Sailing Away From The Apocalyptic, Part One: The Pros And Cons Of Spending The Rest Of Your Life At Sea.

28 Oct

Whether it’s atomic devastation, killer viruses, terrorists, rogue governments, wayward comets or just a good old-fashioned zombies uprising, the chances are if you are reading this you have wondered what you would do the day the apocalypse comes and we are all left fighting for our lives.  When it happens (and can you really be sure it won’t?), it is those who have a well-thought out plan, honed through many late-night, and often alcohol-fuelled, discussions, who will have the best chance of surviving.

Some may choose to hole up in the nearest shopping mall (did you learn nothing from Dawn of The Dead?), secret military bunker (been reading Day By Day Armageddon have you?) or football stadium (as pointed out in Dying To Live, this it’s actually a rather good idea), others are just planning on running for the hills (hardly original folks!). Yet, for me, there has always been an obvious option few people ever seem to consider. This is to do what so many young men have done for centuries when things get a bit too hot at home, and run away to sea.  In particular, a sailing boat has always been my preferred escape vehicle.  Engine runs out of fuel? Just unfurl the sails and carry on.  Roads jammed with cars? Not a problem, you just cruise on by. Running low on canned food? Nothing to worry about, there are, quite literally, plenty more fish in the sea.

The was the position I started from when I began writing For Those In Peril On The Sea. Initially, it was going to be a jolly romp about how easy life would be, riding out the apocalypse on a yacht in a tropical paradise, laughing at all those who’d not been so clever with their planning for the apocalypse.  Yet as I wrote and re-wrote each draft, it gradually became apparent that I hadn’t actually thought this idea through properly.  That, or course, is the problem with basing your bugging out strategy on drunken discussions – what seems logical in the alcohol-fogged darkness of the night doesn’t hold up in the bright, and sober, light of day. By the end of the writing process, I’d realised that it wouldn’t the easy life I’d originally thought it would be.  While I still think that life on a sailing boat would give you as good a chance as any to survive the apocalypse (whatever its cause), there are a number of pros and cons you need to consider before relying on it as your main escape plan. I provide them here in the hope that they will help you decide whether a life at sea should be an important component of your own post-apocalyptic survival strategy.

First the pros. Here’s the big one.  Unlike cars, trucks, buses, motorbikes, planes, helicopters, segways, Sinclair C5s and almost every other modern mode of transport, sailboats don’t need fuel to move around.  Instead you can harness the power of the wind.  If the wind stops, you can just drop anchor and wait for it to pick up again. There are other ways to travel that don’t need fuel, such as walking, or horseback (nicely used in the first episode of The Walking Dead), but both you and a horse will still need food and rest.  As long as there’s wind, a sailboat will carry on.  I think the record is something like one and a half times round the world non-stop.

Next on the list, modern, ocean-going sailboats are also specifically designed to be self-sufficient during long cruises.  This means that are pre-adapted for surviving for long periods away from shore, and whatever troubles might be there. Most will have large fuel tanks to run the engine and the diesel generator when needed.  Many also have solar panels and small wind turbines to charge the banks of batteries that are used to run the electrical equipment and lighting.  Similarly, there are reverse-osmosis machines that can turn seawater into freshwater for drinking and cooking, meaning you don’t have to worry about that running out.  After this, there is the fact that you can carry a reasonable number of people onboard (often comfortably between four and eight, maybe ten at a push), certainly more than a car, and if you are careful about who you pick to join you on your escape from the apocalypse (make sure that they have useful and complimentary skills – one mechanic, one doctor, etc), you can create a nice little self-sufficient community.   Finally, boats often have a surprising amount of space.  This means that you can carry plenty of tinned, food, ammunition, guns, or whatever else you might need. If you are forced to run, you don’t have to worry about packing it all into a truck before the zombies break into your camp, you just pull up your anchor and leave.

