How to Survive on a Deserted Island

No matter how it happened, being deserted on an island can be very stressful and dangerous. However, in this article you are going to learn how to survive physically and psychologically should be stranded for ten years. Though very unlikely, if this should happen to you, you will need to:

The First Thing You Should Do

You should have a boat or plane scraps accessible to you. You did not magically appear on the island. You will need to salvage anything you can from the wreckage. Out of the things you might find, you will be able to use those for tools, clothing, shelter, and possibly medical supplies. Here is a list of items you should look for:

  • Rope
  • Knife
  • Cloth
  • Plastic (bottles, cups, anything really)

Building Shelter On a Deserted Island

Having shelter is perhaps the most important thing. You will need to choose the right spot to build it. It will need to be the driest place you can find, as wetness will suck out the heat from your body very quickly. If it is not very cold, you can build your shelter on the high ground.

The breeze will help keep bugs away and you will be able to see the sea line easier in case there are rescuers nearby.

If there is a cold wind blowing, you will need to choose a place that is sheltered by the trees. Do not build in a valley or a ravine, as the cold air will settle there, and if it rains, there is a higher risk of floods. Here is a list of places to avoid making your shelter:

  • Damp Ground
  • Mountaintops
  • Open Ridges
  • Bottom of Valleys
  • Ravines
  • Washes
Bushcraft: How to make a lean-to shelter from only natural materials - survival shelter

Fallen Tree Lean-To Shelter

This is one of the easiest shelters to make. Firstly, you will find a tree that has been broken over. Then, you can lean some branches against it in order to create walls.

Make sure that these branches are stacked thick enough to keep the wind out. You can also build a small fire on the open part of the shelter to have the heat keep you warm.

making a lean-to shelter from wood branches

Lean-to Shelter

If you find that you have a large rock nearby, you can lean branches on a large rock to create a shelter. This is much like the fallen tree type of shelter above, and you can also build a fire next to the rock to heat it up. It will act as a natural furnace.

Making Fire

It is imperative that you know how to build a fire, as it could mean the difference between survival and death. You will be building a fire using friction. If you haven’t built a fire before, it can be quite difficult.

So, it is a good idea to practice this method before an emergency does strike. Here are the steps that you need to follow for the hand drill method:

  1. Build a nest of tinder. The nest, using dry leaves, grass, and bark, will be used to catch the flame.
  2. You will need a fireboard that’s has a ‘V’ carved into it.
  3. Place bark under the notch to catch the embers from your friction.
  4. Use a stick as a spindle and rub it back and forth to create friction heat. Continue using the hand drill method until there are embers on your fireboard.
  5. Tap the embers onto your bark and transfer it to the nest. Start gently blowing to feed the fire.

Finding Water

You will need to see if there is a source of fresh water, potentially spending hours finding it. If you find that there are no fresh water sources, you will need to know how to filter your water. We are going to go over how to filter seawater to make it drinkable.

The materials listed here may be different to what you have available; however, as long as you can find something close to that material you will be able to do the filtration process.

If you find that you are stranded on an island, then you will need to remember how to distil your own water if you cannot find fresh water to drink. When it comes to seawater, you will need to remove the salt so that it is safe for consumption.

A great place to find water is to venture inland. The further you go on the island, the better of a chance you have at finding fresh a water source like a waterfall. If this island is big enough, there is most likely multiple places to find safe and drinkable water.


One of the simplest ways of turning seawater into safe drinking water is evaporation. You use heat to evaporate the water, condense it and collect it into another container. As it happens, it will leave the salt behind and the steam will then collect in one spot in the distillation you build.

Black Scout Quick Tips- Salt Good For Food, Not For Water

Method #1

First, you need a (metal) cup that’s  heavy enough so that it doesn’t float. You will also need a pot that has a domed lid and some heat. The heat can either be in the form of the sun or shift a fire to heat the water up.

