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wayne gramlich seasteading paper

{This paper is seriously incomplete, but getting better!}

{Fix I/we within our sections}

Getting Serious About SeaSteading

by Wayne Gramlich, Patri Friedman, and Andrew House

??, 2002

Table of Contents

1. Introduction

{Wayne: Rework the introduction a little}

This paper is pretty much a follow on paper for Wayne Gramlich's first publication on seasteading, Seasteading -- Homesteading the High Seas [Gramlich1999]. The original paper had the desired effect of generating some interesting feedback, some positive and some negative. Most importantly, it caused two other people who are interested in the subject, Patri Friedman and Andrew House, two join forces to research the material presented in this paper.

The positive feedback came from numerous people who were very interested in the concept. Indeed, Rich Clark [Clark2001] E-mailed some correspondance that mentioned that the term `seasteading' had been coined as early the 1970's and that there was a magazine published on the topic. (By the way, if anybody still has issues of this magazine, we would be very interested in taking a look at them.) Some additional feedback brought us to the book Sailing the Farm: A Survival Guide to Homesteading on the Ocean [Neumeyer1982] that seriously discusses what is required to successfully survive for an extened period of time out on the open ocean.

In addition, several people contacted Wayne via E-mail and expressed doubt as the overall seaworthyness of using 2-liter beverage bottles for floation. While it is interesting to note that Rich Sowa has actually built a small floating island out of the technology [MotherEarth2001], We tend to agree that flotation based exclusively on 2-liter bottles is unlikely to survive even a modest sea storm.

The 2-liter bottle flotation idea was born out of frustration at previously published seasteading ideas that involved very complicated and expensive flotation strategies [Atlantis1994, FreedomShip, NewUtopia, Savage1992]. Wayne wanted to counteract the overly expensive flotation strategies with a scheme that was so cheap that it was basically free. Unfortunately, while the scheme was cheap, it was also unsafe. To be successful, seasteading must be both economical and safe. This paper proposes an alternative to 2-liter bottle flotation that is more expensive, but is much more likely to survive ocean storms.

The basic concept is to avoid the massive amounts of energy stored in ocean storm waves by building a platform that rests above the wave crests. The structure below has a very small cross sectional area and will basically let the waves slice right underneath platform. (This is very similar to an oil drilling platform.) The flotation is actually placed well below the wave surface to minimize wave coupling. Lastly, the platform is broken into several levels, with the top-most level used for growing food and collecting solar energy, the middle level used for outdoor living area, and the bottom-most level provides enclosed living space. This design is discussed in much greater detail further on in the paper.

We still stand by the incremental development approach espoused by the first paper. Indeed, this paper gets more specific and suggests a number of inexpensive demonstrator projects that lead up to the actual sea worthy seastead. The demonstrator projects start out small and work their way progressively larger

Next, we'll survey some of the current approaches and similar visions.

Current Water-based Lifestyles

Living on water is a concept that has been around for centuries. The current incarnations of living on water break into the following rough catagories:

Floating Homes

A floating home is exactly what its name implies -- a house built on a floating platform. There is an active community of floating homes in Sausalito [FloatingHomes] (just north of San Francisco on the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge.)

While floating homes typically start out as a clever technique for avoiding the high cost of land aquisition in some housing markets, eventually the various government agencies figure out what is going on and start to enforce building codes, property taxes and the like. Eventually, the floating homes cost just as much as any other form of real estate in the area.

Floating homes are moved rather infrequently, so they typically do not have any on-board propulsion. Also, floating homes are designed for seriously sheltered waters so they do not have to deal with waves of any significant height.

House Boats

Another flavor of living on water is the houseboat [HouseBoats] Most houseboats have all of the amenities of a modest sized recreational vehicle -- kitchen, living room, bedroom, bathroom, etc.

While most houseboats are used for recreational purposes, some people have moved into them on a permanent basis. For example, there is a small houseboat community called Knight's Landing on the Sacremento River where Route 580 crosses over. Discovery Bay and Redwood Shores, both in Redwood City, are two more marinas where houseboats moor in the San Francisco Bay.

The only real difference between a houseboat and a floating house is that houseboat has a motor designed in so that it can be moved around. Again, like a floating house, houseboats are designed to be operated in sheltered waters so that they do not have to cope with significant waves.

Sail Boats

An ocean worthy sailboat is defintely large enough to live in. Rather than buy a house on land, some people choose to purchase a sailboat and live in that instead. Thus, when you go to a marina, there is a good chance that some of the boats in the marina are being used as full time residences [Moeller1977].

When the boat owner has the time and resources, they can undock from the marina and go sailing. Indeed, if you can put a bunch of money into an investment account, you can live of the investment proceedings an spend all of your time sailing [Hill1993].

By carefully managing your energy needs and using the right mix of solar cells, batteries, and a backup generator, is possible for a sailboat to be completely energy self sufficient [Rose1979].

The next step of being mostly food self sufficient is much more difficult for most sailboats due to a general lack of area to grow food in. However, using a combination of growing small amounts of food and scavenging local seaweeds it is possible to reduce the amount of food that needs to be purchased [Neumeyer1982].

While a carefully outfitted sailboat is capable of surviving months at a time on the open ocean, eventually some consumable resource will near depletion, and the sailboat will have to return to land. Indeed, simple boredom may be the ultimate reason for returning to port.

Cruise Ships

The cruise ship industry is currently thriving. There a number of different cruise ship companies that provide vacation packages for people to board a cruise ship for a week or two. While the budget accomedations are pretty spartan, the deluxe accomedations are quite luxurous. The provided food and entertainment is quite extensive. Many cruise ships have on-board casinos so that patrons may gamble in international waters.

While cruise ships are large ocean worthy vehicles that can weather some serious ocean weather, most customers do not like rough seas. Thus, a cruise ship will typically change its itinerary to visit alternate ports of call in order to sail around or entirely avoid a bad ocean storm.

While a cruise ship can rightfully considered to be a floating city, they are by no means either energy or food self sufficient. The modern cruise ship is typically only capable of cruising for 7-14 days before its consumables need to be substantially replenished.

The next phase in the cruise ship industry is to provide full time residency on the cruise ship. The ResidenSea [ResidenSea] Corporation has built a cruise ship with 110 residences and 88 guest suites that allows wealthy patrons to live on the ship full time as it cruises around the world.

While cruise ships support a significantly larger population of people than a typical sailboat, they can do so only for a limited time before they must return to port and replenish water, food, and fuel. (Actually, they have to change the captain and crew as well.)

Cargo Ships

Obviously, cargo ships are serious ocean going vessels. They are quite self-sufficent while at sea. However, since their fundamental purpose to to move carge from port to port, they actually try to spend as little time at sea as they can.

Some of the smaller cargo ships have rooms for rent that people who want a more laid back cruise experience can choose. Otherwise, cargo ships are strictly for licensed merchant marine types.

Oil Platforms

While an oil platform is towed into its final locatation, it is probably better to think of a oil platform as an artificial island rather than a boat. Oil platforms are currently quite expensive $.5B -- $1.5B. Oil companies can justify this expense because a single oil well can generate millions of dollars of revenue in a single day [Helvarg2001].

Since oil platforms are not permitted to move from their location, they must be designed to withstand some incredibly severe ocean weather and not move.


There is a substantial market for private islands [PrivateIslands], many of which exist throughout the world. However, all of them are claimed by traditional jurisdictions, which have historically been loathe to part with their political control.

Other Proposed Projects

Now that we have covered the existing strategies for living in the middle of the ocean, it is time to visit some ideas that have not yet made it to fruition. Some of the designs listed below are more practical than others. This list could be quite long, and is just a selection of some of our favorites:


