U.S. merchant seamen try to revive a shipwrecked Filipino fisherman rescued in the South China Sea (1983)
Castaways may need to survive on a deserted island.

A castaway is a person who is cast adrift or ashore. While the situation usually happens after a shipwreck, some people voluntarily stay behind on a deserted island, either to evade captors or the world in general. A person may also be left ashore as punishment (marooned).

The provisions and resources available to castaways may allow them to live on the island until other people arrive to take them off the island. However, such rescue missions may never happen if the person is not known to still be alive, if the fact that they are missing is unknown or if the island is not mapped. These scenarios have given rise to the plots of numerous stories in the form of novels and film.

Real occurrences


Icelander Thorgisl set out to travel to Greenland. He and his party were first driven into a remote sound on the east coast of Greenland. Thorgisl, his infant son and several others were then abandoned there by their thralls. Thorgisl and his party traveled slowly along the coast to the Eystribyggð settlement of Erik the Red on the southwest coast of Greenland. Along the way they met a Viking, an outlaw who had escaped to East Greenland. This history is told in Flóamanna saga and Origines Islandicae and occurred during the early years of Viking Greenland, while Leif Ericson was still alive.

Grettir Ásmundarson

Icelander Grettir Ásmundarson was outlawed by the assembly in Iceland. After many years on the run he and two companions went to the forbidden island of Drangey, where he lived several more years before his pursuers managed to kill him in 1031.

Fernão Lopes

The Portuguese soldier Fernão Lopes was marooned on the island of Saint Helena in 1513. He had lost his right hand, the thumb of his left hand, his nose and his ears as punishment for mutiny and apostasy for converting to Islam. For the rest of his life - he died about 1545 - Lopes stayed on the island, except for two years around 1530, when the Portuguese king helped him travel to Rome, where the Pope granted him absolution for his sin of apostasy.

Juan de Cartagena and Pedro Sánchez Reina

In April 1520, a mutiny broke out in Magellan's fleet while at the Patagonian seashore. Magellan put it down and executed some of the ringleaders. He then punished two others: the King of Spain's delegate, Juan de Cartagena and the priest, Pedro Sánchez Reina, by marooning them in that desolate place. They were never heard from again.

Gonzalo de Vigo

Gonzalo de Vigo was a Spanish sailor (Galician) who deserted from Gonzalo Gomez de Espinosa's Trinidad, part of the Spanish expedition of Ferdinand Magellan, when being in the Maug Islands in August 1522. He lived with the Chamorros for four years and visited thirteen main islands in the Marianas until he was unexpectedly found in Guam in 1526 by the flagship of the Loaísa Expedition, on its way to the Spice Islands and the second circumnavigation of the globe. Gonzalo de Vigo was the first recorded European castaway in the history of the Pacific Ocean.[1]

Marguerite de La Rocque

A French noblewoman, Marguerite de la Rocque was marooned in 1542 on an island in the Gulf of St Lawrence, off the coast of Quebec. She was left by her near relative Jean-François de La Rocque de Roberval, a nobleman privateer, as punishment for her affair with a young man on board ship. The young man joined her, as did a servant woman, both of whom later died, as did the baby de la Rocque bore. Marguerite survived by hunting wild animals and was later rescued by fishermen. She returned to France and became well known when her story was recorded by the Queen of Navarre in her work Heptaméron.

Jan Pelgrom de Bye and Wouter Loos

In 1629 Jan Pelgrom de Bye van Bemel, a cabin boy, and Wouter Loos, a 24-year-old soldier, had been on board the Dutch ship Batavia. The ship was famous because it was wrecked on Morning Reef of the Wallabi Group of the Houtman Abrolhos, (off the west coast of Australia) leading to the infamous Batavia Mutiny and mass killings. When all culprits were arrested on the islets, most of them were either hanged or sent to court in the town of Batavia (now Jakarta). However, Jan Pelgrom and Wouter Loos were marooned on the Australian mainland, probably at or near the mouth of Hutt River in Western Australia, on 16 November 1629. They were the first Europeans to reside in Australia. Abel Tasman (whose last name now names Tasmania) was subsequently ordered to search for the castaways on his voyage along the coasts of northern Australia in 1643-44 but did not sail that far south. They were not seen again by Europeans. It has been argued by Rupert Gerritsen in And Their Ghosts May Be Heard and subsequent publications that they survived and had a profound influence on local Aboriginal groups such as the Nhanda and Amangu.

