The Guide to Island Survival



Christina Li

Period 5

The Guide to Island Survival


Table of Contents


  1. Safety warning and Disclaimer
  2. Introduction
  3. Psychology of Survival
  4. Shelters
  5. Water
  6. Fire
  7. Food
  8. Survival Medicine
  9. Weapons and Traps
  10. Other Equipment
  11. Tropical and Seashore Specifics
  12. Signaling

Safety Warning


This is a guide to island SURVIVAL. These methods and ideas are meant to be used only in extreme situations. Surviving on an island with only a knife is extremely dangerous and you can be grievously injured or even killed. The scenarios described in this handbook will really happen. The most important thing is to be prepared. If you think that you may be stranded on a tropical island, bring a survival and first aid kit. This book describes a worst-case scenario. Do not try this at home.




The author of The Guide to Island Survival is in no way responsible for the actual results produced while using this book. She will not take legal responsibility if anything should fail to work in the manner described. The accuracy of this guide relies heavily on the specific conditions present on the island. Unforeseen conditions are not accounted for.



Welcome to The Guide to Island Survival. This book will briefly describe the many aspects required to live on a tropical island. The most necessary elements to survival -- shelter, water, food, and fire (in that order) -- are discussed in great detail. Many other topics are introduced and briefly touched upon. This is not a definitive guide. The most important rule in survival is to be prepared. If you know that you will be in a dangerous situation, prepare ahead of time. Become knowledgeable about the terrain, conditions, and wildlife. Bring a survival kit with you that will make life so much easier. If you are unexpectedly thrown into a situation, the information in this book can help you. Make the best with what you have and use your head at all times. Good luck!


The Psychology of Survival


Anyone can learn to build fires, make shelters, gather food; but not everyone will survive in an extreme situation. The mental side is the determining factor; one must have the will to survive. Survival is a state of mind.


One must have an ability to handle stress in traumatic and unexpected situations. Those who are able to handle fear, adapt, and stay sharp have a much better chance of survival.


It is important to have a positive attitude. Especially in isolation, it is easy to give in to negativity and despair. Set goals and motivate yourself to keep pressure at bay. Your brain will be your best asset but also your worst enemy. You must check your imagination and your fear of the worst. Work with nature and problem solve creatively, improvising with what you have.


You must be mentally strong. Self-pity and hopelessness can destroy you. Always keep in mind what your striving for, the life you led before being stranded, and what you will be returning to if you survive. Loneliness can strike without warning when you realize that you can depend on. Keep yourself busy and take your mind off destructive thoughts.


Fear is a natural reaction to trauma. Be realistic and do not let your imagination run wild. Expect fear and recognize it for what it is. More dangerous than fear is panic. It is often triggered by a fear of the unknown and lack of confidence. Do not let rational thinking disappear and fight panic by relaxing and looking on the bright side.


Remember, attitude is vital to your survival. Observe, recognize, and analyze your situation rationally. Think; never make hasty decisions. Set your goal to survive and never forget it.



Where to Build Them




Different Types of Shelters


Field Expedient Lean-To


Find two trees (or upright poles) about 2 meters apart; a pole that can span across the two trees, five to eight poles that will serve as beams about 3 meters long, and cord or vines for tying the horizontal beam to the trees; and other poles, saplings, or vines to crisscross the beams.



To make this lean-to--

         Tie the 2-meter pole to the two trees at waist to chest height. This is the horizontal support. If a standing tree is not available, construct a biped using Y-shaped sticks or two tripods.


You can make a drying rack with just a little more effort. Cut a few 2-centimeter-diameter poles. Lay one end of the poles on the lean-to support and the other end on top of the reflector wall. Place and tie into place smaller sticks across these poles. You now have a place to dry clothes, meat, or fish.


Debris Hut


This shelter provides warmth and protection and is easy to construct.



To make a debris hut--

         First make a tripod with two short stakes and a long ridgepole (the pole running the length of the shelter).


Beach Shade Shelter


This simple shelter protects you from sun, wind, rain while on the beach.


To make this shelter--

         Collect wood to use for support beams and a digging tool.