The Freedom Ship
The Freedom Ship [FreedomShip] is a mile long ship that can hold approximately 40,000 people. The folks working on this one have managed to generate an extensive amount press coverage. It remains to be seen how successful they will be at raising the funds to build such a gigantic project. While we are rather skeptical that this project will reach fruition in its current form, we would be delighted to be proven wrong.
New Utopia
The New Utiopia [NewUtopia] project is a proposal to build a new country on an `unused' sea mount in the Carribean. Like the Freedom Ship, this project has been able to garner a significant amount of press coverage. Given what happened with the Minerva Reef episode [Minerva], we are very doubtful that any sea mount raised above surface level will remain unclaimed by the existing sovergn nations for very long.
Spar Buoy
The Spar Buoy concept [Piolenc2001] is the brain child of F. Marc De Piolenc. The concept is to build a livable structure that is basically a long cylinder that is ballasted on one end to cause the cylinder (i.e. spar) to float vertically. Since the center of gravity is significantly below the center of buoyancy, it basically impossible to tip the structure over. In severe ocean storms, the cylinder bobs up and down with the waves and the cylinder occupants may get quite motion sick, but they should survive.
Ballard's Ocean Watch Tower
More recently, Dr. Robert D. Ballard (of finding the Titanic fame) has proposed building a modest ocean habitat that has many similarities to F. Marc De Piolenc's spar buoy idea. The idea is to start with a ballasted spar and then place a some what larger habitat on top. Thus, the difference is that the living quarters are on top of the spar rather than on the inside of the spar. This proposal has the advantage of being quite modest and Dr. Ballard's obvious oceanagraphic experience would provide a great deal of credence to any investors.
Reed Ship
Enrique Perez has come up with a novel idea based on ancient reed ships [Perez2001]. The basic idea is to make the whole flotation system flexible enough that it just bends and sways in severe ocean storms. He has come up with scripts that allow you to compute the costs and buoyancies.
Aquarius Project
Another popular project is the Aquarius Project [Savage]. In this project, Mashall Savage proposes building a large floating city out of hexagonal cells made out a material call Sea-crete or alternatively Seament. This material is the invention of Wolf Hilbertz [Hilbertz]. Eric Lee [Lee] has done a very complete analysis of the use of Seament as a marine construction material. In practice, it is probably easier to use boring concrete and steel than seament to build ocean worthy structures. Hilbertz has subsequently redirected his efforts towards using electro acreation for restoring coral reefs.
Atlantis Project
Another project out there is the Atlantis project [Alantis]. This project has an above average number of pretty pictures. Indeed, it was this site that got Wayne Gramlich interested in the concept of seasteading.
Ocean Base One
San Francisco floating city in meditteranean project



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Why Seasteading?


Before proceeding with further technical discussion, we must motivate the existence of the project, as well as our particular approach. While some people may see its appeal, others will be mystified as to why anyone would want to go live on a floating platform. The most fundamental motivation is freedom. Specifically, political autonomy is highly desired among a minority of the population who are dissatisifed with current political systems. Our specific motivation is the belief that huge, land-based societies are too politically static, and that experimentation with different political systems is needed. Seasteads would allow for a rich diversity in forms of governance. However, there are many other reasons to desire freedom and be interested in seasteading.

Few opportunities remain for pioneers these days, and the oceans are an obvious place to continue pushing the boundaries of civilization. It seems likely that the next major frontier will be space, and there is some sense in which seasteads are a dry (err...wet) run for spacesteading, which will be even more isolated and require greater self-sufficiency. Many people are interested in sustainable, environmentally friendly ways of living, which are well-suited for seasteading, where renewable energy generation and closed-loop gardening will be facts of life. ?Devoted proponents of peace seek places where they can live without being taxed to fund violence?. ?Others care deeply about the freedom to ingest whatever chemicals they desire [IslandSociety]? Whatever the specific reasons, the popularity of new country projects make it clear that there is a great deal of interest in this topic [insert refs to *all* of them here for maximum impact] [, , , , , TheRaft, RealitySculptorsFloatingCities, Dani, Oceania, Nexus, Celestopia, BuildNewAtlantis].

Before getting into further details about sovereignty, we would like to cover a few previous attempts at seasteading and nation founding:

Minerva Reef

Like land, seamounts are geographically stable but politically problematic. If close enough to the surface, they can act as breakwaters, which is quite useful since waves are one of the major dangers of the ocean. However, they are vulnerable to claim by land-based jurisdictions, as happened with the Minerva Reef. Since we believe this incident exemplifies the reasons for sea structures to be free-floating, we will recount it here.

Michael Oliver, a Las Vegas real estate millionaire, made several nation founding attempts. In the early 70's he focused on the Minerva Reefs, 260 miles southwest of Tonga, which were conveniently outside the territorial waters of any nation and below water at high tide. Quite large, they seemed perfect as breakwaters with no established government. His plan was to build them up with sand and create a new island and a new country, and he hired dredges from Australia in 1971. After six months, he proclaimed the independence of the Republic of Minerva, which issued coins.

The only reaction he got was from the Kingdom of Tonga, Minerva's closest neighbor. A box of supplies was dropped on the new land which said "supplied and maintained by the government of Tonga", an action said to be supported by other nations in the area. His Majesty then ventured to Minerva with a gang of convicts and a four-member band. They planted the Tongan flag, played the Tongan national anthem, and claimed the sandy patch for Tonga. After they left, the forces of nature did their work, and the sand of Minerva returned slowly to the ocean from whence it came. [Strauss1984].

This is a classic example of the lengths to which nations will go to preserve their cartel status - even a worthless patch of sand is seen as competition. If its in a fixed location, no matter how undesirable, the nearest traditional nations will claim jurisdiction. It may be possible to negotiate a treaty, but that is likely to be expensive and nation founders have little to bargain with.

Cortes Bank
Another brief example of the greed of traditional nations relates to the Cortes Bank, which lies off the coast of San Diego:
The USS Abalonia was a concrete cargo ship, constructed for the purpose of becoming an independent nation. The company which built it hoped to anchor it in rich shellfish beds on the Cortes Bank, 100 miles off the coast of San Diego, and claim jurisdiction over the area. Shortly after the Abalonia's launch in 1969, it foundered and sank, nearly killing the crew. In the wake of the Abalonia fiasco, a second company began plans to build a platform on the Cortes Bank and declare it the nation of Taluga. The US government quickly gave notice that the Cortes Bank, as part of the continental shelf, fell within its jurisdiction. [Straus1984, page ??]
{Patri: this is probably an excellent place to drop in the Sealand material}.

Problems and Solutions

Common sense and the experiences of other nation founders give us a great deal of information about the difficulties with various approaches to autonomy. There is no single "right" approach to seasteading, thus we present many ideas, exploring those we think are the most viable. However, there are certainly some commonalities among realistic designs, as well as fundamental mistakes among unrealistic visions. Four important considerations are politics, technology, finances and activation energy {?better term?}, and we will explore how our approaches to them differs from other projects.


The largest issue facing prospective attempts at autonomy is obtaining sovereignty, which terrestrial governments are notoriously reluctant to sell, or recognition, which they are reluctant to give. For example, Laissez-Faire City [link to history of LFC - its down right now because LFC is defunct] accumulated a seven-digit trust to purchase a small amount of land for a libertarian enclave. They announced their desires to the world and met with resounding silence. After finding no suitable offers, they had to shift their strategy to online products. One might think that one of the numerous nations of the world could be induced to cooperate, but it turns out to be very difficult with the resources available to most individuals.

In the past, pioneers and malcontents would head to the frontiers, of which few now exist. The oceans, which make up 71% of the earth's surface, have always been a place for those seeking new ways of life. They are the last great unclaimed region. Ships are not well suited for permanent living, but by creating new land on the oceans we can achieve both freedom and a reasonable degree of comfort.

Freedom of movement and self-sufficiency are both intimately connected with political freedom. Fixed locations such as seamounts, islands, and atolls are much more vulnerable to the whims of nearby governments [minerva link], but a mobile seastead can always move if the political climate becomes unsuitable. While a seastead is likely to import many goods, being able to supply its own basic necessities will also add greatly to its independence. This approach to nation founding reduces - but does not eliminate - the difficulty in finding sovereignty, by operating in international waters. Erwin Strauss summarizes the situation in his classic text "How To Start Your Own Country":

Although many countries are expanding their claimed territorial waters, there are likely to be wide areas of the oceans that will remain open to ships of all nations for some time. Treaties that are accepted virtually universally require all ships to fly the flag of an existing nation. Those that do not are defined as pirates, and are subject to treatment as such by any nation's warships. Most nations require ships flying their flag to employ their own nationals, and generally subject them to the onshore laws of that country. However, there are certain small nations that specialize in granting ships the permission to fly their flags with a minimum of restrictions. In return, these countries receive annual fees in the range of a few thousand dollars per ship or less. These flags are called "flags of convenience," and the owners of ships flying those flags are allowed to hire anyone they want, and generally do just about anything they want. Certain international treaties banning piracy, the drug traffic, the slave trade, etc., still apply, but the countries involved are small and can hardly police their worldwide fleets - and aren't really interested in doing so. [Strauss1984, page 24]

Thus we see that while ships are in practice granted a great deal of autonomy, international law still applies. Technically, each ship is governed by the laws of the country whose flag it flies. While this is not an ideal solution, it is at least a firmly established political category, and thus fits with our general principle of minimizing novelty. More daring seasteads may choose to go flagless, and we expect them to eventually carve a new niche in maritime law.

