When the proverbial brown stuff hits the fan, escaping on a waterway might be your best option. Yet, many people ignore such alternatives, and they fail to acknowledge the advantages of owning a bug-out boat. 

In our country’s history, long before we had a network of asphalt roads and our ancestors built a transportation infrastructure, we had waters that served as highways. Rivers such as the Missouri, Mississippi, and Ohio, the Great Lakes, and the Erie canal were used to transport goods and people.

Such waterways will still prove useful in a survival scenario and provide you with a viable and rather safe route to reach a bug-out location. A kayak or canoe may prove to be your best mode of transportation to get out of harm’s way. 

Why choose a bug-out boat?

There are a few important reasons why people with access to waterways should consider bugging out by boat.

First of all, you’ve seen on the news how a mass exodus from urban areas will come to a full stop when accidents occur and the highways get clogged. Even in recent days, with Russia invading Ukraine, there were reports of people stuck in their cars as traffic came to a standstill for miles due to significant infrastructure destruction or panicked drivers causing all sorts of accidents. Roads can become clogged at any moment, and you will have to find alternatives means of transportation, not to mention that you will have to abandon most of your stuff. 

Second, in times of crisis, the roadways will become a hot spot for criminals or attackers, and they will prey on unsuspecting travelers. For example, you might stop in an unfamiliar environment, and the criminal element will see you as an easy target. In a “best-case scenario,” they will probably take your vehicle and supplies, but if things go really bad, they might decide to neutralize the “enemy” and will shoot at anything that moves. 

And lastly, a boat will help you keep a safe distance from the social element and other unforeseen road-blockers. So you won’t have to worry about the waterway being clogged by other vehicles or being blocked by impassible debris, wildfires, and pretty much anything you will have to face on land. 

In my opinion, being able to travel using a floatation raft or any type of watercraft will keep you safe and provide you access to areas that are impossible to reach by automobiles. You can find a location at your journey’s end which is inaccessible to motorized vehicles and perhaps, even hard to reach on foot. 

Also, traveling alongside freshwater routes will always provide you with access to potable water as long as you bring along some means to filter or purify it. You can even catch fish to extend your food supplies without spending too much energy searching for that perfect fishing spot. 

Ok, but why should I choose a kayak or canoe?

As you can imagine, the main benefit of using such floatation devices is that you won’t run out of fuel. At most, you will get tired from paddling, and you will need to fuel your body since that’s the only engine a kayak or canoe uses. Even more, you will adjust your paddling to find your own pace and continue without growing tired from all the effort. In some cases, if you travel with a current, there will be almost no paddling needed from your side.

Kayaks and canoes are easy to transport, and even if you have to travel a bit to get to a waterway escape, you won’t need a large vehicle to carry them or a tow hitch. You can easily place the canoe or kayak on top of your car and transport it effortlessly to a nearby water hole. 

They are much smaller than boats and other watercraft, and they can travel in places with just a few inches of water. Even more, you won’t have to worry about waterways clogged with weeds and aquatic plants since you aren’t using a propeller that would get tangled up. You also don’t need a boat launch to get the kayak or canoe into the water. 

Portage is much easier around obstacles with kayaks or canoes, and you can carry them overland between waterways with ease or portage around rapids, dams, and waterfalls. 

They can also become alternative or backup bug-out vehicles in case you are traveling by car. You could easily put a bicycle on the back of your car and a canoe on top. In case your car breaks down, you are covered for both land and water travel. You can easily adapt your bug-out plan to unforeseen scenarios with these two options. 

The downside of such watercrafts is that they are much slower compared to motorboats, and you are limited to how many people you can transport or how much gear you can carry. Also, you need to have a decent amount of physical strength to get the craft on and off your car and paddle it. 

Deciding between a kayak or canoe

Before you make up your mind on one of these crafts, it’s best to figure out the advantages of each. 


Compared to canoes, a single-seat kayak is much lighter and easier to carry. You should not have any issues getting it on and off your vehicle by yourself. 