Getting Drinkable Water


         Catch rain in leaves, shells or any other container

         Dig a hole on the beach so that water can seep in, fairly deep but not large. Get some rocks, heat them in a fire, and drop the rocks into the hole. Take a scrap of cloth from your clothing and hold it over the hole. Allow it to catch the steam and then wring out the cloth to drink the water.

         Morning dew is a good source of potable water. If there is an expanse of vegetation, get up early in the morning before the sun has evaporated all the dew, tie rags to your legs and walk through the vegetation. Wring out the rags and drink the water.

         Water can also be found sometimes in rock crevices or between the branches of trees. Use a cloth to absorb the water or improvise a dipper from leaves or bark.


Water Purification


Before drinking water obtained from lakes, streams, or any still body of water; you must purify to prevent cholera, typhoid, dysentery, flukes, and leeches. In order to purify water, place the water in a bowl (made from coconut shells) and boil it for one minute.



A fire requires three elements to burn: air, heat, and fuel.


Where to Build your Fire








Three different types of materials are required to make a fire. Tinder is absolutely dry material that will ignite with a spark. Kindling, also very dry, is easily combustible material added to the tinder. Its purpose is to raise the fire's temperature so that less combustible materials can be ignited. Fuel, though less combustible, will burn steadily once ignited.


What to Use





Fine wood shavings

Small strips of wood

Green wood that is finely split

Dead grass, ferns, moss, fungi

Pieces of wood removed from the inside of larger pieces

Dry inside (heart) of fallen tree trunks and large branches


Small twigs

Animals fats

Very fine pitchwood scrapings


Dry standing wood and dry dead branches

Dead evergreen needles


Dried animal dung

Rotted portion of dead logs or trees



Bird down



Down seedheads



Fine, dried vegetable fibers



Spongy threads of dead puffball



Dead palm leaves



Lint from pocket and seams



Charred cloth




Methods to Build a Fire




Place the tinder in the shape of a cone or tepee. Place also some kindling on the outside. Ignite the center and the outside logs will fall in and feed the fire as the tepee




Stick a green stick into the ground at about a 30-degree angle, pointed towards the wind. Lean kindling against the center stick. Place tinder inside the lean-to and ignite. Add kindling as the tinder begins to burn.

burns. Works well for wet wood.




Start by placing two logs or branches parallel on the ground. Put another layer of smaller branches perpendicular on top of the parallel logs. Continue crosshatching, putting successively smaller branches and twigs into the shape of the pyramid. Usually, there will be five to six layers and the top should consist of kindling and tinder. Ignite the tinder at the top and the fire should take care of itself by burning downward through the layers of kindling and fuel. This fire will last through the night without being tended.


Cross Ditch


Scratch a cross about thirty centimeters across and 7.5 centimeters deep. Place tinder at the middle of the cross and build a fire pyramid of kindling above it. The ditch allows air to flow through and feed the fire. This method is ideal for stagnant weather without much air circulation.


How to Ignite the Tinder


Fire Plow

The fire plow creates friction to ignite the wood. First, find softwood to use as the base and a shaft of hardwood. Cut a groove in the base and plow the shaft up and down the straight groove. This motion will carve out wood particles. Increase the pressure each time and the friction will eventually ignite the wood dust.


Bow and Drill


This method requires effort and persistence to achieve success. It has four parts: the socket, drill, fire board, and bow.


Place a wad of tinder in the v-shaped cut on the underside of the base. Put one foot on the board to hold it in place. Loop the bow over the drill and rest it in the depression. Hold the top of the drill with your socket and draw the bow back and forth across the drill to twirl it. Increase pressure and when the hot wood powder hits the tinder underneath, a spark will ignite the tinder.




Animals for Food


The easiest to obtain and most dependable food source in any given situation is small game. Those that feed in a fixed area, leave trails, or have nests and dens are the easiest targets. It is important to remember that you cannot afford to be picky! A survivor must eat what is available to get nourishment, no matter how distasteful it may seem.