{Wayne=>Patri: I think it is useful to describe how the maritime law will tend to get changed. Step 1: Use an obscure flag; Step 2: Petition international law for a designation other that pirate for outfits that do not fly a flag; Step 3: Somebody does a high profile deflagging and says "I'm not bothering anybody; please don't bother me and please don't call me a `pirate'". Step 4: Actively attend the next maritime law conference and agitate for changes; redefine pirate; restrict boardings to real pirates; not harmless seasteads, etc.}

{Wayne=>Patri: I'm confused about the next section. This all seems like a logical continuation of the previous section.}

Ocean Environment - People & Politics

An unavoidable aspect of the ocean environment is the large body of international law which pertains to it. In order to resolve conflicts involving vessels, a policy was established wherein each vessel bears the flag of some nation. Ostensibly, that nation has jurisdiction over the vessel, and is responsible for ensuring its adherence to international maritime law. In practice, nations such as Panama, Malta, and Liberia offer so-called "flags of convenience", and after taking a fee they pay little attention to the actions of the registrant. A seastead is potentially high-profile, and if it proves a serious embarrassment to a registrar it may quickly lose its flag. On the other hand, ships are very large and very expensive, and despite a number of serious incidents, the small and enterprising nations have continued providing such services.

There are a large number of agreements, treaties, and conventions regarding issues as diverse as environmental protection, resource use, crew safety, and record-keeping. Many nations have signed these, many have not, and they are erratically enforced (it is up to the flagging country to do so). Complying with these laws would be an onerous process for a seastead, and it is unclear to what degree it will be necessary.

Without a flag, a ship is defined as being a pirate, and can be boarded with impunity [Strauss1984] {Wayne=>Patri: We'll need page numbers here.}


Piracy is still a significant problem on the high seas, but does not seem particularly worrisome for a seastead. Much of it is small-scale theft - for example, of the 335 attacks reported in 2001, only 71 involved guns [ ]. Being above the waves and strong enough to withstand them will make a seastead a rather difficult target for this kind of criminal. Some piracy is large-scale, in which entire ships are captured and their goods fenced. Forged documents are used to obtain a new load of cargo from legitimate shippers, which is then stolen as well. 16 ships were hijacked in 2001, 21 people were killed (all but one in asian waters), and 210 taken hostage [IMB]. A seastead should not be valuable enough for the latter, as it is not a cargo ship, and would be rather conspicuous in port. The armed and organized groups which seasteads should be the most worried about are the Navies of traditional governments.

IMB; International Maritime Bureau,

This should go in the paper somewhere:

Legal quandaries similar to the statehood of Sealand are no longer possible today. Since the third conference on the laws of the sea, the nearest neighboring state is now required to consent to the construction of any artificial island pursuant to the convention on the laws of the sea of the United Nations on December 10, 1982, in Montego Bay. Moreover, this convention requires the neighboring state to pull down the artificial constructions immediately after use or to have them removed.

According to this convention, there is no transitional law and no possibility to consent to the existence of such a construction which was previously approved or built by the neighboring state. This means that it is unimaginable that a case like Sealand will ever occur again. An artificial island can no longer be constructed and then claimed as a sovereign state, or as state territory for the purposes of extension of an exclusive economic zone or territorial waters.

From []


Several potential ventures (refs - Atlantis, etc.) have focused on the combination of two problematic technologies: OTEC and seacrete. Unfortunately OTEC, or Ocean Thermal Electric Conversion, which is a technique to generate energy from the temperature differential between surface and deep water, is mostly theoretical right now. There are no currently operating plants, and those that were built in the past were operated for research purposes (ref). OTEC does not scale well, as small plants cannot overcome pumping costs to achieve positive net power generation (ref), so it requires a huge capital investment. Some projects have treated OTEC as practically free energy for ocean cities, when it is quite expensive indeed.

Professor Wolf Hilbertz came up with fascinating idea of "seacrete", a material which is created by submerging an electrified wire mesh in seawater. Minerals are drawn out of the water by the current, and create a cement-like substance. The number commonly cited for seacrete energy requirements (4.2 lbs per kW/hr) would make it quite efficient if correct. Unfortunately, this figure has two serious flaws: it is based on a single experiment (Wolf Hilbertz, "Electrodeposition of Minerals in Sea Water: Experiments and Applications," IEEE Journal of Oceanic Engineering, Vol. OE-4, No. 3, (July 1979), p.98. ) and it is off by a factor of 40 due to a computation error, as Eric Lee has demonstrated []. When corrected, it turns out that seacrete costs 10-20 times as much as simply buying concrete. Thus designs based on these technologies are seriously flawed.

Seasteaders will not make the mistake of counting on an impractical technology to make their vision happen. Our designs, while novel, are firmly rooted in standard engineering techniques. For example, our power will come from solar panels and wind turbines, not OTEC plants.

{discuss engineering issues, why the spar works}


Many proposed ventures are impossibly large in scale. Grand visions are inspiring, but difficult to make into reality, especially when trying to create something entirely new. The Freedom Ship is a classic example []. Their mile-long design will cost ten billion dollars. That sort of funding is not easy to get, to say the least, especially for a piece of property that might be destroyed by a storm. Our designs are much smaller, and thus the path to funding them is much clearer. Our current estimates suggest that a complete, viable seastead with around could be built for one one-thousandth of the Freedom Ship's proposed cost, in the neighborhood of $100,000 / resident. Who do you think will begin construction first? {is this appropriate, or should I tone it down?}

Activation Energy

Things that are large and succesful usually start out small and expand organically, rather than springing forth full-formed. Rome wasn't built in a day, markets don't appear instantly, and a succesful business leverages each stage into the next. We consider the idea that the first sea-city will be for ten thousand people ludicrous. Instead, we envision a series of gradual steps. First we build a mini-seastead prototype, anchored in sheltered or coastal waters (perhaps one of each), to demonstrate our seriousness and our design. When we have enough interest, we build the first deep-water self-sufficient seastead, for somewhere between 20 and 200 people.

As interest in seasteading grows, more units can be built. Each may cater to a slightly different audience, or experiment with different engineering and political designs. They can be made modular, and joined together into the sea-city many have envisioned [Atlantis, Nexus]. We agree that this is a highly desirable outcome, but it is our firm belief a sea-village must come first. If you make the first step too high, you will never reach it, as the many participants who became frustrated with and dropped out of new-country projects can attest

{do we have other fundamental principles? Succession of prototypes?}

{are there other fundamental mistakes besides: technology, size/cost, politics?

{From some E-mail from Patri}

Good quote from vladi's:

There's something special about a private island. An isolated piece of paradise, its beaches and forests yours alone to enjoy. A virtual private kingdom under the sun. While this is enough for most of us, for some, only a real kingdom (or republic, or principality, or ?) will suffice. For these folks, a private island is but a means to an end - the establishment of a new, independent country. But is such a thing really possible?

The short answer is a pretty conclusive ' no'. Since the early 20th century, every square foot of dry land on Earth has been claimed by at least one country or another, which pretty much rules out discovering an unmapped tropical paradise, planting your flag, and setting yourself up as the local sovereign. Similarly, existing countries are more than a little reluctant to part with pieces of their national territory, no matter the financial incentives offered. However, 30 years ago one man hatched an enterprising (if a little bizarre) scheme at getting around these little details.

[then it begins describing Minerva]


The problems facing prospective nation-founders are undoubtedly difficult, as evinced by the movement's historical lack of success. They can be overcome if and only if we rationally consider our options and produce a design which is politically, technologically, and financially feasible, and can progress through a series of realistically sized intermediates. For the reasons which we will outline in this paper, we believe that seasteading meets these criteria. While there is a lot of planning and hard work ahead, there are no substantial leaps of faith required. As you may have realized by now, this makes our vision fairly unique.

So if you are interested in its details, please continue reading. Just don't expect any "artists renderings" of sprawling sea cities, uses of the term "billion dollars", or hints that we are developing a cool new technology which no one else knows about. Instead, you'll learn how we plan to put together old techniques in new ways, how we keep our costs down, what are business plans are, and similar fundamentals. By the end, you should have a good grasp on the process involved in making this vision a reality. And perhaps, (we hope) an interest in being part of that process.

{is it too informal to talk to the reader?}



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Ocean Environment

A seastead needs to survive and thrive in the ocean environment. What is the ocean environment? Obviously, the ocean environment consists of a great deal of salt water (about 3% solution.) The disolved salt causes two problems -- first, it causes many materials to corrode and second, it renders the water unfit for direct human consumption.

In addition to the water, the ocean environment has weather. This includes temperature variation, wind, humidity, rain, etc. The wind causes the ocean to sport ocean waves, which can become quite significant.

{Ocean currents, international law, boats, navigation, pirates, etc.}

Ocean Waves

[This section needs some serious work: find downloadable sources of wave data, analyze them. Explain rogue waves, distribution of wave weights, then report on two things: worst possible conditions, and worst conditions if we try to avoid the bad places/times.]

As we researched ocean storms, we discovered that the ocean in the middle of a storm is an extremely hostile environment. The amount of energy stored in a large wave is really quite scary.

