Through the ordeals of an island: How to survive when you’re stuck on an island by India’s coastline

From literary classics like Lord of the Flies to films like Castaway and Blue Lagoon, the “stranded at an uninhabited island” trope is extremely pervasive in the realm of fiction. The trope is so familiar that it even earned a name to it; Robinsonade. A Robinsonade is a storyline that follows one or more characters who are marooned in the wilderness due to unanticipated causes and are left to claw and scrape from what nature has to offer. However, surviving on an island post a shipwreck in real life could be harder and more dangerous than the romantic renditions that films have fed us. So how do you survive when you’re stuck in a land with only endless stretches of ocean to look at. It might be a physically and emotionally crippling process that could sway one’s judgment easily.

Therefore, the first tip that one must try their best to follow is to keep calm. Help might be on its way already, so keeping cool and not panicking will best help conserve your energy. Gather as many essentials as you could from the ship and quickly swim away (preferably breaststroke) from the shipwreck, since the sinking ship might cause suction and pull you into the water. It is always advised to be prepared with a set of requirements beforehand, like flares, a first aid kit, flashlights, batteries, mirrors to reflect on surfaces, magnifying glasses, a matchbox, drinking water, canned food etc. Carefully look for injuries on your body since an infection that isn’t nursed properly or a blood clot may reduce the odds of your survival drastically at a later stage. Former Navy Lieutenant commander Paul Hart said that the first essential you should rummage for after wreckage is ‘rubber boots’ to protect your feet.

Shelter, food and fire should be your biggest priorities if you’re abandoned on an island.

A good and safe shelter is essential to protect you from exposure to the harsh climate and predatory animals that might be around. A shelter can play a big role in saving you from a heat stroke if the weather is extremely hot, or from hypothermia if the weather is unbearably cold. Bamboo stems and palm fronds must be abundantly available in the tropical islands around the Indian coastline. Bamboo, being one of the strongest woods available, is an ideal foundation to hold up your shelter. Firmly fix a few large bamboo stems into the ground and top them with dried palm fronds, which will act as the roof.

Your chances of survival are ten folds higher if you find a freshwater source near you. A study based on modern-day hunger strikes proposes that an average human can conveniently survive without proper food sustenance for as long as two months. Yet, it takes less than 8 days without water to take down a person. Dehydration leads the cells of our body to shrink and severely impedes blood circulation, oxygen circulation and most other essential body functions for survival.

Possible sources of freshwater around you are island rivers, lakes, ponds, caves etc. Water usually collects in valleys, so moving downhill spikes up your odds of finding a waterbody. Pay attention to the direction in which animals are moving by following footprints on the ground and to which way birds are flocking towards. Plush greenery is also a good indicator that there’s a water body nearby. Lend your ears to nature while you’re resting, because you might be able to hear a stream or river running nearby. It’s strictly advised not to consume saltwater directly from the ocean, especially since the salt might cause dehydration. If it rains on the island you’re stranded on, you can also conserve rainwater in a pit. Coconut water is a ready source of water and nutrition (like potassium, vitamin C and carbohydrates) on a tropical island. Be sure to not shake the tree from the bottom to acquire the coconuts since the chances of the fruit falling on you is fatally high. Carefully climb up the tree and pluck them. Most tropical islands around the Indian coastline will house a dense growth of flora and fauna. You can feed on berries, fruits and nuts while you hunt for small animals or fish.

The crucial thing to do after finding water is to purify it. Although you might be deceived by how clean a river might look, it could be wallowing with a range of harmful bacteria and viruses. Boiling is the best way to kill microorganisms. You could break a bamboo stem and use it as a water bottle or store water in the shells of fruits or nuts. Feel free to improvise with what resources you can find around you. Carving tools out of sticks and branches could come in handy when you need a spear to catch fish, snails or crabs to eat. It’s best to avoid jellyfish, fish that have spikes or puff up. Now it’s time to build a fire, and roast some fish and moon-gaze in the dark.

The most pivotal essential, while you’re stuck on an island, is fire. It’s going to be the key source of warmth and will help repel predatory animals and insects. Collect as much wood as possible and slowly build a fire. Anything from tree barks to coir can fuel the fire, given that they’re completely dry. It’s a bonus if you began a fire on flat and dry ground close to a firewood source.

In William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, Peggy lights a fire by focusing the sun with her spectacles. This eventually became the crucial plot point that helped the stranded boys to be rescued. Fire could also save the day by catching the attention of a ship or plane that might pass the island.


  1. wikiHow – How to survive after a shipwreck
  3. – Castaways: Seven incredible stories of human survival
  4. HowStuffWorks – How to survive a shipwreck
  5. Lord of the Flies – William Golding

Published by LakesOfIndia

Lakes of India is an E.F.I initiative aimed at sensitizing the larger public on freshwater habitats across the country. A blog platform where one can read about lakes across India. You can become a guest blogger to write about a lake in your hometown and initiate an action to protect that lake.

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