68 passengers and crew from Vergulde Draeck

In the early hours of 28 April 1656 a Dutch vessel belonging to the Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie (VOC), Vergulde Draeck, struck a reef off Ledge Point on the central west coast of Western Australia, about 5 kilometres from shore, and approximately 90 kilometres north of where Perth now stands. At least 75 individuals made it to shore, where they camped. Seven men departed in a boat, making for Batavia, now known as Jakarta, at the western end of Java. They arrived there on 7 June 1656 and raised the alarm. A number of ships were then dispatched over the following two years to search for the survivors who had remained behind, but an incorrect latitude meant the searches focused on the wrong area. The original campsite, by then abandoned, was not found until 26 February 1658, by a shore party led by Upper Steersman Abraham Leeman.[2] There has been much speculation as to the fate of the 68, who may have ended up east of Geraldton, approximately 350 kilometres to the north, ultimately integrating with the local Aboriginal population.[3] Two stone arrangements, the Ring of Stones, found to the north in modern times may have been markers left by the 68 survivors. Archaeological investigations are continuing in an endeavour to locate the original campsite.

Upper Steersman Abraham Leeman and 13 others

On 28 March 1658, while searching for the 68 survivors of the wreck of Vergulde Draeck along the lower central west coast of Western Australia, Upper Steersman Abraham Leeman and his boat crew of 13 from Waeckende Boey[4] were inexplicably abandoned by the skipper, Samuel Volkersen of that ship. They were then about 180 km north of present-day Perth. Their boat was in poor condition, they had no water, just a few pounds of flour contaminated by seawater, and some rashers of bacon.

Leeman, who kept a journal,[5] rallied his crew. They found water by digging on an offshore islet, and then killed seals and dried the meat, using the skins to raise the sides of the boat. Leeman even constructed his own compass. They then set sail for Java. They made their way up the Western Australian coast, and after a voyage of 2500 km reached the eastern end of Java with the loss of only one man. In endeavouring to land their boat was wrecked and many of the men ran off into the jungle. Leeman and his three remaining companions then walked the full length of the south coast of Java, through jungle, volcanic country, braving marauding tigers along the way. Upon getting to the western end of Java they were captured by a Javanese prince and held for ransom. The Dutch then paid the ransom and Leeman and his compatriots finally made it to Batavia (Jakarta) on 23 September 1658.[6]

A Miskito called Will

In 1681, a Miskito named Will by his English comrades was sent ashore as part of an English foraging party to Más a Tierra. When he was hunting for goats in the interior of the island he suddenly saw his comrades departing in haste after having spotted the approach of enemies, leaving Will behind to survive until he was picked up in 1684.

Alexander Selkirk

The Juan Fernández Islands, to which Más a Tierra belongs, would have a more famous occupant in October 1704 when Alexander Selkirk made the decision to stay there. Selkirk, a sailor with the William Dampier expedition, became concerned about the condition and seaworthiness of the Cinque Ports, the vessel on which he was sailing, and chose to be put ashore on the island. The ship later sank with most of its crew being lost. Being a voluntary castaway, Selkirk was able to gather numerous provisions to help him to survive, including a musket, gunpowder, carpenter's tools, a knife, a Bible, and clothing. He survived on the island for four years and four months, building huts and hunting the plentiful wildlife before his rescue on 2 February 1709. His adventures are said to be a possible inspiration for Robinson Crusoe, a novel by Daniel Defoe published in 1719.[who?]

Philip Ashton

Philip Ashton, born in Marblehead, Massachusetts in 1702, was captured by pirates while fishing near the coast of Nova Scotia in June 1722. He managed to escape in March 1723 when the pirates' ship landed at Roatán in the Bay Islands of Honduras, hiding in the jungle until the pirates left him there. He survived for 16 months, in spite of many insects, tropical heat, and crocodiles. He had no equipment at all until he met another castaway, an Englishman. The Englishman disappeared after a few days but he left behind a knife, gunpowder, tobacco, and more. Ashton was finally rescued by the Diamond, a ship from Salem, Massachusetts.[7]

Survivors of the Zuytdorp

The Zuytdorp departed from the Cape of Good Hope on 22 April 1712 with at least 200 to 250 people on board, including women and children, and disappeared. It is now thought to have struck the Zuytdorp Cliffs on the central coast of Western Australia in early June 1712. The first signs of the wreck were found in 1927 but it was not until 1959 that the identity of the wreck was confirmed by Dr. Philip Playford.[8] The discovery of a considerable amount of material from the wreck on the scree slope and top of the cliffs established that many people had managed to get off the stricken vessel and on to shore. Exactly how many people survived the disaster is uncertain and estimates vary from 30 up to 180 or more. There has been speculation that the survivors headed east along the Murchison River, 60 kilometres to the south. However, finds of a coin and a 'Leyden Tobacco Tin' at wells to the north, as well as linguistic and technological evidence suggest they headed north, perhaps ending up in the northern Gascoyne, about 450 kilometres north of the wrecksite.[9] It is thought the survivors ultimately integrated with local Aboriginal populations.

