Shoreline Survival Tips – Staying Alive Near The Sea

Shoreline Survival Tips - Staying Alive Near The SeaThe vast majority of the population of the United States lives within a few hours drive of a coastline. Theoretically, therefore, we can assume that the majority of Americans, when faced with a SHTF scenario, will be within traveling distance of an ocean or sea. These shoreline survival tips will come in handy if you find yourself amongst those people.

This is fortunate, indeed, when you consider the outstanding resources the shore has to offer a savvy survivor. How one goes about the business of wilderness survival along a coast will be governed or affected by the precise type of coastline the survivor finds himself on.

Shoreline survival tips

For instance, rocky shores in temperate zones may provide a survivor with mussels, mollusks, an assortment of seaweed and various echinoderms, all of which may be edible or otherwise useful. Tide pools found in rocky outcroppings may contain fish of surprising size and quantity, as well as the edibles mentioned above.

On the other hand, a sandy shore in that same zone may yield similar food sources, but these food items may be a bit harder to come by. Then again, this fact may be outweighed by the ease with which one can acquire palatable water in the sandy region, as opposed to the rocky one. Instead of searching for streams or creeks like the “rocky” survivor would likely be forced to do, the “sandy” survivor could dig a shallow beach well and have plenty of water.

So what we have here are so-called “trade-offs.” One area is well-suited for food, the other more so for fresh water. What both have in common, though, is a hinterland, i.e., the land behind the shore itself. What that hinterland contains for shelter spots and material, tinder, kindling, and fuel for a fire, and possible signal materials can make a huge difference in just how easy a time of it a survivor has. The terrain, too, of this region, and whether the survivor is on the leeward or windward side of a peninsula, island or near-shore mountain range will play important roles.

 As you can see, there are a lot of variables, here. We know that any survivor, regardless of his exact situation, will have to deal with one, though probably more, of five skill areas, those being first aid, signals, fire building, food and water, and shelter. These five areas of concern are collectively known as the “Pattern For Staying Alive”.

Shoreline survival tips – First Aid

The shoreline will present the survivor with some special concerns. The fringes of the oceans and seas are unique places, to say the least. Strange creatures with names like Lion’s Mane, Portuguese Man-of-War, Fire Sponge, Common Razor, and Long-spined Urchin can be found on or just offshore.

All can quickly and easily make life a terrible struggle for the unwary survivor. Injuries that appear minor at first have a nasty habit of becoming excruciatingly painful and even life-threatening, in a remarkably short period of time. The survivor who cannot or does not treat all wounds swiftly and correctly is a threat to his own existence.

While diving for lobster and abalone off San Clemente Island, Southern California, I failed to immediately treat two tiny, open blisters that had appeared on one toe of each foot. When I finished my third and final dive of the day, I noticed some pain in my toes, but being a tough fellow, I decided that I could put up with the pain, which I assumed would soon subside. By dawn, I knew I had made a major mistake.

The pain was now so unbearable that I could not walk. The diving medical technician aboard “ran the tables” three times to ensure I was not “bent” but determined that I was okay there. I was medically evacuated to nearest hospital, where what seemed to me to be the entire hospital staff tried to figure out what was making this once tough guy perform his “final, frenzied dance of death” every time you so much as thought about touching his inflamed foot.

Recommended article: Top 12 Antibiotics You Will Need When SHTF

They never did figure out what I had, for sure, but they did treat the ailment with Oxacillin intravenously, which cured me in about a week. The moral of the story is, treat all wounds quickly and completely, regardless of how trivial they appear to be. Assume nothing but the worst.

A very common injury experienced by survivors along the seashore are abrasions. Abrasions, especially those caused by coral, can become infected in no time — a situation the survivor needs to avoid. Caution is the key to avoiding them. Always wear footwear that will lessen the chances of you stumbling and falling, whether in or out of the water. Use a wading staff while scavenging in the shallows.

