If you find yourself in a survival situation you’re probably going to be doing several things within the first few hours. You’ll be searching for shelter, searching for or filtering water, and trying to find food. These are all necessary for survival.
You may think that one of the best places to be stranded or lost is on an island – think Castaway. There should be coconuts and plenty of fruit and wildlife. Not to mention you are quite literally surrounded by water. Just like Tom Hanks, do not drink the seawater! There is a huge difference between freshwater and saltwater. The water in the sea and the ocean is salt water.
Obviously, from its name, saltwater is water that has a high concentration of salt in it. You wouldn’t just eat saltine crackers for breakfast lunch and dinner would you? We do know that salt is needed for our bodies, however, too much can be detrimental.
When you’ve ingested too much salt your body will naturally try to expel some. This is typically not a problem. Salt can be expelled through your urine. The only way to continue to flush out the salt is by consuming increased amounts of water to get rid of the salt. You’ve experienced this when you’re sitting on your couch munching on potato chips. Suddenly you find your mouth is dry and you’re incredibly thirsty. Luckily for you, you head to the kitchen and grab a glass of water to hydrate and curb that thirst before sitting back down to grab more chips.
If you find yourself lost in the middle of nowhere, or more likely somewhere next to an ocean, you won’t have easy access to fresh water. If you do in fact drink the seawater, which contains a high concentration of salt, your body will continue to expel it through your urine. However, since you won’t be able to replenish those fluids it will lead to dehydration.
You might be thinking, “but I’m drinking water, won’t that even out with the amount of salt?” Unfortunately, no. The amount of water that you’d be consuming compared to the concentration of salt in that water will not nearly be enough to hydrate you after your body flushes out the excess salt. To make it simple, when drinking sea water you are dehydrating yourself.
Ironically enough, the human body is approximately 60% water. Even more ironically, the water inside our bodies is in fact salt water. However, the amount of salt in our body’s water is less than that of seawater. Drinking sea water actually increases the salinity in our blood instead. Osmosis is the cause of this phenomenon. Osmosis is essentially when the salt and water passes from outside of your cells into the cell body. Cell membranes are permeable and can allow the migration of water, and with that water, comes salt. In turn, your cells will have too much salt and will shrivel up and die.
You’ll quickly notice you’re becoming dehydrated because after drinking the water you will actually feel even more thirsty than you did before drinking the water. Dehydration can have a huge impact on your kidney function. Salt will get into your kidneys through osmosis and impact the ability of this organ to filter out toxins aka excess salt.
Mild signs of dehydration will be increased thirst, a change in mood, a lack of mental clarity and/or lack of energy. Other signs of dehydration, that can be more severe, are fatigue, headache, increased heart rate and pulse, increased breathing rate, and nausea. The most severe kinds of dehydration can lead to loss of consciousness and even death.
As tempted as you may be, and as thirsty as you may feel, drinking water from the sea will only make things worse. Much worse. You will literally be speeding up your death by increasing dehydration of your body.
You may have heard the idea that if you only drink a few spoonfuls of saltwater at a time your body will actually be able to filter it out and it will help to hydrate you instead. For the sake of argument, this is completely false. The only way you should be consuming water is if you have filtered it and purified it. To find out more details on how to do that be sure to check out this article.
Making sure the water you are ingesting is pure and filtered is your best hope at surviving. Of course, if you are planning on being out in the wilderness you really should always have water with you. In addition, you should be traveling with or carrying a water filter such as this one. You may also want to have water filter tablets as well just as a backup.
Before you head out on any adventure be sure to be stocked up on water and a filtering tool for worst-case scenario. The survival rule of three tells us that we are only able to survive three days without water so this will definitely be a priority on your list if you are stranded.
No matter how tempted you are, how thirsty you may fee, drinking seawater is never the answer to quenching your thirst.