Worst-Case Wednesday: How to Survive Being Marooned

Posted by Marissa Stern


Imagine this: you’re a FedEx executive on board when your plane crashes and you’re marooned on a deserted island with no human contact, far away from your home. You have to find your own food and stay alive. It sounds like the plot to what could be a pretty good movie, doesn’t it? Oh wait.

Well, we may not all be Tom Hanks but if you are for whatever reason marooned on a desert island, you need to know how to survive. Turn to none other than the Worst-Case Scenario Almanac: History to find the answer. Maybe you’ll grow a beard half as impressive as Chuck Noland’s. 

1. Find drinkable water

Gather rainwater by hollowing out the stumps of trees, but do not let the water sit for more than a day before drinking it. Tie rags around your ankles and walk through grass at dawn, then squeeze the dew from the rags into your mouth.

The water in coconuts is safe to drink, though excessive consumption may cause diarrhea and dehydration. An island that appears to be dry may have a wet, mountainous interior, so move to higher ground to survey as much of the terrain as possible. In arctic environments, search for blue ice with round corners and that splinters easily—this is old sea ice and is nearly free of salt. Icebergs are also made of freshwater. If you are desperate, drink the water found in the eyes and spines of large fish.

2. Take care of your body.

Stay in the shade to protect yourself from the sun as well as from the reflection of the sun on the water. If you are in a tropical environment, dampen your clothes on the hottest part of the day to cool yourself and to avoid losing water through perspiration.

If fresh water is readily available, use this water to moisten your clothes to avoid the boils and sores caused by saltwater. If you are in an arctic environment, find a cave or dig yourself shelter in the snow to keep your body temperature up. Relax and sleep whenever possible.

3. Find food.

Make a fish net by placing your shirt over a forked tree branch and tying off both ends. Pull fish out of shallow water as they swim over the net. Fish without spiny scales may be eaten raw or cooked. Kill seabirds by throwing rocks at them, as long as you have fire to cook them. You may be able to attract birds by flashing metal into the sky to get their attention. Do not eat anything if you are nauseated; drink only water and wait to eat until your stomach is calm.

4. Signal.

Make a signal fire by quickly rotating a small stick back and forth between your palms while one end is pressed against a piece of flat wood on the ground. The friction will create heat, which will ignite dry grass. Keep a small fire burning at all times, with plenty of fuel ready in case you spot a passing ship.

5. Keep a good lookout.

Chances are your ship was sailing on a known trade rute, and other ships are likely to sail within several miles of your island. Move to high ground so you can see the horizon in every direction.