Distress at sea

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Distress at sea
Type: discussion game, brain game
Number of players: arbitrary
Location: everywhere
Equipment: pen and paper
Duration: 30-60 minutes
Preparation: none

Distress at sea is a discussion game for groups of any size. It is usually played in several phases, first individually, then in smaller groups and finally all groups together. The participants should rate a list of objects based on their relevance in case of a distress at sea.


  • all participants need pen and paper


Story line

You are sailing a large ship across the ocean. Thousand miles from the continent the ship sinks. You can rescue yourself and a few other passenger on a rescue boat. The boat lacks any engine. You did only carry a few person items with you (money, lighter, keys, etc.). However, you were able to grab 15 different items (some of them were prepared in the rescue boat).

Items rescued

  • fishing rod (complete set)
  • 10 liters diesel fuel
  • harpoon
  • 4m² plastic foil
  • mosquito net
  • Emergency rations (food)
  • 5m nylon rope
  • 2 liters of high percentage alcohol (80 %)
  • 2 boxes of chocolate
  • life jacket
  • nautical chart
  • Sextans
  • small mirror
  • transistor radio (incl. batteries)
  • 20 liters of drinking water


All players then have to rank the items by their relevance to survive. They rate them from 1 (most important) to 15 (least important).

Then, the players meet in pairs and discuss their solution. They agree upon a common rating.

After some time, the pair groups with another pair and again discusses the solution.

In the end, all participants should agree on a common ranking of the importance of the items.

Finally, the team presents the "official" solution to the game. How close was the solution of the team? Is it better (on average) than the solution of the individuals?

Official solution

The following solution was allegedly presented by experienced US sailors.

In general, item were rated more important if they could be used to draw attention of any rescue teams. Due to the large distance to the continent, it is rather implausible that the lifeboat can reach the shore without any help.

  1. mirror
    to reflect sunlight to ships or airplanes
  2. 10 liters diesel fuel
    can be burned, the fumes can draw attention
  3. 20 liters drinking water
    necessary to survive
  4. emergency rations
    necessary to survive (but less important than water!)
  5. plastic foil
    can be used to collect raining water
  6. chocolate
    necessary as food
  7. fishing rod
    you can try to catch fish
  8. nylon rope
    used to fix items to the ship
  9. life jacket
    obviously used to prevent people from drowning (mainly during thunder storms)
  10. harpoon
    can help while fishing, can fend off sharks
  11. alcohol
    can be used to disinfect injuries
  12. radio
    probably useless; can only receive, most likely no sender within range
  13. nautical map
    probably useless, you don't (exactly) know where you are, probably unable to reach the shore on your own in any case
  14. mosquito net
    useless, there are no mosquitoes on the open sea
  15. Sextant
    probably useless, navigation is not your main concern

Similar games

  • The NASA game is quite similar, but located on the surface of the moon (with different items, of course)
  • The desert game is similar as well