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Lost at Sea

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"Lost at sea for days now. I have no crew and no navigational instruments, no provisions except a half-eaten corn dog, and unless I find water soon, I'm surely done for."
— From the Captain's Log of Guybrush Threepwood, The Curse of Monkey Island

A character or characters finds themselves adrift on the ocean without a means of getting to shore and little to no food or drinkable water. Usually, this is the result of a storm at sea, and if the characters in question are lucky they'll be in a lifeboat. If not they'll be floating on a piece of driftwood with nothing except the clothes on their back.

One or more of the characters may start hallucinating or acting crazy, or the survivors may start to argue over the remaining supplies while they wait to be rescued or manage to find land.

Often happens in stories about Wooden Ships and Iron Men.



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    Comic Books 
  • Variant in De cape et de crocs: the heroes find themselves stranded on a tiny square of rock (That's actually the very summit of a rather Greek-looking city beneath the waves) in the middle of the Atlantic, with nothing to eat or drink and no possible escape. One of them tries to fish, the other two start bickering and fighting before escaping on the Flying Dutchman.
  • Tintin: Tintin, Haddock and Szut are also lost at sea on a hastily made lifeboat in Coke en stock. When Tintin and Szut decide to drink sea water to stop suffering from thirst, Haddock mocks them... and promptly slips on the planks, falling head first in the sea and drinking more than both of them.

    Films — Animated 
  • Occurs in Penguins of Madagascar, after Dave escapes with Private captured and the penguins are adrift in a metal bowl without food and water. Subverted when it is revealed they're being towed by the North Wind, who are relaxing five feet away in an inflatable pontoon dining on fine food and drink.
  • The Road to El Dorado: Miguel and Tulio are lost at sea on a lifeboat and suffer from thirst.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The Alfred Hitchcock movie Lifeboat, which takes place in its entirety on the lifeboat that the desperate survivors clamber into after their ship is torpedoed.
  • Open Water. Two scuba divers are accidentally left behind by their dive boat in the open ocean.
  • Adrift, the "sequel" to Open Water, features a group of boaters who all decide to go swimming one day and then a series of increasingly improbable events keep them from getting back on board.
  • Serves as Bookends in Road to Morocco, where Bing Crosby and Bob Hope's characters start out and end up on rafts in the ocean. The first instance is played (relatively) straight, while in the closing scene, following Hope's lengthy hamtastic speech about certain death, it's revealed they're almost literally floating in the New York City harbor.
  • In Joe Versus the Volcano, Joe ends lost at sea on his wonderful luggage. Twice.
  • Proteus
  • The entire plot of All Is Lost is one man's battle to survive after his yacht is struck by a cargo container.
  • The main plot in Life of Pi
  • Adrift (2018): A young couple sailing across the Pacific are caught in a hurricane and find themselves adrift well off the beaten path.

  • In the first book of the Across a Jade Sea trilogy, Batiya and Chunru end up lost at sea when their ship is attacked. The lifeboat they're on is understocked because it was used in a rescue mission earlier that night.
  • Actually happens, of all people, to Captain Aubrey of the Aubrey-Maturin saga. He has to rescue Dr. Maturin when the latter falls out of the Surprise's great cabin, but since the two are unable to grab onto the ship's boats, they are left to float and swim for a considerable period of time till they are picked up by a pahi boat piloted by some rather hostile lady islanders.
  • Happens to many many people in Black Tide Rising. The entire first two books (and some of the third) focus on the main characters rescuing people from this situation. In many cases they are too late to save them, finding only people who have already died from lack of food or water. The interesting variation of this is that many of the people they go to rescue are on large ships like US Navy and pleasure cruise ships, where the people are trapped in their cabins with limited food and water but no resupply.
  • Happens in Don Juan by Lord Byron, eventually leading to No Party Like a Donner Party. The eponymous hero is the only survivor.
  • The Island of Doctor Moreau also begins this way. In Edward Prendick's case, he's in the Pacific. He initially has a couple of fellow survivors with him, but they get into a fight after it's suggested they turn to cannibalism to survive. The two fall overboard and drown, leaving Prendick alone. Prendick is eventually picked up by a passing ship, but in the interim has gone nearly insane from sunstroke and lack of food.
  • The central plot of Life of Pi. The twist is that he isn't lost at sea with other people... he's lost at sea with a full-grown Bengal tiger!
  • The short story "The Open Boat" by Stephen Crane is about a group of sailors who are lost at sea. It was based on Crane's own experience of surviving a shipwreck.
  • Percy Jackson and the Olympians: Percy's mom Sally told him this is what happened to his Disappeared Dad. Maybe From a Certain Point of View, perhaps
  • The poem "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner": a group of sailors wind up lost at sea when the ship is driven off course after the narrator shoots an albatross. One by one the crew all perish, but the mariner survives.
  • Slimer begins with the protagonists adrift in the freezing cold Atlantic in a life raft after their yacht sank.

