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How Do You Find Land When You Are Lost At Sea?

Blue sky and ocean with choppy waves

Being lost at sea is somewhere that nobody wants to be, but it can happen in certain situations. If you ever find yourself lost at sea with nothing to help you, then one of the first things that you are going to need to do is find dry land. There is only so long a person can remain in water before things get really bad, so finding land and getting dry is going to be one of your top priorities.

In this article, we are going to tell you how you can work towards finding dry land if you are lost at sea, along with other important information that will be helpful to know. Finding land is one thing, but staying alive for long enough to survive the experience is something else entirely.

How Do You Find Land When You Are Lost At Sea?

There are a few things that will help you to find land when you are lost at sea, like following a flock of birds, looking at the formation of clouds, and the movement of the sea. Even though you might not be able to see land itself, you might be able to look out for the following signs to help guide you:

Look at the Clouds

Cumulus clouds in an otherwise clear sky are more than likely to have been formed over land, so this is a great direction to head towards. In areas that are more tropical, you might notice a green coloured tint on the underside of clouds, and this is called lagoon glare. It is produced by the reflection of the sunlight from the shallow water over coral reefs.

Follow the Birds

If you spot a lone bird flying nearby, then this is probably not going to be a reliable indicator of there being land nearby. However, there are not many seabirds that sleep on the water and they don’t typically fly more than 100 miles from land. This means that you can often follow the direction that birds are going in to find land. 

You should note that birds typically fly away from land before noon, and towards land in the later afternoon, so the afternoon is when you are more likely to be directed towards land. Another good sign that there is land nearby is if you can hear continuous bird sounds, and this usually means that you are not too far away. 


There are certain materials that you might be able to spot that would indicate that land is nearby, like driftwood, coconuts, and other vegetation. While these things can be carried far by the ocean and are not always 100% reliable, the more that you see, the more likely that land isn’t too far away.

The Movement of the Sea

The pattern of the swell can often be an indicator of land, and a change in direction can often be caused by the tide pattern around an island. Typically, winds will build up a swell pattern and the swell would be less if there is land nearby. So, if the wind is constant but the swell and waves are less, then you can be sure that there is land close by. To find land in this situation, you should follow the direction that the wind is coming from.

Colour of the Water

Water that is really muddy with silt in it is more likely to have come from a large river, and a river will take you to land, and in some cases, civilisation.

How to Survive Being Lost at Sea

To survive being lost at sea, you will need to be vigilant, stay calm, and try your best to stay above water. It is easy to get lost in a panic in this situation, but panicking is the worst thing that you can do. We will share some of our best advice about surviving while lost at sea below.

Avoid Panicking

The first thing that many people will do in any survival situation is panic, and this is a natural response to finding yourself lost at sea. However, panicking will hinder your decision-making abilities, make it even more difficult to breathe, and can cause you to drown. This is why it is really important to try and stay as calm as possible. 

Try to keep focussed on what you need to do next, and come up with a plan of action. While this might seem to be easier said than done, it is really important for your survival. If you are in any immediate danger, other than being stranded in the middle of the ocean, then this needs to be your first priority. Get to safety first, panic later.

Keep Your Head Above the Waves

Your main priority when you are stranded in the middle of open water is to figure out a way to stay afloat. Ideally, a life jacket is a perfect way to do this, but there are other ways of doing so. If there are any items floating nearby, you should try to find something that you can use to support you. Anything that can support your weight and keep you floating rather than having to exert energy through paddling is going to be beneficial.

If you are able to find something to climb on top of and get you out of the water, like a raft, lifeboat, or a big enough material, then you should absolutely do so. Being in the water can lead to hypothermia, so getting out of the water is really important. 

How to Stay Afloat When Lost At Sea Without a Lifejacket

If you are lost at sea without a lifejacket, there are no floating items for you to hold onto and you are completely alone with nothing to help you, there are other techniques to be aware of that will keep you above the water. The techniques that we are going to show you will help to ensure that you are not completely exerting yourself from energy through methods like paddling. 

Back Floating in Calm Water

Floating on your back is one of the best ways to stay afloat in calm water, though it might not be as successful in rougher conditions. All you need to do for this method is to relax as much as you can and lie on your back. This will allow you to float on your back while keeping your head above the water. You should float like this until you see any signs of land or until you are rescued.

Front Floating in Rough Water

Floating on your front is one of the best ways to survive in rougher waters. To do this, you should lie on your front, face down in the water, and allow your body to float. This will allow you to remain at the surface of the water. You should float like this until you need air, and when you do, you should lift your head out of the water to take a breath, and then bring it straight back down into the water again to exhale.

How Many People Are Lost At Sea Every Year?

It is known that around two large ships go missing every week, but the number of people that are lost at sea would depend on how many people are aboard these ships. There is no definitive answer to this question as it is difficult to track those that are lost at sea.

It is not as common to be lost at sea as it is for some other survival situations, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t happen. Your chances of being lost at sea are increased if you regularly go out to sea, and are much slimmer if you aren’t ever in these situations.