The Bug Out Boat, by Lean Jimmy

Every Prepper needs at least one serious bug out plan in his repertoire. Most of us will need a plan to get to our retreat when the SHTF. Even those of us fortunate enough to live in their retreat right now will have to be ready to bug out if circumstances demand. Things like a fallout cloud or a pandemic, or an invading army of zombies can’t be ignored. You may be forced to leave and you’d better know where you are going and how you are going to get there.

Your bug out plan starts with an assessment of the conditions you may be facing when the time comes to leave. If, as most of us, you live in an urban environment, you will likely be looking at a hopelessly clogged transportation grid. Let’s say you live in a large Midwestern metropolitan area. If the SHTF in a sudden, dramatic fashion, everyone in town will have the same idea you do; get out fast. The difference between you and the rest of them will be that, because you are a Prepper, you will have acquired the wherewithal to support your withdrawal. On the other hand, you have the same immediate problem that the masses have. How will you get through the panicked mob and reach the relative safety of open country?

If you live in the eastern half of the country, more than likely, there will be a large river near your home. That river will connect to other rivers and waterways that will open nearly 5,000 miles of liquid highway to those with the means to use it! Most people will never think of the water and will limit themselves to land travel. Without a plan or supplies they will be bogged down and faced with looting to survive within a day or two of their departure. In fact, within hours of the start of the exodus, many of these people in stalled cars will be involved in their first deadly confrontation with other people in the line who took to the road with an empty gas tank and now are seeking “volunteers” to resupply them. The Prepper with a boat, even a pretty small boat and good prior planning may slip nearly unnoticed from the area.

If, on the other hand, you reside in the western half of the country, waterways may be a little less obvious, unless you live along the beach. Even if you have an ocean view from your deck, I wouldn’t recommend bugging out in a boat unless it is very seaworthy and you are prepared to go a long way to safety. California offers a few places of refuge in the Channel Islands, but they are so easy to reach that even on a summer weekend it’s a mob scene out there. Oregon offers nothing but cold, rough water offshore with very few places to return to land safely. Only Washington State offers a wide variety of islands to hop among. The Inside Passage and Alaska beckon if you have enough long underwear to survive.

Still, many metropolitan areas in the west have captive rivers or canals bringing water to the thirsty city. Perhaps they offer a quick means of egress if you are prepared. Large reservoirs are not uncommon and, if they are close enough to get to quickly, may give you a clear shot at getting to the other side and some semblance of isolation.

The boat option assumes that you have someplace to go when you bug out. That someplace has to be fairly close and it has to be near a body of water accessible to you from your retreat or home. In my case, for example, the Cumberland River forms a large bight around my home. The river is less than two miles from me on three different sides. There are several boat ramps within 15 minutes of my yard. That makes for ready access to the water. As far as access to a bug out location, the Cumberland River is tied into a network of waterways that makes most of the eastern half of the U.S. within reach. In fact, I can ultimately reach the Atlantic or the Gulf of Mexico from a boat ramp within minutes of home. All that is necessary to tap into this vast network is a boat suited to my aspirations.

If you don’t need to travel far to your retreat location, you can make do with just about anything that floats. It just has to be big enough to carry you and your 72-hour bag. The family ski boat or even enough kayaks to go around will fill the bill. If your destination is more than one tank of fuel away, then you need to plan for resupply. A hidden cache placed in happier times will do as long as it is safe from high water and marauding critters, whether they be of the two-legged or four-legged variety. Keep a detailed map to each cache aboard your boat or in your bug out bag so you won’t forget where they are. The maps need to be detailed enough so that anyone in your party can find them in case something happens to you along the way.

Security during such a move is always problematic. In a boat you will face some unique issues. Stealth will probably be your best friend during the escape. Traveling at night will provide more security but navigation in the dark can be tricky. GPS may still be working but extreme caution is required to avoid floating obstacles, sand bars, and meandering channels that lead nowhere. If you must slip down the river through the center of town, fires burning ashore may provide some welcome light but don’t get so close that you illuminate your own position.

Armed and active defense during a waterborne bug out is a horse of a different color. The inherent rocking in a boat will render long range firearms and marksmanship largely irrelevant. Receiving fire from people ashore is unlikely unless you are very close to the bank. They won’t want to waste ammo shooting at something they can’t reach anyway. Boat to boat confrontations will be more likely. Ranges will be short and encounters brief, ending in one boat floating and one boat sinking or disabled. Go with shotguns and 00 Buck. Aim for the engine, the control station and/or the waterline.

