Using a Boat as a Bug Out Location

Guest post today from Joe Nobody, author of Holding Your Ground, Without Rule of Law, Holding Their Own and TEOTWAWKI Tuxedo.


I’ll let out a little secret here – I’m working on a new book about boats and survival. There are a couple of reasons for this new endeavor, not the least of which is that at one point in my life I was drawn to the ocean like a moth to light. We used to have a very nice power boat and practically every weekend was spent aboard. We voyaged all over the gulf coast, and some of my fondest memories were aboard our cruiser. Work, children and life changed that but one day I may retire on the water.

As a matter of fact, our boat was our bug out location for years. In reality, it wasn’t the perfect vessel for that purpose as it was a gasoline hog and wasn’t designed for extended voyages without re-supply. Boats are like cars, rifles and pizza – they are a compromise. Since we were weekenders, we wanted to get from point A to point B reasonably quickly and that translates into high fuel consumption in the nautical world. It doesn’t have to be that way as there are many designs out there that enjoy pretty good miles per gallon. These vessels are just slower than their gas guzzling brethren.  Probably the best is the original hybrid – a sail boat.

Some people will immediately dismiss the idea of using a boat as a BOL. In researching the concept for the new book, I went to all of the popular blogs and forums reading everything I could find. That didn’t take long as there isn’t a lot out there. At first, that was good news because I like writing about things no one else has. Originality is a good thing. What little I did find on the web basically dismissed the idea of a floating BOL due to practicality.

Now I can list a dozen reasons why a boat isn’t the best choice for a BOL, but practicality isn’t one of them. I asked myself “what am I missing here?”

Like so many things in the blogosphere, people spout off about topics they really don’t know anything about. You could take the word “blogosphere” and substitute it with “Cable News” or “the water cooler at the office” and that statement would still be true, but for us Preppers, the internet is one of our primary resources. When someone lays out a line of crap on the net, many of us Preppers nod our heads and take the information to heart.

I believe most people initially think boats are only for the ultra-wealthy. That’s not entirely accurate. You can purchase a reasonable condition, used sail boat for about the same price as a trailer camper these days. I see ads for hundreds of 25-35 foot vessels for less than $50,000. There are numerous tax advantages for a boat and many banks offer financing similar to a home mortage.

Now, low end used boats are known to be a money pit. Boats are similar to campers in that stuff breaks on them all the time. But for a BOL, they don’t have to be fully functional and ready for a transatlantic voyage. When you compare a boat to a piece of country property, complete with shelter, water and food supply – a boat starts looking like a bargain from a financial perspective.

Many boats are designed to be self-sufficient for long periods of time. This statement should cause the average Prepper’s head to snap up and pay attention. Many have water makers so you have virtually unlimited supply of fresh water. They have sewage systems, redundant power systems and huge fuel storage capacities. All of these items are normally high on anyone’s list of preps. A 35 foot, used sail boat I recently looked at was designed for four adults to enjoy extended stays onboard. It was $29,000. It had solar power, a generator, 12 volt to 115 AC inverter, full kitchen, two showers, microwave, two televisions, radar, GPS, VHF radio, dual voltage frig, dual voltage freezer, and ice maker, and a water maker. Its little diesel motor could move it along at about 10 miles per gallon without using the sails at all. Its 80 gallon fuel tank could run the generator for a long time.

If you want to discuss food supplies, it would be difficult to debate anything being better than a boat – even on fresh water. One could live off of fishing, kelp, oysters, shrimp and costal plants for a long time. Throw in a well thought out “deck garden” and you have a practically infinite food supply.

Energy, or specifically electrical energy, is a mixed bag on a boat. Many sailing vessels have wind turbines and solar systems of limited power. Huge banks of batteries are not uncommon. Some modern vessels even have electric drives. Almost every vessel over 28 feet has a generator. It would not be extremely difficult to set up a boat to be off-the-grid independent if it already isn’t.

