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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. If things get really bad, Cold Equation or No Party Like a Donner Party may come into play.

Often happens in stories about Wooden Ships and Iron Men. May lead to being marooned on a "Far Side" Island. Sister Trope to Arduous Descent to Terra Firma, which revolves around characters who are stranded in high locations or even the skies.


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  • The Raft of the Medusa: The people in the painting are stuck on a shoddy raft after their frigate sank and hoping a ship will come by and rescue them. Dehydrated and driven to despair, they eventually resorted to cannibalism.

    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 Skut are also lost at sea on a hastily made lifeboat in The Red Sea Sharks. When Tintin and Skut 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.
  • A Green Arrow comic had an adventure end with the group stuck on a lifeboat miles from any shore. This would have been a small issue, if not for the fact that Connor was badly wounded. With no way to get him any medical help before he bled out, Ollie stands up in the lifeboat and cries out at the top of his lungs: "CLAAAAAARRRRK!!!!" A second later, the Man of Steel shows up to carry Connor to the nearest hospital while the rest get themselves back to dry land.
  • Wonder Woman: Black and Gold: Diana helps the ghost of a child pass on who died after their greedy uncle stole them and their siblings away for a ransom, then lost his crew and drank himself to death leaving the kids to slowly die as they tried to figure out how to sail the boat back to land.

    Films — Animated 
  • In An American Tail, this is how Fievel gets separated from his family. A storm sweeps him overboard during their voyage to New York, and his parents think he drowned, but really he ends up floating in a bottle and washes up onto Liberty Island.
  • The Pagemaster: Richard and his friends are traveling across the sea on a dingy when the whale from Moby-Dick destroys their boat. Only Richard and Adventure make it to a raft, although they are quickly picked up by a group of pirates (the ones from Treasure Island no less).
  • 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 (2006), the "sequel" to Open Water, features a group of boaters who get stuck in the water next to their yacht, as nobody put the ladder down before they all went in, and have to think of a way to get back aboard before they all drown.
  • Another in-name only sequel, Open Water 3 came in 2017. This time their boat is hit by a Giant Wall of Watery Doom and they find themselves trapped in shark-infested waters.
  • 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 Harpoon, the main trio get stuck out at sea when their yacht's engine breaks and they quickly run out of food and water.
  • In Joe Versus the Volcano, Joe ends lost at sea on his wonderful luggage. Twice.
  • The entire plot of All Is Lost is one man's battle to survive after his yacht is struck by a cargo container.
  • Adrift (2018): A young couple sailing across the Pacific are caught in a hurricane and find themselves adrift well off the beaten path.
  • Cyclone (1978): A cyclone devastates the coast of Mexico, bringing down a plane, leaving a glass bottom tour boat adrift, and forcing a group of fishermen to Abandon Ship. The survivors of all three groups (including a young Edith González) are left trapped at sea with little food and water to go around, especially once they come into contact with each other and have to share.
  • King Kong (1976): At the start of the film the crew of the Petrox Explorer find Dwan unconscious and adrift at sea in a life raft. The yacht she was a passenger on sank in a storm the night before, leaving her the only survivor.

  • 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.
  • The Adventures of Amina al-Sirafi: As a sailor, Amina considers this the worst possible fate, forcing the victim to choose between a horrible, near-hopeless ordeal and letting go. The villain throws her overboard in her Darkest Hour; she snags some debris and somehow survives for over a week before floating to an island.
  • 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.
  • Gods and Warriors: This happens to Hylas after he escapes the Crows by stealing a boat in the first book. He eventually manages to catch a sea turtle and eat it before a shark appears to threaten him and a storm crushes the boat. Fortunately for him, Spirit and his pod drive the shark away and help the boy reach the Island of the Fin People.
  • 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.
  • Just So Stories: In How the Whale Got His Throat the Mariner begins the story stranded on a raft in the middle of the ocean.
  • 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. 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.
  • Tik-Tok of Oz: Betsy Bobbin and Hank the mule start the story being shipwrecked and finally washing ashore.
  • The Hands of the Emperor: After the Fall of Astandalas Cliopher undertook the long and arduous journey back to his home on the islands, crossing the ocean in a self-built boat. Lacking any objects of navigation except for a rather basic knowledge of the stars, he got lost whenever a storm blew him of his (already shaky) course.
  • Dolphin Island: When the hovership Santa Anna starts to sink a few hundred miles off the coast of Australia, the crew set off in the lifeboats and are far away before Little Stowaway Johnny Clinton can signal for help. Johnny is left floating on a packing crate. He makes a little shelter on the crate out of debris and his shirt, but he has no way of propelling himself and nothing to eat or drink. The next day, heroic dolphins start pushing him towards Dolphin Island, which is about 100 miles to the west. By the time they arrive, Johnny has been on the crate for about 30 hours and is severely dehydrated and sunburned.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Arrow. This happens to Oliver Queen after the Queen's Gambit sinks. After several days adrift they start running out of water, so his father murders the other man in the liferaft and then shoots himself, so his son will survive. It also happens twice to Sara Lance; the first time she's 'rescued' by Mad Scientist Dr. Ivo, the second time by Nyssa Al-Ghul of the League of Assassins.
  • 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. While all of the other passengers and crew were safely accounted for, Al, Peg, Marcy, Jefferson, a fat woman named Kay (who caused the boat to sink) and Gilbert Gottfried wind up stranded on a life raft in the middle of the ocean. They (save for Al who instead swam for it rather than hear Peg tell him she loves him) eventually end up being saved by some corrupt congressmen using taxpayers' money for a yacht.

  • In the song Stranded Lullaby by Miracle Musical, the singer describes himself as being lost at sea, alongside a somber instrumental.