A kayak has a slim, narrower profile and is paddled with a double paddle. I found it much easier to master paddling compared o the techniques of the canoe, such as draw strokes, backstrokes, and others. 

In strong current or windy conditions, I consider the kayak to be much easier to be steered compared to a canoe. However, this depends on the experience you have and the time you’ve spent on the water. 


I find it much easier to get out of a canoe, and even if there are kayaks that you can sit on the top and are easier to get in and out of, I consider the canoe much more useful for carrying gear.  

Compared to a kayak, you will have more space and a greater weight capacity with a canoe. This may become a critical advantage if you have greater distances to cover between your supply locations. 

I recommend getting a canoe if you are not traveling alone, especially if you have children or pets. It’s also much easier to transport an injured person using a canoe. If someone in your party gets injured and can’t paddle, he/she can switch places with someone traveling with you in the canoe. 

If you plan on hunting, for example, you will be able to carry a deer in your canoe much easier compared to a kayak. The open cargo of the canoe and larger weight capacity can help you carry big game.

Choosing the right craft for you

A short canoe or kayak is much easier to manipulate through tight areas, and you can turn it without going ashore. They can portage overland with ease, and you can pass obstacles easier. However, for a longer boat is easier to keep it going in a straight line, and you will need fewer corrections with the paddle. 

If you decide to go with a canoe, choose one that can carry the number of people required or the amount of gear you need. Stick with something that’s not too big to handle or carry. For example, a two or three people canoe can have a weight capacity of 1,500 pounds, and it can accommodate 2/3 people and the gear they carry. However, it can also weigh more than 80 pounds, and it will be very difficult for one person to get it on or off the car. Also, the length of such a canoe, which often exceeds 15 feet long, can take a toll on maneuverability. 

In terms of construction material, a lot of people will go with Polyethylene canoes since these are light and rugged and also maintenance-free. However, from experience, I can tell you that these canoes can warp or soften over time, and the trick to avoid this is to store them in places where they aren’t exposed to direct sunlight. 

Others go with aluminum ones, but these can get really hot when you leave them on the sunny shorelines. They are very durable, but they also make quite some noise when you clang the paddle against them.

Those with money to spare will probably go with canoes made from fiberglass and Kevlar since these are lighter and often faster compared to the others. However, these canoes are designed for speed and can sometimes prove to be less stable due to their round bottoms. If you don’t have a lot of canoeing experience, I recommend picking a flat-bottom canoe since it’s more stable. 

If you decide to go with a kayak, I advise you to get one that has enough room in the front and back to stow some gear. Many kayak models have hatches to access the storage areas, and this makes it easier to get your pack or sleeping bag. However, keep in mind that storage space is limited compared to canoes, and large items will probably need to be stored behind your seat or packed by your feet. 

Also, if you get a kayak, I recommend installing footpegs since these allow you to sit comfortably in your craft. This is important if you have to travel long distances, and besides providing a comfortable position, it also helps you paddle efficiently by maintaining a correct paddling position and posture. 

Recommended gear

Regardless if you choose a kayak or a canoe, there will be some gear you need. Here are the essential items I recommend getting.

Life jackets

It doesn’t matter how good of a swimmer you think you are; life jackets are essential. You should make sure everyone traveling using waterways wears one. If you bring your dog along, make sure you get one for it as well. You may think you don’t need one, but it won’t matter how well you can swim if you bump your head or if a strong current carries you away if you fall in the water. 

Seatback rests

In general, kayak seats have backrests to provide a comfortable sitting position. Some canoe seats also have them, but that’s not always “standard” equipment. However, you can buy seats with backrests for pretty much any type of canoe, and you will be glad you did so if you are traveling great distances. 

Boat cushion

A while ago, a fellow canoeing enthusiast suggested I should get a boat cushion since it will prove useful in windy conditions or when dealing with a strong current. In such conditions, I always get off my seat and kneel at the bottom of the canoe to obtain a lower center of gravity. Such a cushion has made life much easier for me, and I’m a lot more comfortable when kneeling while paddling.  