So with all these advantages, why wouldn’t everyone choose to escape on a sailboat? Well, this is where the cons come in.  Firstly, and this is a big one, you need to know how to sail. Properly sail that it, not just take a dingy round a lake once a year on your summer holidays. If you don’t, you’re unlikely to survive long enough to learn. And it won’t necessarily be the after effects of apocalypse that will kill you, it may well be the sea itself. The same goes for navigation.  There’s no road signs at sea, and you need to know where you’re going to avoid running aground. For this, you need to know more than how to turn a GPS receiver on, you will need to be able to use a sextant and navigate by the stars.  After all, when the end of the world comes, it’s unlikely that the satellites of the global positioning system will remain in space for long.

You also need to be very careful about who you choose to take with you.  Once they are onboard, you will find it very difficult to get rid of them and it’s not like there will be enough room for you to avoid them (in For Those In Peril On The Sea, being stuck on a yacht with people you don’t like when the apocalypse descends on you plays a pivotal role in the plot).  On land, you can always strike out on your own and leave others behind.  At sea, you don’t really have this choice (unless you’re willing to maroon unwanted people on an island or cast them adrift in a life raft).

Similarly, life at sea is not easy. It’s physically demanding and dangerous.  If something happens to your boat, you can’t just get out and try to find another one.  Instead you are well and truly screwed.  This makes boats a poor prospect in the longer term where damage and decay will start to become a factor. There’s also the problem of staying healthy.  While you can get enough food out the sea to survive, you can’t get all the right nutrients and without them you will risk scurvy and other horrific diseases that result from mal-nourishment.  Also, while you can move around without any fuel, your movements will be very much determined by the local winds and currents.  If they are not going in the right direction, you may find you cannot go exactly where you want to.

Finally, and this point cannot be stressed too strongly, escaping by boat is only a viable strategy if you are near the sea when the apocalypse happen.  There’s no point in having a life at sea as your bug out plan if you have to travel through hundreds of miles of land infested with zombies, or radio-active mutants, or radio-active mutant zombies, or… well, you get the picture, to get to the nearest ocean! It’s always going to be a slow get away. There will be no outrunning bombs, or meteors, raining down on the nearest city if you’re too close when they start falling. This may limit the usefulness of sailboats as a get away vehicle.

In summary, if you live close to the sea, if know how to sail and navigate (or are willing to start learning fast now), have access to a good boat, if can bring together the people you want to spend the rest of your live with at a moments notice, and if can solve the problem of scurvy and other diseases of malnutrition, a sailboat may help to survive in a post-apocalyptic world, at least in short to medium term. If not, you’d better start thinking about alternatives, and you’d better start now.

Click here to read Sailing away from the apocalyptic part two: Your choice of vessel.

From the author of For Those In Peril On The Sea, a tale of post-apocalyptic survival in a world where zombie-like infected rule the land and all the last few human survivors can do is stay on their boats and try to survive. Now available in the UK. Click here or visit to find out more.

3 Responses to “Sailing Away From The Apocalyptic, Part One: The Pros And Cons Of Spending The Rest Of Your Life At Sea.”

  1. Harry Flashman 28/01/2016 at 01:04 #

    Living on a yacht is my plan too. I might raid cargo ships too. They’re large (meaning plenty of supplies) with small crews (meaning only a handful of zombies to kill).

    • Colin M. Drysdale 28/01/2016 at 15:49 #

      Raiding cargo ships is a good idea, but it might prove more difficult than you think to implement. Boarding one from a yacht could prove mighty dangerous (both for you and your yacht!), and if there are zombies on board, even a small number, fighting them in the close confines of a ship’s interior would be both difficult and terrifying. Still better than going ashore though …

  2. Bories 14/05/2017 at 07:46 #

    I am a former delivery captain with a 3,000 shootings sextant experience and I vigorously confirm that a sailing boat is the best place to be in case of major turmoil. There is actually nothing more efficient than a couple of thousand feet of sea water to isolate you from radioactive fall-out (RAFO), provided that you sprinkle regularly your entire boat : RAFO does not float, it sinks right to the bottom of the ocean. The ideal survival sailing boat will be steel-build, EMP-proof, 100% handled from the wheelhouse, pressurized, unsinkable and self-righing. For a one-year autonomy of four to six people in the high seas, it should not cost more to build than a plain, ordinary yacht four feet longer. Time for things to cool down, from the safety of the Southern Hemisphere.

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