Letter Re: Bug Out Boats


I have spent many hours thinking about using a vessel as a bugout vehicle and the many pros and cons involved, and it’s a topic I constantly revisit in my mind. What type of boat to use? What kind of weapons and armor? How to provide provisioning and storage? Where to bug out to? I just generally run different scenarios through my head, and there are way too many to address without being long-winded, so I’ll just share some of my background and try to give some opinions and thoughts.

I’ve spent my entire life on the water and have 25 years of experience as a professional mariner and boat captain. I spent five of those years as a Boatswain’s Mate in the USCG, five years in the marine salvage and towing industry, three years in the yachting/charter industry, and another 12 years as a marine mechanic, vessel systems technician, boat handling instructor, and shipyard worker. I have lived aboard both sail and power vessels at different times over the years, and it is in my opinion and it goes against my nature to say it but I feel using a vessel to bug out would be a temporary situation under most circumstances. This thought and the cost of a buying and maintaining a boat helped me decide to move to my current location far away from the ocean, but I do have some lakes and rivers nearby, so a boat could still come in handy some day. In case some of you don’t know it, B.O.A.T. by the way stands for “break out another thousand”. So the wife and I bought a house and some acreage in the hills where I have some dry land to hunker down on for less money than a fixer up cruising yacht.

It’s much easier to hide, defend, and hold your ground or be able to sneak away and fight another day while shoreside. There are way too many variables and mother ocean is too fickle a woman to consider having a boat as a permanent base of operations. One of the major things to think about is what to do when your boat needs repair. This hard fact is one that tends to be a second thought for some. Where will you go if you need to haul out? You can’t expect there to be a operating SHTF boatyard that can fix any structural or mechanical damage you might have or replace a heat exchanger, fix your radar or radio, replace your watermaker diaphragm, or rebuild a generator? Rust never sleeps, and corrosion doesn’t rest, especially in a salt water environment. It’s pretty much like floating your boat around in a giant pool of battery acid 24/7. Do you have the part or parts that you need to get going again readily available to you? Can you be your own sailmaker and rigger to repair the sails and rigging on your sailboat? Do you have the wherewithal and tools to get the job done on your own? These things can be a pain in the rear to achieve under normal circumstances let alone to try and fix during TEOTWAWKI.

Another factor to think about is hull fouling; depending on hull use and the temperature of the water the anti-fouling paint on the vessel’s bottom needs touch-up if not a complete repaint after a few months before a significant amount of marine growth occurs, and this will slow down a vessel considerably even with slight growth. I have seen a motor yacht with twin turbo diesel engines fail to get up on a plane due to cavitation caused by a small amount of barnacles on the props. Sure you can get into the water and scrape the hull with a putty knife by hand, but do you really want to bet your life that you will only be chased by pirates when you have a perfectly clean hull? I wouldn’t, and who says you’ll have the fastest boat out there?

I love powerboats and going fast, but they sure are thirsty. I’m a big fan of the classic lines, interior room, and sea-keeping ability of the “Trawler” style of vessel. They can take a beating, use less fuel, and have an extended range, unlike go-fast boats, but a sailboat makes the most sense for a self-sufficient cruising vessel; however, most ocean cruising sailboats make 10 knots on a very good day going downhill with the wind astern and two people pushing. Speed isn’t an advantage in that case. I could outrun most sailboats in my aluminum skiff with a 15 h.p. outboard motor.

Storm damage to ANY sized vessel in the open ocean isn’t an “if”, it’s a “when”, and I’ve been in some storms at sea that made some of my shipmates find God real fast and do damage to a boat even faster. (Some shipmates even kept that relationship with God alive once ashore.) It doesn’t take that much to passively disable a vessel’s propulsion system either. I’ve seen lobster pot line and monofilament fishing line make million dollar boats dead in the water, and I’ve seen seaweed clog up a sea-strainer so bad the raw water impeller melts and the engine overheats and fails.

All the preps, planning, and money in the world won’t stop you from getting into a “do or die” situation on the water, and if you spend enough time at sea you WILL find yourself in one like it or not. Previously on survivalblog.com the question was posed “how much firepower can a boat withstand without sinking”? The answer is simply this: not much. Most modern hulls aren’t much more than 1/2″ to 1″ thick of solid fiberglass, if it’s well built. While that might slow down or stop a .22 LR round and some pistol cartridges, a 5.56mm round would go clear through one side of the hull and out the other. I’m fairly confident that if a 30-round magazine of green tips were pumped into a hull at the water-line, it would put an average 40-foot vessel on the bottom within an hour (without damage control). I have not tested out this theory by shooting a fiberglass boat, but that does sound really fun however! I have personally witnessed a 30-foot sailboat sink in less than 30 minutes after six of the 3/4″ inch keel bolts sheered off and she took on water through the holes and went down. When I was in the USCG during training we used to unload rounds into 55-gallon steel drums for underway target practice, and we sunk a few empty Cuban rafts back in the day, so I know what a bunch of 5.56mm and 25mm holes can accomplish on something that floats! Some vessels have thicker fiberglass hulls or are constructed of aluminum or steel, but by and large most “pleasure boats” and some commercial vessels would not provide any stopping power at all to most small arms. I know the USCG uses a variety of long guns to disable a vessel’s engine(s) from a Helo or Small Boat by blasting through the decking or hull and into the engine block of a boat, which stops it dead if not sinks the boat outright. Heres a link to some fun video to watch.

I’ll never stop thinking of all the great uses of a vessel as a bug out vehicle, but it is wise to contemplate the hazards. If it were possible I would use a boat to G.O.O.D. at the onset of a SHTF situation before things got too hairy and as a way to avoid the gridlock and rioting masses to get me closer to my bugout location or use a boat well after an event when things calmed down to forage/find a new place to live. This is not meant to discourage anyone from living the dream of living aboard or not getting a boat for bug out use. I had some of the best times of my life living afloat, and it’s a way to live the survival lifestyle amongst the general population and people won’t pass judgment and think you’re one of those “people who wear tin foil hats”. You are hiding in plain sight as a prepper! Most folks just assume you grew up wanting to be Jimmy Buffet and moved afloat. If I still lived in an area where jumping on a vessel and getting out of a highly populated area made more sense than trying to go over the road, I’d take that option for sure. I’m just encouraging folks to think about as many worst case scenarios as you can ahead of time and you’ll hopefully be prepared for some of them. I know I’ve glossed over this topic quite a bit and apologize for any grammatical errors ahead of time, but I have to keep it somewhat short as I’m tapping this out on my Android phone. We’ve no landline interweb in these parts, but the fishing and hunting here is mighty good! God Bless America!

Semper Paratus, – S.B. in Tennessee