You will need to get a carrier to attach to your car roof in order to transport your kayak or canoe safely. There are carriers on the market that requires no tools to be attached to the vehicle’s roof. You can make all sorts of improvisation for carrying the canoe or kayak using foam blocks and a set of ratchet straps, but it’s better to go with something safer. Also, consider getting a cart for your kayak or canoe if you’re handling a heavier craft. These will come in handy when you need to push or pull your boat, and there are models that can be easily assembled (frame and wheels come apart) and stored in your trunk. 

Duffle and bags

Here the choice is up to you, and there are all sorts of dry and waterproof bags and duffels available on the market. I also have to admit that oftentimes, I’ve stored some items in trash bags to keep them dry, but I find waterproof bags and duffels to be a much better option since they have straps that can be lashed to the thwarts of the canoe with ease. In case I capsize, I won’t worry about losing my stuff. 

Navigating items

Some folks like to stay close to the shore to navigate with ease or be safer in case they have a mishap. However, if you must cross open water, you will need to have a few navigating items. A map, a GPS, and even a compass are just as good for water traveling as they are for land navigation. 


If you have access to waterways or if you can reach such fluid highways in a decent amount of time, I recommend considering a canoe or kayak as a plan B for your bugging-out plan. Such crafts can become your primary means of escape if your car breaks down or if the road gets blocked by a natural disaster or the ill-intentioned elements of society. 

Always have a contingency plan in case you are forced to deal with unexpected circumstances, and figure out if a bug-out boat is a good alternative if you are forced to evacuate. 

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Written by

Bob Rodgers is an experienced prepper and he strives to teach people about emergency preparedness. He quit the corporate world and the rat race 6 years ago and now he dedicates all his time and effort to provide a self-sufficient life for his family. He loves the great outdoors and never misses a chance to go camping. For more preparedness related articles, you can visit him at Prepper’s Will

Latest comments
  • Overall enjoyed this article, except for one major item. Author begins by outlining how difficult it would be to escape with a vehicle on clogged roads, then suggests that it would be “easy” to transport a canoe or kayak to the nearest waterway. Really?? Unless you DO live NEAR a viable waterway, this just would not be a viable method of escape.

  • Just a thought for us in the northern latitudes, bugging out by boat is not really an option for 4 months a year. Lets hope the SHTF in the summer?

  • Lets also hope you don’t run into any marauders. You WILL be a sitting target with absolutely no cover.

  • Good article with a lot of good info and advice. You said that one would be safe on the water and no one could block the waterway. Not true. The easiest way that I can think of to waylay someone floating down a stream or river would be a simple rope that was tied to a tree on the opposite bank. Let the rope sink to the bottom, then wait for the boat get close and yank on the rope to bring it up above the water. That will either stop the boat or throw the passengers over the stern if the rope is high enough to hit them, rather than the boat. And, as Frank points out, you’re a sitting duck to anyone who wants to shoot at you from shore. My advice to anyone planning a bugout by boat would be to have at least two people in the boat, with one of them holding a rifle and constantly scanning the shorelines for ambushers. You’re still a perfect target out there on the water, but at least you might be able to force your attackers to take cover to escape your fire and give you time to float out of range.

