Bug Out Boats, by Budget Boater

As a man of the sea, the topic of using a boat for the purpose of escape and survival seems to be misunderstood in many instances. I can even remember JWR dismissing the idea several times in the past. I can only assume that it comes from lack of knowledge and understanding of the “cruising” community. Recently there has been some discussion about this topic and some questions, so I thought this might be time to shed some experienced light on the subject.

First, I will answer the questions posted recently:

Question #1: If it’s a true EOTW scenario, establishing any “community” or tribe from such a mobile homebase would seem to be very difficult and going within sight of land could put you in danger of being easily run down by gangs in powerboats.

Generally, for those of us who chose to live on boats as a lifestyle, there is a very large community, most of which are far more like-minded than typical survivalists. Those of us who further chose to go beyond the horizon and travel on our boats as a lifestyle (called “cruisers”), have an even more close-knit community as brothers and sisters who dare to live the lives we choose. It is not uncommon to pull into an unfamiliar harbor and by the end of the day end up with a group of people you can call friends. Just spending a few weeks together in a distant harbor can create lifelong friendships. It is also quite common for sailors who became friends in one harbor for only a few days, and sailed off in different directions, to years later see each other in another harbor half a world away and continue with the friendship as if there had never been the years and seas between them. Community is a given.

For the EOTW piracy debate, if it came to that, boaters would band together for mutual benefit. Just as a squad in the military might operate while on patrol, boats operating in defensive groups while moving would be formidable to attack. Almost all piracy seeks lone vessels. Even if some sea raiders became emboldened to attack, a multi-vessel group at sea eventually would run out of fuel. If it came down to sail versus sail, defensive vessels operating in groups would allow for enumerable flanking options against any type of attack. It is also worth mentioning that not all shores are inhabited. So boaters could avoid the populated coasts and approach the uninhabited shores instead.

Question #2: How much firepower can a boat withstand without danger of sinking?

That depends on many factors. Is the boat form stable? With what materials is it made? What type of rounds are impacting the hull? Where are the rounds impacting? Generally speaking, wood and foam are unsinkable. However, boats with heavy equipment, such as large engines and generators, heavy lead keels, significant amounts of canned goods, and so forth can overcome the neutral buoyancy of a hull and sink if the hole is large enough and not plugged. Personally, I prefer multihulls (catamarans and trimarans), built in wood/e-glass composite, or foam cored fiberglass, as these are generally form stable and unsinkable, even if inverted.

We should look at reality for this question. A pirate’s intention is to loot. If they sink the boat, then they have wasted precious fuel, manpower, and other resources for nothing, and they are still going to starve to death. Whereas the intention of boaters who do not wish to be looted will be to destroy the enemy by any means necessary, including sinking the raider’s vessels. Keeping the pirates at bay is the key. Any large group of vessels traveling together in a strong defensive posture with full intent of destroying any would-be pirates has a distinct advantage. It is also worth noting that the worst enemy of a sailor is fire. That’s a hint.

I hope that helps to answer the questions.

One of the most pointed arguments against boats for EOTW scenarios is their ability to feed their crews as opposed to land-based survivors. This is a non-starter for me. It is quite easy to feed the crew of a boat from many different perspectives. First, a typical 50′ cruising monohull sailboat can carry 8-12 months of store-bought food for a crew of six. One can easily double that amount, if they use long-term packaging techniques of typical survivalists.

If you know what you are doing, the ocean is a bounty. Fish and edibles can be had in the open ocean, near coasts, and on the reefs and rocks of the shoreline. A family could easily sustain themselves in the vicinity of remote islands of the tropical belt, in high latitude fjords, or at sea. (Entire island communities already do this.) Beyond the ocean lies many thousands of miles of uninhabited coastlines throughout the world, coastlines replete with wild game, birds, and wild edibles. A mammal shot, trapped, or caught can be preserved by smoking it in a Dakota fire pit near the beach. Wild edibles, gathered in sufficient quantity can be canned and stored aboard, just as they are in a house. One only has to be moderately familiar with worldwide coastal population density demographics, have a knack for hunting and fishing, and the will to live well and have a full belly at the end of the day.

