What would happen if you kept drinking ocean water to survive on a deserted island? Can you boil the water so it’s safe to drink?

By | May 10, 2022

Drinking seawater will kill you pretty quickly, in less time than drinking no water at all. The salt content will cause you to dehydrate faster, for one thing, and your kidneys will gradually fail trying to remove the excess salt. Ugly way to die.

Yes, you can remove the salt and algae and microscopic marine organisms by distilling seawater. But assembling bottles and pots and pans over a fire is not “the simplest, easiest-to-do-in-the-wild method,” as some suggest.

The simplest, easiest-to-do-in-the-wild method is collecting rainwater, which is already distilled. That’s the primary way people lost at sea or stranded on islands have survived throughout human history.

However, rainfall is not guaranteed over any given period of time, and a human being can die of thirst in less than a week. So, the clock is ticking.

The lowest-tech method is a solar still, using only a small container (cup or can) and a sheet of translucent plastic:

  1. Scoop out a hole in the sand.
  2. Pour seawater into hole, where it quickly soaks into the sand.
  3. Place container in center of hole.
  4. Cover hole with the sheet of plastic.
  5. Secure edges with rocks and sand.
  6. Place a small stone in center of plastic.
  7. ^^^ Solar energy will cause the moisture in the sand to evaporate, collect on the inside of the plastic sheet and drip into the container. It’s a slow process, but you literally have nothing better to do.

    No fire, no fuel, no pots and pans, no bottles to lug around. Just fold up the plastic sheet and jam it in your pocket when you want to relocate, then set up your solar still in minutes anywhere.

    The larger the plastic sheeting and the hole, the more distilled water you will collect (and faster). But even a small solar still (say, 3 feet in diameter) can provide enough water every day to keep a human being hydrated at survival level.

    If you’re lucky enough to have multiple sheets of plastic and containers, then set up multiple solar stills and collect water from them in rotation.

    Your next concerns are shelter and food, but that’s another post.

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