  • Risk can never be eliminated; but broad risks can be reduced. I live in a “wet state” with lots of creeks, streams, lakes, swampy areas, etc. I potentially could not travel 20 miles in any direction without needing to cross a 12-wide little river or large stream. Having a boat would keep me and my stuff dry when crossing a stream. If people were moving into my area, I could float out at night along a water way to a less risky area. If a hurricane or huge storm happened, the small boat could float instead of soak.
    For years we have all been told to prepare to BO should hazards of staying put become too dangerous. A boat one can carry on some type of cart (I prefer mono-walkers) would be preferable.
    One major presenter on this web-site suggests that one should view their BO area as spanning at least a mile in any direction, if not 5 miles. Why? Because he is ex combat military (me too). We are not going to try to create a fort to defend ourselves, when we can surveille the area we are in and merely move to safer (less risky) ground along our broad BO area (where we have pre-dug or created hidey-hole shelters, stored food and water, plenty of escape cover, etc. Hopefully the area picked will have water, foraging and hunting, fishing food, plenty of cover, etc.
    A kayak, canoe, raft or rubber raft can quietly move downstream at night and hardly be noticed. One can have time to determine if a significant threat is further downstream, permitting one to move to a bank to out-wit or out-last the threat. If I were out in a lake, who wants to shoot me and watch all my gear sink to the bottom? Does anyone expect that they will have extra bullets for “so little supplies to retrieve”? Even as a boy scout (about age 14) we tried the rope trick. half the time the boat went over the rope and pulled the rope holders into the deep. Even if a rope stopped a boater, it would be easy to loop it and cut it; and if someone was firing, slide out of the boat and swim it to the other side. To me, everything depends upon how well one knows their terrain of travel. Yes ambushes could happen on the water,; but that can happen on land too and does not negate the fact that having floatation devices that one can transport overland is a very handy BO benefit for keeping goods dry, staying warm and dry, shelter, surviving floods; and in the case of a kayak, it can be dragged over snowy ground and ice just like a toboggan. . It becomes “a kit” (a large and heavy one” specifically suited to a variety of “watery” experiences. For me, my “(mileX5) BO-Camp has many streams to cross, or even travel. I don’t consider getting wet and risking my gear to get wet every time I cross a creek to be an optimal way to Camp.
    I view all risks along a 10-point scale, with the most serious risks coming between 6-8 on that scale. Why? Because risks less than 6 are well known to me, and I can avoid them or ignore them (carefully). The risks above 8 scare the crap out of me and I won’t go there. That leaves the risks at 60%-80% to be dangerous for me. I give them a wide berth; and when possible will avoid those. I have picked two BO-Camps spanning roughly 5 X 5 miles. One area is swampy and its feeding river often floods (that is why I picked it, because no local in his right mind would pick that area). The other is woodsy prairie and requires crossing a large river, a small but fast river, and creeks. I know everything I need to know for my risk management profile about my BO camps, especially “the birds”, and whether they are cawing at my presence or the presence of others I cannot see. I know my twilights, moon cycles, storm patterns, I’ve mapped my trails, hidey holes; and even what foragables are present in broad patches–because at different times/seasons one cannot easily see what may be covered by sundown, snow, leaves falling, etc. . I carry multiple SBD’s (silent but deadly) stealth weapons, and no Bangers, like you mentioned, Skip, because I don’t want anyone to know my presence by a huge “pop” that echoes for miles. Frankly, what I have planned is too boring for opportunists looking for a quick-score. They will move on while I am tucked into a comfortable hole. Still, a flotation device is a must for me, as well as the mono-walker type cart to carry 5 gal buckets of water, foods, etc. to tuck away for a sick-day. .
    There is no foolproof plan. One hopes to reduce risks to the maximum. I can think of situations where it would be foolhearty to fire on a boat out in the water. Do I plan to swim out and grab what I may? Will the good stuff sink? Could I outrun along shoreline and wait for it to portage or dock? And during a SHTF you think (as you suggested) that someone wants to waste bullets on a target that they cannot easily get to? And what if someone is wounded, but waiting for the shooter to swim out to shoot him up close. Perhaps it all depends on the waterway and the swimming capability of the shooter.

