thousand miles in that time.

  10. This is something I have been pondering for some time. I have spent the last year, 100% of my time every day reading and studying up on how to prepare for a SHTF situation. We just spent 8 days on the S.C. Coast at a Yacht Club and I would wake up every day and look down on those crafts and think about this as an option. Then I come home and find your article. I wouldn’t say its fate but I would say its something to really think about.

    One of my favorite movies is Water World. Living on a boat full time has to be one of the hardest things a person could ever do. Its not like you can just walk away from it when you’re out at sea and things are going wrong. Then there is the risk of not being able to catch anything when fishing, running out of water or your filter going out and depending on rain. Of course the storms at sea scare the living crap out of me. We have three children and no real boating experience other than owning a runabout and a houseboat on a nice quiet lake. Currently we have 3 months supply of food, and unlimited water supply, as well as the ability to hunt. I am on over 200 acres of wooded forest. The thought of giving this up for a water craft is a hard choice. I have shelter, water from fresh springs and a well dug, I am hidden from all but Satellites. There are all kinds of animals if I needed to hunt and the ability to store as much weaponry as I want, both silent and noise makers. BUT, I am in a place where if something did happen, I would have to defend my way of life. Sooner or later someone would come walking into my woods and would find me and my family and that scares me too! If the Gov’t came door to door then what?

    So, we are looking at other options. Nothing is off the table. I have looked at burying shipping containers, buying and building an underground home. But who wants to live underground? Sure, an empty missile silo sounds cool but I want fresh air, sky, and to be able to see someone coming from a distance. I have always enjoyed boating. I have owned a boat house and a runabout but never a yacht, but that is exactly where I have found myself looking these past several days. I have been on yachtworld dot com looking at 30 – 50 ft boats, mostly Catamarans.

    When I have looked and researched boats is seems that a Catamaran has something to offer in the way of size and handling ability that others just can’t match. Also for a family of five, it gives us plenty of space for storage and privacy when we want it. Again, I am not a true boater. I have been a weekend boat lover for many years and even then sparingly. I couldn’t tell you much about a sailing vessel. So I come at this from the idea of truly being a survivalist looking for options.

    Here is what I see from the outside looking into the shipping/boating world. First is weather, just look on YouTube and you will see all sorts of post of bad weather, storms that over take boats, tear down sails, and capsize ships. On the other hand, nice weather too can be a pain and leads me to number two. If its sunny and beautiful out but no wind then you have to resort to your engine. Fuel is number two on my list. IS there a way to motor without fuel? Maybe by using some sort of solar powered motor you could get to your destination or find the wind.

    My next issue is with food. Sure, fishing is an option and I think a great one. However, fish have travel patterns like Tuna going from East to West and back in the Atlantic. You have to be on top of them to catch them. I currently have three months of food storage, is there enough room on board for even that much? If the US Currency falls to nothingness then what will we use for trading, buying, Gold? Silver? Since only so much can be stored on a boat one idea might be to have a stash stored like pirates used to do. We would have to think outside the box and perhaps travel well planed routes. It would be best to travel these routes well in advance to get to know the locals before things get bad here in the US. But something to trade or barter is a must. Maybe even do something for locals that they need in order to obtain food in return.

    The final major thought here has been mentioned and that is fleeing being caught by a pirates, or a dictatorial government. The U.N. has strict rules around the world on gun control and has actually begun to push those laws on the U.S. If caught with weapons, even at sea, they can arrest you and even put you in prison for gun trafficking even though that is not what you are doing. So what do you do then? There are options. Flare Guns, Cross Bows, and even black powder guns which are legal in most countries since they are not thought of as lethal weapons now. Black powder guns were used on the high seas for many centuries and is still something to consider when thinking of personal defense. Today’s black powder replicas are built better, stronger, and shoot straighter. You should consider a powder gun. Its better than throwing rocks or fish heads…

  11. Rather than spend thousands of dollars on a device to turn salt water into fresh water, which relies on filters that will need replacing, you could sail into the mouths of rivers where fresh water is entering the sea and fill up your water tank there when needed.


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