How to Collect Potable Water When Stranded at Sea


It started out as a great getaway on the water. The fishing was fantastic and the trip was going well — right up until the boat was hit by a freak storm that destroyed your mast and damaged your electronics. Now you’re floating aimlessly in the water hoping to be rescued. You hadn’t planned on being out so long, and your water stores are getting low. You know that drinking salt water is not an option, but now you’re faced with the question: How can you get water to drink?

Ration Your Supplies

The first key to survival, when lost at sea, is to conserve the water you have. This includes the water you have in your body already. Relaxing reduces the amount of sweat your body produces, which will help you to retain water. Sleeping is also a great way to keep yourself from moving unnecessarily.

You can also soak your hair and clothing in the ocean to keep yourself cool. This will help you to avoid unnecessary perspiration, but be careful not to overdo this as you do not want to risk sunburns, saltwater rashes or boils. If you can stay out of the sun, do it. This includes reflections off the water. The last thing you want is heatstroke, which will make a bad situation even worse.

Water Collection

Keep your eyes on the sky. If it looks like it’s going to rain, set up anything you can find to collect it. If you have an emergency raft, open it up so it can catch water. You may want to tie it down so that you do not lose it in the wind. Open any containers you have to fill them up. Used water bottles, cans, tarps, even plastic bags will work. While it’s raining, drink as much as you can. In a truly desperate scenario, you can soak up rainwater with your clothing and wring it out to get a drink. Make sure you rinse it off first to remove any clinging salt crystals. Doing this in saltwater is still better than letting the rain absorb the salt crystals.

Another option is to set up a sail, tarp or inflatable raft to collect dew at night. The sail and/or tarp should be positioned so as to make a bowl, allowing the dew to pool in the middle. A sponge can be used to collect dew from the sides of the raft or the boat itself. Every drop counts.

If you have the correct tools on hand, you can desalinate seawater. This requires boiling the seawater using a poncho or tarp to collect the condensation. A solar still uses sunlight to evaporate and collect freshwater, and inflatable floating versions are available as boat emergency gear.

No matter how you get water, it’s incredibly important that you keep it safe from saltwater contamination. Seal any containers that you can to protect the contents from ocean spray. Make sure you rinse off dried salt from your lips and the containers before drinking.

The Fruit of the Sea

One overlooked source of water in the open ocean is fish. Fish eyes and bones contain freshwater which can help you stay alive. The eyes can be eaten and the bones sucked on to get the precious fluid. It won’t be much, but it’s a lot better than none at all.

To review, here are some ways to get water when lost at sea:

  • Collect rainwater in anything that you can.
  • Collect dew at night.
  • Boil seawater and collect the condensation.
  • Eat fish eyes and suck on fish bones.

Knowing what to do can mean the difference between life and death if you’re stranded for more than a day.

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