    Live-Action TV 
  • One Monty Python's Flying Circus episode had several sailors adrift in a boat and contemplating cannibalism to survive.
  • Evoked by Ricky Gervais and Steve Merchant in The Ricky Gervais Show, when they asked Karl Pilkington who he'd rather save from a sinking ship. Most of Steve's argumentation was based on the fact that if Karl took Ricky on his lifeboat, he'd eat all the food in five minutes and let Karl starve.
  • The third-season Hawaii Five-0 episode, "Lana I Ka Moana" (whose title is Hawaiian for "Adrift") partially employs this trope when it starts with Danny and McGarrett getting their boat hijacked on a fishing trip, far enough offshore that it's no longer visible. The thief leaves them in the dinghy they found him in, which no longer has a working motor, and although it seems eminently possible they can save themselves (and eventually they do), at first Danny sees their situation as hopeless.
  • While trying to avoid the stray dogs crowding the beach at the Jersey Shore, Mac and Frank of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia pass out in an inflatable raft after getting drunk on Rum Ham and wake up adrift at sea. Then they lose the Rum Ham!
  • The subject of the Mr. Show sketch "Lifeboat" in which the raft passengers are members of a Jerry Springer-esque show. They're actually more concerned with their own problems than they are with finding dry land.
  • Horatio Hornblower: In "The Even Chance", it happened to Archie Kennedy. It was no accident. He had an epileptic fit during a covert raid and Hornblower had to clunk him unconscious, and his tormentor untied the boat he was in an attempt to murder him. The boat drifts away and he's lost and presumed dead. He appears again in "The Duchess and the Devil". The audience doesn't know much about the period when he was Lost at Sea as the focus is always on Hornblower.
  • Married... with Children: In the two part episode. "Ship Happens'', Al, Peg, Marcy and Jefferson go on a cruise aboard the S.S. Sea Dodge that's a fitness cruise for fat women. At night however, the crew participates in certain "after-hours activities" (as described by Gretchen, the aerobics instructor). After the 6:30 lockdown, one of the fat women smells the jerk chicken and tries to cut through the deck with a blowtorch, causing the ship to sink. Al, Peg, Marcy, Jefferson, a fat woman named Kay and Gilbert Gottfried wind up stranded on a life raft in the middle of the ocean. All of the other passengers and the entire crew drowned.


    Video Games 
  • At the beginning of The Curse of Monkey Island, Guybrush is adrift at sea on a bumper car after escaping from the Carnival of the Damned after the end of the last game.
    • And to continue it as a gag, literally everything he lists would be nice to have floats by him but he never notices due to his writing. Which follows as: fresh water (a bottle of purified spring water), fresh fruit to fight off scurvy (a crate filled with various fruit), bananas (a banana crate), and finally "I might as well wish for a chicken and a big barrel of Grog for all the good it'll do me" (the trope page image). He does notice the pitched battle, though, because the cannon fire breaks his reverie.
  • Illusion of Gaia has a shipwreck sequence with multiple rounds of Controllable Helplessness where there is little to do but have the protagonist putter around his makeshift raft and wait for a hidden timer to run out. Assumably the goal is to make the audience sympathize with the main characters and their boredom, but there is such a thing as overdoing it.
  • Alluded to in The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening: Link gets caught in a storm and apparently washes up on a small island. By the end of the game he's defeated the Nightmares and caused a Dream Apocalypse, but he's still stranded in the middle of nowhere with nobody but a psychedelic whale and a couple of seagulls to keep him company. That said, seagulls don't stray far from land, giving hope for his immediate future.
  • The central premise of Raft is to survive this.