Insects are a major source of protein and also happen to be the most abundant life form on the planet. Avoid insects that sting or bite, brightly colored or hairy, or have an acrid smell. Also avoid spiders and disease carriers such as ticks, fleas, and mosquitoes.


Look under rotting logs, or in nests along or under the ground. Check stones and other objects lying on the ground for insect nesting sites. Cook any insects with hard outer shells, like grasshoppers and beetles, before eating because they may have parasites. Also remove any barbed legs or wings before consumption. Most insects can be eaten right away raw, but mashing them, mixing them with plants, or cooking them may improve the taste.


Worms are also a substantial source of protein. Dig them out of damp soil or watch for them after rain. Before eating, place them in drinkable water and they will wash themselves out. Worms can be eaten raw.




Freshwater shrimp can be located in colonies or in the bottoms of ponds and lakes. Crayfish, similar to lobsters and crabs, are found around stones in streams during the day. Look for the breathing holes in the soft mud of streams. Bait and catch them by tying bits of internal organs to a cord (vine) and after it bites, pull it in before it has a chance to let go. Lobsters and crabs are nocturnal creatures. They can be caught within ten meters of the beach. Bait a hook or trap at the surf's edge during the night.





Streams and lakes with sandy and muddy bottoms are common for fresh water mollusks. Look in the shallows for the narrow trails that they leave in the mud or the oval slit of their valves. Saltwater mollusks are found in tidal pools and sand. Check the rocks along the beach or the reefs that extend further out for clinging shellfish. Some species stick to rocks or seaweed below the waterline, while others (the chiton) cling above the surf line. Only eat shellfish that are covered by water at high tide. They are excellent steamed, baked, or boiled in the shell or cooked in stews with greens.




It is important to know some basic habits of fish in order to effectively catch them. Fish feed heavily before a storm and tend to stay hidden afterwards. They are attracted by light at night. In heavy currents, fish rest in eddies usually near rocks. Fish take shelter in deep pools, under overhanging brush, and around underwater plant growth and logs. All fresh water fish are edible but should be cooked before consumption. Saltwater fish can be eaten raw. There are a few saltwater species that have poisonous flesh. They are shown below.




Around freshwater, one can easily find frogs and salamanders. Rarely do frogs leave the banks of a freshwater source. Most species are edible but avoid colorful frogs and the one with an "X" on its back. The best time to catch a salamander is at night with a torch because they are nocturnal creatures.




Most reptiles are edible thought they should be cooked to kill parasites. Avoid the box turtle and the hawksbill turtle. Obviously, do not eat poisonous snakes, large sea turtles, alligators, or crocodiles (do not even try to catch them).




All birds are edible. It easiest to catch them when they are nesting because they are loathe to leave their nests. Below is a chart of different birds and their nesting regions and periods.



Nesting Place

Nesting Period

Inland birds

Trees, woods, or fields

Year round

Cranes and herons

Mangrove swamps and high trees near water

Spring and early summer

Sea birds

Low sand islands or sand bars

Spring and early summer

Gulls, auks, murres and cormorants

Steep rocky coasts

Spring and early summer




Though most appealing to our tastes, they are rather difficult to catch. They will fight back in desperate situations and will protect their young at any cost. Mammals all have teeth and can seriously wound a person. If bitten or scratched, be careful of infection.




Plants are important supplements to your diet and are abundant in any area. It is extremely important to identify the plant before eating to avoid poisoning. Here are some guidelines to poisonous plants.


Avoid strange plants that have:


Common Edible/Medicinal Plants in Tropical Zones


*Harvest only live seaweed attached to rocks in the water or floating. Do not eat seaweed that has been washed onshore.

Survival Medicine


Water and food are absolutely necessary for everyone. Drink plenty of water and maintain high standards of personal hygiene to prevent disease. Get enough rest because fatigue can cause mental breakdowns. Keep your campsite clean.




Severe Bleeding from a major blood vessel is life threatening. Control the bleeding immediately because there is no way to replace lost fluids. Apply direct pressure on the wound, indirect pressure at pressure points, elevate the area, or use a tourniquet.