From a security perspective, a boat would get mixed reviews. As all of my books denote, people are going to be the biggest problem if it all falls apart. It would be difficult to imagine being able to isolate one’s self more so than on a boat. The only security exposure from being water bound would be the difficulty in hiding. Depending on your geographic location, that may or may not be a problem. Along our Texas coast, I know dozens of private little coves where I have dropped the hook and spent the long weekend fishing. Again, all things are a compromise.

To summarize, a boat makes sense for a BOL in all of the major categories we prep for. Food, shelter, energy, water and security are all equal to or perhaps better than their landlocked alternatives. What strikes me as the biggest positive is the dual usage. Boating is fun for the family. Even if it never leaves the marina, being on or around the water can be a recreational highlight. If it never falls apart – if TEOTWAWKI never happens, boating preppers still would have invested in something worthwhile.

Please let me know if I’ve missed something here. I look forward to your comments.



BTW, there is also a forum thread on bug out boats on Zombie Squad.

26 comments… add one
  • KC April 3, 2012, 11:33 pm

    Joe, one of the biggest thing you missed about boat as a BOL is the fact that if things get bad where you’re at, all you have to do is pull anchor and make a run for it with all of your preps, gear and your home. The last time I checked you can relocate your BOL in the mountains.
    I’ve been around boats all my life, and I’m like and don’t get the problem with boats as a BOL.

  • T.R. April 3, 2012, 11:50 pm

    Very good ! In places like Maine where you have hundreds of small uninhabited islands , that would be perfect .

    • Jason April 4, 2012, 7:21 pm

      That would work for you too, wouldn’t it? Ha, ha

      • T.R. April 6, 2012, 11:45 pm

        Think of it this way , you need a boat to get to them , once there , other people also need a boat to get to it as well , you can controle who lands . I personally dont see anything happening that would make things get to that point where you would have to snipe at people in a small boat to stay safe . The downside to that is that you are easily isolated by other people . You may not be able to leave . Thats the thing about isolated areas , it may be your choice to go there , but it may be somebody else’s choice when you leave .

    • Melissa April 19, 2012, 7:57 am

      I live in maine and this is by far the best bol I can think of, there is the occasional issue that may arise with others out on boats potentially be coming the modern day pirates of the shtf. but aside from That I feel the safest on a boat if anything happens. I can see miles from each side what is going on, food is plenty, water is easy enough to make with the right tools, and i feel like I am in more control of my environment on a boat then in my house or RV. My only problem is finding different ways to route to get to the boat just in case roads are shut down, traffic stopped or not accessible. And can I get there in time before someone else takes my boat for fuel or scavenges my supplies I have on it.

  • Stoosh April 4, 2012, 12:51 am

    Dmitry Orlov of “Reinventing Collapse” (the book) fame and Club Orlov blog lives on a boat specifically for survival. He’s written about it on his blog many times.

    Google it.


    – Stoosh

  • Jarhead Survivor April 4, 2012, 7:57 am

    I used to work as a diver here in Maine and I can vouch for T.R.’s statement. There are more small islands off the coast than you can shake a stick at up here.

    If I were going to do this it would definitely be a sailboat of some kind. I used to work with one of the readers of this blog years ago bringing up boats that sunk or went aground or whatever, so I’d highly suggest you not skimp on safety or maintenance. If you don’t know how to fix it (whatever the problem may be) hire someone who can.

    Also, I’m not sure how a deck garden would work. The first good storm you’re going to have seawater all over the deck and I’ve never really found a good way to keep it out of everything unless it’s below deck.

    Other than that I think it would be a good idea. Like Stoosh says above – Dmitri Orlov decided years ago to live on a boat. Not a bad way to live if you like the lifestyle.

  • j.r. guerra in s. tx. April 4, 2012, 8:36 am

    Many of us also remember reading the stories of ‘River Rats’ and persons who lived in houseboats during the Great Depression, I’m sure the memories dimmed the bad points, but the good points sounded – good! If you born ‘In The Bayou’, I’ll bet good times would be easy to find.

  • Spook45 April 4, 2012, 9:18 am

    The problem with boats is defense. The only options are outrun em(in sme cases that is NOT an option) or stand and fight which in any cases would put you at a distinctive disadvantage. I can seethe appea and the pros to this too but if things are violent etc. a boat is not the place I want to be. IT is a slghtly mobile form of seige warfare and history tells that siege warfare does not wor. In theend the side that has the support , mobility and logistics will win out and the other side will lose if for no other reason tha running out of food.