[Do we have more wave data now?]

We managed to find a book on waves (and beaches) [Bascom1980] in a local library. There is a discussion about rogue waves that is quite interesting. A rogue wave is a wave that is significantly larger than its neighbors. From the few ships that have survived a rogue wave, what appears to happen is that the rogue wave has a deep trough followed by a high peak. The ship basically "falls" into the trough, and gets clobbered by the high peak that comes crashing over the top. The peak alone is not the problem, it is the combination of the two that are deadly. In addition, the book states some robabilities about how frequent rogue waves are. For a seastead that is intended to last decades, rogue waves are a virtual certainty.

see if NOAA NDBC data is downloadable, write perl scripts to find patterns. See if highest waves occur in certain months.
Find more data sources.
Email experts.

Thanks to american tax dollars at work, there is a fair amount of oceanographic data available from the National Data Buoy Center at the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration.

Recent Marine data, Historical Data

The NOAA has data recording buoys scattered around with tons of info on wave height, temperature, winds, etc. for the last 20 years. For example, this buoy which is 200-300 miles west of Oregon, recorded its highest significant wave height in the last 25 years as 13.6m. H_s is the average of the 1/3 highest waves (for the buoys, during a 20 minute sampling period, not sure if this is standard). According to Bascom, 1 wave in 1000 is 2*H_s (or 3*H_avg). The wave book said that such waves were unstable and tended to be broken by the wind, which is good because they don't last but bad because breaking waves have tons of energy. 1 wave in 300,000 is a so-called "rogue" wave with height of 8/3 * H_s.

These estimates matches the average wave heights and highest waves reported for "The Perfect Storm" [Merc07042000].

Selected Buoys w/ wave heights:

 NDBC # H_s Location
 4600513.5m 200-300 miles W of Oregon.
 5100411m Hawaii
 41010 8m100 miles E of florida
 44004 14m 200-300 miles E of delaware
 41002 15m150 miles SE of South Carolina

According to [Merc07042000], the highest waves ever recorded by the NDBC buoys had an H_s of 18m, in the north pacific (prob. farther north than we'll go). Also the big numbers are all for storms that can be seen well in advance, so dealing with them may be too conservative as we may be able to avoid such storms if seastead is mobile. Coaststead will be able to avoid them by heading into protected waters.

By these estimates, the worst conditions will have an H_s of perhaps 20m, with the highest normal waves being 40m and rogue waves being 50m. In Bascom, the highest observed waves listed are 35m (not rogue waves), due to hurricane strength winds blowing for an extended period of time, which matches these predictions. The highest possible wave given earth's metereology is 75m. From these numbers, a seastead with a height of 55m from the surface of the ocean to its lowest deck should be able to survive hurricane conditions anywhere. Naturally we would prefer to lower this number, but it will serve as an upper bound. By selecting our location and season with some care, and showing discretion rather than valor when big blows arrive, we should be able reduce this number by 25% - 50%. Total pillar length will of course be determined by adding the vertical height of our buoyancy and the height of our decks to our necessary span. Estimating these quantities at 10m each, our tentative guess at pillar length is about 50m, or about the height of a ?12? story building.

[still have to investigate wave length and see how far below the trough we need to go to decouple during a storm]. Note that we may not need to fully decouple from rogue waves - as long as our buoyancy stays under water, it should be OK if it experiences some wave force once every 300,000 storm waves. Given how fast coupling falls off, if we are partially decoupled from rogue waves we'll be fully decoupled from all other waves.


As we were researching sea structures we ran across the book Materials for Marine Systems and Structures edited by Dennis Hasson and C. Robert Crow [Hasson1988]. This book devotes an entire chapter to the topic of biofouling -- plant life attaching itself to your flotation device. In other words -- barnacles on your bottom! Basically, biofouling occurs in two steps -- microfouling followed by macrofouling. Microfouling is the attachment single celled organisms to the surface. Macrofouling is the attachment of larger organisms such as barnacles and mussels. There is a chart on page 105 that suggests that macrofouling is strongly dependent on proximity to the shore. The further you are from shore, the less of a problem it is. If macrofouling persists, according to the book on page 115, chlorine is an effective biocide:

There is no consensus about the concentration of chlorine needed to control macrofouling. Similarly, no agreement has been reached about the relative advantages of low-level continuous chlorination compared to intermittent chlorination and the application rates depend on a variety of factors, including the predominant organisms, growth rates, location, season, and water temperature. In general, the soft macrofouling organisms can be controlled by intermittent chlorination at a level of 1.0mg/L residual chlorine for one hour out of every eight hours. Hardshelled foulers including barnacles and mussels, require continuous discharge of low-level chlorination -- 0.25-0.5mg/L of free residual chlorine.

If biofouling becomes a major problem for the seastead, a system for chlorinating the water around the seastead may need to be developed. Since chlorine is a nasty chemical to deal with, we hope that macrofouling does not become a problem for the deep seastead.


It is not only the oceans surface that is continually moving. Currents are omnipresent, and tend to consist of large cyclical formations with opposite direction of rotation in the northern and southern hemispheres. They range in speed from 0.5 to 5 miles/hr (?). They are caused by a number of factors, such as wind, convection, density differences due to variations in salinity, and the Coriolis force. The chart below will give you a general feel for the arrangement of currents:

However, it must be noted that these maps are deceptively simple. Ocean currents form many eddies and transient features, and vary from season to season and year to year.

The relevance of these currents to a seastead is that they will push our platform around. Three basic approaches come to mind for dealing with this: anchoring, motors/tugboat, and just going with the flow.

Anchoring equpiment is quite expensive, especially the lines, which are the limitation on what depth one can anchor at. For example, a set of High Molecular Density Poly Ethelyne (HMPE) lines for anchoring in 8000' feet of water costs approximately $6,000,000, without the attachment hardware or anchors. These and other synthetic lines are the only real acceptable solution for deep water anchorages, as braided steel lines are too heavy and can corrode. The anchors themselves are fairly simple suction devices, basically a hollow tube with a cap on one end and a pump in /pump out valve. You drop the anchor to the bottom, pump out all the water, and it sucks its self into the sea floor. To retrieve the anchor you pump it full of water and it pops out of the sea floor. These are the best solution for deep water heavy anchorages. The sea floor for the most part is covered with about 50' of sludge and muck which actually makes for a pretty good hold.


Because of the high cost of lines, one's potential anchoring locations are limited to areas of relatively shallow water. Still, an achoring system will be quite useful and is likely to be one method for location control.

A seastead will likely have either its own propulsion system or a tugboat to drag it around. Used tugs can be had for anywhere from $50K to millions [Tassins Marine Transportation], depending on their age and the power of their motors. For smaller course adjustments, or running from storms, an active propulsion system is excellent. One thing to note is that drag is proportional to velocity squared, so if we are willing to settle for slow movement the energy costs are not prohibitive. Still, we are moving a large object, and the currents will be pushing us constantly, so relying on active propulsion will add to the operating expenses of a seastead, and reduce its self-sufficiency.

This thought brings us to the third option, drifting, which stems from the observation that ocean currents are roughly circular. With some fine-tuning, we can be pulled by them forever, circling towards a pole and then back to the equator. Moving radially will change the period of our cycle, which may be desirable to avoid seasonal storms. Active propulsion can be used to transition between current formations. There are also areas such as the equator where currents are fairly slow, and thus we can drift without much movement.

Early seasteads will likely use a combination of these methods, spending some time at anchor, some time drifting, and occasionally being pulled by a tugboat.

People & Politics [International Law (UNLOS), travelling, boarding, pirates, subs. Explain why we'll be a boat. Move location stuff to here.]




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Some Seastead Designs

{Wayne & Andy}

There is no one correct design for a seastead. Depending upon your goals and budget a variety of different designs are possible. One important feature across all designs is how safe the design will be in the face of severe ocean weather.

The seastead designs partion into two basic catagories -- anchored seasteads and free floating seasteads. An anchored seastead is one that is attached to the surface of the planet. A free floating seastead is not anchored to the planet surface and can be moved around. There are advantages and disadvantages to for each catagory.

