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Island Survival: 11 Essential Steps for Surviving on a Deserted Island

You may have thought about it as a game, but do you know what would you do if you were actually stuck on an island? While it may seem a little unlikely that you’ll ever need to use island survival skills, you’re better off safe than sorry. Plus, a lot of the rules are helpful in a wide variety of survival situations!

Keep reading to learn the 11 steps that everyone should know to keep themselves safe if stranded on an island.

Island Survival

Step 1: Stay Calm

From the very beginning of any survival situation, staying calm is a number one priority. Remaining calm will allow you to conserve as much energy as possible.

Before springing into action, take some deep breaths and think through your next steps.

Specifically, you’ll need to take note of weather conditions as well as the time of day to figure out which of your next steps should be at the top of your to-do list.

Step 2: Split Up Survival Tasks

If you’re stranded with multiple people, you’ll want to divide and conquer so that you can find food, shelter, and water as quickly as possible.

Relatedly, some people might be better at certain tasks than others. You should keep your group’s strengths and weaknesses in mind accordingly when figuring out who will do what.

If you’re tackling island survival on your own, then you can probably skip this step. Just make sure that you’ve established the order of the tasks you’ll accomplish solo!

Step 3: Find a Drinkable Water Source

Humans can only survive up to three days without water, so you’ll want to prevent dehydration as much as possible. This fact is why locating potable water is above securing a food source.

The further inland you can find a water source, the better chance you have of the water being safe to drink.

Island Stream

Sources of running water like streams, waterfalls or rivers are also ideal when it comes to water that won’t make you sick.

Depending on the weather, you can also attempt to collect rainwater or dew using any bowl-shaped items you have on hand or that you can construct.

As a last-ditch survival effort, you can try building your own water distillation system.

Step 4: Build or Locate Shelter

Next, you’ll need to secure shelter! Having a reliable shelter is essential to island survival because it’ll keep yourself protected from the elements and allow you a safe place where you can catch your breath.

If you’re able to find a natural shelter without building anything, utilize it until you’ve secured food and administered first aid. After that, you can build something a little sturdier and more permanent.

When constructing a shelter, build something that works well with the landscape of the surrounding area.

As you look for the ideal space to construct a shelter, try to find a flat, clear area that isn’t susceptible to flooding or will expose you to predators.

In addition, you should attempt to build your sleeping area up off of the ground so that you’ll be less likely to come into contact with snakes and other animals that might be poisonous or harmful.

On a similar note, if you’re in a more tropical area, it’s also a smart idea to construct something as close to mosquito netting as possible for additional protection.

Step 5: Create Warmth

Keeping yourself warm is the fifth must-do for island survival. In most cases, creating warmth will probably come in the form of building a fire.

To start, gather dry wood of various sizes as well as some dead leaves to use as a base.

Once you have these materials, make or find a groove in one of the larger pieces of wood and fill the groove with tinder.

Island Fire

After this, take a hardwood stick and put one of its ends in the groove on top of the tinder. Move the stick back and forth very quickly inside the groove to create friction.

Once the tinder has ignited a bit, blow on the fire to get it going and add a little more tinder.

Be careful about the amount of tinder that you add once your fire gets going a little. You don’t want to smother the initial spark!

Step 6: Gather Food

By this point, you’ve probably figured out that finding food on the island is another incredibly important task. You’ll need some energy if you’re going to get yourself out of this survival situation!

The first and easiest plan of attack will be to search for fruit. However, only eat fruit that you know for sure what it is, like coconuts or bananas, so that you don’t eat something poisonous or make yourself sick.

Depending on what kind of body of water is surrounding the island, you may be able to find oysters or clams in the more shallow parts of the water.

If you’re really struggling to gather food sources, you can also eat seaweed.

Step 7: Catch Food

Catching your food may be another option for obtaining sustenance depending on how strong your fishing and hunting skills are!

Island Spear

For example, if you’re near a body of water that has fish in it, you can fashion your own spear and go fishing. Simply sharpen the tip of a particularly long stick or piece of wood, and you’re good to go!

When spearfishing, move slowly so as not to startle the fish, and as soon as you’re ready to strike, aim for the fish’s head. Find more tips in the Beginner’s Survival Fishing Guide.

Step 8: Administer First Aid

A huge part of island survival is keeping yourself in good enough physical shape to complete these steps. This is where first aid comes in!

It should go without saying that obviously this step can be higher up on the list if you’re suffering from a severe injury or illness.

Otherwise, it’s important to take note of any small blisters, scrapes or bruises and treat them accordingly to keep yourself in working order.

Apply pressure to anything that’s bleeding and elevate swollen legs and ankles. Learn more on our First Aid page.

Step 9: Construct Tools for Self Defense

To really up your survival abilities, create some rudimentary weapons to protect yourself from larger animals you might encounter.

Use whatever materials you have on hand to make something sharp that you could throw or use to stab.

In fact, you can even utilize your fishing spear as a prototype and fashion weapons similar to it in varying lengths and sizes.

Perhaps the most important aspect of self-defense is keeping yourself out of danger in the first place! Be proactive about your protection strategies and you may not have to defend yourself at all.

Avoid deep water if you can and stay out of large holes and caves where animals could be living. In addition, steer clear of smaller, unfamiliar animals like snakes or other insects that could be poisonous.

Step 10: Make Yourself Loud and Visible

While the first nine survival steps will keep you alive for as long as possible, your ultimate goal is to be rescued! Making yourself loud and visible to any potential rescuers is the best way to do this.

Island Survival

Since you should already have a fire going, you can use what you already have to make your presence stand out. Build up your fire so that the smoke and flames can be seen from a far distance.

Whether it’s the actual words “SOS” or another clear, visible signal of distress, use rocks and sticks or just draw in the sand to create a message or other pattern that indicates signs of life,

It’s important to stay close to where you built your shelter and try not to move your shelter around unless it poses serious safety concerns to you. This tactic will also help you be easier to find.

Step 11: Construct a Raft

If the tactics in step 10 seem totally hopeless, you can try building a raft out of vines and logs to get you off the island!

Gather some large logs and a similar number of medium-sized logs. In addition to these materials, gather some long vines that will hold up to pressure.

First, line up the larger logs side by side and then lay the medium-sized logs across them perpendicularly to act as supports.

Weave the vines over and under the larger logs, wrapping them around the support logs as you do. When you’re done, tie off the vine in a sturdy knot.

Island Survival Raft

Test your raft in shallow water before giving it a go in open waters. You may also want to try standing on it to see how sturdy it is.

If possible, bring some extra vines with you to add extra support and repair breakages in case they arise.

Wrapping up Mastering Island Survival

Although you’ll hopefully never be in a situation that forces you to use the island survival skills you just learned, at least now you’ll have them in your back pocket for any survival situation!

The principles of staying calm, utilizing the materials you have, and making yourself easy to find are all extremely valuable anywhere and any time.
If you want to learn more about how to survive in all sorts of environments, check out our Cold Climate Survival page for all sorts of info!