On land, caltrops are used to disable a pursuing vehicle. On the water you can quickly improvise a workable substitute. Tie lengths of polypropylene line into a rough net with squares about a foot on a side. Make the net about ten feet wide by five or six feet long and tie a couple of floating weights (such as short blocks of wood or plastic jugs) to the ten foot ends. This will allow it to deploy effectively when you toss it. Store it in a bucket in the stern of your boat. When a pursuing boat gets close, you toss the net over the stern so he runs over it and fouls his prop. End of pursuit. A word of caution is in order. Water-ski ropes are made of polypropylene and would fill the bill just fine except they are usually bright yellow to make them easy to see so boaters won’t run over them. Find some green or brown line to make your net more difficult to avoid when you deploy it. Make sure it floats before you actually need it.

In addition to the normal items you carry in your 72-hour bag, there are some essential extras you will want to pack along in your boat. A good pair of binoculars tops the list in my opinion. Few tools are more useful for finding your way on the water. Match the binoculars with a good set of charts for the waterways you expect to travel and finding your way will be a lot less stressful. A cautionary note: check your charts carefully for locks along the river. These are abundant on eastern rivers and the Corps of Engineers will probably not be on hand to operate them for you. You may need to portage around them. This is where smaller is better as far as the size of your boat is concerned.

Health and safety items should include mosquito repellent and netting. These pests are rampant and dangerous on the water in the warmer months. A good anti-itch cream might be nice in case the repellent doesn’t give 100% protection. Life vests will be more important in a bug out than on a normal boating outing. The risk of winding up in the water with debilitating wounds is high. The vest may keep you afloat long enough to get out of immediate danger and regain your group.

If you plan to lay low during the daylight hours, don’t forget a camouflage system big enough to hide the boat. If your boat is too small to support the weight and bulk of a net system such as the military styles, fresh cut greenery gathered from the area you are hiding in and tied in place will do nicely. In any event, you need something to cover anything in the boat that is brightly colored or reflects light.

A method of holding you in place, even in a current, will be crucial. Carry an anchor big enough for the job attached to enough line to hold you. Your line should be at least seven times as long as the depth of water you are anchoring in. In addition, carry plenty of line long enough and strong enough to tie off to trees or other solid objects if you are lying along the shore.

If the trip is more than a few miles, foraging items such as trot lines, gill nets and crayfish traps should be included. Don’t bother with your good ol’ bass rod and reel since sport fishing is not going to be productive enough to meet your needs. This kind of situation calls for meat fishing techniques. Some simple snare materials for small game would also be a plus.

Finally, a small spare parts kit appropriate to the boat should be included. If the vessel is powered, a spare spark plug, fuel filter, and shear pins might be in order. Two-cycle engine oil shouldn’t be overlooked if needed for your engine. With human-powered craft such as kayaks or rowboats, an extra paddle or two for the group might save the day. Inflatables need a repair kit and an air pump.

Clearly, the floating option can be taken to a whole new level. There is a group of people known as cruisers who are basically accidental Preppers.  They have forsaken life ashore and moved onto a boat permanently. Generally, this boat is a 40-50 foot sailboat set up for the husband and wife to sail without additional crew. These people spend a lot of time and effort to make their floating homes self-sufficient with solar and/or wind power, fresh water makers, etc. They enjoy all the amenities of home while riding to an anchor in some secluded cove somewhere south of somewhere. Bugging out is simply a matter of raising the anchor and sailing to a safer location. Most of these people tend to stay in salt water but there are freshwater live-aboards, too.

If you would like to join this group of far-flung floaters and you aren’t already an experienced boater, start now. You have much to learn before you can confidently and competently pilot your chosen vessel safely. There are lots of ways to get into trouble on a boat even without the added complication of people trying to waylay you. Whole libraries have been written on the subject of living aboard. It is far too big a subject to tackle in this essay. If you want to check out this life, try or the book section of the West Marine web site for information. You should find plenty of links to satisfy your curiosity and help you make a decision. A cruising home may just be the ultimate retreat.

Bugging out exposes you to the most danger you will likely encounter. You will be at the mercy of the crowd until you can clear the populated areas. Consider the water option for your bug out plan. It won’t work for everybody, but it might just work for you. Slipping out of the city under cover of darkness as you watch the fires burn and hear the random firefights sounds a whole lot better than being stuck on a divided highway somewhere trying to fend off the slugs who took off without anything.