Leendert Hasenbosch

Leendert Hasenbosch was a Dutch ship's officer (a bookkeeper), probably born in 1695. He was set ashore on the uninhabited Ascension Island on 5 May 1725 as a punishment for sodomy. He was left behind with a tent, a survival kit, and an amount of water sufficient to last about four weeks. He had bad luck in that no ships called at the island during his stay. He ate seabirds and green turtles, but probably died of thirst after about six months. He wrote a diary that was found in January 1726 by British mariners who brought the diary back to Britain. The diary was rewritten and published a number of times.

In 2002, the full truth of the story was disclosed in a book by Dutch historian Michiel Koolbergen (1953–2002), the first to mention Hasenbosch by name. Before that time, the castaway's name had not been known. The story is available in English as A Dutch Castaway on Ascension Island in 1725.[10][11]

Chunosuke Matsuyama

In 1784, Chunosuke Matsuyama, a Japanese seaman and 43 of his companions began a voyage to find buried treasure on a Pacific island. During the voyage, a storm blew the group's ship onto a coral reef and forced the sailors to seek refuge on a nearby island. However, the crew was unable to find fresh water or sufficient food on the island. With a limited food supply, consisting mostly of crabs and coconuts, the sailors began to die from dehydration and starvation. Before his own death, Matsuyama carved a message telling the story of his group's shipwreck into thin pieces of wood from a coconut tree, which he inserted into a bottle and threw into the ocean. Approximately 151 years later, in 1935, a Japanese seaweed collector found the bottle. The bottle had washed ashore in the village of Hiraturemura, where Matsuyama was born.[12]

Charles Barnard

In 1812, the British ship Isabella, captained by George Higton, was shipwrecked off Eagle Island, one of the Falkland Islands. Most of the crew was rescued by the American sealer Nanina, commanded by Captain Charles Barnard. However, realising that they would require more provisions for the expanded number of passengers, Barnard and a few others went out in a party to retrieve more food. During his absence, the Nanina was taken over by the British crew, who left them on the island. Barnard and his party were finally rescued in November 1814. In 1829, Barnard wrote A Narrative of the Sufferings and Adventures of Captain Charles Barnard detailing the happenings.

Crews of the Grafton and Invercauld

On January 3, 1864, the 56 ton schooner Grafton was wrecked in the north arm of Carnley Harbour, Auckland Island. The five-man crew, led by Captain Thomas Musgrave and Francois Edouard Raynal as mate, spent twenty months on the island until three of them went out for rescue in the ship's dinghy, sailing more than 400 km up north to Stewart Island. All men survived. Unknown to them, on May 11, 1864, the ship Invercauld bound from Melbourne to Callao was wrecked in bad weather on the west coast of the same island. From the initial crew of 25, only 19 made it to shore and after more than a year spent on the island only three men survived starvation and cold, being rescued by a ship looking for a shelter to make repairs.

USS Indianapolis (CA-35)

USS Indianapolis (CL/CA-35) was a Portland-class heavy cruiser of the United States Navy. At 00:15 on 30 July 1945, she was struck on her starboard side by two Type 95 torpedoes, one in the bow and one amidships, from the Japanese submarine I-58,[13] captained by Commander Mochitsura Hashimoto, who initially thought he had spotted the New Mexico-class battleship Idaho.[14] The explosions caused massive damage. Indianapolis took on a heavy list, (the ship had a great deal of added armament and gun firing directors added as the war went on and was top heavy)[15] and settled by the bow. Twelve minutes later, she rolled completely over, then her stern rose into the air, and she plunged down. Some 300 of the 1,195 crewmen went down with the ship.[16] With few lifeboats and many without lifejackets, the remainder of the crew was set adrift.[17]

Navy command did not know of the ship's sinking until survivors were spotted three and a half days later. At 10:25 on 2 August, a PV-1 Ventura flown by Lieutenant Wilbur "Chuck" Gwinn and his copilot, Lieutenant Warren Colwell, spotted the men adrift while on a routine patrol flight.[18] Gwinn immediately dropped a life raft and radio transmitter. All air and surface units capable of rescue operations were dispatched to the scene at once.

The survivors suffered from lack of food and water (leading to dehydration and hypernatremia; some found rations, such as Spam and crackers, amongst the debris), exposure to the elements (leading to hypothermia and severe desquamation), and shark attacks, while some killed themselves or other survivors in various states of delirium and hallucinations.[19][20] Two of the rescued survivors, Robert Lee Shipman and Frederick Harrison, died in August 1945.

