Why Survivors Survive a Shipwreck

Published on January 11th, 2016

by Steven Callahan, SAIL
As sailors, every day we survive school, our jobs, the monthly bills—and some of us may eventually face disease, crippling accidents or some other crisis. Still, nobody wants to obsess about surviving at sea. Nobody wants to spend a fortune on a liferaft or other safety equipment that they hope to never need.

Of course, back in 1982 when I drifted across 1,800 nautical miles of the Atlantic, I found none of those investments a waste of time or money. Good equipment and lots of luck were essential when my mothership went down, but my physical survival was as intricately linked to psychology as it was to gear or luck.

Writers routinely evoke “the will to survive,” but what does that actually mean? Is the will to survive something genetic—you’re born with the right stuff or you’re doomed? Surely, I’ve never seen any of the “right stuff” lurking within my DNA. Perhaps it’s something that we can actually learn or hone.

There aren’t many universal or immutable truths about survival, but past survival odysseys do reveal useful concepts and guidelines. A model I favor progresses, more or less chronologically, through four different stages. – Full report

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