How to Survive a Shipwreck

Building a Raft

HSW 2008

If you've had enough of island life and feel gutsy enough to try to float to rescue, you'll need a raft. The first thing you should know, however, is that this is a very dangerous move, and the likelihood of building a raft that can survive the rigors of ocean storms over a great deal of time isn't very good. Add to that the fact that you'll have no signal fire and only a limited amount of food and water -- you may wish you were back on the island.

To build your raft, you'll need a lot of wood and vine for lashing. As with the spear, bamboo is the best thing to use for your raft. The hollow culms, or stems, of bamboo are filled with air, making it extremely buoyant. Cutting down a large bamboo plant is virtually impossible because of its strength, so your best bet is to burn it at its base until it falls. Pierce the lower culms to release the air and prevent an explosion.


Before you start construction, place two large bamboo trees on the ground about 8 feet apart. Build the raft on top of these to help slide it into the water -- it will be extremely heavy. You should also build it close enough to the water to get it in with ease, but not so close that it's in danger of floating away with high tide.


HSW 2008

The construction of the raft is pretty simple, but takes time -- something you'll have plenty of. Build your frame first:

  • Get four large pieces of bamboo. One set should be roughly 8 feet long, the other 12 feet.
  • Place the longer pieces in the bottom, then the shorter ones on top to form a square.
  • The long pieces will extend from each side by 4 feet and act as stabilizing pontoons.
  • Lash together everything together tightly with rope or vine.


Now that you have your frame, begin making your floor and complete the pontoons:

  • Secure smaller bamboo pieces side-by-side on top of the frame until it's completely covered.
  • Tie four more bamboo sections to the far edges of the pontoons, spanning the length.

The most important thing to do now is test the raft -- get it in the water and climb aboard. If you have any doubts that the raft is seaworthy, don't attempt to use it. Being stranded on an island is a much better alternative than having your raft sink a mile from shore in shark-infested waters.

To find out more information on survival techniques and shipwrecks, please investigate the links below.

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More Great Links


  • Allan, Vicky. "Open Water." The Sunday Herald, August 7, 2005. is_20050807/ai_n14858460/pg_1
  • "Animals for Food.", 2008.
  • "Heatstroke: First aid.", 2008.
  • Man vs. Wild, "Desert Island." The Discovery Channel, 2007.
  • ­Northern Maritime Research, 2008.­
  • Peek, John. "Shipwrecked!" BBC Radio, January 15, 2008.
  • Survivorman, "Lost at Sea." The Discovery Channel, 2007.