How to Live on a Deserted Island

Four Parts:Taking it in your strideEstablishing the necessitiesWorking togetherGetting rescued

The worst possible thing has happened: you are stranded on a deserted island as a victim of circumstance. All hope may seem lost, there is no hope of finding rescue. To the contrary, it can be very easy to survive on a deserted island, even thrive or find rescue, provided you know what to do.

Part 1
Taking it in your stride

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    Stay calm. The most important thing is to remain calm and think clearly. If you start panicking, you can lose control and end up losing your chance of survival. You're not going to do so well if you've driven yourself mad. William Golding's novel 'Pincher Martin' is a great account of how you can convince yourself of almost anything if you don't take control because the main character lets panic get the better of him. Also to calm down you can find something to make a buddy out of. If you make a buddy to talk to it will help you calm down. Your priorities should be safety, water, shelter, food. In that order.
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    Look around for safety precautions. Is the area you are in safe? Are there wild animals? Risk of flooding? Establishing physical safety is the first important step.

Part 2
Establishing the necessities

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    Look for a clean fresh water supply. Most people start by looking for food, but it is a fact that almost all "lost" people are found in a matter of hours or a couple days. You can live for 2 weeks without food but only 3-4 days without water. If there is no natural source of water, look at constructing a way to collect rainwater.
    • Any source of water is good. As long as you have it, you can purify/desalinate it.
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    If fresh water is available, boil it for 2-3 minutes to be sure.
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    If you have a desalination device, great! If not, there are several methods to desalinate it.
    • One method is distillation. Construct a solar still, or one that works over a fire.
    • A solar still can be constructed by filling a large, flat container with salt water or even urine which can be re-usable, if need be.
      • Place a smaller container in the center with a rock in it to hold it still. Cover it with a thin sheet of plastic or whatever you have and place a rock in the center above the cup.
      • If placed in direct sunlight, water should evaporate and condense on the plastic running down and dripping into the smaller container.
    • For a method that works over fire, create steam and condense that steam by using a piece of metal or glass in the steam that allows the condensed water to run into another container.
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    Create a shelter. You will need protection from the elements and natural predators. This could be a natural shelter such as a cave, or one you construct.
    • The next step after finding a natural shelter is to build a more enduring shelter. A shelter provides a home base, somewhere warm and shady to sleep, a place for storing resources, and somewhere to hide from animals. Try to keep the shelter above ground so bugs don't crawl on you.
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    Find food sources. The ocean is filled with life. Try constructing a low V shaped wall out of stones at low tide, with the point of the V pointing out to the sea. At high tide, fish should swim inside but become trapped as the tide flows out.
    • There are lots of edible roots and berries, but watch out! Some are poisonous. Only eat them if you are sure they are safe. The best, and most reliable source of food is bugs. Yes, bugs. They are everywhere and an excellent source of protein. If deciding to fish with the bugs instead, a hook can be fashioned by carving out a stick into a hook shape and putting a barb on it. Tie string to it and you're in business.
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    Evaluate your resources. Do you have a source of fresh water? Do you have a long range radio, satellite phone, or other means of communication? Are there other people? People, if managed correctly, can be your greatest resource.
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    Start a fire. This may seem like a trivial thing on a deserted island, but fire has a number of uses. At the very least, it is a morale booster. You have accomplished your first task, which is key for morale. Fire can also be used to distill water (more on that later), cook, and provide light for you and your rescuers. If you can't start a fire, don't worry, just move on to the next task and keep trying.
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    Ward off dangerous animals. If there are dangerous animals, use fire at night to help keep them at bay. If you have a fire extinguisher, it can be used to ward them off in an emergency. Traps and warning signals (such as snapping twigs) etc, can be used to prevent animals from entering your shelter zone or alert you to their presence.

Part 3
Working together

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    Act on all approved ideas together. Everyone in the group should work together to ensure that all needs are met, and to ensure that all resources available are put to good use.
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    Bury dead companions. Should anyone die, bury them and hold a funeral. This brings closure, gives the due respect required and removes a potential source of disease.

Part 4
Getting rescued

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    Arrange rocks or large objects on a clear path to signal for help. In William Golding's novel 'Pincher Martin', the stranded man builds a figure out of rocks that can be seen by passing ships. The recognized mountain distress signals are based on groups of three (six in the UK). A distress signal can be three fires or piles of rocks in a triangle, three blasts on a whistle, or three flashes of a light, in succession followed by a one minute pause and repeated until a response is received. Three blasts or flashes is the appropriate response. If you are clear view of boats attempt to make a large red X.
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    Try to make contact. Build big, unnatural looking shapes using bright colors and shiny things. Use a radio, if available, to contact possible rescuers. Use signal mirrors, fires and flashlights and whatever else to draw attention to yourself. This can be done while you wait.
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    Never give up. Desperate acts can be lethal to you and others with you. Willpower is what allows people to survive without food for weeks. Without the will to live, you won't. Always envision the great life that you will have, if you give up, that will be the end.


  • Make large piles of wood and start them off with fire to make smoke signals, dry wood works the best.
  • Make a hat to keep the sun off you so you don't burn.
  • Try to make a fishing rod out of sticks and vines. Then for bait, use things like worms. Making a hook can be done with the 8-shaped top on an aluminum can, a tie-off with twigs, or even segments of a thorn bush
  • When making a fire, make sure you have kindling, fuel,and tinder. The best way to create a fire is when the wood is in a cone/triangle shape.
  • Each individual situation is unique and needs its own situational analysis. Take the time to think over what you have, who is with you, what you need, and things of that nature
  • Use dry wood for fires as it works better.
  • Use a stick to hunt octopus or variety of crustacean.

