A Folding Kayak as a Survival Vehicle, by Jann B.

The vehicle I am about to describe does not often come immediately to mind when one thinks of a survival vehicle to be of use during troubled times but bear with me.  The vehicle I have in mind requires no fuel, and no mechanical upkeep. Additionally it offers significant stealth mode and is totally silent. If one is in or near an urban setting such as the San Francisco Bay area or Manhattan or Seattle then this survival vehicle will grant one the power to disappear from the crazed urban crowd scene almost immediately.  No, I’m not talking about some new science fiction device and I am not talking about something that will cost an arm and a leg.  What I am proposing as the ultimate survival vehicle is the simple ocean kayak.  This is a vehicle that can be rented easily in any urban setting by the water and the learning curve is neither long nor steep.  Preferably one might want to select a double [aka “tandem”] configuration kayak, even if one were traveling solo.

Right off the top, an ocean-going kayak requires no fuel, no mechanic, no complicated maintenance and it will take you anywhere on the water.  When one considers that almost 70% of this planet’s surface is covered with water and that a large percentage of the world’s major cities sit on coasts and in harbors then an aquatic vehicle begins to seem like a wise choice. Sailboats have the problem of needing wind as well as relatively deep water to float their keels.  Plus sailboats need yearly maintenance and have many things which can and do break. Power boats with their thirst for fuel are simply out of the question.

Specifically I am proposing a double ocean folding kayak.  Yes, a folding kayak.  These are very useful in that you can slip them into a couple of bags and store them in your closet or the trunk of your car and yet they can be assembled and transport you and an impressive stash of survival supplies across vast oceans in a relative safe and secure manner. These are quite possibly the oldest small boat design in history.  They have been transporting people all over the world for thousands of years.  The Russians used kayaks back in the early 1800’s to travel from Alaska down to San Francisco Bay in search of sea otters to trade with China.  In recent times they have been single handedly used to go from Europe to the Caribbean and even from California to Hawaii.  And these were by lone individuals, with no support group.

Two good qualities of a folding “skin” boat, other than the obvious, is that they are flexible on the ocean and will move as a “living” organism as opposed to a hard shell plastic kayak which will just as often tip over.  One can actually “relax” in a folding kayak.  They may not be as fast as a hard shell boat but then, who’s in a hurry? They will provide a very stable platform from which you can fish and or/dive and you can actually sleep in one without worrying about it tipping over.  Often in a hard shell boat the majority of your effort is spent simply paddling, trying to keep the boat upright! And river kayaks are much too small [to carry a useful load] and are simply not designed to travel in a straight line.

I personally began my ocean kayaking experience on San Francisco Bay. This was an excellent environment to learn to use an open water kayak.  As a survival tool an ocean kayak is uniquely fitted to our current needs. A double open water kayak can carry 600+ pounds in people and cargo.  One can use a sail on extended voyages as well as a sea anchor in storms to stabilize the craft.  Most double kayaks have a rudder system so that all of your attention can be focused on straight ahead paddling. In a sense one can view a double kayak as a truly luxurious back packing alternative.  You can carry all the things you could never carry on your back.  Plus, with a salt water desalinator and appropriate fishing gear one is much more self sufficient.  Additionally there are many food “alternatives” which offer a lot of nutrition in a compact space.  Food items such as “Food Tabs”, compressed food bars such as Datrex, Mainstay, S.O.S., as well as MRE meals and freeze dried meals.  And speaking of MRE meals: they often come with a flameless heating source which merely uses water to activate the heat source.  You can warm your MRE  (or freeze dried meals) in the cockpit of your kayak with no fear of fire (these flameless heating kits are also available from Mountain House). And although a salt water desalinator is comparatively expensive, just look at it like the price of a medium grade pistol.  Sell one of  the extra guns and buy all the free fresh water you can use! It’s a bargain.

Another inexpensive tech item which I find to be very handy in a kayak is a solar battery charger ($29 from BePrepared.com).  I can charge four AAA, AA, C or D batteries at a time in just a few hours. So I can have light, music, radio, E-book reader, walkie-talkie, et cetera without having to regularly purchase batteries. Chemical light sticks are also very handy at night for traveling and being able to keep other boats in sight without having to rely on battery powered light sources.

Another food source often overlooked is seaweed.  There are many varieties of seaweed and most, if not all are edible and offer a high source of vitamins.  People from China, Japan and Korea (as well as Ireland) have traveled the world for hundreds, if not thousands of years using seaweed as a prime food source. Some seaweed can be as high as 50% protein and it can be easily farmed. Seaweed is also useful in dressing wounds and using as fertilizer in gardens. And, speaking of food on the water, a fine mesh net (like a nylon stocking) can be used to gather small krill and other very small sources of nutrients.  After all, if it’s good enough for a giant blue whale, it can’t be all bad.

Once society, as we know it, collapses and chaos reigns in urban areas I can see a veritable sea kayaking sub-culture arise.  For approximately $3,000, (the price of a cheap used car), one can get totally outfitted with a two person ocean going kayak. In a kayak one can go where sailboats and larger power boats cannot go.  It is possible to create seaside vegetable [“heirloom variety”] gardens in areas inaccessible by either road or larger boats.  It  would be possible in the near future to cruise from Alaska to Baja on the West Coast and have access to fresh food (and fresh water) on an almost daily basis for free. And if one should choose to stay in an area like SF Bay, there are vast open spaces beneath the city docks and streets that are only accessible by small craft such as kayaks and these “invisible” places offer a secure place to sleep or leave your craft for a limited time while you explore the surface world.

A few years ago, as a test of some of my ideas I went on a six week kayak trip down the inner coast of the Baja Peninsula with three others.  We used only what we carried, had no support system and had a wonderful experience.

Summary of A Plan:

  1. Get a folding double ocean kayak such as a Folbot, Greenland II.  They have a yearly substantial sale each November. (Get the expedition model with a sail.)
  2. Get a saltwater hand desalinator from West Marine. (Sell a spare gun, if need be).
  3. Get a solar battery charger. Don’t forget the rechargeable batteries. ($29 for the solar charger from Emergency Essentials.)
  4. Get a vacuum packed 2/3 of an acre worth of varied heirloom vegetable seeds. In this #10 can you get 16 non-hybrid variety of seeds. This should be enough to start gardens in three or four places which will be inaccessible to cars and/or other larger boats. ($43 from Emergency Essentials.)
  5. Get a ECTACO Jetbook Mini. It is the only e-book reader that runs on AAA batteries.  I have used mine on a daily basis for 90 days before having to replace the batteries. That way you can carry over 3,000 full length books and/or any other plain text documents with an inexpensive 2 GB SD memory card.
  6. Get the coastal charts for the areas you may be traveling through as well as the USGS maps for the adjoining coastal land.
  7. Pick up six Midland or Motorola handheld walkie-talkies. Over the ocean they will work for an astonishing distance and will run for hours and hours on AA batteries.
  8. Don’t forget your MP-3 player (one that runs on AAA batteries) and make it a rule that ANY electronic device use batteries that can be recharged from your solar recharge unit.

Consider these to be “extras” to be added to your normal “grab and go” and “camping gear”. For additional food items I would highly recommend Emergency Essentials. And for regular “survival gear” I would recommend Major Surplus and Sportsman’s Guide.

JWR Adds: For longer distance travel and certainly for any kayaking on the open ocean, I would recommend getting a kayak equipped with outriggers. These add tremendously to the craft’s stability.