  • russell1200 April 4, 2012, 9:37 am

    How is Pizza a compromise? LOL

    As noted above, Orlov has written some on the sailboat as BOV.

    The one novel I can think of that heavily features sailing as a BOV is Luke Rhinehart’s Long Voyage back.

    You could intermix it with Alex Scarrow’s Afterlight which features an off shore oil rig to come up with some interesting scenarios/ideas: particularly of the Gulf Coast.

    My biggest problem with Orlov, is that he views the sailboat as a free pass. In a severe collapse situation, those with access to waters will use that mobility, and it is fairly sure that some of those people will not be nice. The people of Dark Age Greece, and the Chaotic Medieval Baltic Coasts kept their villages safe from direct approach by water. Even if they were close to the water, they were up some high rocky promenade, or you had to wind your way through tricky swamps to get to village: they were not your fishing or trade friendly locations.

  • Newg April 4, 2012, 9:48 am

    This is a great option for Florida. As we Floridians know, when there is a full scale evacuation, like when the hurricanes hit in 2004, not everyone can be evacuated. The roads get so backed up and then people start running out of gas and just abandon their cars on the road. It is a total nightmare. Of course, if you have a boat, you can go out to sea with very little congestion (traffic) and wait out the catastrophie, whatever it may be. Of course, there is the option of setting sail for one of the Carribean islands or up the coast too.

    As far as growing food on a boat, a worm composter on board could provide soil/fertilizer for some container plants that you can cover or bring inside during heavy salt spray. I would probably have sprouts as a backup too.

  • Al B. April 4, 2012, 10:24 am

    I am not usually one to comment, have only done so a few times but, I do read and learn from others. In this I have some experience. I had been looking for a project boat that I could get inexpensively and work on, one of the reasons I chose this route is because by doing the work myself I would learn how to repair/replace on my own. I stumbled upon a 36 foot sailboat, that I began provisioning for distance voyaging and lo and behold a bugout vehicle/location was born. This boat had a sound hull, but needed updating to include an electric motor instead of fossil fuel and many other things that are too many to list, but as for practicality, it works for me, as I am in the Mid-Atlantic and not too far from Washington DC, so trying to get out of town quickly via roads would be difficult. The boat has beeen a boon in the down turned economy as well, because after having lost my job, home, and having to downsize my life, I was able to move me and my dog onto the boat to regroup. I bought the boat initially for $1000.00, I had put about 10K into it and could sail anywhere in the world I wanted, if the need came along. So for me it has already been a SHTF option, because on a personal level I have had a temporary SHTF event. I have even established a few cache locations in a few areas that a within a day to a few hours sail, kind of like buried treasure. Anyway I guess someone hit on a topic that was near and dear to me. Thanks Joe

    • Karen April 13, 2012, 4:50 pm

      I would love to find something like this for my son and I to work on. As I look at scenarios, I see one that appears to be overlooked~ inland flooding. I am south of Chicagoland and numerous dams. As the dams are all in need of repair and the weather keeps changing, I see a boat as almost a necessity. One storm that is too heavy, one dam giving way could cause everything downstream to flood and limit routes out of town. Seems like everyone who preps should have some sort of floating option available. I am near the top of a hill, but, if the Desplaines River floods, I will be stranded. Love my little homestead, but being a prisoner on my hill does Not sound appealing!

  • Lumberjok April 4, 2012, 9:03 pm

    Boats might be an option in a mild social unrest situation, but in a true SHTF situation, security would be a huge problem. When you are on the water you are “on display”. It’s not like you can hide behind a tree or sneak into a sheltered valley. Even the “secret cove” that only you know about will eventually be visited by pirates and you need to be able to get away quickly.

    Sailboats have displacement type hulls and the rule of thumb is that their maximum speed in knots is 1.34 times the square root of the waterline length. Supposing you could afford a 70 footer….trust me you can’t. Also, supp0se this behemoth has a 60 foot waterline length, your top speed would be about 10 knots. At that speed any garden variety runabout could easily chase you down and run circles around you.