"Ocean of Fear", a 2007 episode of the Discovery Channel TV documentary series Shark Week, states that the sinking of Indianapolis resulted in the most shark attacks on humans in history, and attributes the attacks to the oceanic whitetip shark species. Tiger sharks might have also killed some sailors. The same show attributed most of the deaths on Indianapolis to exposure, salt poisoning, and thirst, with the dead being dragged off by sharks.[21]

Other castaways

Other castaways in history include:

  • Pedro Serrano, a 16th-century Spanish sailor marooned in the Caribbean
  • Four Russian whalers, Aleksei Inkov, Khrisanf Inkov, Stepan Sharapov, and Fedor Verigin, survived from 1743 to 1749 probably on Halvmåneøya in the Svalbard group of Norwegian islands; one died shortly before rescue[22]
  • The 's mutineers and Tahitian women
  • Oguri Jukichi, a Japanese captain whose disabled ship floated across the Pacific Ocean and who was eventually rescued by an American ship off the California coast near Santa Barbara in 1815
  • James Riley, who led his crew through the Sahara Desert, after they were shipwrecked off the coast of Western Sahara in August 1815
  • Otokichi, a Japanese boy whose ship was cast adrift and after 14 months reached the west coast of North America in 1834
  • Nakahama Manjirō, a Japanese fisherman's son, shipwrecked on Tori-shima in 1841, who was rescued by an American ship and played a role in the opening up of Japan to the West
  • Juana Maria, the last surviving member of the Nicoleño, who lived alone on San Nicolas Island, California from 1835 to 1853 and inspired Scott O'Dell's Island of the Blue Dolphins
  • 22 men of Ernest Shackleton's crew on Elephant Island off the Antarctic Peninsula for four months in 1916
  • Ada Blackjack, an Inuit woman left alone (1921–23) on Wrangel Island when a European expedition went wrong
  • Poon Lim, a Chinese sailor from a British ship sunk by a German submarine who survived 133 days alone in the South Atlantic in 1942-43
  • Dougal Robertson, author of Survive the Savage Sea, and his family, experienced sailors from Scotland who were sailing to the Galápagos Islands from Panama when their boat was sunk by a pod of killer whales and who survived for 38 days on a lifeboat before being picked up by a fishing trawler
  • Gerald Kingsland and Lucy Irvine, author of Castaway, British writers and self-imposed castaways for a year (1982–83) on Barney Island, Queensland, in the Torres Strait between New Guinea and Australia
  • 16 people who were washed onto an island during the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami and were rescued after two months[citation needed]
  • Jesús Vidaña, Salvador Ordoñez and Lucio Rendon, three Mexican fishermen from the port of San Blas, Nayarit who sailed 5,500 miles (8,900 km) in nine months before being rescued 200 miles (320 km) from the Marshall Islands on August 9, 2006
  • On December 19, 2011, two fishermen from the Republic of Kiribati landed in the Marshall Islands where they were rescued by the U.S. Coast Guard. The men were adrift for 33 days and fed on tuna. The two men, aged 53 and 26, were also involved in a rare incident upon landing when the 26-year-old found that his uncle, who had disappeared at sea more than 25 years ago and was long believed dead, had landed in the Marshall Islands as well and married there, where he also had children.[23]
  • On September 17, 2012, a man from the Republic of Kiribati was rescued after being at sea for 105 days. The man said that a shark swam around the boat and took it off in a direction. He followed it and as he followed it with his eyes he looked up and there was the stern of a purse seiner with a bunch of crewmen with binoculars looking at him.[24]
  • On January 30, 2014, a fisherman from El Salvador named Jose Salvador Albarengo was found by people living at the Ebon Atoll. Albarengo claimed to have spent 13 months adrift after his ship's motor failed off the coast of Mexico. He said another fisherman sailing with him had died several months before he was rescued. He reportedly survived by eating turtles, birds and fish caught with his bare hands.
  • On March 9, 2017, 21-year-old Filipino fisherman Rolando Omongos was rescued near New Britain Island in Papua New Guinea after spending 56 days adrift and travelling 3,200 km. Along with his 31-year-old uncle Reniel Omongos and other fishermen, Rolando Omongos sailed off from General Santos City, Philippines aboard a purse seiner. On January 10, 2017, a storm separated Rolando and his uncle from their mother boat and they ran out of fuel five days later. Rolando survived on rainwater and moss growing at the hull of his 2.5-meter (8-foot) boat. Reniel, who was on another small boat, died after one month due to hunger and exposure. Rolando kept his uncle's corpse until it began to smell. During his ordeal, Omongos claimed that "no fewer than four vessels" would pass him everyday, yet they failed to see him.[25][26]
Other Languages
français: Naufragé
íslenska: Skipbrotsmaður
italiano: Naufrago
português: Náufrago