Collect any material you will find on the beach. If the island has coconut palms you are in luck. Every part of coconut palm is useful for survival.

  • Do not waste your time looking for a river: most islands don't have them. If there is no water on the island, leave rain collectors on the beach. If there is dirty or salty water, siphon out the debris with cotton, boiling, distillation, or, ideally, a water purifier.
  • Use this as your order of priority: water, shelter, food, rescue.
  • Tropical beaches typically aren't empty, especially where there's storms. Driftwood will be most common, but other useful debris is not out of the question.
  • To make a stone knife, use a small rock to forcefully chip away at a larger one. Also use this technique for making spear heads or axe blades.
  • Insects are your best source of food. They are high in protein, and are found almost everywhere in the world. Before eating bugs, remove their heads, stingers, and carapaces. It is always safer and more palatable to eat them cooked, especially with ants. Avoid brightly colored bugs or anything that moves slowly. Do not risk disturbing insects that can sting or bite. Avoid parasites altogether.
  • Seaweed is also a great source of food. If it grows out in shallow water or washes up on the beach, collect it and cook/dry it if possible.
  • Hunting for fish is a worthwhile activity, and can keep you both occupied and fed.
  • If an island seems unusually low on birds, that may indicate that there are rats taking the eggs
  • Before eating a new kind of plant, perform the Universal Edibility Test. If you do not remember the exact procedure, remember to try the food gradually and with a clean palate: swallowing comes last. Test the most common plants first and dedicate around 4-8 hrs in this endeavor, while doing other things.
  • Driftwood, which is more common than you expect, is your best bet for building material, tools, and if dry, firewood.
  • Keep everything and everyone dry
  • If all survival is maintained, keep your mind indulged with hobbies. If you're in a group, play games of some sort. Fishing is also a great idea. While it may not seem important, activities such as these are ways to keep you sane, which is important in a survival scenario: just make sure necessities are covered first!
  • Use a sharp rock to remove the outer husk from coconuts. Then use a pointed rock to poke through one of the holes. If it's fresh, then poke through the hole that was receiving nutrients; it's the softest one.


  • Shark attacks can happen in knee-deep water.
  • If you do catch a tropical disease: stay hydrated, don't pick at scabs that form, don't over-exert yourself, and stay away from diseased vomit.
  • Those who have lived in temperate climates are used to mosquitos, but remember, in the tropics they are the most deadly animal you will face. Use anything you can to prevent them: spray your body with bug spray (Warning: Handle DEET and permethrin with extreme caution. They are flammable and poisonous in large amounts). Some plants may have bug-repelling properties as well. Fishing nets can be re-purposed for mosquito nets. As often as possible, especially if none of these procedures can be performed, stay on the coast.
  • Do not eat jellyfish or fish with the appearance of spines, fish that puff up, or fish that appear to have beaks.
  • If you are near places where there has been extensive European colonization in the past (i.e: South America, Africa, or Pacific Islands), watch out for rats. They can cause a lot of danger to you and your food supply.
  • Only drink urine as last resort, only when there is no obtainable source of water, should you drink your own urine. Do not store the urine in a bottle as only fresh urine is sterile. Also only drink the first passing of urine, because drinking highly concentrated urine can cause kidney failure. You need to make a desalinator to do this. You have to get the water out while leaving the salt and impurities behind. Otherwise, it's worse than salt water.
  • Stay away from crags on the seafloor, or if you must go there for food, come prepared. Not only are stonefish an issue here, but eels have been known to pack ferocious bites.
  • Do not eat berries that are white, most white berries are poisonous. if you are not 100% sure what they are, don't eat them
  • When looking for insects to eat, do not disturb a nest of stinging insects, spiders, or ants! Enough bugs attacking can kill.
  • Don't walk on the seafloor with bare feet. Rays and stonefish are common, and are often deadly.
  • Do not resort to cannibalism, especially if you're the only one on the island. It takes more energy to recover from loss of limb than is gained by the food itself.
  • If you have clothes, don't rip them for raw materials. Exposure, especially to sunburn, can be deadly.
  • Know the tides before you go spearfishing. There are difficulties to surviving on an island, but they are far worse if you are pulled out to sea.
  • Stay on the coast whenever possible
  • Do not drink salt water as a last resort. The salt dehydrates you and makes it worse only when you have no other water. A Professor from England proved this by sailing for 58 days and only drinking saltwater.[citation needed]
  • Leaves of three, let them be! These plants could be poison ivy.[citation needed]

Things You'll Need

  • Knife (a knife is the most versatile tool ever invented; there is nothing you can't do with a knife. If you don't have one with you, make one; breaking rock is a good place to start)
  • Duct tape (can be helpful in so many more ways than you'd imagine)
  • Dental floss (for a D.I.Y clothes line, shoelaces, fix frayed cords, sewn to patches and clean your teeth)
  • Food
  • Wire to make snares with, its an easy way to get food if you know what you're doing.
  • Rope
  • Pots and pans or metal cans (cooking, water storage, etc.)
  • Tarp (useful barriers against wind and rain, use as a blanket or a shelter, such as a makeshift tent)

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