Anchored Seasteads

In the catagory of anchored seasteads there are three basic designs:

There are many islands that are currently uninhabited that could be easily purchased and colonized [PrivateIslands]. The engineering required to colonize `dry land' is much simpler and less expensive than the engineering required to colonize the ocean surface. The excellent book Blueprint for Paradise [Norgrove1983] by Russ Norgrove discusses what is involved with colonizing a tropical island.
An atoll is a special class of island that is formed when the ocean has worn a volcanic peak down to a roughly circular shape. One of the more famous island atolls is the Bikini island atoll in the Marshall islands [Bikini]. The nice characteristic of atolls is that they are relatively plentiful and many of them are uninhabited. Many atolls tend to form a break water around a the calm harbor in the middle. Thus, an structure built in the center of an atoll may not need to be as robost to withstand sever ocean weather.
Sea Mounts
A sea mount is basically an underwater island that does not break the surface of the water. It is possible to build a tower that bridges the distance from the top of the sea mount to the sea surface. The top of the tower can be inhabited as a sea stead. One of the more famous sea mount seasteads is the Principality of Sealand [Sealand]. Since sea mounts tend not to have a surrounding break water like atolls, they must be built more robostly. While not as famous as Sealand, oil drilling platforms are an example of a sea mount based seastead [Helvarg2001].

Unlike free floating seasteads, an anchored seastead does not have the option relocating to try to avoid really bad ocean weather. While hurricanes are quite prevelant in the Carribean, there are other parts of the world where hurricanes are much less frequent. Unfortunately, infrequent does not mean never. For example, the Hawaiian islands are rarely intercepted by hurricanes, but in 1992, hurricane Iniki intercepted the island of Kauai and caused extensive damage [Iniki]. When designing an anchored seastead, it may make economic sense to under design the structure so that it can not withstand a direct assalt by a hurricane. In this situation, a plan for constant vigilance in conjunction with an evacuation plan is the prudent course of action. It may be possible to purchase hurricane insurance cover the possibility that the seastead is damaged or destroyed by a bad hurricane. Conversely, the seastead can be designed to withstand a hurricane. In this case, the structure is designed to withstand high winds and storm surges of 10 meters or more. This adds considerably to the over cost of the seastead. A hurricane safe anchored seastead may be more expensive than a free floating seastead that adopts the policy of avoiding hurricanes.

Another disadvantage of anchored seasteads is that Pretty much all islands and atolls that are above sea level have been claimed by some sovergn nation. Thus, using a preexisting island is unlikely to meet the non-technical goal of being free to set its own laws. Interestingly enough, the Minerva experience [Minerva] shows that bringing a sea mount to above sea level can cause a preexisting nation to claim sovergnty where no such claim has existed before. Thus, the engineering simplicity of designing a structure to reside on a sea mount may be offset by the political machinations of `nearby' sovergn nations.

{Patri: We need to explain the Minerva episode in detail. Probably not here, though.}

Free Floating Seasteads

To first approximation, a free floating seastead is a specialized kind of boat. It is a boat that has been designed to reside most of the time in the ocean environment. Initially, the laws that apply to free floating seasteads will be those of international maritime law.

As with anchored platforms, there are numerous designs for free floating seasteads. Some are listed below:

Sailboat Fleet
To date, we have not found any published literture on this concept, but it is unlikely that we are the first to think of it. The concept is that a bunch of like minded people could purchase a bunch of sailboats different sizes and costs and sail around the ocean as an intentional community [IntentionalCommunities]. By using sailboats, the wind is used for locomotion. A combination of wind power and solar power is used for energy. Cisterns can be used to collect rain water and solar stills can be used to convert sea water into potable water. The biggest drawback is that sailboats tend to have small deck areas. Thus, it may be difficult to develop sustainable food crops on the sailboat decks alone. Some of the food concepts from Sailing the Farm by [Neumeyer1982] quite applicable to this concept.
Converted Cargo Ship
This idea is to purchase an old freighter boat and outfit it as floating community. The propusion system would be kept in working order, but it would only be used sparingly in order to conserve fuel. One way to think of this concept is as a low budget cruise ship. Again, a combination of wind and solar power is used for energy. Cisterns and solar stills are used for water. The top surface of the cargo ship can be used for growing food.
Sheltered Harbor Seastead
This concept is a hybrid between an anchored seastead and a free floating one. With this idea, the seastead is built to live in the sheltered waters of an atoll or a harbor. This puts the community at the mercy of the sovergn nation that owns the land. However, since all of the living quarters are built on floating platforms, it is possible to relocate the entire community to another sheltered harbor controlled by a more friendly sovergn nation if necessary. Of course, there is a risk that a serious ocean storm may crop up during relocation and cause the non-seaworthy structures to be seriously damaged or sunk.
Spar Designs
The next class of design is to build the living area on stilts (i.e. spars) that push down into the ocean. A spar design can have either one spar or multiple spars. The spars present little cross-sectional area to ocean waves that allow the waves to slosh around underneath the main living quarters without imparting much energy to the structure.

{Transition into spar designs}

Initially we started off with a multi-spar design like the one below:

Multi-spar Seastead



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We ultimately concluded that it was too expensive for the first iterations of spar designs.

Upon redesign, we came up with a modular single spar design. Multiple single spar systems can be assembled together to get a multi spar design.

Single-spar Seastead

Below is a view of the seastead hull with the top and outside wall removed.

Submerged Seastead Hull

The central spar is inserted into the center. The torroidal floatation hull is divided into 8 equal sized compartments. Each compartment has a fixed amount of relatively dense ballast (e.g. lead, steel, concrete) represented as brown. In addition, ocean water is used as a variable ballest; this is represented by the light blue in the diagram above.

Below is a view of the central spar with half of the spar cylinder removed.

Exploded Spar

The central spar is compartmentalized up its length to proved approximately 10 individual water tight compartments. There is a pressure gage in each compartment. If any compartment springs a leak, the remaining compartments will continue to provide bouyancy. Note shown in the diagram is an access ladder that runs the length of the spar with water tight doors between the compartments. Thus, somebody can go all the way down to the floatation hull from inside the spar.



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Oil Drilling Platforms

{The text below probably needs to be deleted.}

In the August 2001 issue of Popular Science, David Helvarg [Helvarg2001] wrote an article about the current state of the art in oil drilling platforms in the Gulf of Mexico. These devices are currently quite expensive, $.5B -- $1.5B, but the oil companies can justify the cost because a single oil well can generate millions of dollars of revenue in a single day. In terms of cost per square meter of livable space, these platforms are probably measured in 10's of thousands of dollars per square meter.

What is interesting about oil drilling platforms is that they are the closest thing to permanent ocean structures that I know of. In addition, they are clearly designed to withstand hurricane class ocean storms, since the Gulf of Mexico is the frequrent recipient of such storms.

While there are a variety of different kinds of oil drilling platforms, they all basically have a strategy of placing the working platform a distance above the waves on pillars. Thus, only the pillars have to be designed to withstand the energy of the waves that smash against them.

Lowering the Cost

{need to modify for andy's new design. Wayne - get numbers from Andy}


{Wayne and Andy}

The proposed seastead flotation is submerged well below surface level to reduce coupling with surface waves.

Since the flotation is not at surface level, it is not intrinsically stable. If the bouyancy is slightly negative, the whole seastead will keep on sinking. Conversely, if the bouyancy is slightly positive, the whole seastead will keep on raising until the flotation reaches the surface.

The solution to the flotation stability problem is to put a pressure sensor on the flotation and add a feedback loop to adjust the flotation as a function of water depth. If the external pressure is too high (i.e. too deep), addition air is pumped in. Conversely, if the external pressure is too low (i.e. too shallow), air is released.

As an additional safety factor, the seastead should have additional floation right below the bottom of the living platform. If, for some reason, the submerged flotation should entirely fail, the seastead would sink only to the bottom of the living platform. Remember, my earlier fixation on 2-liter bottles. Well here is a reasonable place to use them.

What does the flotation look like?

patri's discussion of flotation

The general idea for Seasteads is to have tall pillars supporting a platform, with buoyancy (B) at the bottom of the pillars, far enough below the surface of the water that the buoyancy elements are decoupled from the waves. The B will consist of air chambers, some fixed and some adjustable. Adjustment will be done by pumping air into an inverted cup. This is thought to be more reliable over the course of many cycles than a chamber which can vary in size, such as a bladder. Depth can be determined by measuring pressure. [pics of the homemade meter]

Fixed buoyancy will compensate for fixed loads, such as the weight of the platform, pillars, and any permanent structures. Adjustable buoyancy will compensate for changing loads, and can additionally be used to raise and lower the platform for supply loading, inspection of pillars, and so forth.

The normal way to not sink under a variable load is simply to have B increase as draft increases. This is true for the cup form such as a ships hull - if it goes down, the area it displaces increases. If there is no change in B when height changes, the platform will be indifferent as to its height. This is true for our structure since the pillars have little displacement. It might be worthwhile to put flotation units along the pillars, the advantage would be that the structure would have less vertical response to loads, the disadvantage that it will be more coupled to waves.

Since B will not be passively height-dependent, it must be actively height-dependent. Adjustable buoyancy must change reasonably quickly as loads change. One way of lowering the response time of the system is to add horizontal baffles, which will act as dampers.

