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To Be, Or Not To Be – On The ‘Doomsday Preppers’!

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Today’s article is courtesy of guest blogger Captain William E. Simpson II – USMM. Captain Bill was featured on National Geographic’s Doomsday Preppers episode “Fortress At Sea“. Bill has other articles that may be of interest to you on his website

Greetings Everyone!

Many readers may already know that my wife and I recently appeared on National Geographic’s hit TV show ‘Doomsday Preppers’ (Season 2 – Episode 15 – ‘A Fortress At Sea’).

One question that keeps circling back around to us, and I am sure other Preppers who have appeared on the show, is;

‘Why Did You Do The Show’?

The answer in our case is a little complex, but it’s a read you may find it intriguing…

When I first heard the word ‘Prepper’, it was a little over a year ago (August 2011).

My wife and I had been out of the States for several years at-sea on a long-range sailing expedition. Two years of that time we were anchored-off the remote coastlines and uninhabited islands in the Sea of Cortez. These places are so far-removed from even being ’off the grid’ that we had to utilize a shortwave radio to talk to friends thousands of miles away and a satellite communications system to send and receive a few emails now and then. Having gone from having the Internet and iPhones to that; we felt very disconnected from the world, a feeling which can affect morale if you are not prepared for it.

It was the later part of August 2011 when we finally made our first port of call, back in the U.S. That was when I started hearing the word ’Prepper’ for the first time; it made me think of someone attending a preparatory school, akin to the term ‘Preppy‘. Then I come to find out that it’s essentially the new term for what I would call a survivalist. Naturally, being as curious as I am, I began reading up on ‘Preppers’ to see how they varied (if any) from Survivalists.

As I read various online threads and articles, it dawned on me that Preppers, Survivalists and Expedition Sailors shared a common need and interest in various skills, methods and equipment that are useful for short-term and long-term survival, whether it be in a city, at sea, or in the mountains. Just a couple examples of equipment that has applicability to all these people might be; solar and wind power systems and associated energy management and storage systems. There are many more examples. The point is that even with these common interests, there is a huge difference between Expedition Sailors and Preppers/Survivalists.

It also occurred to me that we were ‘Preppers’ and we didn’t even realize it…. We were in fact ‘living the preps’ onboard the ship as a matter of our day-to day lifestyle.

Unlike most Preppers, Expedition Sailors use these many systems and equipment (combined with many other skills) on a ‘daily’ basis for many months and even years at a time, over and over again. In our case, we have employed our skills, systems and equipment over a period of nearly a decade. Where some Preppers/Survivalists who may even own some of this equipment, have not used it on a daily basis continuously for months or years, and/or may only still be reading about using these systems. This is where experience really pays off; by using any equipment or system that frequently, you know exactly what to look-for and expect. So for example, with regard to our desalination plant (AKA the ‘water-maker‘), we know (by using a Hobbs meter) when (in hours) to change a filter, a part or a drive belt ‘before’ it fails. We have all the tools, parts and know-how to service and to rebuild the entire system. These preps and experience, combined with using the best commercial-quality systems and equipment are what allows us to depend on these systems the way we do. In fact, we employ the same use & maintenance paradigm that is used by the aviation industry, which makes air-travel the safest way to travel, period.

All of that said, I realized that the skills, methods and equipment that we use in Expedition Sailing might be of interest to terrestrial Preppers and Survivalists, as well as with people who had boats, but who were not yet Preppers. After this initial epiphany, we continued our long voyage home to Oregon through a couple of January gales off California and Oregon before arriving safely back in Portland in early 2012. Nothing like being at sea with 45 knots of wind 25 foot seas and snow covering the boat (but that’s another story).

Later in that year we were invited to film with National Geographic. Deciding to be on TV for any reason was not going to be an easy decision to make, so my wife and I weighed the considerations with great care.

My primary motivation was wanting to share my passion for Expedition Sailing, at least in terms of the ideas that I knew might be of some interest to Preppers and Survivalists. But at what cost? And how could I get a lifetime of information across in the course of an 18-20 minute TV show? As we conducted our due-diligence on the opportunity, we observed how harsh a few of the critics were to past Preppers who had appeared on the show. If a few critics cause Preppers to avoid doing the show, then it’s the larger audience who has a sincere interest in the show who loose-out. As it is, Preppers are for the most part misunderstood by many, and in some cases demonized, even though they are merely ordinary people doing a better job of being prepared than people who may for instance be following FEMA’s misguided advice (“3 days food & water“ in the context of ’Sandy’ or ’Katrina’ makes that point…’misguided‘).

