bugout boat

Where to Live XV: the Bugout boat

4 mins read

Captain Cathar attempts to make the case:

Because of these challenges along any crowded coastline, I’d like to suggest that your readers consider a small sailing vessel as your bug out retreat. The greatest advantage is that you could get away in short order and with a minimum of sophisticated technology. The power of the wind can take you anywhere in the world…
What precedes and follows is a good list of the threats that might make bugging out necessary and a good argument that bugging out by boat might make sense. Bugging out by car makes sense as well in some circumstances.

bugout boat
Look at me, I am the Captain now.

It’s an insightful article, as is usually the case at Survival Blog, but with a significant blind spot: just as it does not make sense to plan to live in your car, it makes no sense to plan to live in your boat in SHTF. Here are a few reasons why:

  • The worse the SHTF is onshore, the more isolated you will be. While it’s a pleasure to spend one’s time sailing today, today’s navigator has access to GPS, weather radio, the Coast Guard, and peaceful, stocked ports. None of which may be available in SHTF. The romance of sailing today cannot be projected into a SHTF scenario.
  • Pirates. Yes, peg legs and funny hats and, AAAAARGH, Matey. With SHTF taking place in Somalia today, attacks by well-armed pirates have been reported along the shore from Tanzania to Oman and for hundreds of miles into the Arabian Sea. Do you really want to face a half-dozen motorboats full of armed and hungry pirates in your 28′ Pearson Triton?
  • Storms. Pray that your flight not be in winter, because if you’re sailing off New England, you’re in a fix.* If you’re in the Gulf Coast during hurricane season, you’re in a fix. In fact, anywhere in the world at any time, you’ll have to face the elements with no one to call, no one to come get you if you misjudge or just have a run of bad luck.
  • The Second Law of thermodynamics. Everything wears out, even your boat. Your food runs out. Your patience with that flat blue sea runs out. There is a reason very few people just float around the ocean until they die.** It’s neither a long nor enjoyable life in most cases.
  • The sea turns significant problems into catastrophic ones. If your daughter’s appendix bursts, how close are you to someone who can help her?

The idea of heading out to sea during an SHTF scenario sounds good on the surface, but like bugging out to Belize or Chile, its appeal is based on the experience of those for whom doing so today is a means of vacation and who unconsciously rely on technology and peace to move from place to place. SHTF, especially in an international scenario, is different. Rather than those who wish to sell you overpriced T-shirts, every landfall in SHTF will be crawling with those intending to sell your stores to starving people on land.
Bug out by boat, sure. But bug out to somewhere, get off the boat, and make a life for your kids where the wildflowers grow.
* And if you’re trying to get out of the Great Lakes, your boat had better be on ice skates.
** voluntarily, anyway.

El Borak is an historian by training, an IT Director by vocation, and a writer when the mood strikes him. He lives in rural Kansas with his wife of thirty years, where he works to fix the little things.

11 Comments

  1. A bugout boat is something I had thought about. The learning curve is too high for me. But a sailboat seems a good choice for someone who knows how to sail (just like a wilderness hideaway makes sense if you know how to hunt and live off the land). The boat holds considerably more storage than a car, and is able to travel where few others would be – after all, those motorboat pirates will eventually run out of fuel.
    Either way, another good article in a good series.

  2. Right-O. I do not expect readers to agree. I expect them to
    a) Think
    b) Do what’s right for those whom God has placed under their care and authority.

  3. The problem with a bug-out boat plan is that it’s another Lone Wolf plan. It’s all well and good to be a wolf – r/K selection and all that – but wolves are pack animals. Lone wolves usually die. Your SHTF Plan ought to have a pack, a community, you belong to.

