Lost at Sea ⛵

Situation Description

You have chartered a yacht with three friends, for the holiday trip of a lifetime across the Atlantic Ocean. Because none of you have any previous sailing experience, you have hired an experienced skipper and two-person crew.

Unfortunately in mid Atlantic a fierce fire breaks out in the ships galley and the skipper and crew have been lost whilst trying to fight the blaze. Much of the yacht is destroyed and is slowly sinking.

Your location is unclear because vital navigational and radio equipment have been damaged in the fire. Your best estimate is that you are many hundreds of miles from the nearest landfall.

You and your friends have managed to save 15 items, undamaged and intact after the fire. In addition, you have salvaged a four man rubber life craft and a box of matches.

Your task is to rank the 15 items in terms of their importance for you, as you wait to be rescued. Place the number 1 by the most important item, the number 2 by the second most important and so forth until you have ranked all 15 items.


  1. Provide a 'lost at sea ranking chart' for every member of your group.
  2. Ask each person to take 10 minutes to decide their own rankings, and record the choices in the left-hand Step 1 column.
  3. Invite everyone to get into teams of 3/4. Encourage the group to discuss their individual choices and work together to agree on a collaborative list. Allow 20 minutes for this section. Record the group rankings in the second column (team rankings).
  4. The correct answers were suggested by the US Coastguard. Display the 'expert' rankings on a PowerPoint presentation, whiteboard or photocopy. Compare your individual and group answers with the correct answers and determine a score.
  5. For each item, mark the number of points that your score differs from the Coastguard ranking and then add up all the points. Disregard plus or minus differences. The lower the total, the better your score.
  6. As the groups work together, sharing thoughts and ideas, this should produce an improved score over the individual results. Discuss with your group why the scores were different? What changed their minds? And was this enough to survive?


Highest Priority

  • A sextant
  • A shaving mirror
  • A quantity of mosquito netting
  • A 25 liter container of water
  • A case of army rations
  • Maps of the Atlantic Ocean
  • A floating seat cushion
  • A 10 liter can of oil/petrol mixture
  • A small transistor radio
  • 20 square feet of opaque plastic sheeting
  • A can of shark repellent
  • One bottle of 160 proof rum
  • 15 feet of nylon rope
  • 2 boxes of chocolate bars
  • An ocean fishing kit & pole

Least Priority

According to the experts, in this case the US Coastguard, the basic supplies needed when a person is stranded mid-ocean are articles to attract attention and aid survival until rescue arrives. A transatlantic trip takes roughly 20 days; significantly less with good winds and significantly more without them.

Articles for navigation are of little importance since even if a small life raft were capable of reaching land, it would be impossible to store enough food and water to survive for that amount of time. Without signaling devices, there is almost no chance of being spotted and rescued.

Priority Your Choice Coast Guard Choice Coast Guard Reasoning
1 (highest)
15 (lowest)