Clearly it seems important to help others to understand what Prepping is about and help to make it more mainstream. I believe that this is a goal that will surely enhance the survival of many more people, including those already prepared, during and after a genuine disaster. Having more of the general population properly prepared, will help to minimize initial chaos and competition for key resources in any post-disaster scenario. In all post-disaster scenarios it’s the people who are not prepared who become a problem through their own desperation (the ‘Un-Prepped‘).

National Geographic’s TV show ‘DoomsDay Preppers’ is helping to make Prepping more mainstream and as more Preppers appear on the show, more people in the audience are getting to see that Preppers are merely a cross-section of everyday ordinary people. And lets face facts; Nat. Geo. could do a show on almost any neighborhood and we would observe all kinds of funny, wacky people, who may in fact be just like your neighbor next-door. The only difference is that the people (’Preppers’) featured on the DoomsDay Preppers show are paying attention to what happened to the other ordinary people and their families who were caught un-prepared in various disasters, only to face severe hardships… Here again, the events before and after Sandy and Katrina are too easy to learn about and understand.

Of course there are people reading this wondering about ‘OPSEC’; and our concerns in that regard.

OPSEC considerations vary from person to person, and vary with the paradigm used.

In the final analysis, our situation (with a boat) is considerably different that some terrestrial survival paradigms:

Let’s consider a remotely located and fully stocked bunker or shelter for the moment. It certainly has some serious security risks, both short-term and long-term. It’s remote location alone makes covert access by thieves easy, and should any thief determine it’s location, it could be looted well before it is needed. And this is a legitimate concern given that the contents of said bunker may not be insured, or even insurable, such as they are on a boat.

So in this case does doing the show create a problem? Probably no more so than what may already exist on any given day.

The people from Nat. Geo. are not local, and even in the event of a disaster, if they became desperate,  it’s highly doubtful that they could ever make it your location. The show’s producers are very concerned about the privacy of Preppers and their preps, and take measures to ensure OPSEC if that is requested, which for us wasn’t a worry anyway.

We believe that if you take all the emotion and drama out of the risk analysis, the reality is that there are far better targets for the ‘un-prepped’ right in town, which for the discerning thief are more easily accessed and better stocked (at least at first) than any boat or remote bunker/shelter when the SHTF. The streets are lined with stores full of food, clothes, cigarettes, alcohol, medical supplies, guns and more. And when the SHTF, the staff at most of these stores will all have to run home to deal with their own family’s needs, leaving a multitude of stores open for ‘unfriendly business’.

Even if people knew where any shelter, bunker or boat was located, the timing of being just in the right place to take advantage of that information exactly at the moment of some disruptive event is highly unlikely. Odds are, most people will be displaced when the SHTF. Many people, including the police, DHS and national guard, will also be subject to massive gridlock due to infrastructure failures that can result from any number of credible disasters.

Unless someone with inside information on your shelter/bunker/boat is camped-out or lives and works very nearby, the odds of them reaching your prep and taking control of it before you arrive during some form of chaos are very remote. This is especially true if you live at or near your prep and work nearby, like many people with boats who work in the marine industry.

Depending on the particular event (when the SHTF) the odds are, many people who are ‘prepped’ won’t even make it home or to their own shelters / bunkers….they may instead end up trapped in a 10 mile-long line of cars stopped on some road or freeway along with a ten-thousand other panicked and angry people.

The other problem is that OPSEC deteriorates over time. With ubiquitous surveillance all around and overhead, nothing is secret anymore. Contractors who build facilities have knowledge as well as neighbors, friends, friends of friends, etc.. the reality is, whatever you think may be secret, probably isn’t. Just spend an hour looking at Google Earth and then keep in mind that those are the low-resolution images! All forms of interpersonal communications are now monitored and detailed information is compiled from those data streams.

Looking at the overall risk profile in an ‘informed context’ and in regard to doing the show, in our opinion there was negligible risk.

Making any TV show is no easy chore from a producer’s point of view and I can vouch for that, now having some first -hand knowledge, and making a show about Preppers is challenging. The producers have to juggle so many issues I am surprised they just don’t quit the damn show and go to work for Cirque du Soleil !

In most cases, they have a grand total of 30 minutes for the segment and show content (featured Prepper) plus commercial sponsor‘s ads. Ah! I can hear it now… ‘make the show longer’…but it’s just not that simple. Making the show longer adds even more complexities and issues, not to mention there would certainly be a percentage of the audience who might start complaining about there being too much of just one Prepper’s ideas.

When you divide-up the 30 minutes, you might have 12 minutes for sponsors and 18 minutes for any Prepper’s complete life story plus all his/her preps? Now we all know that won’t work.

So how can you do the show in about 18 minutes and meet everyone‘s expectations? Basically you can’t, but nonetheless it’s done, otherwise there would be no show at all… and how much fun would that be?