  • You make some excellent points, Radarphos. Sounds like you know your sh*t and are well-prepared. Good on you! I agree with what you say about someone shooting at you on a lake or river. It probably wouldn’t be worth it if they couldn’t recover anything worthwhile. That said . . . There is an element out there in the “prepping” community who aren’t interested in surviving. Those guys aren’t stockpiling food, water, and other supplies. They’re buying and stockpiling AR-15s, Glocks, body armor, night-vision, etc. They don’t give a damn about surviving a SHTF situation. They’re PRAYING for it to happen because, once the social order has collapsed and there are no cops or other law-enforcement types for them to worry about, they’re going to go on a killing spree, murdering anyone and everyone they come across. If they can take something worthwhile off of the corpses of the people they kill, that’s icing on the cake. But, what they really want is just to murder without fear of law-enforcement or reprisal. It’s sad to say it, but there are people out there who are just plain EVIL. Any survival plan needs to take into account that you may run across a band of individuals like that (Cowards travel in groups, never alone, and those types are nothing but cowards) and be prepared to deal with them. I own silent weapons, too, but if I come under attack by a gang of murderous thugs, I want more to defend myself than a bow and arrow or a crossbow. So, yeah, I got guns, too. Prepping means being prepared for any eventuality.

  • Skip. I agree with what you are saying and have heard it many times from source people, when I worked in D/A (drug and alcohol) Rehab. One guy said in a Rehab Group: “I would kill anyone who refused to give me his money”. Then he said, “I view the money as my medicine money…anyone who would deny me my medicine would be dead!” You are absolutely correct in what you say. I also would agree that at any outset of a SHTF, anyone might “head for the hills” for awhile to get out from utter chaos. But I would question how long marauders would be out to the hills, when breaking in and entering in the city offers the most gain for the least time spent. My general opinion is that marauders would be positioned near “choke points”, as would police if they are trying to choke off vehicle escape from a town or community (highly likely when small communities cannot afford to be over-run by anyone.. Marauders are not stupid. In a SHTF where people are fleeing left and right, choke points would be particularly hazardous in any Martial Law or marauder setting, but plenty of choke points are bridges over water (and back to the boats, they allow crossing anywhere especially beyond choke points).. But as you say/suggest, gang members “have eyes” also, on the lookout for easy prey and/or authorities; and gangs can be in rural places also (often forgotten and in the sense of plenty of places where I have lived had “meth labs” out in the country, away from large cities. Thanks for your comments.

    So, in one sense, knowing one’s “hills” allows a person to create hiding spots to stay put for a few days. That, in and of itself, would take some careful consideration because those most scared or least prepared could do anything in an impulsive type of way, and without logic that could defy anyone’s best laid plans. I’ve been told repeatedly that gangs are most likely to be indiscriminate in the way you are suggesting. They already have plenty of hardware and plenty of attitude. They know their neighborhoods well and sort-of-the-most bulletproof walls. I call it “sort of” because I was one of the counselors at Westside Middle School, Jonesboro, AR when 2 young teens fired lots of rounds through cement block walls at their gym (from the woods) and killed about (I forget) 5-7 people.

  • Oh, yeah, Radarphos. You are SO right about so many things! One day at work, a bunch of us were talking about prepping and the things we were stockpiling. One of the guys piped up, “I don’t have to stockpile ANYTHING! I’ll just stick a gun in your ear and take what YOU have!” And, there are a lot of people out there like him. I’ve even heard stories of people tracking and locating other preppers on-line who brag about their stockpiles and post pictures of the things they have. These fuc*ers are marking the locations of those people they’ve located, on maps, so when the SHTF they’ll know where to go to kill them and steal their stockpiles. And, then, there are the evil bastards who just want to kill all the various groups of people they hate, whether it be blacks, hispanics, Asians, Muslims, Jews, etc. I agree that chokepoints are the first place that “marauders” will stake out, but there are also a lot of these “Billy Fad-Ass, wannabe Rambos” out there. A lot of them have military experience, and they’ll be “hunting” people, tracking and ambushing them out in the wild. It’s really discouraging to think about. Why are some people so evil? All you can do is to be prepared to defend yourself as best you’re able. And, if it comes down to your life or theirs, don’t hesitate to kill them before they kill you.