Fuel and Energy

Another point of contention is fuel and energy. Sailboats need little, if any, fuel. There are many sailors, myself included, who have sailed far and wide without an auxiliary engine. A proper dingy can be rowed or sculled for many miles if needed, so gasoline and diesel are not requirements. Both solar panels and wind generators are common to see on boats and can provide all the power one might need to run appliances, tools, and charge batteries. If you have a larger monohull or catamaran, the ability to carry 1kW of solar is not difficult, plus the added power of a wind generator.

Having built boats and lived on and sailed the oceans on four different boats over more than two decades, only one had a watermaker (desalinate sea to fresh water). It was very nice, convenient, and expensive to purchase. It is a maintenance item, if you want to keep it in operation. My other boats had rain catch systems installed. It was very rare that we ever had to get water from land with any of our boats, but we were also very frugal with water using less than two gallons per person per day, including washing, and we were never left wanting. If we were surviving, that amount could easily be reduced to three quarts per person per day, as sea water would replace fresh water for washing bodies, dishes, and clothing.

Watermaker (desalinate sea to fresh water)

If you did decide to install a watermaker on your bug out boat, I would make a few recommendations. First, build your own DC-powered watermaker using a CAT pump, DC motor, and commercially available parts. Do not get a pre-built system that has proprietary parts, which is quite common. When you build your own system, you know the ins and outs and can have a full complement of spares. Properly used and maintained, a watermaker system will make fresh water reliably for ten or more years. If things have not normalized by then, you will have bigger problems.

Cooking Onboard

Cooking on board is one of those things that might be challenging to some in an EOTW scenario. Most boats use propane or CNG, which might become unavailable. Though there are companies that make solid fuel marine stoves, you might want to live in a cold climate to use them, since they will make the interior of a boat unlivable in the tropics. You also have the issue of finding and carrying wood to operate it. A better option is to use a solar oven for as much cooking as possible. These have proven to work well, even on sailboats, provided they are tended. As for me, I carry four 20-lb propane bottles, which lasts our family more than a year at three meals per day, using just the stove top.

Schooling Children in the Cruiser Community

The “community” of cruisers also has other unseen benefits that directly pertain to survivalists that are not always readily apparent. First, nearly all of the children are home schooled. It is not uncommon for the children in the harbor to congregate on the beach or largest boat for schooling each day. The older children will teach and mentor the younger children, and a handful of parents will be nearby to answer or help as needed. This worldly social interaction forms wonderful bonds between the children and parents. The last harbor in which we spent significant time, there were children from Norway, England, Germany, France, United States, Canada, Brazil, and New Zealand. They ranged in age from 16 years old down to 20 months old. The exposure to various cultures, all while engaged in the same activities with people from all over the world, and its benefits to the children as well as the adults cannot be overstated.

Barter and Trade

Another advantage of the cruising community is barter and trade. It is quite normal for cruisers to engage regularly in barter/trade with locals as well as each other, both for services as well as goods. Most cruiser’s harbors will have an ongoing local radio net, using the marine VHF radio, to give news, weather, who is coming and going, local deals, services, and items for sale. Local businesses will also engage the community with discounts, news, and various offerings. If you need something, you ask on the net. Depending on the request, you may get a public response over the radio or a private knock on the hull later in the day. We have even had anonymous gifts of food, clothing, or repair items left on our deck overnight from an earlier request on the net. Cruisers can be so important in some harbors as to be THE economy, which waxes and wanes with the weather in some regions. Some businesses actually close up shop in the off season, because the boats have all left the area.


Most boaters, and especially cruisers, are proficient in using radio communications, and many own and operate Ham and SSB HF radios from their boats. Many cruisers have radio skills that exceed that of trained military comms specialists. These radio nets are so prolific in some cases that they know who is where half a world away, have assisted in rescues at sea, and helped assist in medical emergencies, and they generally keep track of the entire cruising community. There are some land-based Hams who have dedicated their lives to providing the best weather forecasting, routing, and other forms of assistance to cruisers. The community extends well beyond the sea.