Preppers who are on the show (myself included) needed to be logical and understanding of all the constraints on the producer and production team, or, you just don’t do the show. Everyone has to compromise or there is no show.

And of course with the hard timing constraints, many preps, concepts and ideas that Preppers plan or want to show, and that the audience might want to see, me be cut, simply because there is not enough time to show everything. Very difficult decisions are made, and sometimes the edits that are needed as a result of time issues, can make any Prepper look like they may have missed something important or failed to include some mission critical items or preps, when in fact, they haven’t.

The results of edits have nothing to do with trying to make anyone look bad or any of that nonsense you read on the blogs…. It has everything to do with working with a finite block of time! You can’t put a gallon of water into a quart jar.

Editing hours of film down to 18 minutes or so, and in the process creating a compelling and entertaining story is a brutal job and takes a tremendous amount of talent and skill. The editors are just like the audience ….and you can bet your bottom dollar that they want to keep all the good stuff too, but you just can’t! So when some stuff gets cut (edited for time) it can sometime make things look a bit different from the real deal. Speaking for myself and our show, we had a list of stuff we wanted to show on TV. And I know the producers did their best to keep as much in as they could and still accomplish whole lot of other stuff… like introducing people, etc. Again… 18 minutes flies-by!

Frankly, knowing what I know now, I find that it’s very hard to be critical of any of the other Preppers who have been on the show. That’s not to say however that some Preppers don’t have better prepping paradigms, tactics and preps than others, and that’s where the Practical Preppers, LLC come into play. They have the holistic overview of the Preppers who appear on the show, and from that, based upon their own perspective and experience base, they assign the scores. And scoring is after-all subjective by nature.

There have been many questions and comments about judging, scores and rebuttals. From my chair, if the Prepper being scored has less experience in their prepping paradigm than the Judges, then the scores and critiques by the judges may be well taken by the Preppers.

On the other hand, if a featured Prepper who genuinely has more experience than the judges in a particular specialty of prepping (my case: Nautical Prepping) disagrees with the Practical Preppers ‘when it comes to that specialty’, then it makes sense to expect a counter-opinion on the scoring for the consideration of the audience.

I must admit, that the judges have a hard job, and producers threw Practical Preppers a bit of a curve-ball with our show, since living and prepping at sea and at remote islands are unique paradigms in the prepping world… it was sort of like bringing a new Ford truck to a Chevy truck dealer for service.

In the case of our show, other mariners, including an Officer from a NOAA research ship weighed-in and also disagreed with the Judges on our score as to living and obtaining food at sea. Mariners who fish a lot at-sea know that there is an abundance of fish available ‘if’ you know how to catch them.

For instance; when you do catch, deep-sea fish are typically large so you don’t need to stack them up like trout or catfish. I have dozens and dozens of examples; on one ocean crossing between Honolulu and Johnson Atoll, we caught a 450-pound marlin, which dressed-out to 300+ pounds of fish filets (that’s a lot of fish sticks!). The very next day we caught a 250-pound yellowfin tuna, which dressed-out at 175-pounds of translucent ruby red meat! At that point, the very large (solar & wind powered) freezer and refer were plugged and we had to stop fishing…we had more than enough food for a couple months, eating like pigs. And that’s how it is, all the time for us. The only negative (for some) is you gotta like fish!  You get creative… Fish tacos, fish pate’, fish sandwiches, sashimi, sushi, fish jerky and so on…Otherwise, you start eating stored foods… I am not going to list all of that here….

Of course there are the show’s critics to consider as well: someone famous once said; ‘You can make some of the people happy some of the time, but you can never make all of the people happy all of the time’ or something to that effect. There’s also a saying in the restaurant business…’don’t judge the cuisine until it is served’. The problem for many Preppers on the show is that they are judged by the audience (and critics), who sometimes make incorrect assumptions. I think, that it’s much easier to be critical than it is to try to understand a story that is being told somewhat in-part. And I feel that those who try to understand what’s going on tend to learn more in the long-run…

In the end, it was a comment by my son, who is wise beyond his years, that quelled my concern over critics. He simply said; “The Lion doesn’t care what the Goat thinks”.

However the question still loomed; was doing the show worth the cost to us, in time to make the show, privacy, etc., in order to bring new ideas to light and try to share them with others?

In our minds, making the show was something worth doing. But now that we had made the decision, I still had a problem; how do I make the plethora of information on Nautical Prepping available in a mere 18 minutes?  It was apparent that I needed at least a book! So through the combination of the show and a book, I could potentially present what might otherwise take many hours of video to present. Thinking in terms of the needs of Preppers; a video on DVD as opposed to a book, is far more expensive and maybe less convenient than a paper-back or an eBook.