Punctures are also very common. Creatures like stingrays love to rest on sandy bottoms in the shallows, half hidden by sand. The protein-based toxin found in the barb on their tail can cause serious injury and intense pain. A hot water soaking of the wound will help alleviate the pain and reduce swelling in doing so.

Shoreline survival tips – Signals

Although sandy coasts are generally preferable for the construction and use of visual signals, the rocky shore can be just as facilitating for the crafty survivor. Many if not most shores have sea-weed of some sort on or near them. Some dry species of seaweed produce a great deal of smoke when heaped onto a blazing fire. That same seaweed can be used to spell out “SOS” on a beach.

If you have reason to believe that rescue will be made via helicopter, set your seaweed signal fires in a row, three of them, about 25 yards apart if you have the room. This will allow the pilot to get a good idea of wind direction in the landing zone. If I were you, I would never be caught without a signal mirror. Who knows how many survivors have been rescued because they “flashed” a passing aircraft with a signal mirror?

Related article: Signal For Help – Wilderness Survival Tips

Audio signals can be of good use on a shore, but many tend to be drowned out by the action of the surf. As with all portions of this system of survival, approach signal construction and use from a worst-case scenario. Don’t forget that that same wind that easily neutralized the effectiveness of your whistle can neutralize your signal fires, too. Your fire sets must be constantly checked to determine their state of readiness.

hey must be ready to be ignited at a moment’s notice from flames carried by you, from your base fire, which will usually be your campfire. If I had my way, and I often do, I would have three visual and three audio signals prepared for use at all times, day or night. If I knew that one or two would not be of any use at a particular time, I would have alternates in mind. All of my signals would command a passer-by’s attention.

Shoreline survival tips – Fires

Fire site selection is extremely important when it is to be used by a shoreline survivor. Quite frequently, the best location for your fire site will be near where the hinterland meets the shoreline itself. This border area may provide the survivor with quick access to his signal fire sets, as well as fire building materials both on the beach and in the hinterland itself. In other words, it puts you right in the middle of the action.

As far as the fire “triangle” — heat, fuel and oxygen —is concerned, this region also protects the fire from too much wind and other elements that might have an adverse effect on your campfire. Tinder can come in many shapes and forms along the coast. Sandy beaches often have fine grasses growing behind the dunes. Seaweed that was hidden by the sea at high tide may become visible and accessible at low tide. When dried out in the sun, a thin stripe of it can make good tinder.

Related reading: Making The Right Fire Type In The Wild

In sub-tropical zones, the inner husks of coconuts can be torn into shreds and dried. if necessary. It makes fine tinder. In temperate zones, the shore may be lined with conifers. Take some of the lower-most branches that are bare of needles, and shave off some resinous shavings. They, too, can be used as tinder. Kindling may come in the way of those same conifer branches, but a little thicker. Driftwood can be chopped into thin sections, no thicker than a pencil, and used as kindling.

Brush pulled from beneath that row of low shrubs might be just the ticket. And fuel? Shorelines are frequently ripe with the stuff since they are subject to fierce storms. Those storms blow down trees and sometimes even tear up the roots. The branches and limbs of those trees, plus the material the tree knocks loose on its way down, can be put to some very good use as fuel for your fires.

The interior of a dead, fallen tree, known as punk wood, makes excellent fuel in many cases. Dig it out with a knife or tempered stick. Chances are, the material you need for your fire is close at hand. Sit down and think. You’ll come up with it.

Shoreline survival tips – Food and Water

Both rocky and sandy shores can offer an incredible variety of food, plant or animal. A complete understanding of the shore’s ecosystem will be of great assistance to the survivor when it comes to finding and preparing that food. This level of understanding is no easy achievement. I have been studying the sea for many years but still find myself in the learning mode every time I venture down to the shore or out to sea.

On sandy shores, the sand itself may harbor ghost crabs, clams and a whole slough of other creatures that can be put to good use, such as worms and other things. Knowing what you are looking at will allow you to make use of it.

