Bug Out Boats Revisited, by P.J.C.

As more and more prepper books and articles are written to address the issue of what one should do in order to have a viable bug out plan, most primarily focus on having a physical location, such as a cabin or small house in a remote area within reasonable driving distance of your present home. Somewhat surprisingly, far less attention has been given to the alternative idea of having a bug out boat to use for the same purpose. Once carefully examined, a “proper” boat will have certain advantages over a remote physical location, not the least of which is less cost and the ability to move on quickly to safer location if necessary.

A quick scan of related postings and articles suggest that others do give some credibility to the idea of a bug out boat but tend to offer examples that are relatively impractical. For example, one writer recommends a trailerable motorboat in a range of 20’ to 25’ in length. While this may provide a quick means of escape, it affords no suitable longer-term accommodation, at least for any more than a few days. That is, unless it provides the means of safer transit to a remote cabin by avoiding clogged or dangerous public roads. In another You Tube video, the serious owner of a 45’ luxury motor yacht extolls its virtues as the ideal bug out boat. It truly is a large, comfortable, well-equipped floating condo with every possible creature comfort. However, it is propelled by huge twin Caterpiller diesel engines, which literally guzzle fuel. It has substantial fuel tanks that would probably keep a family quite happy and comfortable for at least a few weeks, but then what do they do when diesel fuel in any quantity is no longer available. At that point, you have a huge, immobile floating barge that cannot readily move anywhere, plus you’ve also lost all systems dependent upon a diesel-fueled generator, such as lighting, air-conditioning (cooling and heating), refrigeration, running water, electric flush toilets, et cetera. That’s not a great choice if you have to escape a chaotic urban scene for more than a few weeks. I also suspect that a large, luxury yacht would make a highly visible and attractive target for any water-borne looters.

While these writers do make a fair case for bug out boats, none I have found actually describe what the “proper” bug out boat might actually look like. So, from personal experience as an owner of both, I will suggest two very viable options for consideration. In my opinion, the most ideal bug out boat will be a sailing catamaran, such as the popular Gemini 105MC– a 34-foot cruising cat with a 14-foot beam, capable of floating in 18” of water with a small, diesel auxiliary engine. It can go almost anywhere, including remote shallows where most other boats cannot. The Gemini has the advantage of both efficient sail power and economical diesel propulsion. However, when considering the prospect of longer-term occupancy, I believe its biggest advantage is the exceptional amount of living and storage space. It comfortably sleeps six persons in three separate staterooms and two more on its convertible settee. There is a private head with shower and a well-equipped galley. There’s an abundance of breathing room inside and lots of open, walkable deck space outside, essential to avoiding “cabin fever”. As a bug out boat, the Gemini can sail most anywhere, as long there’s at least six to seven knots of wind. Under power alone, with two built-in 18-gallon tanks, it burns about 1.5 gph at 6+ knots (7.2 mph), providing a range of 170 miles, which is easily increased to more than 300 miles by carrying an additional 30 gallons of diesel in its rear lazarettes. All of the lighting systems, instruments, VHF radio, and pressurized fresh water system run off a 12-volt battery bank, which is maintained daily by a 125 watt solar panel. The battery bank will also power computers and cell phones indefinitely, assuming service is available. A second solar panel can easily be added to double charging capacity. Two such solar panels will operate the 12-volt refrigerator/freezer. Another option is to carry a compact Honda EU2000i generator with a nominal supply of gasoline. The Gemini’s are equipped with a propane range and stove top. Two twenty-gallon propane tanks will last for five or six weeks, or even longer if used sparingly.

My second choice would be a smaller, semi-displacement trawler, such as the Nordic Tug 32, which I also presently own. These are economical, single diesel engine boats with a sizable fuel capacity affording significant cruising range. For example, the Nordic Tug has a 200-gallon fuel tank and room to carry an additional 50 gallons of diesel. At six to seven knots cruising speed, it uses about two gallons per hour and provides a cruising range of 700-800 miles. Since you may only travel 20-30 miles to your pre-selected anchorage hideaway, you will have a substantial reserve of fuel. The 5kw diesel generator can be run for two hours as needed to recharge the battery bank. This will consume less than two gallons per recharge. The Nordic Tug sleeps four persons comfortably and is of the highest quality construction. Other small trawlers in this same category are manufactured by Ranger Tug and American Tug, and there are several others in the 30-35’ range as well.

Lastly, there is a caveat I must address when recommending a bug out boat in lieu of a cozy cabin in the woods and that is cold weather, meaning long stretches of sub-freezing temperatures, heavy wind-driven snow, and frozen over lakes and rivers. It would be a challenge to live comfortably and warmly on either boat in such winter conditions. Both boats do have factory-option diesel heaters, and I’ve seen Nordic Tugs with small, coal or wood-burning fireplaces mounted in the salon area. If you live in a northern climate and if SHTF should occur in the winter, chances are that your boat would be dry-docked and bubble-wrapped in plastic. So, generally speaking, the cozy cabin retreat probably makes more sense in higher latitudes subject to extreme winter weather. Conversely, if SHTF happens in a more favorable season, just head south to warmer weather as winter approaches. I believe there is a strong case to be made for a bug out boat, if you do not reside in the frigid north.

Also, don’t forget that these boats are a whole lot of fun even if SHTF never happens.