  4. I feel like Yoda, much error here. Bugging out by any means requires knowledge to be successful. There’s also the SHTF scenario one is bugging from. Let’s assume the worse.
    First off, a sailboat provides a good solid platform from which to operate. Let’s talk pirates or, for you landlubbers, bandits. They want what you got. Story I once read about a family sailing off the Philippines. Pirates were heading there way in a powered whatever. The skipper, a doctor iirc, was a member of the gun culture. He began laying in rounds of 30-06 at appropriate range. They sailed on, cleared the area. The pirates didn’t want to die. Thing about the water, generally no trees or rocks to hide behind. A big game rifle can do a real number on a hull of motor. Get close enough and other weapons can come into play. Two people, properly armed, can lay down quite a barrage.
    A sailboat provides what a bug-out bag or decent 4×4 cannot. Properly equipped, one can hold 100+ gal of water, replenishment by rain. One can carry sufficient fuel, hopefully diesel, for 300-400+ steaming miles. Power generation to the battery bank by wind, solar, or water when moving. There can be both short (VHF, CB) and Single Side Band long range international communications. Propane (galley) for a year+ can be carried. There’s also refrigeration / freezer. Accommodations inside, out of the weather, is a comfort. One might also have a small fireplace, just in case. One might have to forage for fuel when needed, but cars don’t run on air either. Carry seed for planting when one finds a good spot. Of course… fishing gear.
    Then there’s available territory. Thousands of miles of coastline if one considers all the nooks and crannies one might hole up in. Boaters can also be a tight knit group, so one may very well have friends. There’s also trans-ocean capability, should one have it, that speaks for itself.
    My opinion, but 36′ is the minimum size. Larger is better within reason as it should be able to be single handed. Best if mast is under 65′ as to allow bridge clearance on the east coast of that is where one is. I’ve been a live-aboard for 30+ years, currently on a 41′ sloop, trans-ocean capable. People will say, “but what about storms?” Well, yeah… and? A hurricane, tornado, earthquake, name it can ruin your day. “What if you hit something?” Really? Like **** don’t happen on land? Also, forget about all the gadgets. Old school shall rule. Paper charts, dividers, etc, and of course a lead line should what electronics one does have… fail. Boats have sailed worldwide using nothing but dead-reckoning, though a sextant and knowing how to use it increases one’s ability greatly. Know how to navigate. Also, a water-resist watch with second hand good to within a few seconds a year, if possible, which one has calculated time loss/gain. Nautical almanacs and sun/star data too.
    Bugging out requires knowledge. Most city dwellers, in a SHTF scenario, won’t be getting out on the water. They’ll be traveling by land.

    • Ok, so you got the year out of it, fine and dandy. Then what? While us landlubbers will be saying, “Damn it, now I have to open all of these pretty seed packets I had collected and start taking care of the stupid animals better” you will be essentially wasting an entire year of productivity to get yourself sustained for NEXT year.
      And I wouldn’t count on the make landfall in someplace that the shit don’t stink or will just be welcoming you with open arms. In a “brief bit of bother” of unrest that lasts a few months, sure I can give the position a bit more credence. But in real SHTF stuff? You best be working on next year’s supplies while you eat this one’s.

  5. Realistically, a boat has been, and has always been, a SHTF refuge.
    Practically speaking, there are disruptions and there are disruptions. And there is safety, and also safety.
    Being a subject matter expert helps. Having a boat does not make one a master mariner. Being a master mariner makes one a master mariner. Growing up poor in a fishing community with far too many foggy days, we piloted with a sounding lead, arming tallow, compass, and a good watch, and navigated with the sun, compass, LORAN and an RDF (and boy, wouldn’t those last two be missed as much as GPS), which was more than enough sail from New England to the Azores.
    Modern boats would be an issue for sure. My 49′ cutter started life as a sardine carrier. It can hold 26 tons comfortably, and has a ton of room for trade goods. Is it optimal? No, a mountain fortress might be better. However, it gives on options, and masturbatory fantasies of a SHTF situation creating homesteading opportunities for fantasy fetishists aside, bugging out does not have to be permanent. However, sometimes it is. I am just old enough to have memories of the ruins of 19th century fishermen’s houses made of overturned sailboats when I was a kid.
    Piracy IS alive and well, as any truly wandering sailor will tell you. I have been shadowed the whole length of the Straits of Magellan, and shot over the heads of ‘fishermen’ in Guyana and Dominica. Is a boat ideal? No, it’s not, but it’s good enough as an option to buy time and give one options.

  6. In your rebuttal of the “buggout boat you forgot one thing. Everything negative about a buggout boat can be had with EVERY other “plan” you’ll make , in TEOTWAWKI , with one exception. In a boat you can take ALL your preps with you when you run away. On land you are tied to one spot. Just as helpless, and you can only take what you can carry on your back when land pirates try and board you. As I spent much of my young life at sea. Both under sail, and on Power boats. I’d say it isn’t any worse a “buggout” plan than most I read every day.. and your house, preps , transport, and everything else go’s with you when you up the hook and set a coarse for your next port o’ call.

  7. Bug out by boat can be an excellent short-term plan; perhaps 1-2 weeks. You can quickly get away from imminent local threats such as 9/11. After that you better have another plan.

  8. Sailboat is a great idea for a bugout, but having a reasonably close destination to get fresh water,food etc would be nice.
    I would love to have enough tribe and the access to a port where my crew could commandeer a fueling ship out to sea and make our own island. What better bartering power than a large store of fuel and the ability to run the generators and live in relative comfort. Ideally also snag a couple of smaller size patrol craft to maintain security. Barter fuel for food and continue to build your tribe from the community of local boaters as they would have a strong motive to help you survive.

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