The surf zone of a sandy beach may be home to a huge array of fish. In some cases, you can see those inhabitants swimming in the wave’s face as it crests. Get out your fishing gear and go for it! No bait? There is bait there, my friend.

I was once attending a tropical survival course in the West Indies. One of my colleagues surprised me one morning with several earthworms that he had dug up right in the sand. I had never found any worms of this nature in this sand before, despite my digging quite a few holes in several beaches on that island. Nevertheless, he found them there on the first try.

Related article: Survival Food – A Guide To Edible Seaweeds

Rocky areas may contain tasty delicacies as blue mussels, limpets, and a bevy of other mollusks. My daughter is an expert at collecting snails of all sorts in the tidepools of a point near our home in Maine. She’ll even drag home different species of seaweed such as duke, laver and Irish moss. Not bad for a ten-year-old.

Water procurement along the coast can be just as easy as food. That is not to say that it will be easy. Try digging down three or four feet into the sand, behind the first dune or pressure ridge on a beach. Remember, that dune might be a mere barely discernible rise in the sand. Shore up the sides as the water seeps into the hole, and wait a couple of hours. The top two inches or so of that water will be potable, though possibly a bit sulphurish tasting.

Why wait? It allows the salty water to settle. If sand is less than abundant on your beach, search the shore for outlets of creeks and streams. Check the hinterland for the same, as well as springs, puddles, ponds and so on. Your map may give you a hint as to where to look. How about the base of a cliff or rock overhang? Maybe some water has collected there. Been raining lately? Set out some containers to gather up the next rainfall.

Shoreline survival tips – Shelters

Of all nature’s elements, wind, in my opinion, is the most frequently encountered problem that has adverse effects on shelters along the coast. This problem can be minimized by good site selection, improvisation, and sound construction. In other words, rig for foul weather!

Dependent upon local conditions, two of the most widely used shelters found at shoreline survival sites are the lean-to and beach trench. We have all seen plenty of lean-tos. They are versatile and can easily be modified to fit the situation. If this is what you intend to build, make darn sure it is built to survive the rigors of the coast. Reinforce all weak points with whatever is at hand since it is above ground. the elements will do their best to destroy it.

A beach trench shelter is useful on sandy shores. Dig a trench deep enough for protection but not so deep as to bring groundwater into the bottom of it. Shore up the sides. From the hinterland and the beach itself, collect materials to construct a roof, and do so. This roof will be exposed to the elements, so reinforce it just as you would a Line the floor with vegetation from the hinterland.

Oh yes. I suggest you build that beach trench above the high tide line, which can be recognized by the debris line. Otherwise, you will have built a pool instead of a house. Of course, that pool will add to the property value.


As you can see, the shore offers quite a bit for the survivor. If there were one place I had my choice to survive on, I would select a sub-tropical, wind-ward seacoast. The possibilities are endless. Also, make sure to check the other articles suggested by Bob as you will find more useful information to add to your shoreline survival tips.

Useful resources to check out:

Knowledge to survive any medical crisis situation

How To Build The Invisible Root Cellar

The vital self-sufficiency lessons our great grand-fathers left us

10 Things Cowboys Carried With Them In The Wild West To Survive

5 thoughts on “Shoreline Survival Tips – Staying Alive Near The Sea”

  1. Where is the best place to dig a hole to obtain freshwater for drinking ? I think it is as the base of the dunes, a layer of water above the saline (or is it under ?)

    One thing I’ve also noticed about private beaches – there is usually quite a bit of debris on the shoreline. Its not so much sand, but lots of flotsam.

  2. Great info!!!!! The “Rocky” coast area has truly an abundant source of food…people forget about eels…with the proper gear, you can snag one of these beauties and feed a few people on one good size eel. as to the beach trench…not this kid!! I would dig out a pit and cover it with driftwood, leaves, etc to give you shelter from the elements and make a small fire pit in the middle for warmth.We use to do this as kids when we lived in Spain long long ago..had a blast!!

  3. My apologies – i missed the water information shown in the ‘Survival Food’ section. I think I need to get my eyes checked !!


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