    Western Animation 
  • One episode of The Simpsons had Homer, Bart, Ned, and Todd (or Rod) adrift at sea in a raft after a boy scout rafting trip goes awry. They are eventually saved when Homer is able to locate a Krusty Burger situated on an offshore drilling rig.
  • Classic Disney Shorts:
    • The Castaway and Mickey's Man Friday both begin with Mickey Mouse being lost at sea before discovering an island.
    • In No Sail, Donald Duck and Goofy are on a coin-operated boat and don't have enough change to get back to shore.
  • Looney Tunes short "Wakiki Wabbit" opens with two castaways on a raft, each considering eating the other.
    • Another cartoon, "8 Ball Bunny", has Bugs and a penguin briefly stranded at sea, and Bugs starts seeing his companion as a roast chicken.
  • Garfield imagines this, with the box as the makeshift seagoing vessel of choice. He imagines Odie as a Dagwood sandwich (not called out as such, but still).
    • Garfield also imagines that he and Odie are pirates lost at sea in the Halloween special, while floating across a misty lake in a rowboat.
  • Fievel from An American Tail gets washed overboard at sea, but miraculously survives by floating to New York in a glass bottle.
  • In the Family Guy episode "The Perfect Castaway", Peter, Joe, Quagmire and Cleveland are castaways after Peter's fishing boat is destroyed in a hurricane, escaping on a raft made from Quagmire's inflatable doll collection. Peter eats Joe's legs up to his knees before they find a deserted island. They are rescued several months later by a cruise ship that passes by while the men are attempting to have an orgy.
  • An episode of CatDog has the titular duo along with Mervis and Mr. Sunshine lost at sea while inside a dumpster. They turn it into a makeshift sail boat and Cat names himself captain, but proceeds to become increasingly tyrannical. After making his whole crew walk the plank, it turns out they were never lost at sea, but inside a fountain surrounded by fog. Except Cat is still Drunk with Power.
  • Codename: Kids Next Door had Sector V get lost at sea after their plane breaks down, but instead of water, they were stranded in a sea of asparagus.
  • The Popeye short Spooky Swabs opens with Popeye and Olive playing checkers on a raft before discovering a ghost ship.
  • The Ed, Edd n Eddy episode "Scrambled Ed" ends with the cul-de-sac getting flooded; Jonny, Rolf and his barnyard animals are sailing on a raft, while Sarah and Jimmy are on another.
  • Bojack Horseman: Character Actress Margo Martindale, renowned criminal mind, ends up crashing in open waters with a cargo boat and is presumed dead. A year and a half later, at a seaside convent, a mysterious woman, mute and amnesiac from shock, is being healed by a dedicated sister until the woman spots a familiar figure in the sky and yells: "BoJack? BOJACK! BOJACK!!"

    Real Life 
  • This is very much Truth in Television. One of the most well-known examples of the 20th century occurred after the USS Indianapolis was torpedoed in the Philippine sea in 1945. Out of 880 men that survived the ship sinking itself, only 317 ultimately survived the five-day ordeal.
  • On November 23, 1942, British Merchant ship SS Benlomond was sunk by a German U-boat. The only survivor was a crewman named Poon Lim, who made it to an 8-foot life raft containing a small amount of food and water. These soon ran out and Lim had to resort to collecting rainwater, fishing, and even occasionally catching birds into order to survive. Finally in April of 1943, after 133 days, Lim's raft drifted to shore off the coast of Brazil and he was rescued by fishermen. When informed his 133 days was a world record for the longest amount of time surviving in a life raft, he replied "I hope no one will ever have to break that record." While some people would survive a longer amount of time stranded at sea in disabled boats, to this day he still holds the record for longest amount of time surviving in a raft.
  • From October of 2005 to August of 2006, three Mexican sailors, Jesús Vidaña, Lucio Rendón, and Salvador Ordonez survived adrift in the Pacific ocean after their fishing boat ran out of fuel. Three other sailors onboard, including the ship's owner, died during the ordeal.