Man vs Statistics: Shipwrecked! What are my chances?


Note: this is not a guide to surviving. This is probability. Statistics is king. You find a gray mushroom and eat it. If it turns out 99% of gray mushrooms in that area are poisonous, your chances at living are pretty low.

Welcome to the Man vs Stats! New here? Read the Intro.

boat ship ocean rock cruise


Survivors are not born; they are chosen. So you didn’t come down in a ball of fire that was your plane. For some reason you and your friends let your buddy who can barely drive a car man the steering wheel on the yacht. Your ship goes down a la Titanic. What are your chances of not dying immediately?


The Titanic isn’t the only major shipwreck. More recently, the Joola, a Senegalese ferry, sank in 2002, drowning 1863 people (compared to the Titanic’s 1500 victims). Over the past decade, there’s been over 20 major shipwrecks, predominantly ferries, yachts, and cargo ships.

Ship quality seems to have improved, at least for larger vessels. The 25 known shipwrecks producing the greatest number of fatalities occurred before 1945. More recent shipwrecks tend to injure, not kill. On May 8, 2008, Staten Island ferry Andrew J. Barberi crashed with a terminal in New York, injuring 36 passengers.

shipwreck ship

Statistics on shipwrecks are less comprehensive than they are for airplane crashes, likely since they affect fewer people. Many incidents often escape mass media. Nonetheless, the Institute of London Underwriters report that 202 vessels of more than 500 tons were lost from 1996-1997.

Okay–ship’s sunk, and we’ve hit the water. What about staying afloat long enough to be rescued or drift onto land? It’s reported in the US that a third of people cannot swim. Worldwide, that number rises to more than half. Prospects of making it ashore are not good. It’s also worth noting that of the number of people who can swim, not all can swim in shock and freezing water for miles against the tides to make it to nearby land.

ocean waves

11.8% of US adults were diagnosed with heart disease, as reported in 2011. 8% of the US population is diagnosed with asthma, and 185 children and 3,262 adults died from asthma in 2007. Both underlying heart disease and asthma hinder survival rate in shipwrecks, as stress/shock/adrenaline might instigate an episode.

Shipwreck stats don’t seem to be as promising as plane crash stats. I’d advise survival enthusiasts to select plane crashes in favor of shipwrecks.


Next up: On the island–Eating Mushrooms!


Source 1, 2, 3, 4, 5


Pastry Chef (, software engineer (, and fitness enthusiast.

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3 Responses

  1. January 11, 2013

    […] Welcome to the Man vs Stats! […]

  2. January 11, 2013

    […] let’s get to it. Survival! What are my chances in a Lost situation? Not Bear Grylls, not that guy from Survivorman or the 2 […]

  3. January 11, 2013

    […] New here? Read the Intro. Survive a Plane Crash or Shipwreck! […]

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