    When I lived in Florida I ran a 20 foot Bayliner…nice little boat and it could gallop along at 38 knots all day long. There are only 2 problems with this, at that speed it had to be fed 10.5 gallons of gas an hour….and…cigarette style boats used to zip by me like I was stopped at a stop light. With power boats if you go bigger and faster the fuel consumption becomes obscene. Plus you have to have an ongoing supply of fuel.

    Your mileage may vary, but in a true SHTF scenario….I’ll take my chances on dry land.

    • Anonymous April 4, 2012, 10:32 pm

      I agree…land all the way. Even if you could outrun someone, which is unlikely, you can’t outrun a bullet. A boat is like the broad side of a barn and it only takes one round to take in water and lose everything.

      • Lumberjok April 5, 2012, 10:55 am

        Yup….if you want a real challenge….try raising chickens or growing potatoes on a boat…(big grin).

  • Michael April 4, 2012, 9:55 pm

    Boats work for me. Most marinas in my area have sturdy locking gates at their entrances, which is probably enough to keep most folks out. You might not even have to leave the dock.

    Fresh protein is easy enough to come by in the form of fish. Think the little bitty ones. In Puget Sound that means perch and herring.

    It’s not that hard to hide a boat, just find a inlet away from most other folks and people will leave you alone. Or shove a smaller boat into a reed bed. Post a watch and it would be hard for anyone to sneak up on you.

    Drop the mast and it wouldn’t be hard to hide a small sailboat like this one near and maybe in a major metro area.

    I think boats are a great option.

  • irishdutchuncle April 5, 2012, 8:45 am

    …one more item for my SHTF shopping list.

  • Ginger April 5, 2012, 12:58 pm

    I’ve lived on a 28ft (sailboat) with my family for 2 weeks in the summer every year sailing along the coast of Lake Michigan. I would compare it to living in a camper. The space is small, but its very efficient, with little hidy-holes everywhere. We didn’t have a fridge, instead we had an icebox. The toilet (head) would have to be pumped out once in a while. No heat. But all-in-all, it was fun and comfortable.

    It would work well for a SHTF event, but be prepared to make a few compromises. Can catch fish for food sometimes, but you won’t be able to keep a huge stockpile of supplies on board, because there just isn’t enough room. You’ll be limited on the fresh produce/supplies you can carry with you until you stock up somewhere (very difficult to garden). Fresh water is available (at least in the Great Lakes). Depending on your location, winter maybe difficult, so consider seasonal issues before committing to a boat.

    If you’re not an experienced sailor, find someone who can teach you how to handle a large sailboat with at least a jib and main. It is not like driving a car. It is also not like controlling a power boat. It is very different. Also, a larger/live-in sailboat is very different from the little sunfish you sailed one year at boy scout camp.

    The main problem with boating is foul weather. You can anchor/dock your boat, but weather can turn living on a boat into a dangerous situation, dock lines break and high winds can drag an anchored boat around. Also, if you’re thinking about using a boat as a BOV…get some training about reading charts and using a compass. You probably won’t be able to rely on fancy navigation systems, and if you can’t read a chart to determine navigable water routes, it can be very easy to run a ground.

    For security, its hard to say. You’re more open, but less people can get to you. I think you’d be more secure on an island accessible only by boat than on land accessible by anyone. The other security issue with a boat is that there is only one way into the cabin below and only one way out. This could definitely be a tactical disadvantage.

    For those of you wanting a boat in the Michigan area, my parents are selling theirs…contact me for info.

  • Legion7 April 5, 2012, 5:16 pm

    I’ve been looking at a large motor-sailer as a possible bug out location. I’m in the Pacific Northwest and the fjords of Canada aren’t too far away, and nearly deserted. If things get really bad, ground it and you’re back on land. I would worry about security, but have also found very nice thermal alarms that would let me know before someone gets within 100 yards. that’s still close enough to put a hole in a hull, and doesn’t take into account rain or divers. On the plus side, there are a lot of quiet, weather protected locations in the Puget Sound and northwards…

    Now to win the lottery!!!

