I disagree with [SurvivalBlog Editor at Large] Mike Williamson’s opinion on boats as a bugging out survival alternative. With proper planning, thought and equipment selection; as well as the appropriate “ships stores”, and with all the knowledge necessary to any other solution to the problem, the right boat will allow you to avoid many of the perceived problems associated with a complete breakdown of society. It’s no easier or harder than any other subject, just different and less common. Just look at the volumes of material on your site, the problem is never solved and there is never a perfect solution; just new knowledge and different views. That having been said, I will agree with him in one area; the historical definition of a boat is: “A large hole in the water that you will continually try to fill with money”; particularly true if it’s a “state of the art” recreational boat. The same may be said of a “cabin in the woods”.
Let’s look first at the benefits of a boat; not a ski-boat, pontoon boat, river boat, houseboat or little boat of any kind. Not a plastic “yacht” or it’s dingy; not a sail boat smaller than 60′ and not a small fishing boat or motor-sailor, but a “retired” commercial fishing trawler from 45 to 60 feet in length. You can buy one of these for conversion to private use for as little as $30,000 or as much as you can afford to spend. Most of these boats were constructed in the 1950s, 1960s or 1970s. These are real survival boats; not glitzy plastic floating condos, but rugged ocean going work boats. They are like a basic semi-truck versus a custom mini-van. Some are wood, some are steel and some are fiberglass; although the wood and steel versions are more common, and for this purpose wood is the most desirable. Why? Among many other reasons, wood floats and the other materials sink. You can hammer a nail or put a screw into wood with a screw driver and they will hold. It’s not the case with either steel or fiberglass. Wooden boats are much easier to heat, and ride better in rough water. If you are not worried about cosmetics, you don’t have to varnish them, paint them, or buff them (but you probably will). If a bullet or something else pierces the hull below the waterline, you can pound a tapered wood plug into the hole with a hammer to stop or slow the leak. All large boats leak, get used to it. That stray or directed bullet could damage something inside the boat, but it could do the same thing to your four wheeled BOV.
If you can keep fresh water (rain) out of the bilge, wooden boats won’t rot below the water line. Salt water actually preserves the wooden hull. Any boat run aground, or into something below the surface can be damaged. Wooden boats are easier to fix, should that happen, than either fiberglass or steel. A little research into this will show you the pros and cons of each material, but my preference is wood, for this purpose. Most of these wooden fishing trawlers have hulls that are two structural layers of wood that are each 1″ or more thick.
Most fishing trawlers of these lengths range in width (beam) from 13′ to 18′, have a pilot house above decks containing a small galley (usually with a diesel fired stove), head and sleeping quarters, a small engine room, very large fuel tanks (usually 2,000 or 3,000 gallons or more) and huge unused open spaces (fish holds) beneath decks. They generally don’t have mouse driven computerized auto-pilots and electronic charting systems, although you can add them. The fish holds can be remodeled into sleeping quarters, heads, refrigerated storage, etc., etc., etc.
They ride deep in the water, and have a draft (the depth of the hull beneath the water) of 6′ to 8′ . Most have only one diesel engine, and one or more diesel generators. They travel slowly (about 7 to 9 knots) about 10 or 11 miles per hour. Some burn as little as 2 or 3 gallons of fuel per hour, giving them tremendous range. They are all powered by very reliable commercial diesel engines, and many often exceed 30,000 hours of operation between engine overhauls. They have tremendous load carrying capacity, with much more voluminous hulls than pleasure boats. They are built for function, not glitz or speed. Because of their deep draft, they are much safer than pleasure boats in rough water. In case you’re wondering, there is no boat of this type that will outrun any pirate. The idea here is out of sight, out of mind. The ocean is a big place, without too many residents; shouldn’t be too difficult to find a little privacy, and the vast majority of other boats will be looking for the same thing, not trying to take over yours. Boaters are used to assisting other boaters. When selecting a survival group, boaters may be a better choice than many others.
Volumes can be written on equipment and stores for a boat, but with the exception of a water maker and some other items that are unique to boats, it’s not much different than equipping a retreat in the Rawles style. Employ the same thought processes to a boat. You can do it with the latest technology, or remember that it all worked before the latest and greatest “high tech invention”, and still will. Grow boxes can be put on deck, dehydrated and canned foods-extra fuels below decks. Weapons are weapons, very little different here, although a negligent discharge here could “sink” your dreams. A power boat will eventually need fuel, just like any other vehicle that moves under its own power, although 3,000 gallons of fuel will last a long time, and won’t go bad. If a sail is rigged onto a trawler, it can be called a motor-sailboat, and would be the best partial solution to this problem, but provide one more opportunity for mechanical failure and maintenance. (Another topic for another time.) Keep it simple, solve the problem. You’re trying to survive, not dress up for the upcoming Obama ball; but wait –maybe we actually are.
If you don’t like your neighbors, or the horde cometh, pull up anchor or untie from your moorings and leave. Once off shore, neither is as great a threat; but as with bugging out in any form, you must have a plan and know where you’re bugging out to; you can’t stay in the Bug Out Vehicle forever – no matter what it is. Some longer than others, a boat maybe the longest. Charts instead of maps, the terminology of equipment is different but solutions similar. When the initial upheaval passes, return with a plan, or stay in that little cove off the northwest inside passage a little longer. When you return you and yours will still be alive to worry about it and deal with it; whereas otherwise you may not. If your main interest is avoiding maintenance and investment in your survival, stay home in the basement and buy a couple of granola bars.
Remember, this type of “retreat” can be moved to avoid the crowd, whereas your little piece of heaven in northern Idaho, cannot. The down side is, this one can also be stolen or sunk. But that little cabin in the woods can be burned down, well poisoned, overrun and made uninhabitable. – Tom H.
Just a quick note: Many of your readers may believe a boat is a good Bug Out Vehicle – and they may well be correct. The 1,000 Days web site chronicles the ‘adventure’ of living at sea for over 1,000 days.
This may be of interest to everyone planning long term food storage and related subjects. – D.E.K.
JWR Replies: My view of boats lies somewhere between yours and with Mike Williamson’s. Properly, boats should be seen as means of transportation, rather than as retreats. They are vehicles, not destinations. Unless you have a truly viable intended destination (or preferably several), then except for millionaires, a “well-stocked” boat is just a great way to eventually starve. This is analogous to the many letters that I get from readers who say that they plan to equip RVs as their “alternative to buying a retreat”. There simply isn’t enough room for a three+ year food supply on most boats, and there certainly isn’t enough deck space an to raise crops. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that you can be self-sufficient on a boat. Your intended landfall(s)–preferably at an inland brackish water port–will be crucial. Without a good destination, with friends waiting there, the law of averages is sure to catch up with you.