Alain Bombard was born in Paris. He theorized that a human being could very well survive the trip across the ocean without provisions and decided to test his theory himself in order to save thousands of lives of people lost at sea.
On October 19, 1952 Bombard began his solitary trip, after visiting his newborn daughter in France, across the Atlantic for the West Indies.
Bombard sailed in a Zodiac inflatable boat called l’Hérétique, which was only 4.5 metres (15 ft) long, taking only a sextant and almost no provisions.
Bombard reports he survived by fishing (and using fish as source of both fresh water and food) with a self-made harpoon and hooks and harvesting the surface plankton with a small net. He also drank a limited amount of seawater for a long period on his trip.
The minimum amount of water considered necessary to stay in good shape is 1.3/4 pts (1 litre) per day. It is possible to survive with 2 to 5 oz (55 to 220 centiliters) per day.
Many experts still disagree with Bombard’s theory, but the fact that he has survived 63 days on drifting raft without any other food and water than what the ocean could provide him gives a lot of credit to his research on sea survival. Bombard doesn’t disregard the danger of drinking sea water. During his testing periods he got sick when he tried to drink more than 32 oz of sea water per day for more than five days.
After numerous tests and various castaway experimentation (drifting at sea for weeks), he came to the conclusion that people could safely drink sea water in quantities not exceeding 32 oz per day. Safely here doesn’t imply healthy, it is rather the maximum amount of sea water a man could drink without experiencing major health complication or life threatening conditions. Of course all his tests were limited on himself (although many other people like the crew of La Balsa expedition and the Incas themselves were known to regularly drink sea water). If you must drink sea water, follow Dr. Bombard ‘s advice.
DRINK MAXIMUM 32 oz PER DAY and start as soon as possible (don’t wait to be dehydrated). Of course adding fresh water would improve your physical condition; but how to obtain fresh water in the middle of an ocean?
Depending on your location, it might rain daily or very sporadically. In the tropics, one short rain storm could dump much water. Often the unprepared castaways have not been able to take advantage of those strong sporadic rain storms (if it rains daily you don’t need to be too concerned). Many have died of dehydration in areas of heavy rains. Don’t wait for the rain to be prepared.
Any large surface of fabrics such as canvas or plastic are great to catch rain water. If you have sails, make a giant bowl with them (make sure you rinse them before). In heavy sea make sure you protect your water collection plant from the waves. You don’t want the ocean to spoil your precious drinking water. If you don’t have any sails or not enough tarps, use anything from rain jackets and pants to garbage bags, wetsuits, life jackets, etc. Cans and bottles make great containers to store water but are not very efficient to collect it. You might also collect water from the gutters of your dinghy. Pockets of rain water might also form in various places (which you can lap if difficult to transfer into a receptacle).
Drink all you need from the rain, but if you have been on a rationed diet, drink very slowly as to not vomit (a normal reaction after forced drinking following dehydration).
Store as much rain water as possible. The first water collected might still contain a bit of salt (save it separately. You can use it to wash wounds and moisten lips and eyes. When you run out of containers, think of anything that can be made into a container (plan this beforehand). To not mention the obvious, fill up your diving BC, and everything that is inflatable. If you are on a raft. You can partially fill up the tubes of your raft. It won’t sink (rafts are extremely buoyant) but it will even stabilize it more in heavy seas (you can then pipe the water out when needed (for example with a snorkel or diving hose). Even condoms (never leave home without them!) can be thoroughly rinsed and after fully inflated, they can contain and preserve much water.
In some dry places (little to no rain), nights might bring much condensation (a good example is Baja in Mexico). You can collect the drops of condensation with a canvas or plastic tarp (or sail) set as a bowl (to cover the maximum surface area, make sure the water collected gets funneled the proper way to be stored.
Saline and foul water
When the water is first collected it might contain too much salt to be drinkable, but it could still be used to clean wounds, humidify lips and rinse the skin (especially where rashes, dryness and soreness have developed).
Foul water collected on a raft is usually safe to drink but because of the taste it might cause vomiting. To avoid vomiting is can be absorbed rectally by means of a water retention enema!
Another beneficial use of water enema: After a long period of dehydration (and diet)the stomach shrinks and can’t hold much water. During a strong rain storm, if you don’t have much container to store water, you want to fill yourself up. You can absorb up to one pint rectally.
In case of severe dehydration the body will more quickly be hydrated with an enema. It is a method that has saved knowledgeable survivors. But careful not to use salt water (sea water is as dangerous absorbed rectally as it is orally).
Fish can provide a source of water. You can drink the aqueous liquid found in the eyes and spine bones. Those are almost free of salt and a good source of drinking water (especially if you catch large fish or in large quantities).
To extract the liquid, cut the freshly caught fish in half. Break the vertebra’s apart and suck them (no water in shark spines). Also suck the eyes.
You can also suck on barnacles and similar shellfish which are often found on hulls, ropes (or even whales). Taste first to make sure it isn’t too salty. If it taste too bitter you might want to discard it as well.
The Incas were believed to chew on fish to obtain water. Later, members of La Balsa expedition also survived by twisting pieces of fish in clothing to extract the moisture (after removing all the blood). They also suck on the waters from the eyes and bones. Dr. Bombard even made a machine to press fish and extract the precious fluid they contain.
It is believed that indigenous people were the pioneers in ocean navigation and survival at sea. They too might have drunk sea-water. Two famous expeditions tried to prove that the Incas and Huancavilcas could have migrated on balsa rafts from South America to the south Pacific islands. Their experience also forced them to drink sea-water over extended period of time. The Kon-Tiki raft was an exact replica of the Incas crafts. Lead by Thor Heyerdahl and his crew of four, the Kon-Tiki traveled 4,300 miles from Peru to Ranoia Reef (South Pacific) in 101 days. A later expedition called La Balsa, followed the route of the Kon-Tiki with a similar raft. In 1972, they left from Ecuador and covered 8,600 miles to reach Australia.
If prepared, man can survive at sea, even in a castaway situation! We have distillers that will also help with making sea water drinkable.