Shock is an acute stress condition. When a person is in shock, their blood pressure is too low to pump enough blood to organs and tissues. Unfortunately, if you are alone and suffering there is not much you can do. However, to alleviate shock in someone else: lie them down on a flat surface, feed them warm fluids, have them rest for 24 hours, shelter from the weather, and maintain their body temperature.


If you get a fracture or dislocation, you must set the bone and splint the area.


If stung by an insect or spider, keep the wound open and clean, use heat to draw out infection, cover with a dry and sterile dressing, drink plenty of fluids.



Treat Infections


Herbal Medicine


Some plants can be used in infusions or poultices for specific remedies in survival situations. It is important to identify the plants before using them. Here are a few useful ones:


Weapons and Traps


Simple Snare


Simple snares should be placed in front of an animal's den or nest. First plant a stake near the animal's den. Use vine to create a noose and hang it over the entrance of the den at the animal's head level. Make sure the noose is large enough for the animals to pass its head through. Hold it up using nearby plants and grass. When the animal walks in or out of the den, its head will catch on the noose. The farther the animals walks and the more it struggles, the tighter the noose becomes.



Drag Noose


Take two forked sticks and place them on either side of an animal run. Place a stout branch over the forked

sticks. Tie a noose to the branch and hang the noose at the animal's head height. When the animals steps into the noose, it will pull the branch off the forked sticks and drag it along. The branch will become entangled among the undergrowth and strangle the animal.


Noosing Wand


Take a stout stick and tie a noose to the end. Take the noose and soak it in salt water to stiffen it. This weapon is useful for catching roosting birds and small game. However, it requires great patience. Slip it over the neck of a roosting bird and pull it tight. Or wait in front of a den and slip it over the animal's neck when it emerges from the den. This weapon will not kill the animal. Bring a club kill it.


Rabbit Stick


This simple weapon is a stick at an angle like a boomerange about the length of your arm. Throw it overhand or sidearm. It is most effective against small game that freeze as a defense mechanism.


Bow and Arrow

Though constructing a good bow takes time, making a workable one is relatively simple. Select a hardwood stick about one meter long. Scrape it so that the diameter is even throughout. Attach a thin but sturdy vine to both ends and pull it tight. Replace the vine whenever necessary. To make arrows, find straight, dry sticks. Scrape it smooth all the way around and if you need to straighten it, heat over the fire. Arrowheads can be made from bone or rock or if neither of these materials are available, sharpen the end to a point and harden it over the fire. Remember to notch the arrows where it fits the bowstring. Fletching with feathers can increase the arrow's accuracy and allow it to fly straighter.




You will need two 60 centimeter cords and an animal skin or cloth about the size of your palm. Place a smooth, round stone in the cloth. Wrap one end of the cord around your middle finger and hold the hanging cord in your palm. Hold the other end between your thumb and forefinger. Swing the sling in circles and release the cord between your thumb and forefinger to let the stone fly. It takes practice to throw accurately.




Tie three cords together in a knot. On the free end, tie a stone or other weight to each cord. Twirl the bola around your head and release towards the target. As the bola flies, the cords will separate and wrap around the target.





A club is just a sturdy staff that fits well in your hand. It should be short enough to swing comfortably but is strong enough to do serious damage to the animal. It may be useful to attach a weight or a hanging weight to the end to extend the reach and increase the force of the blows.




Knives are versatile weapons; they can be used for stabbing or attached to spears. Knives can be made from stone, bone or wood.


Fashioning stone weapons can be complicated and difficult. Find a good-sized nodule of flint or other fashionable stone. Using a blunt-edged shaping rock and by hitting the nodule, roughly shape out the knife. Then use a flaking tool, a sharp pointed stone, to detach flakes from the edge and sharpen the edge.


Take a large bone, a leg bone from a pig for example. Place it on a flat surface and shatter it by hitting it with a rock. Use the resulting sharp splinters as weapons. They can be refined by grinding them against a rock.


Wood is useful only for puncturing unless you have bamboo. Sharpen the end into a point and fire-harden it. The drier the wood, the harder it becomes.