Most cruisers are industrious and also skilled in many areas. It is not uncommon in larger harbors to find a cruiser with a mini machine shop tucked into a corner of his boat, or a guy who can rebuild your outboard motor on the beach, or the woodworker with tools beyond your imagination stowed below the deck. There are specialists in electronics, rigging, sail making and sewing, electrical, systems troubleshooting and repair, and so on. Typically, if it is on a boat, there is probably someone on a boat in the harbor that can diagnose it, fix it, or tell you to throw it overboard. Then, there are also always the spiritual leaders in every harbor who will conduct services on their boat, on the beach, or any other place that is convenient for the crowd that shows up for prayer.

A large percentage of the cruising community are retired professionals– mostly doctors, nurses, dentists, lawyers, and architects. There is always a smattering of ex-police and military, as well as the artists, ex-blue collars, and few stay-at-home moms and homemakers following the dreams of their husbands. In a remote anchorage, when a man fell out of his dingy and the propeller caught his head and legs, the retired doctors and nurses came to the rescue when the radio call went out. The Hams got on the airwaves to alert the authorities, arrange a sea plane, and prepare the hospital for his arrival. The cruisers in the harbor arranged to take care of the couple’s boat at a moment’s notice. Even though the gentleman required four months to recover from his injuries before returning to his boat and the original people involved had moved on with the weather, those of us who entered the harbor later were briefed by those leaving. We continued to take care of his boat until his return, even though we were not even in the harbor when it happened and had only heard about it via the cruiser’s grapevine months before.

Community Trust

When my three-year-old son fell and severely broke his arm, my wife had taken the dingy ashore to go shopping. I had no reasonable way to get to shore from where we were anchored in the harbor. I quickly called on the VHF and had several strangers at my boat in less than a minute. A neighboring boat with children (whom we had only met two days prior) agreed to care for our 20-month old while I went to the hospital. A stranger helped me immobilize my son’s arm, transfer us to his dingy, and ferry us to shore while my daughter went to the neighbor’s boat, crying the whole way. There were already people waiting when we arrived at the beach, having heard the call on the radio, and they had already procured a car from a local whom none of them knew. When we arrived at the hospital, they had been appraised of our arrival and took my son to surgery where he received two long stabilizing pins and a cast along with the eventual parallel scars. Tell me if you would leave your 20-month old with a virtual stranger and the expensive items in your home in the care of complete strangers in your “community”?


How much did three hours of emergency surgery, multiple return follow-up trips, and eventual removal of the pins (under anesthesia because our three year old would not let them get close to him with the pliers) cost? It cost only $25! The doctor was trained in the U.S., and though the hospital was not beautiful or pleasant, the work was professional per the doctor at Miami Children’s Hospital whom we eventually followed up with upon our return a year later, for a $200 fee. That was my segue into medical costs that always seems to be a question. Not that it matters much for EOTW, but for anything less, it is also a non-starter. Most doctors are trained in the U.S., EU, or other high-tech nations, and then they return to their home countries. The hospitals may not always be the best, but the doctors in most emerging, second world countries are quite competent, just as ours was, and the prices are usually a tiny percentage of what it costs in the U.S. or EU. Prescription drugs are also a tiny fraction of the cost in the U.S. It is just not an issue. However, it is advisable that you carry your own extensive medical/dental kit on your boat. Though you may be surrounded my retired doctors and nurses in a harbor, they do not carry a large supply of medical items. If you have your own, they can probably help you, if not save your life if it came to that. If it is EOTW, your medial supplies might be the only difference.

As for everything else, carry plenty of spares and tools, acquire the knowledge to fix or make anything, and don’t give up your guns or the training to use them. A boat makes a great bug-out retreat and offers an ocean of shores in which to re-establish yourself, because chances are the whole world has not ended, just the world you were living in. There will be somewhere safe to go, and though you will not be able to go ’round the world in 80 days, plenty of people have gone all the way around the world in less than a year, not that that would be necessary, but at least you would have the option if you packed and prepared well.