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Has anyone been stranded in the ocean?

Being stranded in the ocean is a frightening experience that some people have unfortunately had to endure. While ocean rescues are often dramatic events covered in news headlines, there are many real stories of people who have been lost at sea and struggled to survive.

Famous Incidents of Ocean Survival

Some of the most well known cases of ocean survival demonstrate just how difficult it can be to stay alive in open water without food, water or shelter:

  • In 1942, Japanese sailor Poon Lim was stranded alone in the South Atlantic after his ship was torpedoed. He survived for 133 days on a wooden raft before being rescued. He fished for food and collected rainwater to stay alive.
  • In 1972, Dougal Robertson and his family were stranded in the Pacific Ocean for 38 days after their boat sank. They had a few supplies but mainly survived on rainwater, turtles and fish caught by hand.
  • In 1982, Mexican fisherman Salvador Alvarenga drifted across the Pacific for 438 days after a storm swept away his boat. He lived off rainwater, turtle blood and fish before washing up in the Marshall Islands.

These individuals showed remarkable endurance and resourcefulness to survive for weeks or months at sea with minimal provisions. Their stories are extraordinary examples of the human will to live. However, there are also many lesser known cases of people surviving days or weeks stranded in the ocean.

Surviving Days and Weeks at Sea

While most people would expect to last only hours or days floating at sea without water or shelter, some individuals have managed to survive for surprising lengths of time:

  • In 2016, two teenage boys in the Pacific Ocean southeast of Fiji clung to their capsized boat for 50 hours before being rescued.
  • In 2019, Jordan Cushnir and Karter Rae Koch survived 20 hours floating off the Florida coast by staying next to their capsized boat.
  • In 2020, excop Mike Plant survived 24 hours in the Gulf of Mexico by floating on a jet ski and signaling rescuers.
  • In 2021, mother and son Leia and Remington Mummaw spent 25 hours in the frigid Gulf of Alaska before a passing ship spotted them.

These stories demonstrate that even a day and a half or two days in open ocean can challenge the limits of human endurance. Dehydration, hypothermia, jellyfish stings and shark threats make every additional hour an incredible fight for survival.

How Long Can You Survive at Sea Without Water?

One of the biggest threats when stranded in the ocean is dehydration. The human body can only survive a few days without water, and hot tropical conditions will speed up water loss through sweating and respiration:

  • In moderate weather and without heavy activity, survival time is typically 3 to 5 days without water.
  • In hot weather up to 95°F, expect survival time to decrease to around 3 days.
  • With heavy activity like swimming, survival time without water may shrink to just 1 to 2 days.

Floating on a life raft and exposed to the sun, most people stranded at sea can only go a couple days at most without fresh water before kidney failure results. However, drinking seawater further accelerates dehydration, so viable sources of fresh water like rainfall are critical.

Dangers and Hazards

In addition to dehydration, numerous marine hazards endanger people stranded at sea. Without food or water supplies, individuals are vulnerable to:

  • Hypothermia – Cold ocean water rapidly strips away body heat. Even in tropical regions, overnight lows can cause hypothermic conditions.
  • Jellyfish stings – Painful stings from floating jellyfish can induce shock and disable swimmers.
  • Shark attacks – While rare, dangerous sharks are attracted to people floating in the water.
  • Saltwater – Drinking seawater accelerates dehydration and causes kidney failure.
  • Hallucinations – Sensory deprivation from endless ocean expanses can induce hallucinations.
  • Ocean swells – Large waves and swells make staying afloat physically exhausting.

Survival often hinges on creative adaptations like makeshift shelters, techniques to catch rainwater and harnessing ocean currents to reach land.

Famous Real-Life Castaways

Stories of real-life castaways have captivated the public for centuries. Here are some of the most famous cases of people stranded on desert islands:

  • Alexander Selkirk – This Scottish sailor was left behind on an uninhabited island off Chile in 1704 after a dispute with his captain. He survived alone for 4 years before being rescued.
  • Marguerite de La Rocque – Marooned on an island off Quebec in 1542, this French noblewoman survived with her lover for 2 years before being rescued.
  • Philip Ashton – After being kidnapped by pirates in 1722, this Massachusetts fisherman was abandoned on Roatan Island off Honduras. He survived for 16 months by foraging and trading with locals.
  • Ada Blackjack – Abandoned by her male expedition teammates in 1921, this Iñupiat woman survived for 2 years alone on a remote Arctic island before rescue.

These little-known tales of survival against the odds demonstrate human resilience in extreme isolation. The will to endure can push people to persevere using primitive survival skills and sheer determination.

Famous Fictional Castaways

Imaginative works of fiction have also captured the public’s interest in castaways on desert islands. Some of the most well-known fictional tales include:

  • Robinson Crusoe – In Daniel Defoe’s 1719 classic, an Englishman survives 28 years on a remote Caribbean island before being rescued.
  • Swiss Family Robinson – This 1812 novel tells the story of a shipwrecked Swiss family who create an elaborate treehouse colony on an island.
  • Gilligan’s Island – This popular 1960s TV show followed seven castaways stranded on a South Pacific island after a boat trip went awry.
  • Life of Pi – In this 2001 novel, a teenage boy survives a shipwreck only to be left drifting in a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger.

These fictional tales allow readers to imagine themselves in the shoes of resourceful castaways inventing survival strategies. They satisfy our curiosity about how we might fare stranded on a deserted island.

Voluntary Castaways and ModernCases

Amazingly, a few individuals have even chosen to voluntarily live as modern day castaways:

  • Tom Neale – Called the “modern Robinson Crusoe,” this New Zealander lived alone on the isolated Suwarrow atoll for a total of 16 years in three separate stays during the 1950s through 1970s.
  • David Glasheen – Since 1996, this former businessman has lived a solitary castaway lifestyle on Restoration Island off northern Australia.
  • Mauro Morandi – Known as Italy’s Robinson Crusoe, this former teacher has lived alone as caretaker of the Budelli island off Sardinia since 1989.

These individuals embraced an extreme version of off-the-grid living, craving solitude and self-sufficiency. Their voluntary isolation provides insights into human psychology when deprived of company for years.


From famous historic cases to Hollywood fiction, stories of castaways continue to intrigue us. While a few individuals have chosen island isolation, most are stranded by accident and struggle to stay alive. Their real-life tales reveal the extreme limits of human survival when deprived of basics like food, water and shelter. Though a scenario most would dread, these accounts of endurance, ingenuity and hope continue to inspire.