Other Equipment




To test a fiber or potential cord for strength:


To make cordage from fibers:




The best material is sinew from an animal. Remove the tendons from large game and smash them into fibers. Moisten the fibers and twist them together or braid them.


You can also use plant fibers from the inner bark of trees. Make these stronger by twisting several cords together. Vines also are useful natural cordage. The fibers from coconut shells are excellent from rope weaving.


Clothing and Insulation


It is important to keep your clothes. Clothing protects you from insects, sunburn, and scratches from traveling through the undergrowth. Animal skins can be used for clothing. At night, use plant down for insulation. The fuzz on cattails, milkweed pollen, and coconut husk fibers insulate well.


Cooking and Eating Utensils




Bowls can be made from wood, horn, bark, bone, or similar materials. Hollow out a piece of wood large enough to hold water and your food. Do not place the bowl on the fire! Hang it over the fire and cook the food by heating the water with hot rocks. If you use bark or leaves, keep the fire low or the bowl moist. You can also use seashells.


Utensils can be fashioned out of wood.


Pots are best made form bamboo or turtle shells. Bamboo works well if you hollow out a section between two joints and place it over the fire. When using turtle shells, first boil the upper portion before heating food and water.



Water containers can be made from the stomach of larger animals. Clean the stomach with water and tie off one end. Leave the top open with a fastening to close it.
Tropical and Seashore Specifics


Tropical Weather


Tropical regions are characterized by heavy and unpredictable rainfall, high temperatures, and extreme humidity. Temperatures do not vary very much in island tropics, usually with a ten degree difference between day and night.


Rainfall is always heavy, often times accompanied by thunder and lightning. Storms can occur at any time and pour for a short period than suddenly stop. Rivers will swell and rise. During the summer months, hurricanes, cyclones, and typhoons may develop over the ocean and hit the shores of the tropical island. Make your shelter above the possible flooding. During the dry season, it rains once a day. During monsoon season, it never stops raining. Day and night are of the same length.


Traveling through the Jungle


Always wear long sleeves to avoid getting cuts that can become infected. In order to move steadily and easily, do not focus on the foliage immediately in front of you. Look through the forest in the desired direction and find breaks in the undergrowth. Also look for game trails made by animals. If necessary, use your knife to cut a path, but avoid doing this for it will tire you. Try not to grab at bushes or vines when climbing slopes because they may have thorns.


Seashore Hazards


Coral can cause painful cuts, severe bleeding and infection.




Many fish that inhabit the coral reefs have poisonous flesh. Avoid stingrays, stonefish and toadfish, and jellyfish.


The barracuda, moray eel, and sea bass are very large, have sharp teeth, and can be very aggressive.


Crocodiles are found in tropical saltwater bays and swamps. Large crocodiles can be dangerous. However, when available crocodile meat is a good source of food.


Sea urchins, anemones, and sponges are extremely painful when stepped on. The spines of a sea urchin can split under you skin and cause infection.



Be careful of tides and the undertow. If caught in the undertow of a large wave, swim to the surface and follow the undertow. Do not attempt to swim back to shore until it has lost its strength.



It is vital to make signals that will alert rescuers to your presence on the island.




Fires during the night and smoke during the day are one of the most effective means of signaling. At night, build three fires in the shape of a triangle (the international distress signal). If you are alone and are unable to maintain three fires, keep one signal fire. Build your fire in a large clearing on high terrain for maximum visibility from the air and the sea. You can also set a tree on fire as a natural torch. During the day, use smoke to signal. Green wood and leaves will generate plumes of white smoke. Make it as obvious as possible.



Natural Materials


You can use natural materials to make symbols on the ground. You can build mounds that cast shadows or use leaves, branches, etc. to form patterns. Find the largest clear area on the highest terrain for your signal. Use contrasting colors. For example, on a white sand beach, use dark leaves and foliage to make the symbol.



1. The Attitude of Survival. Chris Conway. 1999-2001.

6 March 2003. <>


2. The Ranger Digest. Rick F. Tscherne. 2001. 6 March 2003. <>


3. Survival IQ. MBH Media. 6 March 2003.



4. Survival X. 2001. 6 March 2003.