Survival Lessons from Steve Callahan

Steve Callahan was a “moderately experienced” sailor that suffered shipwreck while attempting to cross the Atlantic and was stranded at sea and successfully survived 76 days adrift.  When considering the difficulty of surviving in any environment, let alone at sea, 76 days of survival is an amazing feat. And one that deserves attention so that we can learn from Steve’s ordeal.  What was it that made it possible for Steve Callahan to do the near impossible?



When Steve’s boat began to quickly take on water and sink,  due to a what Steve thinks was probably a whale impacting the side of the vessel, he took with him these items:

  • Inflatable life boat
  • Paddles
  • Dozens of signal flares
  • Signal mirror
  • 8 pints of tin water (that’s only 1 gallon)
  • Basic fishing kit
  • Navigation equipment
  • Solar stills (which he used to convert salt water to drinking water)
  • Some dry food
  • A knife
  • Spear-gun
  • A book about surviving at sea (written by a man that spend 38 days stranded at sea with his family)

Even with all of these items and years of experience at sea, things were anything but easy for Steve.  His solar stills would spill or fill with salt water, making his ability to drink unreliable at best.  It was almost 2 weeks before he caught his first fish even though there were fish swimming all around his lifeboat.  On his 43rd day adrift a fish broke the spear and drug it across the underside of his lifeboat, causing a large gash which meant his lifeboat would sink.  It took more than a week of failed attempts to finally stop the leak.

So what does Steve credit with his survival?  Obviously, the lifeboat was necessary, but then again it was badly damaged more than a month before he was rescued.  He couldn’t have lived without water so the stills were crucial, but they continued to malfunction.  Steve credits his attitude with his survival.  I include all of this because coming from someone like myself that knows about survival from camping, practicing, and even training it can sound cheesy to say that you need a positive attitude and strong determination to live, but it’s not so cheesy coming from a man like Steven Callahan who survived 76 days at sea.

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