Wrestling with savage seas? Stranded without fuel or water? Return to shore in one piece with these seven sure-fire survival tips.
Find drinking water at sea
Water, water, everywhere -- and not a drop to drink? Not if you're prepared, resourceful, and willing to put effort into collecting drinkable water. And you should be: It will save your life.
Outfit your vessel with a plastic tarpaulin to catch rainwater and drain it into containers, allowing the first drops of rain to wash the salt off the tarpaulin. If you don't have a tarpaulin, use fabric to absorb moisture, then wring it out into containers. Never drink saltwater---it will make you ill and speed dehydration and death.
Pull a "MacGyver"
When you've been adrift at sea for a period of time, all your clothes end up encrusted with salt crystals. At the first sign of rain, give all your clothes and other fabric a seawater bath. Yes, it's salty, but not as salty as the salt residue, which will make any water it contacts undrinkable.
If you have sails, make a bowl out of them to capture the water. Tarps, shirts, plastic sheets, and even the raft itself can all collect water. Any can, bottle, or other container can store it. The first water you collect will have a high salt content, so store it separately, and use it to clean wounds or to wash food before eating.
Orient yourself by the stars
To find Polaris, the prominent star that's close to the north celestial pole, look for the famous pattern of stars called the Big Dipper or the Plough in the constellation Ursa Major. Mentally draw a line connecting the stars at the end of the Big Dipper's "bowl," then extend that line out five times its length to arrive at Polaris. It's hard to miss, since it's the brightest star in Ursa Minor, or the Little Dipper.
Seek the South Pole
Traveling below the equator? Find the Southern Cross's long axis and extend a line down four and a half times the axis length. Then locate the bright stars Rigil Kent and Hadar to the left of the Southern Cross. Figure the midpoint between these two stars, then imagine a perpendicular line from that point to the end of the line drawn from the Southern Cross. That intersection marks the South Pole.
Catch fish in open waters
If you're in a life raft, small fish often gather beneath the raft, either out of curiosity or because they feel sheltered there. Who knows? But catching those fish might satisfy your need for nourishment. Troll a hand-line with a hook and anything flashy to serve as a lure. Jig the lure up and down a few meters below the surface, being careful not to snag the life raft with the hook. After catching a fish, use the guts as bait to catch more.
Avoid shark bites
Sharks don't usually hunt people as a food source, which is why most shark bites stop there: Once the shark realizes you're not a nice blubbery seal, it leaves you alone. Unfortunately, that little "mistake" isn't all that little for the human on the receiving end of those chompers. Here's how to avoid those nasty bites:
Cede the sea
While there certainly are open-ocean predators, most shark threats are in the shallows and near food sources. Coral reeds are popular hangouts -- and also happen to be the most desirable dive sites. If you're diving in these areas, be aware of the shark risk before you enter the water, and dive with at least one partner, as sharks are less likely to mess with a group.
If you do suddenly find yourself in close quarters with one of these beasts, your best bet is to get out of the water, swimming away with smooth, even strokes that won't attract its attention.
Face your foe
When a shark wants to eat you, you'll know in advance: It will hunch its back, lower its fins, and rush at you in a zigzag. Thrust your spear gun, camera housing, knife, or whatever else you're packing to discourage it. If you can, punch its super-sensitive nose or stab at its eyes or gills.
Divers report successful evasion by descending to the seafloor and waiting for the sharks to leave. But that only works if you've got an air tank.
Right a capsized boat