Saturday, January 30, 2010

Some Thoughts on Bugging Out by Boat

I know boats aren't for everyone, and many readers live in regions where there is no need for one and other means of travel are more suited.  But if you are anywhere near a coastal area, large lake or rivers or streams, boats of many varieties can be a great option.  The primary advantage of bugging out by boat is that a boat can get you places that can only be reached by boats, so the act of taking to the water immediately separates you from the vast majority of people who do not have boats.  This can be a real life-saver in a bug-out situation.

 Below: That's me landing my sea kayak on an uninhabited Gulf Coast island. This small kayak can easily carry two week's suppy of food, plus all your but-out gear.

I'll be looking at the pros and cons of all sorts of boats in future posts on this blog, and in my book as well there is a discussion of different kinds of boats that could be used for bugging out, ranging from simple, open canoes all the way up to fully-self sufficient cruising boats. 

I will also look forward to sharing some of my experiences about my travels on the water here, and what I learned about what works, what doesn't and why.  I've traveled thousands of miles by sea kayak and by canoe, including a 13-month journey down the coast of Florida and through the islands of the Caribbean, and a trip down the Mississippi River that began in Canada along the old fur trade route.  I've built more than 15 boats and counting, ranging from dinghies and kayaks to the 26-foot cruising catamaran I'm currently finishing up.  You might say I'm a bit obsessed with boats and I will freely admit it.  

Below: That's me in mangroves of the Florida Keys in 1988, two months into a kayak trip that extended over 13 months. The kayak was a  Necky Tesla, 17-feet long, built in Kevlar.

Below:  A 17-foot camp-cruising catamaran I built from plans by James Wharram Designs.  Perfect for cruising the shallows around Florida's remote Big Bend area of the Gulf Coast. See morebout this boat here.


Below:  The first Mississippi Backwoods Drifter, a 12-foot, double-ended John Boat I designed and built for negotiating the small, twisting creeks around here.  Paddles like a canoe but offers stand-up stability and can carry a good load of gear and supplies. See more on my Drifter page here.


Below: My 26-foot cruising boat, Intensity, which I lived aboard at times and sailed widely on the Gulf until I lost her to Hurricane Katrina in 2005. See more here.


Below: The replacement for my lost boat - a twenty-six foot catamaran that can go anywhere offshore, yet with only 18-inches of draft get into shallow estuaries and rivers, all while carrying enough stuff to be self-sufficient for months. More about this here on my construction blog.


  1. These boats are awesome. I live near the south Texas coastline (if you consider 60 miles away close, lol) and have wondered if a bug out boat would be a good idea.

    My boss attempted to kayak along the Gulf Coast from South Padre Island to Corpus Christi. He and his nephew were able to get to the East Cut near Port Mansfield before they gave up. Winds and current kept pushing them on shore, they were using too much energy. Next time - catamaran! He's quite outdoor adventure guy himself.

    You should consider writing an article or two for The Backwoodsman magazine. If you haven't seen it yet, I highly recommend you do. Lots of great DIY articles that people who like living outdoors may enjoy.

  2. Thanks for you compliments on my boats. Yes, wind and current can be an issue, but good kayaks are more capable than most boats of handing adverse conditions.

    I have been reading The Backwoodsman off and on for years. You're right, lots of good stuff in there.

  3. I live 5 miles from a river that can take me all the way down to the coast. I am looking into the various folding kayaks as a means to take to the water.

  4. I've been sailing all my life and have also owned everything from kayaks up to a 45' sloop. I was thinking how a sailboat would be a great bug out vehicle and home in one and I came across this blog. I'm one of those people who feels safest on a boat-you probably know what I mean.
    I hadn't thought about a kayak because I have a wife. I am thinking a 36' sloop would be ideal, but a cat might be even better with the extra cabin space. I don't have much experience with anything bigger than a Hobie.
    Thanks for the good read and pix.

  5. Good to hear from a fellow sailor, and yes, I do know exactly what you mean about feeling safer on a boat. I get this feeling every time I cast off the dock lines or paddle off the shore.

    In the sizes I prefer, catamarans have less interior living space (in one location) than a comparable monohull, but to me the shallow draft is worth the trade-off. For ultimate seaworthiness, I prefer the open-bridgedeck style cats like the Wharram I am currently building.

  6. That is definitely my plan. My boat is in a coastal harbor, 10 minutes sail from open ocean near San Francisco and a 6 hour hike from my home on foot. Having a boat in the San Francisco Bay is not a good plan: the half-mile-wide Golden Gate channel would likely be blockaded by the "Captain of the Port" with passage forbidden to anything besides naval vessels.

    Keeping three weeks of water and food on board is easy. After that, you'd have to revert to fishing and a (large) solar still. A bigger problem, not discussed anywhere here, is navigation. Don't expect anything with transistors to continue working if he Big Snit occurs with either Russia or China (the former adversary being far more likely). An early EMP attack is part of their war doctrine. Learn to use a sextant and keep a decent mechanical clock and current copy of the Navigation Almanac on board. It takes about an hour to learn to how to take noon sights - which are adequate. Without the primitive navigation skills you gain with a sextant, and a set of paper charts, you'd be forced to remain within sight of land, making you easy prey to pirates who themselves lack "non-electronic" navigation skills.

    A small sailboat presents a very boring target. With the engine, electronics (especially the RADAR and depth sounder) and radios off, it is practically invisible to electronic detection. It's unlikely any naval force would go to the trouble to hunt you down since you represent no threat to them. And if you judicious take in the sails and go below, your vessel looks like one that is simply adrift and uncommanded. I recommend a sea anchor for both station keeping and survival in difficult seas.

    My plan: sail 40 miles offshore, put on my sun glasses, and watch the fireworks. Turn on the gieger counter (you have one of those, right?), and use a bucket to wash off any fallout off the deck. The prevailing winds are out of the northwest, from seaward, and any fallout is likely to be old and decayed before it arrives from Alaska. What then? Probably sail south. Hey Mexico, what is the Spanish equivalent of the phrase: "Turnabout is fair play"?


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