    I'd like to know why you
    are all alone while I'm lost at sea
    Maybe we'll be there when you want

  • The B-plot of Ship of Ghouls, if you choose not to report the bomb on the cruise ship. The ensuing attack sinks the ship and you'll spend the rest of the adventure stranded in the Atlantic.


  • More than one Old Master Q comic have this happening to either the titular character or another.
    • Notably, one had Master Q throwing a Message in a Bottle (containing the words, "Help I'm lost at sea") for help, only for the bottle to return to him days later with a reply, "Me too!"
    • Another one had Master Q finally finding a deserted island after being stranded at sea with a crate labelled "Food". Only to find out the full sign is partially obscured, it's actually a crate labelled "Food Poisoning Medicine".

    Newspaper Comics 
  • Subject of numerous gags in The Far Side.
    • A group of castaways in a raft draw straws to see who gets eaten, and one of the winners is a dog.
    • A guy in a rubber raft has his TV with him, and is watching a news report about how that particular brand of raft is being recalled because they all spring leaks and slowly deflate.
    • A couple in a raft are attacked by navy ants.
    • "Well, we might as well put it on board - although I'm not sure what use we'll have for a box of rusty nails, broken glass and throwing darts."

    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.
  • In Kingdom Hearts III, "The Caribbean" opens with Sora, Donald, and Goofy on a tiny raft in the middle of the ocean when none of them know where they are. They quickly fall off the edge of the world soon afterward.
  • 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!!"
  • A Thousand and One... Americas: In the ninth episode, Chris meets a man whose grandfather fell victim of this trope during his sea travel from Japan to Ecuador. The story goes as follows: The man's grandfather led a group of fishermen and their wives to sail the seas with canoes so they could discover new lands and inhabit them, which means they had to travel across the wild, dangerous Pacific Ocean. During the third day of the travel, a violent sea storm overcame them and, in the next day's morning, they were completely adrift and with many lives and resources lost. They had to soldier on and resume their trip, finally arriving the coasts where the Valdivia tribe lived.

    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 20, 1820, the American whaling ship Essex was sunk on the high seas after being attacked by a sperm whale it had been hunting, which rammed the ship, not once, but twice! While the ship sank slow enough for the crew to load up a fair amount of provisions and supplies before evacuating the Essex on the ship's whaleboats, their situation was still critical. They eventually found the uninhabited Henderson island, which contained a fresh water source, but soon it became clear that island did not have enough wildlife or edible vegetation to support 20 men. 17 of them returned to the whaleboats and set out again for the sea, while three decided to stay on Henderson island. On the boats, the provisions eventually ran out and the men became too weak to sail them, resulting the boats drifting out away and out of sight of each other. Eventually, the men on board were forced to resort to cannibalism of dead crewmen in order to survive. On one of the boats, their situation become so desperate that the crew decided they couldn't wait for someone to die naturally. They draw straws to see who would die, and then drew straws again to determine who the executioner would be. Only 8 of the 20-man crew would survive the hellish voyage (2 boats containing 5 survivors and the three men on Henderson Island were found and rescued by passing ships), which would serve as inspiration for author Herman Melville's famous novel Moby-Dick. Ironically, the crew had declined to attempt to sail their boats to the closest landmass after the initial sinking, the Marquesas Islands, because those islands were rumored to be inhabited by cannibals.
  • One of the most bizzare cases of this occurred on February 11, 1979, when a small 17-foot boat, the Sarah Joe was lost in a storm off the coast of the Hawaiian island of Maui. Despite an extensive search in the following weeks, neither the boat nor the five men on board, Scott Moorman, Benjamin Kalama, Peter Hanchett, Patrick Woessner, and Ralph Malaiakini were found. This seemed to be the end of the story, but on September 10, 1988, biologist John Naughton discovered an abandoned boat on the coast of the Taongi atoll that was later identified as the Sarah Joe. Near the boat, Naughton found a make-shift grave containing human remains. A subsequent investigation revealed the remains belonged to Scott Moorman, but an extensive search of the island did not turn up any trace of the other men from the boat. To this day, it has never been determined what happened to the rest of the crew, nor how the tiny boat had made it all the Toangi atoll several thousand miles away from Maui, nor who had buried Moorman in the makeshift grave. It is theorized that perhaps the boat was found by a ship conducting illegal smuggling or fishing operations in the area with only Moorman's body onboard, and the crew that found it simply buried him on the island and left, never reporting their discovery in order avoid revealing their illegal activities. One final puzzle in this mystery is that a prior expedition to Toangi in 1984 had not reported anything out of the ordinary. While perhaps a simple discarded unknown small boat on the coast would not be considered worthy of reporting, it seems highly unlikely the expedition would not have found or reported the make-shift grave. This leaves open the possibility that the Sarah Joe did not actually arrive on the island until 5 years after it was lost at sea. This is despite the fact that scientists researching the case determined that if the boat had been drifting aimlessly in the water since the storm, it should have only taken 3 months for the currents to naturally drag it onto the coast of Toangi atoll.
  • 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.
  • In 2013, 29-year old ship's cook Harrison Odjegba Okene survived a maritime version of being Buried Alive when the tugboat he was serving on capsized and sank off the coast of Nigeria. With his ship resting on the floor of the Atlantic ocean, Okene survived for more than 60 hours in a small air pocket that had somehow not been filled with water, with a bottle of coke as his only source of food or hydration until he was discovered by divers who had been sent to the ship on a salvage operation. Sadly the 11 other men on board on the ship were not so fortunate.


Video Example(s):



While at sea, a hungry Stuart hallucinates that Kevin and Bob are bananas.

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