A disadvantage of this system is that it may have stability issues. The center of gravity will be very high, because most weight is on the platform. One way to make it more stable would be to lower the center of gravity, for example by hanging submerged weights well below the flotation units, or by attaching mass to the pillars along with the flotation units. The active flotation should compensate a great deal for this. Another way to add stability is to make the pillars splay outwards somewhat, giving a base of support larger than the platform. This makes it more difficult to connect to other seasteads, but multiple-platform seasteads also won't have as much of a stability problem. Perhaps the correct solution is for standalone steads to be splayed and multiple-platform steads to be vertical.

One "emergency" system will be to have flotation on the bottom of the platform sufficient to bear its weight. Thus, if the lower floation units fail for some reason, the platform can act as a simple raft if necessary.

The Tower

The tower attaches to the flotation on the bottom and to the living platform on the top. It has to be strong enough to hold the platform in all sea conditions. For cost to strength reasons, the tower of any seaworthy seastead will probably be built out of steel beams with cross trusses. A deluxe tower version will use stainless steel throughout and a more modest version will consist of regular steel that has been painted with a primer and and overcoat. The non-stainless steel version, will need more inspections to discover corrosion.

In calm seas, the flotation can be adjusted to raise or lower the tower by any desired height. Thus, by lowering the floation to the lowest depths, it is possible to inspect the top of the tower and the bottom surface of the living structure for signs of corrosion damage. Similarly, an arbitrary amount of the tower can be pushed above the surface for tower inspection.

The two criteria that go into designing the tower are its over height and the total amount of weight it must support. The height can be broken into the height above the surface and the depth below the surface. The choice of the height and depth parameters depends upon the anticipated worst case waves expect to hit the tower during the expected lifetime of the tower.

Living Platform

The living platform is basicly two story building built on top of the tower. Since the entire purpose of the flotation and tower is to prevent any wave crests from ever reaching the top of the tower, the living platform can be constructed out of fairly straight-forward construction materials. Indeed, you can seriously consider using standard plywood floors and 2×4 framing. Indeed, the living structure does not even have to be as strong as a typical house in California, since the eventuality of an earthquake is not really possible for the seastead.

The problem with wood is that the salt water eventually starts eating away at it. Thus, any wood surfaces need to be water sealed and inspected for rot on a regular basis.

The bottom level is meant to be an enclosed living quarters complete with all of the standard living accommodations you would find in a home -- living room, kitchen, bedrooms, hallways, bathroom, etc. This area is sealed against rain and wind.

The middle level is meant to be a combined work and play area. It rough corresponds to the front and back yards of a typical home. The area is mostly shaded and provides area for such ammenities as tennis courts, basketball courts, lounging around, etc. In addition, construction and maintanance projects are done at this level.

The top level is used for 1) fresh water collection, 2) food production, and 3) solar energy collection.

The easiest way to collect water is to capture run-off water from an ocean storm and collect it into a cistern. Thus, top level should be plumbed to collect as much run-off water as possible.

Using solar cells to convert sunshine into electricity is now a mature technology. Pat Rand Rose [Rose1979] has written a book strictly dedicated to using solar cells on a boat. A certain percentage of the top level surface area needs to be set aside for solar cell collection area. The batteries and power management stuff can be kept on the middle level. {More goes here after I've obtained and read the book.}

More information on these uses can be found inthe water, food, and energy sections.

The remaining top surface area can be set aside for producing food. Kenneth Neumeyer [Neumeyer1982] has written a book entitled Sailing the Farm that spends a great deal of effort discussing the issues of farming at sea. {More goes here after I've obtained and read the book.}


The necessities of life on a seastead: food, water, power, transportation, and so forth, present special challenges. Fortunately most of these challenges have been met in other contexts, and we can build upon those solutions. There are numerous books published on the topic of being self sufficient and living off the land. The one I used was Building for Self Sufficiency by Robin Clarke [Clarke1976].

There is a decision we have to make about just how self sufficent we want to be. The more self sufficient we are, the less material we have to import into our seastead. The initial seastead will probably be rather small, so they will not be as self sufficient as the ones built later on.

There are two major differences that must be dealt with as self sufficiency books are applied to seastead technology. First, even though the seastead is surrounded by water, fresh water is going to have to be tightly managed. We do not have the option of tapping into a stream or drilling a well to get unlimited supplies of fresh water. Fresh water management is covered in greater detail later in the water section below. Second, surface area is going to be at a premium. Every square meter of land is going to require at least a hundred recycled beverage bottles to support it. Large meandering structures that occupy lots of space are not going to be viable in early seasteads.

I should comment that most of these self-sufficiency books start out with a preface that I will paraphrase as `humanity is running out of energy and resources; thus, we must change our evil high technology ways and go back to basic living off the land.' These statements should not be taken at face value, because many of them are not supported by scientific evidence. For example the inflation adjusted cost of energy and resources has continually declined when measured over periods of greater than ten years. A more balanced view of energy and resources can be found in The True State of the Planet a compendium of papers written by ten environmental scientists who publish in peer reviewed journals. The True State of the Planet is edited by Ronald Bailey [Bailey1995]. A number of the energy books I reference below suffer from the same basic flaw, however, once you get past the preface and first chapter of these various books, they tend to be pretty reasonable.


{Patri - salt water can be used for cooling}

Now it is time to switch focus over to fresh water management. Despite being in the middle of an ocean, obtaining and retaining an adequate supply of fresh water is going to require some careful thought and implementation. There will be a continual loss of fresh water due to evaporation and slow leaking, which means that the fresh water needs to be replenished. There are four possibilities for water replenishment -- rain water collection, distilling sea water into fresh water, reverse osmosis of sea water into fresh water, and importing fresh water. Of the four, importing fresh water seems the least practical and rain water collection seems the most practical.

The book _Blueprint For Paradise_ by Russ Norgrove is (despite its title) an exceedingly realistic book about living on small islands. Norgrove says roof / cistern-based water collection is eminently practical - a reasonably large house roof, on most islands, will supply enough water for the residents. Assuming 30% loss of water, 2 ft^2 of roof will yield 1 gallon of water per inch of rain. He suggests around 10K-20K gallons/person/year, which sounds fantastically high to us - Patri's house uses 20K-30K g/p/y, and they use water extravagantly (pool, hot tub). According to Neumeyer [link], avg. water use in US is 50G/capita/day, or 18K G/capita/year. People on a seastead are going to use far less water than the average american. Folks living aboard their sailboats sure aren't using 40 gallons of freshwater/person/day! We suspect this is another example of land-based thinking leading to numbers inappropriate for seastead life.

According to Hill, live-aboard boaters use around 1G/p/day, or 350G/p/yr. Unsurprisingly, this is far less than on land. Even if seasteads are an order of magnitude less efficient (due to extra water for gardening, for example), and require 10G/p/day (3500G/p/yr), this amount of water is attainable. Norgrove suggests 50 inches/year as normal tropical rainfall, which means that we need around 15 m^2/person of rain collection area. This matches nicely with the food production numbers, so if the food production space doubles as rain collection, we'll be fine.

Norgrove's major concern was cistern size for riding out droughts - 3 month droughts in the tropics are to be expected, and he says you should have at least 5K gallons/person of cistern capacity to deal with this. In our case, this would be 500G/person. It seems as though making a large cistern in the ocean should be trivial, because you just need a bag floating in the water (freshwater is lighter than seawater). On land, you have to worry about supporting a huge weight of water, not having your structure attacked by roots, and so forth, which makes it much more difficult

The top deck (which will likely be mostly greenhouses) should be designed to cleanly capture rainwater, and it will be the most reliable surface. If collecting water on the topmost deck is insufficient, since water collection apparatus (a big tarp) is light, cheap, and simple, you could build floating rainwater collection modules. The only problem with collecting rainwater this way is that lightweight water collection (tarps) will not deal well with high winds, and rain often comes with winds. Still, it should not be too hard to use tarps for moderate-wind rainstorms. We may be able to spread a tarp between the pillars, below the platform and above the waves, to captured angled rain. This tarp must be high enough to not be collecting much spray, which will add salt, so it will not be able to capture as much water as the top deck, but it should help. Tarps could also be projected out sideways from the decks. A way to get water without rain is to use a solar still to purify seawater by evaporation. This requires solar area, but since its very lightweight it can also be projected out from the main platform, or floated on separate units.

If the seastead is parked in area that does not get regular rain storms an alternative method of fresh water replenishment is needed. Either sea water distillation or reverse osmosis will work. Both forms of sea water reclamation require pretty hefty amounts of power. Distillation can be done with solar evaporation trays and condensers; whereas reverse osmosis runs off of electricity. RO Description, RO systems. Note that seawater RO systems are more expensive, ie $7500 for a 600gpd system. [look up how much juice an RO unit actually uses]

We really don't see fresh water for personal use or hydroponic greenhouses as being a problem on a seastead. We are unsure whether traditional freshwater gardening will be possible, hopefully baystead experiments will tell us this.

