Scenario: In a boat in the middle of the sea, no freshwater or food stores, no desalination equipment, no rain, but you can catch fish and eat it raw. Can you get enough water this way to survive, let's say for 14 days? (Enough clothes to protect against cold, shade available)

2, 000 g of raw Pacific cod contains 1,650 mL water, 350 g protein, 2,200 mg sodium (source: usda.gov)

By my calculation, you would need to excrete 2,800 mL of urine to excrete urea from protein metabolism (8 mL urine per 1 g protein; source: nap.edu), so after eating fish you would be in the negative water balance for more than 1,150 mL solely from urea.

My questions are strictly about fish as a water source, not about other water sources or survival time:

  1. Does protein really expel so much urine that makes fish an inappropriate source of water?
  2. Any other appropriate source of water from fish, apart from eyeballs? Can you somehow squeeze the water from fish?
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ small hole in your scenario - if you can cook fish, you should be able to boil seawater and condense the steam for desalinated water :) $\endgroup$ – MattDMo Oct 2 '14 at 15:31
  • $\begingroup$ I edited: No cooking, raw fish. $\endgroup$ – Jan Oct 2 '14 at 15:52
  • $\begingroup$ note protein levels in fish blood vary by quite a lot. so it depends on the fish in question. $\endgroup$ – John May 25 at 4:01

If you have a man in a box scenario where you only look at numbers, the answer is, no, he won't last 14 days.[1]

The difficulty with this question for me is that the body doesn't always behave the way it's supposed to. The 3-3-3 rule (3 minutes without air, 3 days without water, three weeks without food) and the "100 hour rule" (4.166 days) aren't absolutes.[2] Some people die in hours, some 10 days. The variables are too great.

Guinness World Records puts the record for survival without water at 18 days[3] by an 18 year old male forgotten in a cell by the police. But he was in a cool basement, and licked the walls which had a small amount of moisture on them. Had he been sweating or 2 decades older, he probably wouldn't have lasted as long.

Water requirement under extreme circumstances varies. How much clothes is your male wearing? Does he have shade? Where in the ocean is he? How inactive can he be? Can he oil his skin with fish oil? But mostly, does he have a still suit (j/k)? These things all matter.

Eating protein without water isn't wise. Carbs are better, but your guy doesn't have them. The better thing for your guy, who can certainly live for 14 days without food, is to suck the water out of the fish, and what he can't suck out, wring out at the end. If he has access to the whole fish, the eyeballs and the spine also have water in them.* The body has all kinds of homeostatic mechanisms to preserve fluids, including continuous secretion of ADH (Anti-Diuretic Hormone), osmoreceptors and baroreceptors to regulate fluid volume and how much water is lost from the kidneys.[4] He'll suffer terribly; fluid will be sucked out of his joints and cells and his blood urea nitrogen will go up and his kidneys will be damaged, he'll hallucinate, he'll need hospitalization, but might he live? If he is young, healthy and hydrated going in, and other factors (a tarp for shade, etc.) mitigate his water loss, I think the answer is yes, he might.

*In 1953, a French physician and sea survival expert, Alain Bombard, set sail in a Zodiac inflatable dinghy with the only food and water officially sealed to discourage himself from using it. He started immediately with drinking small amounts of seawater, and would suck water from fish, and, if he had any fresh rain water, would eat raw fish. He sailed from Minorca to Barbados, eating supplied food and water only once. His rival survivalist, another physician, Hannes Lindemann, contested Bombard's claims, but did well at sea as well.
[1] The Biology of Human Survival : Life and Death in Extreme Environments
[2] Dehydration
[3] Andreas Mihavecz
[4] Fluid Physiology, Ch. 5, 6

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Human eyeballs contain more than 98% of water, so I assume something like this would be in fish, so yes, this can be a water source. The water from "spine" would be cerebrospinal fluid (?), which content would be similar to plasma (lot of sodium), so not sure how effective in hydration. $\endgroup$ – Jan Oct 3 '14 at 7:32

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