It was during the course of planning the 70-mile voyage for the show combined with rekindling my awareness of ‘Prepping’ that I endeavored to begin writing a couple chapters about survival sailing, titled ‘Sailing For Survival‘, which morphed into ‘The Nautical Prepper’.  Writing a book isn’t easy, and it’s even harder to get a publisher interested, since they are bombarded with manuscripts by the hundred. I was lucky and Ulysses Press signed a book deal with me. And if the books sell, I might make an hourly wage for all the time that was put into that book.

So what is a Nautical Prepper?

“Any Prepper who has adopted the skill sets and equipment of an expedition sailor coupled with the use of a suitable boat as a mobile shelter, and utilizing those skills, equipment and boat to be in a position to survive long-term under a variety of adverse conditions that may result from various disasters“. (Definition by: Capt. William E. Simpson)

I can only hope that most viewers will realize it was really hard for us and the great people at Nat. Geo. (producers, writers, directors and cameramen) to even begin to detail our nautical paradigm, let alone all the strategic and tactical advantages that it provides over and above many terrestrial solutions. Having just said that, I also realize and agree that no one prepping paradigm is perfect for everyone.

Captain Simpson's Iron Maiden

Captain Simpson’s Iron Maiden

The second reason we did the show was purely commercial: The current owners of the Iron Maiden are considering a larger project (boat for 6 families). Since they are not ‘wealthy elitists‘, like most people they need to sell the Iron Maiden to capitalize the next step. So they viewed the show as an opportunity to make the Iron Maiden known to people who might be particularly interested in her unique features.

The reality is that the offering of the Iron Maiden on the market presents an outstanding opportunity for any Prepper interested in the paradigm of Nautical Prepping to obtain an amazing vessel that is well-proven for her intended purpose, at a small fraction of the cost to replicate her. This is truly a turn-key opportunity!

So In closing, it’s clear that the decision to do the show was not an easy one, and that my motives for doing the show were a mixed bag; both altruistic and commercial.

Like everyone else out there, I am just trying to earn my keep.

Of course when you look to most Bloggers websites, they all have banner ads winking and blinking the fact that they are not purely altruistic either……. So who shall cast the first stone?

Fair Winds & Seas!

Capt. Bill


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  • http://twitter.com/LarryBlack10 Larry Black

    “The Lion doesn’t care what the Goat thinks.” Fantastic! I’m going to have a T-shirt made.
    Great insight on an often mis-understood lifestyle, as well. Many people have fantasies about “sailing away” from the cares of the world, as if it was some grand escape & easy living. I suspect, however, that the reality is somewhat different, and that living as you did for months or years at a time would quickly prove unbearable for those who are lost and suffer “withdrawal” when asked to unplug from the ‘net for 24 hrs.

  • http://twitter.com/NauticalPrepper William E Simpson

    Ahoy Larry!

    I for one, agree with your observation; many people might suffer from some form of social deprivation should they loose all their connectivity. This is one reason why I strongly encourage Preppers to go out into the absolute wilderness and live off the land for a minimum of two-weeks (two months is better), carrying only the basic preps and a Sat-Phone for emergency communications. We have had people onboard the boat who go stir-crazy without their iPhones, etc…even in areas that are literally tropical paradises! It almost seems like they have lost some part of their most basic skills as humans… they don’t know what to do with themselves without being ‘connected’ to the web… reminds me of the ‘Borg’ in Star Trek… In the event of a serious, large scale disaster, not only would they be suddenly cut-off, they would also have to realize and accept the possibility that some family/friends may not have survived, on top of dealing proactively with an unfolding disaster. In my book ‘The Nautical Prepper’ I talk about many important topics and provide my insights and solutions, including those dealing with ‘morale’ in disaster situations because it (failing morale) can pose just as grave a threat to survival as any armed band of ‘The Un-Prepped’ (sounds like a new TV series to me). When you have ‘lived the preps’ long-term as we have, you actually experience the full gambit of survival issues, and when you do that long term, it forces you to adapt and overcome many issues with solutions that are based in actual experience, as opposed to information from a book that may have been written by someone else who simply read a book, etc.

    I am glad you enjoyed my Son’s quote about the Lion. He grew-up onboard our sailboats with his little sister (not so little now; has her own family), and through living life as a young boy sailing the seas and exploring islands, he essentially ‘grew-up prepped’, and he learned to be self-reliant and an independent thinker. I hope that people will take advantage of the information in my book, and that it will serve its intended purpose well.

    Fair Winds & Seas! Capt. Bill – Nat. Geo. ‘A Fortress At Sea’
    http://www.WilliameSimpson.com