In order to minimize water loss, seasteads will probably take their cue from the environmentalist movement and utilize multiple water systems, such as drinking water, grey water, black water, and so forth. [add reference]

Water loss by evaporation should be reduced because of the high humidity above the ocean, as well as by using greenhouses.

Hydroponics claims to require 1/25th as much water as conventional cultivation.

There are special toilets which can be flushed with sal****er, as well as composting toilets, so freshwater will not be necessary for toilet flushes. Sal****er showers can be used, as long as fresh water is used to rinse off afterwards. There are many similar ways of conserving water for personal use.

One concern that must be dealt with is salt water contamination of the soil. As waves crash in the ocean around the seastead, small droplets of ocean water are formed that are blown around by the wind. These small droplets can land on the soil and slowly increase the soil salinity. Once the soil becomes too salty, crops will no longer grow. One solution is to do all crop growing in covered greenhouses on the seastead, which also reduces evaporative losses.


When it comes to food production it is necessary to decide how self-sufficient the seastead should be. There is a spectrum of choices ranging from importing everything to producing everything locally. Realistically, the initial seasteads are unlikely to be a 100% self sufficient due to lack of available space, technology, and experience. For example, growing wheat for bread will take a fairly large amount of space; whereas importing a bags of wheat is quite inexpensive and easily stored. A reasonable goal for an early seastead is to be self-sufficient in fruits, vegetables and possibly protein. The remaining food staples can be imported.

One real advantage that the seastead has when it comes to growing crops is that it is possible to reduce or eliminate weeds and insect pests. This is extremely difficult to do on land, since the weeds and pests are just blown across the property boundary. With a seastead, care can be taken to try and minimize the number of insects and weeds that take hold on the seastead. By immediately removing any unwanted pests and weeds whenever they are encountered, it is possible to get to a state where they have all been eradicated.

It has been difficult to specifically determine how much area is necessary to be self-sufficient in food production, as the numbers given by different sources vary widely.

Land based references:

{Wayne - explain wiggle}

Biosphere II used ~0.08 acres/person. Traditional chinese agriculture uses 0.1-0.15 acres/person (I have some doubts about this stat). Commercial agriculture uses 0.5-1 acre/person. [reference]

From another source: Globally there are 1.5B hectares [change into acres] under cultivation for 6B people. or 0.6 acres/person. However I suspect that since efficient cultivation would be a priority, a seastead could do much better than the world average. Also 1/3 of the world's grain is fed to livestock (unnecessary with marine-based protein sources).

In a speech by Matt Ridley, he says that hunter-gatherers use 5000 acres/capita, short fallow organic agriculture uses 10 acres/capita, intensive conventional agriculture uses 1 acre/capita, and artificially lit hydroponic greenhouses can feed 1,000 people (?!)/acre (Not sure if this is accurate). Looking for more info on area required under hydroponics...

According to this hydro page (which contains both theoretical and real-world data), hydroponics yields 5-10 times the production of field harvesting, and in extreme cases up to 100 times. This is because plants are spaced 4-16 times as densely, and because temperature are warm all year round, 2-8 times as many crops can be harvested. Also, hydroponics has the advantage that you do not have to import soil in order to garden [Resh1978].

Wayne suggests importing cheap, high-density food such as starches on early steads. (Perhaps cheese and meat also?). These can be obtained occasionally at ports. Locally produced food will be fruits, vegetables, and Neptunes bounty.

From the land-based figures, even with hydroponics it sounds as though ~0.1 acres/per person are necessary for complete food, which would be 400 m^2/capita. This is infeasible. However:

Efficiency focused and sea-based references:

These numbers are much too conservative, as the far weaker incentive to maximize production per unit area on land skewsthe results. Seasteads will likely concentrate on crops which have a high caloric yield per area.

There is a long history of people supplementing their diet with home grown vegetables. During World War II, these gardens were called `Victory Gardens' and the name has stuck ever since. An excellent guide to home gardening is Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew [Bartholomew1981] (also made into a popular PBS series). This book is noteable in that it tries to minimize the amount of time spent in the garden. Most other books seem to focus on gardening as a hobby and tend to soak up as much time as they can get. The goal of square foot gardening is to spend just a few minutes a day on garden maintenance. It says that its methods can produce enough fruits & vegetables for a person in only 4 m^2.

Sailing the Farm, a book about self-sufficient boating, implied that using a cabin for food production (?5-10 m^2?) could make a substantial contribution to the sailor's diet. It also contained some interesting ideas about aquatic food sources, such as seaweed and spirulina algae, which may be the most efficient form of food production on the planet. Seaweed can probably be coaxed to grow around the underwater portion of the pillars. Even if these numbers are too optimistic, it seems likely that with a food production plan tailored to the aquatic environment and a willingness to eat some unusual things, 20 m^2 or so per capita should be sufficient. That would let a 20m x 20m seastead feed 20 people (perhaps more if there is a half-lit deck below the topmost deck), which is a much more practical number.

With a 3-4 story seastead, this means 40-60 m^2 of non-greenhouse space per capita, or 350-550 ft^2. This seems intuitively reasonable to me. Patri's communal house has ~400 ft^2/person of interior space, perhaps 600-800 if you count lot space. It feels full but not in any way crowded (one can almost always find an empty public room).

Composting and similar closed-cycle techniques will be used to minimize the need for resource importation. Composting is covered in both Building for Self-Sufficiency and Square Foot Gardening.

We investigated the power requirements for artificially lighting a greenhouse. This page suggests that with efficient bulbs, it takes 75W - 175W / m^2 to light a greenhouse, or about 2kW/person @ 20m^2/person. At 12 hrs/day, 365 days/year, this is 9 mWhrs/person/year, or 3 times as much energy as is required for personal use. This is possible only if absolutely necessary, as it would increase energy costs a great deal. However, it is possible that due to a technology like the wave pump, energy costs on the seastead will go down a great deal, in which case artificial lighting may be used to increase crop production.

There are some other ways we might increase grow area. Mirrors or other sunlight collection devices might be used to gather sun from a larger area than the platform, lighting a second deck. Another possible solution would be to make small rafts or barges as auxiliary grow areas. They would be constructed cheaply, only able to withstand typical non-storm seas, and deployed around the stead. They would be sized so that in foul weather they could be hoisted up under the stead for protection. Sal****er plants would most likely be used for these.

Gardening, even with hydroponics, may be water-intensive. Fortunately there are genetically modified plants which can be grown in sal****er. They are currently being experimented with, and while there is not a great variety, there are at least tomatoes available, and probably wheat and rice. The great thing about this is that from what I can tell, the plants are made sal****er tolerant by the introduction of a single gene which codes for a protein for dealing with salt. By overexpressing this protein (already found in the plant), it is made sal****er tolerant. If true, this would mean that many plants could theoretically be modified for use in sal****er! Note that some of the genetically modified crops are only being tested with partial sal****er (ie 40% for the U. of Toronto tomatoes).

There are several ways we may be able to supplement the production of our gardens, such as fishing, aquaculture (the farming of marine life), and harvesting seaweed. Aquaculture and seawater plants dovetail nicely, as the waste products of fish (ammonia, fish poop) can be used to fertilize plants, as in the system on Carl Hodges experimental farm. This is called Aquaponics.

A small number of terrestrial animals will be raised, such as chickens.


Our seastead is going to need power, both for personal use and to support its infrastructure (food production, water purification, transportation). The Aquarius project proposed by the Millennial Foundation planned to use OTEC (Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion) technology for energy production. There are numerous advantages to OTEC technology -- it works night and day, it brings nutrient rich water to the surface, and it produces fresh water as a side effect of its operation. Unfortunately, it has major problems -- it is big, capital intensive, and is currently only available in prototype form. This runs directly contrary to our principles of realism and scaleability. {Patri will add references}

There are other workable alternatives that are both less capital intensive and more technologically mature, such as solar power, wind power, and wave power. (Nuclear power is yet another alternative, but it is extremely capital intensive and politically difficult; in terms of seasteading, nuclear power makes OTEC technology look easy.) Basically all of the alternative power sources have one problem in common -- the power is intermittent. Solar power does not work a night, wind power does not work when the winds are calm, and wave power does not work when the seas are calm. The best solution to this problem is twofold: collect and store excess energy for times when power generation is not available, and use multiple energy scavenging technologies to smooth out the availability curve.