  1. Put the cup inside the pot.
  2. Add water to the (outer) pot. Make sure that you do not get it inside of the cup. Do not fill it so that you will run the risk of the salt water boiling inside of the cup.
  3. Turn the dome lid upside down and put it on the top of the pot. Ensure that the cup is right under the lowest point of the dome lid. Make sure that the steam does not escape otherwise your water will evaporate as well. You will need to heat the water up so that the water evaporates.
  4. The steam will collect on the dome lid and then drip into your cup. It will be fresh and safe for your consumption.

As long as you have items that can take the process of heating and collecting, then you can perform the distilling of the seawater.

Method #2

This method is essentially the same as distilling alcohol. You will need a glass or a metal bottle that can resist heat. You will also need a rubber seal or cork, a basin to catch the water, and a few feet of some tubing.

  1. Make a hole in the rubber or cork that’s big enough for your tubing.
  2. Fill the bottle with some seawater. Make sure you leave some space towards the top of the bottle.
  3. Run your tubing into the catch basin at a lower level of the bottle. This will capture the water vapor and it will run down the tubing into the catch basin.
  4. Put your bottle on some heat. Make sure that if you are using a fire to not allow the tube to be exposed to the fire, as it will ruin your tube.
  5. Bring the seawater to a boil and the steam will begin to rise.

Solar Distilation

It’s more than likely that you won’t have the materials that are necessary for methods one and two; however, if you are lucky enough to have them, then you can use those methods to get water faster. If you do not have those materials, then you can use the solar distilling method.

  1. Dig your hole in the surrounding sand that is close to the edge of a tree line. You will need to go deep so that the hole is in a good distance of the wet sand near the trees.
  2. Put something to catch the water in the middle of your hole.
  3. Fill in the gaps around your container using things that are wet, like wet leaves.
  4. Put a plastic sheet on the top of your hole. You will then anchor it into place with large rocks on the edge of the plastic.
  5. Put one smaller rock right in the center of your plastic so that it is hanging over your container.
  6. The condensation will collect inside of your container.
Solar Water Distiller

Rain Water

Essentially, rainwater is seawater that has gone through the same process of your filtration system. Find containers, or large leaves that are in good condition, so that you can sit them out to collect the drinkable water.

Finding Food on a Deserted Island

Islands are typically not complete desert. They offer many things to eat from inland and from the water that surrounds it. The plants on the seashore are different due to the local climate.

In the surrounding water, you can find different varieties of foods like fish, seaweed, crabs, and more. These foods are very important for the nutrition that you need in order to go on and make your temporary home on the island.


Seaweed is typically found where the rocks and the water meet. It can be dried up by the sun and stored for many months. It’s good to have some as a backup food for when you are unable to hunt or gather due to weather conditions.

Bivalves and Mollusks

These include clams, oysters, mussels, and scallops. They should be tightly closed when they are trapped. When you hunt fish, and other sea life, it is good to do it when it is low tide. You can inspect small pools in the rocks for creatures to make it easier to capture these food sources.

Keep in mind that you should only eat the creatures that are alive. Do not eat anything that has already died, as it will make you sick. Make sure to note that if the mollusk is tinted yellow or green, they should not be eaten, as they are toxic.


There are very few different types of the gastropods, like whelks and winkles. They have a type of hidden opening inside of their shell. If their shell has been shaken, it will be closed very tightly.

Cooking the Shellfish

It is very easy to cook shellfish. There are two different ways that you can prepare your meal. If you are fortunate enough to have a way to boil them, then you should boil them for around five to ten minutes.

When the shell opens, they are cooked. The other method is to place them on coals from a fire for the same five to ten minutes. When the shells open they are ready to eat.

Sea Snakes and Fish

It can be difficult to catch fish. It can be dangerous, as all sea snakes have venom. To distinguish sea snakes from eels, you should look at the scales and the broadly flattened tails. If you are on the coast, the best time to fish on the shore is two hours once the high tides are gone.

If you try to fish while the tides are coming in, then you are going to be running in and out into the water. It will be a waste of energy and time. It is also helpful to note that seawater also rots the shoes and clothes that you have been lucky enough to keep. If you were alone on the island, then it would be best to go into the water without any clothes to keep them dry.

