The storm surge from Hurricane Katrina inundated the coastal areas of Louisiana and Mississippi with terrifying speed.
Flash floods from excessively heavy rains can turn roads into rivers in many parts of the country in minutes. When the local boulevard becomes a raging torrent, it takes a boat to evacuate safely. Fortunately, there are lots of options available for the typical prepper who lives in low-lying terrain.
A good friend of mine was trapped with his dad in the top floor of his home by floodwaters from Katrina that rose so fast they could not escape. These two desperate survivors improvised a flotation device out of a hot tub lid, only to have the surge abate just before their final redoubt became untenable. As with most things, a little preparation and forethought can solve problems like these before they get out of hand.
Escape To Safety
In many rural areas, an aluminum jon boat is standard-issue equipment. These flat-bottomed vessels are relatively lightweight and exceptionally stable in rough water. An aluminum jon boat requires no maintenance and is all but indestructible. Our family jon boat was bought used in 1953 and is still floating today. Versions range from little more than an aluminum box with seats to high-end fishing rigs that cost as much as a nice car and carry more amenities than my first apartment. These emergency boats do, however, take up quite a lot of space and represent an impractical option for anyone not intending to use the vessel for fishing or recreation in times of peace.
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The L1852MT from Lowe Boats is an all-purpose jon boat. At 17-feet-9-inches long and 75 inches wide, this versatile utility boat weighs 475 pounds, has a payload capacity of 1,445 pounds and can carry six passengers safely. Short of intentional abuse, the aluminum L1852MT boat should render proper service for your children’s children.
Canoes have been staples of water transport in North America for as long as there have been humans living here. The originals were pieces of primitive art formed from massive tree trunks via a tedious process of controlled burning and painstaking woodwork.
Nowadays, commercial canoes and kayaks are available in plastic, fiberglass and aluminum, and provide the benefit of being fast and easy to paddle. The same streamlined design that makes the canoe or kayak fast comes at a cost, however. If heavily loaded, a canoe is not nearly as stable as a flat-bottomed jon boat. Spend enough time in a canoe and eventually you will get wet. Fail to tie your gear in securely and you will donate it to whatever lurks at the bottom of the lake. Additionally, like the jon boat, a canoe or kayak is a rigid vessel that takes up a lot of space when stored.
Osagian Canoes makes top-quality canoes and kayaks out of aluminum. The company’s 15-foot Osagian Classic aluminum canoe has a 3-foot beam, enough room for three people, a 580-pound payload capacity and a highly portable weight of 65 pounds. Like the jon boat, an aluminum canoe that is not abused should last forever.
Osagian actually claims the world’s only all-aluminum kayak as well. The Osagian Kayak Standard weighs a paltry 48 pounds, is 12 feet long and sports a 30-inch beam. While this compact kayak will only accommodate a single person, it still has a 400-pound payload and is significantly easier to store than larger emergency boats on the market.
Modern advances in polymer science have produced synthetic materials that are remarkably lightweight while remaining literally tough enough to shed bullets.
While these materials comprise body panels for cars, heat shields for spacecraft and inserts for bullet-resistant vests, they also make splendid watercraft. The same technology that produces inflatable boats tough enough to carry Navy SEALs onto a hostile shore in the middle of the night can also provide inflatable watercraft for the prepared American.
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Sea Eagle offers a wide variety of inflatable boats at very reasonable prices. Its catalog ranges from single-operator paddleboards, fishing boats and kayaks up to large pontoon boats that will accommodate up to seven passengers or 2,000 pounds of gear. These boats deflate to store or ship easily while remaining readily deployable via mechanical or electric air pumps. As such, a Sea Eagle boat can be kept out of the way in the corner of the garage yet remain quickly deployable should the weather turn foul and the floodwaters rise.
The Sea Eagle SE8 Motormount is the perfect solution to a water emergency. The SE8 weighs 32 pounds and can carry nearly half a ton of payload safely. It collapses into a handy backpack and deploys for use in 10 minutes. The SE8 can be fitted for an outboard motor, and the base model costs less than $300.
When searching for the ultimate bug-out watercraft, it would be hard to beat an airboat. With aluminum hulls and propulsion systems more at home in airplanes than boats, these hybrid vehicles require a very shallow draft and are subsequently uniquely maneuverable in congested waterways. Airboats are also more resistant to unpredictable currents than deeper-draft vessels.
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An AirRanger airboat from American Airboat Corporation represents the state-of-the-art model. Sporting a 450-horsepower, 6-liter engine that turns a 79-inch, whisper-tip prop and offers seating for five, this 18-foot monster comes equipped with an onboard GPS navigation system. Commercial applications include sightseeing, hunting and fishing in swamps and similar difficult-to-access wet areas. In a flood scenario, a properly equipped airboat is the ultimate survival vehicle.
Improvising flotation gear is a last-ditch option. The inimitable Army Ranger Handbook will walk you through how to build a proper poncho raft, but this name is misleading. A poncho raft will float your individual equipment and keep it dry, but the operator in question will still be bobbing along beside it. In an emergency, empty water or fuel cans make fine improvised flotation devices, as do empty soda bottles that are sealed and strapped together with paracord.
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If things really go sideways, remove your pants and tie knots in the legs. Close the fly and arrange the crotch portion across your chest so that the empty legs run underneath your arms. Lift the waist portion above the water to trap air in the legs as needed. So long as the cloth is kept wet, a decent pair of pants will hold enough air to suffice as improvised water wings.
There are countless stories of refugees attempting to ford flooded roads in a vehicle, only to find the water either too deep or too fast to manage. Water running over a roadway can be misleading, and it is always dangerous to attempt to cross flooded areas of road in a car or truck. Investing in a decent boat takes one more variable out of the survival equation in a crisis.
If you are like most of us and live down where the rivers occasionally slip their banks, you might want to consider a boat in your survival loadout. Under the wrong circumstances, this could be your most critical piece of survival gear.
For More Information:
American Airboat Corporation
This article was originally published in the SURVIVOR’S EDGE ™ Summer 2015 issue. Subscription is available in print and digital editions here.