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Raft Survival: 11 Essential Tips and Techniques for Surviving on a Raft

Ocean survival requires a vastly different set of skills than any survival scenario on land. And while being stranded on a raft at sea is a very rare occurrence, it doesn’t mean you can’t plan for this worst-case scenario!

So to get you acquainted with what it takes to survive at sea, we’ve gathered our best 11 tips and techniques for raft survival just for you!

Raft Survival

1. Always Be Prepared For An Emergency

Whenever you’re out at sea, always be prepared for an emergency. Keep a mental note of the nearest emergency exits, floatation devices, and raft options. If possible, bring emergency gear with you, like a survival fishing kit or a survival first aid kit, whenever you’re out on the ocean.

2. Know How To Improvise a Flotation Device

In a raft survival scenario, you may find yourself in a situation where long-distance swimming is necessary to get to land or help. Without a floatation device to help you, this might be exhausting.

Luckily, creating a makeshift flotation device with just the clothes on your back is easy. Do so by following these steps:

  • Remove your pants and tie the ankles together tightly.
  • Lift your pants overhead, holding the waistband.
  • Slam your pants down on the surface of the water.
  • Air will be pushed up into the legs of the pants.
  • Close the waist tightly to hold in the air.

You now have a floatation device. Practice these steps in a pool to master the technique. Learn more about Knots Every Survivalist Should Know.

3. Learn How To Fix A Leak

Fixing a leak on a raft can literally be sink or swim.

The first step to fixing a leak is locating what you can use. Many life rafts come with leak repair kits, so check if one is available onboard.

Patches, duct tape, and other adhesives can be used when the leak is small or above water. Clamps or clam seals are a great solution if the leak is larger, as they essentially hold the hole shut.

4. Catch and Ration Food

Survival Fishing Kit

If you have any food, start moderate rationing immediately. Do not wait for it to be low to consider preservation.

Consider what you have available to you that may help you hunt or fish for food. Pocket knives, makeshift nets, shoelaces for fishing wire, and anything that can be used as bait are valuable assets. A survival fishing kit is also an excellent solution for catching a meal.

5. Store Rainwater

Keeping a ready supply of fresh water is imperative for raft survival. Use a bucket, tarp, or plastic bag to catch rainwater. And remember, the more surface area your collection device covers, the better! So make it big!

6. Create a Shelter

Anything you have lying around can be used to create a shelter. Spare plastic bags, luggage, clothing, life vests, or tarps should be assembled to defend you from the elements.

7. Stay Dry and Warm

Staying warm and dry is critical for preventing hypothermia. If you ever find yourself wet, remove all the damp clothing you can and get it as dry as possible. Resist jumping in the water unless it is necessary.

8. Practice Survival Navigation

Survival Compass

Knowing the direction you’re headed can help you determine whether you’re moving toward land. The easiest way to find your direction is with a compass. But if you don’t have one available, there are other ways to help you navigate.

Look for the sun in the morning and evening to determine where it is rising and setting. Knowing the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, you can gather your general direction.

North can also be found by locating the North Star. Find the Big Dipper constellation—a ladle-shaped group of stars—and look at the two stars on the end of the cupped part of the dipper. Those stars point to the North Star, which is also the last star on the handle of the Little Dipper constellation.

9. Spot Signs Of Land

Just because your eyes can’t see any land doesn’t mean it isn’t near! Raft survival requires continuous awareness, so always be on alert for these signs of land:

  • Light-colored water: lighter water often indicates that the water in the area is more shallow. Head in that direction if you can’t see any land but can see lighter water.
  • Bending wave patterns: waves refract—essentially, they start to bend—near a shoreline. If you see waves slowing down or bending, this is a good indication they might be nearing a shore.
  • Flocks of Birds: birds are more abundant near shore or over land. If you spot a flock moving at dusk, they are probably returning to a land mass. During the day, though, birds may be out at sea hunting, and their flight patterns probably do not indicate nearby land.

10. Attract Attention

If you have a signaling kit onboard, usually equipped with a flare gun, use that to attract the attention of any ship, aircraft, or person you spot.

Alternatives to flare guns that have been successful in catching the attention of ships and aircraft include; white or high-contrast colors, reflective items (glasses, mirrors, phone screens), loud noises, and bright light sources.

Raft Survival

11. Learn Survival Backstroke

Survival backstroke is the best swimming technique if you must swim long distances while maintaining awareness of your surroundings.

To initiate the stroke, flip over onto your back. Your face should be out of the water, which allows you to communicate if there are others in your group.

To move, pull your hands up to shoulder level. Simultaneously, pull your legs towards your torso by bending your knees. In one motion, push your arms outward and down towards your thighs and your legs down and around in a circular motion. You will end with your arms fully extended at your side and your legs and feet pointed. This will shoot you forward in a glide, similar to a flipped-over breaststroke.

This technique conserves energy and allows you to swim long distances if you ever need to abandon your raft and swim to shore.

Stay Afloat With These 11 Raft Survival Tips

Now that you’ve got these 11 raft survival tips down, it’s time to practice. So hop in a pool or on a raft and get to mastering these life-saving skills!

Are you interested in more extreme survival scenarios? Learn how to survive an avalanche in this how-to guide!