When you are fishing in the sea, you will need a larger hook than you would if you were fishing in fresh water. You will have to make one if you are not lucky enough to have one on hand.

In terms of bait, you can use conch, snails, limpets, and worms. You will dig these bait options up from the sand during the low tide.

You can build a fish trap to the point of an arrow using rocks and stakes and position it away from the shore. The fish will be trapped once the tide recedes. If you use this method, you will have food and save precious calories that the body needs.


Echinoderms are another great source of food. This includes starfish, sea cucumbers, and even sea urchins. The sea cucumbers laze about on the floor of the sea or they burrow inside of the sand.

The black colored cucumbers are up to eight inches in length and offer great nutrition. They can be roasted on the fire or boiled for around five minutes. They can be chewy and tough once they are cooked.

Edible Bugs

Although most people do not want to eat bugs, you may find the day that you will need to eat them in order to stay alive. There will be edible bugs on the island that you are able to consume to preserve your life. You are able to cook them in order to make them more desirable.

  • Grasshoppers and Crickets: These bugs have amazing calcium content, as well as having a lot of protein. The grasshoppers and the crickets have a very high nutritional value. You will need to pull off the legs and their wings. You are able tot eat them raw or you can cook them.
  • Ants: You are able to eat ants. They are better when they are boiled. This is due to the taste of vinegar that they have when eaten raw. You will need to avoid the fire ants. They are red in color.
  • June Bugs: The smaller June bugs are better tasting than the larger ones. They can be eaten raw or cooked on the fire. They are very easy to catch since they move very slowly. You will find them on plants during the evening.
  • Caterpillars: The larvae of butterflies and moths are extremely nutritious. They have a high content of protein, as well as vitamin B. These insects also have iron. You will need to avoid those that are bright in color; they are toxic.
  • Centipedes: This is one of the grossest of insects that is in this list; however, they are nutritious. They are found under the logs and large sized rocks. You will need to take off the pinchers and their heads before you consume them. Do not confuse these will millipedes which are poisonous

Note: You will need to avoid bright colored bugs like yellow, red, and hues of orange. The green, black, and brown bugs are good to eat. Avoid the insects with odors that are strong.

Hunting Wild Animals

Hunting is a very active type of gathering food. It will require your participation from the very beginning up until the finish; finish being preparing your meal. When it is time to hunt you will be committed to it and you will not have the time to build your refuge. It is best to collect fast food, build your shelter, your fire, and then hunt. This will increase your stress since you have no option of failure.

A few tips you should remember:

  • Walk very slowly. You will need to take a small step at a time. You will need to relax. Avoid any sudden, fast movements.
  • You need to pause your pace often and keep a keen ear our a few minutes before you move again.
  • Look for tracks in the muddy areas like creek banks.
  • Look for prints around the base of any nut trees for signs of small animals.
  • Stay right inside the line of the trees. Look into the grassy areas for any small creatures.
  • Listen for any sounds of wings of birds.
  • You will need to scan the landscape from the top of the trees to get a better view.
  • You will need to have persistence and extremely patient.

Trapping Small Creatures

Trapping small game is a type of passive method. Once you build the traps you will allow it to sit there until your meal has been captured. This means that you will have that time free to set up other parts of your survival area. It is also deemed a numbers game.

It also means that the more traps you set, the more likely you are to have more food.

Here are the steps to build a basic trap hole. Remember to mark your traps so that you do not forget where they are located.

  • Dig a hole that is about three feet wide and four feet deep. It should be deep enough so that the smaller game is not able to get out of the hole.
  • Lay some thin branches over the hole so that the hole is hidden.
  • As the game walks over the hole, it will fall in. You will then be able to collect fresh food when you come back.

If you would like to learn about snare traps, then read this article.