  • ex-sailor joe April 6, 2012, 5:47 am

    Boats are cramped and don’t have storage room for extra food and supplies. You need a lot of fuel to power those engines (not to mention your nifty fridge, icemaker, stove, etc). Sewage adds up quickly, and waterways may be compromised with debris like decaying bodies and fecal material. Also fresh water would be hard to get in any event, and so would gasoline, and no one would be offering to get rid of your waste products either (tossing it over the side doesn’t work if you have to look at it the next morning).

    Also waves & storms would be less fun without a warm dry house to run back to…

    p.s. for you paranoid fanatics, the Coast Guard can board you in the meantime, and you would have a lot of explaining to do as to why you were prepped for WWIII.

  • CaptainMike April 6, 2012, 11:32 am

    I have given extensive consideration to this concept. I did a circumnavigation on a 40 ft ketch in the pre-electronic, pre-watermaker era. We used 48 gal of diesel in 5 years. On a 40 foot cruising hull you can easily store enough food for a family of four for 6 months or more. We relied primarily on rainwater catchment for drinking water. We stayed primarily in the tropics where it rained a lot. I am currently a professional mariner (and Navy vet) with over 35 years experience at sea.

    I know a prepper family of 5 who are currently living aboard a 40-ish ft ketch, though I tried to talk them out of it. The primary flaw is security. You are a soft target which can be seen from 5+ miles away. There are some things you can do to make yourself a harder target, the main one would be going for an all-steel, double-hulled design ($$$)

    The greatest advantage to a vessel based bugout would be for a biological warfare outbreak/accident/worldwide epidemic of a fatal disease. Head out and don’t come back until the radios/satellites go quiet. If anyone would like advice or have any questions on this topic answered my email is: =slowsailor AT comcast DOT net=

  • RamboMoe April 7, 2012, 9:09 am

    That is a GANGSTER idea.

    Like the end of the Dawn Of The Dead remake.

    As long as there are no zombie fish.

  • john April 14, 2012, 8:47 am

    Owning the dry land/island with the sail boat as a mode of transportation to it is is a good option. Though I would keep in mind the last time we had a minor SHTF with 911 there was a no fly zone and I would expect the same or worse on the water.

  • Simon April 15, 2012, 12:40 pm

    A sail boat as a BOL / BOV is to me to the logical answer if you are within a few miles of the coastline. I’ve prepped a 40 plus foot boat with more or less every conceivable prep necessity and could sit in the middle of the Pacific Ocean hundreds of miles from the coats and limited range power boats (pirates /zombies). My primary concern at this point is having all my proverbial eggs in one basket and fearing theft of my boat in a SHTF scenario. My plan in a SHTF situation is to get me and my family to the boat in under 15mins from my home and and carry my 9mm on me in the event I need to ask someone to politely get the f off my boat :) I’ve also rigged the boat with sufficient locks and disabling device to prevent someone from stealing my boat in under 1 hour.

    Also, as someone said, if our retarded government happens to save our collective asses from a SHTF scenario (which I have little faith in) then I will have a nice (real property / inflation/deflation hedge) asset that I can sell after the risk is gone and also have a nice place for my family to go and enjoy in the interim.

    Sailboats IMO are the BEST solution as they cover EVERY prep requirement including one commonly overlooked or being out of financial reach an that is a home in a foreign country. This boat can go anywhere and in a SHTF scenario you will see my ass in the south pacific somewhere waiting it all out :)

    Respect to all land based prepped but you may want to give the sailboat some real consideration.

  • Rattlesnake Joe February 8, 2015, 12:24 pm

    What you are all missing is this…The New World Order wants to cull the population of this planet down to 500 million humans. Now think about that for a minute. Right most of the worlds population is in the northern hemisphere, so the only place you can possibly survive is the southern parts of this blue planet. Americans have been targeted for termination period…they don’t want our money, or make us good little commies, they want us DEAD..DEAD..DEAD….get it. Think outside the box, this is your only hope.


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