Plants and Berries

Of course if you are stranded on a deserted island, there will be plants and berries that you are able to eat. However, in order to keep yourself safe from toxic plants and berries, here are the guidelines to follow when looking for your dinner. Avoid any plants that have any of these traits:

  • Discolored or Milky Sap
  • Fine Hairs
  • Spines
  • Thorns
  • Bulbs, Beans, or Seeds that are in the pods.
  • Soapy or Bitter Taste
  • Carrot, Dill, Parsley, or Parsnip looking foliage.
  • Almond scented woody leaves or parts.
  • Grain heads that have purplish, pink, or black spurs.
  • Any three leaved patterns.

Here is a list of wild plants that are edible:

  • Burdock
  • Amaranth
  • Cattail
  • Burdock
  • Curled Dock
  • Clovers
  • Chicory
  • Chickweed
  • Plantain
  • Dandelion
  • Field Pennycress
  • Green Seaweed
  • Kelp
  • Green Seaweed
  • Plantain
  • Prickly Pear Cactus
  • Purslane
  • Wood Sorrel
  • White Mustard
  • Sheep Sorrel
  • Moss. Many are surprised to learn that moss can be eaten, but it’s true.

Making Tools

No matter what you are left with in the wreckage, you are more than likely going to need to create your own tools. In this section you are going to learn to make a few important tools that you will need in order to survive on the island.

Rock Knife

If you do not have a knife, then you will need to make a crude one from a rock. To do this, you will need to bust some rocks together to create a sharpened piece to use as a knife. When you do this, it’s recommended that you make multiple rock knives. You will use these on the ends of spears and for tools to build the shelter.

drawing of three primitive spear tips
drawing of three primitive spear tips


You will use your rock knife to sharpen and end of a strong stick. To make an even deadlier spear, you can even take the rope to fashion a rock knife to the end of a long, strong stick. If you can find some vines, you can use those as a rope to tie rock knives to the ends of the sticks as well.

If you are using a sharpened point on the stick, you will need to fire bake the end of the spear. Once you have gotten the spear shaped appropriately, you will hold the point over the flames until the wood turns another color. This will lighten and harder the wood. It will remove all the moisture, as damp wood is soft and not ideal for use as a tool.

Rock Hammer

This one is dead-simple. You will just need a large and heavy rock to use for pounding food and building a shelter.

Building Fire

There are different ways of laying the wood to build a good fire. Each of the ways has advantages. The placement of the wood will depend on the situation you are in at the time.


To lay this type of fire, you will push a stick that is green inside of the ground at an angle of 30 degrees. To make it stand, you will point the stick in the direction that the wind is blowing.

Put some tinder deeper under the stick and lean some pieces of the kindling onto the stick. When you light the tinder, the kindling will catch on fire. Continue to add more kindling and build the teepee.


To use this method, you will dig a shallow trench in the shape of a cross about thirty centimeters into the ground. After that, you will dig a cross that is seven centimeters deep.

Once you have the trench dug, you will then put a big wad of tinder in the center of the cross until you have built a kindling pyramid on the tinder. The ditch will allow the air to sweep in and proved an updraft. After everything is ready, place the wood on the top to complete the cross ditch.


For this one you will need to place two small branches or logs parallel to the ground. On top of the parallel wood, you need to place a solid layer of logs. Continue adding three to four more layers with each layer getting smaller and smaller.

Psychological Issues

One of the biggest issues will be the psychological issue that comes along with being deserted and alone. The most important thing to do is to remain calm. If you begin to panic, you will lose control and lower your chances of survival.

To survive, you will need to take control of the. It is said that due to the nature of humans being social, you should make a “friend” from an inanimate object or what is available nearby. Have conversations with it to help keep the loneliness at bay as much as possible.


You will need to make sure that animals do not eat your food reserves. Hanging your food in the tops of trees will help keep it safe from animals that are on the ground. In order to keep you safe through the night, store the food away from your shelter so animals are not attracted to your personal area through the night.

It can be a bit dangerous as far as animals are concerned. Ensure that you always carry a spear with you in order to protect yourself form those animals that deem you prey. You will also walk loudly in order to scare off any animals that may attack you due to being surprised.


I know the odds of any one of us ending up on a deserted island, for 10 years nevertheless, are extremely small, but it’s nice to think about it and about what we’d do. What else would YOU do to survive?

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