For now, the most mature technology for storing energy appears to be electrochemical batteries. While this is expensive, the alternatives (flywheels, ultracapacitors, creating hydrogen to power fuel cells) are still experimental. Batteries are one of the most expensive parts of an electrical system. Not only do they not store much energy per unit weight, but they can't be charged and recharged very many times:

"Batteries have always been an expensive and troublesome part of off-the-grid systems. Consider that a typical 6-volt storage battery has a gross capacity of 200 Amp-hours, equivalent to about 1 kWh of chemical energy, and costs nearly $100. Thus, batteries cost about $100/kWhr of gross capacity, not counting shipping costs. And shipping heavy batteries is costly. Moreover, not much more than 50 percent of the energy stored in a battery can be withdrawn without sulfating the plates and reducing its effectiveness. Batteries also have a limited lifetime. The Folkecenter for Renewable Energy estimates that batteries are good for about 2,000 cycles. (Batteries are still useable after 2,000 cycles, but they have reduced capacity.) If a battery discharges 50 percent of its gross capacity through 2,000 cycles, it will deliver about 1,000 kWh of net electrical energy over its operating lifetime. Thus battery storage alone costs more than $0.10 per net kWh of useable energy in an off-the-grid system." [Wind Energy Basics]

How much do we need?

{patri - reduce power needed, look for more numbers}

Here are some of the numbers we found for energy useage. Canadians use 70 MWHrs/capita/year (note that much of this is for transportation, industry, etc.). Vietnam and Indonesia use 3MWHrs/capita/year. Patri's house in Sunnyvale uses 5MWHrs/person/year (electricity + gas), and it is not particularly energy efficient. _Wind Energy Basics_ says that a household-size turbine generates 2 - 20 MWHrs/year. The average US energy consumption per household, in 1997, was $1,338 or about 13MWHrs/year [reference]. According to this Solar FAQ, the average household in claifornia uses 6.5MWHrs/year.

Energy useage for personal use on a seastead will probably be lower, due to fewer and more energy-efficient appliances. 3MWHrs/person/year seems reasonable for personal use. Transportation may be very energy intensive, so it will be addressed separately.

How much can we make?

Solar Power

There are a variety of different forms of solar power -- photovoltaic, solar heating, solar dynamic, etc. We will focus on photovoltaic power, as it is the most mature.

Photovoltaic (i.e. solar cells) technology was originally developed to supply power to satellites in outer space, a remote and hostile environment. Currently, photovoltaic power can make economic sense for remote areas that do not have a connection to the electric power grid (like seasteading.) There is now a large body of practical experience with photovoltaic power that can be applied to our seastead application. The reference we used was The New Solar Electric Home by Joel Davidson [Davidson1987]; there are many other appropriate alternative books on the subject. Like the self-sufficiency books above, each of the solar power books tends to have the same preface about how we are running out of energy. As usual, please discount the preface and first chapter and move onto the rest of the book, which is typically quite pragmatic.

Photovoltaics have a number of disadvantages:

Photovoltaic panels are expensive. They keep coming down in price, but they are still not cheap.
Even the most efficient photovoltaic cells have only recently started to achieve conversion efficiencies over 30% and these are horrendously expensive. The commercially available solar panels have conversion efficiencies in the 8-15% range. This relatively low energy conversion efficiency means you need more solar panels to achieve the desired level of power generation.
Battery Storage Required
Since the sun does not shine at night, there is no power coming in from the solar panels at night. To work around this problem, the it is necessary to collect additional energy during the day and store it for night time use. The most common energy storage method is to use a bank of bateries. The batteries are expensive and the extra energy collection increases costs as well.

Also, PV panels will take space and sun away from our greenhouses. Despite these disadvantages, they have a proven track record for remote power generation.

Wind Power

Like solar power, wind power is a fairly mature technology that has been around for quite a while. The references we used for wind power were Harnessing the Wind for Home Energy by Dermot McGuigan [McGuigan1978]; and Wind Power Basics by Karen Perez [link]. As with photovoltaics, there are numerous appropriate alternative books on the subject. Again, most of these books start out with a statement of the form `we are running out of energy' that should be discounted.

Wind power has two major advantage over photovoltaic generation. The first is 24-hour a day power extraction is possible. While there are times when the wind dies down, seasteads will likely spend much of their time in places where the "trade winds" blow continuously. Wind energy rises as the cube of wind velocity, so a steadier wind at the same average velocity provides significantly less energy than a variable wind. However, there are big benefits to consistent winds, such as reduced dependence on costly storeage systems. The second is that raised wind turbines have essentially zero footprint, and will not reduce top-deck area.

There is one additional disadvantage associated with wind power. As the wind blows through the wind mill, most of the extracted energy is being converted to electricity. However, some of the wind power is pushing against the wind mill and causing the seastead to be blown with the wind. Some experiments will need to be performed with wind power to figure out how severe the wind pushing problem is. If winds blow in the same direction as currents, however, then we will already be traveling in that direction. Also, pushing will reduce apparent wind velocity and the energy extracted (perhaps substantially, due to the cube law involved).

There is tons of data on wind speed available from the NOAA's NDBC data buoys. We can get data from there and estimate how much power is available.

Wave Power

The waves can be looked at as a concentrated form of wind power (which is in itself a modified form of solar power). It has the advantage of being fairly steady, as the ocean is rarely in a dead calm. There are literally hundreds of different ways of extracting energy from the waves. Many of these methods are coast-based or capital intensive, however there are a few which are probably suitable for a seastead. One example is the Russel Rectifier, pages 110-117 of Ocean Wave Energy Conversion by Michael McCormick [McCormick1981]. If you have had any experience with electronic circuitry, the Russell rectifier is the hydrolic equivalent to a two diode electronic rectification circuit. While there are other wave extraction technologies that are probably more efficient at extracting energy from the waves, the Russell rectifier looks like it will be quite inexpensive to construct since it consists of a couple of simple reservoirs, some piping, some one way valves and a low pressure water turbine.

The best system we've seen for DIY in deep ocean is the Isaac's Wave Pump. While there has been little experimentation done with the Isaac's pump, it is extremely scaleable, has a small footprint, and uses few parts. A large Isaac's pump (stats) can theoretically generate 400 MWhrs/year, which is far more than we need. If conventional techniques for $15K-20K/person, it might well be worth spending some time and money trying to develop the wave pump. We suspect that early steads will use conventional techniques and just try not to use much juice, and that developing alternative technologies such as the pump will be an important part of making larger structures feasile.

Power Conclusion

Solar panels generate approx 0.5 - 1 KW/m^2, with an average of 1,750 hours/year of full usable sunlight (not sure if this is true on the ocean). So about 1 - 2 MWhrs/m^2/yr. Wind turbines depend a great deal on wind velocity (because of the cube law), it looks like somewhere in the range of 0.25 - 1.5 MWhrs/m^2/yr. (this is assuming a 40% efficient turbine, inefficient ones are more like 15%-20%, so halve that to 0.125 - 0.75).

So to generate 3 MWHrs/person/year will take approx. 1.5-3 m^2/capita of PV or 2 - 8 m^2/capita of wind turbines.

The average PV system (including installation) costs about $10,000/kW, and a kW generates 1.75 MWHrs/year [Solar FAQ,]. So a PV-person will be about $17,000. [Wind cost numbers?]

What happens if you have a bunch of cloudy low wind days (i. e. reduced solar, wind and wave power?) Well, you either put up with the power failure (i.e. break out the candles) or you fire up your fossil fuel backup generator; these are the exact same options that most people face when their power grid power fails. An integrated system of photovoltaic, wind, and wave power with battery storage and ultimately a fossil fuel backup generator should provide a very high level of power availability to the seastead. Such an integrated system should still cost substantially less than an OTEC system and have the advanteage of maturity.


{Wayne = drag: square of velocity. Tugboat initially, take politics out}

Is the seastead a boat or an island?

If a seastead is an island, then is should be attached to the ocean floor to prevent it from moving around. Since the ocean floor is typically five miles from the ocean surface, attaching the seastead to the ocean floor is actually quite challenging. An other alternative is to have steerable propellers in a feedback look with GPS (Global Positioning System) that can push the the seastead to its desired location whenever it starts to drift off location.

Our preference is to treat the seastead as a boat. For one thing, this means that all of the international law that applies to boats can be applied to a seastead. In addition, this means that when some bad weather is headed for the seastead, the seastead can try to avoid the bad weather. In addition, when supplies are low, the seastead can find a port and resupply itself. In all cases, an ocean going seastead will find it useful to have some sort of sea worthy boat to go between the seastead and shore.

The seastead is not designed to travel at high speeds. Thus, a number of trolling motors thrown over the side and hooked up to the electrical system will probably be adequate for seastead movement. An alternative is to buy a tugboat, quite large used ones are actually relatively inexpensive.[Andrews refs on cost?]

Once the first few seasteads have been deployed, they can aggregate into small sea villages by simply rendezvousing at a agreed upon location and lashing all the seastead into one bigger sea village. Over time the sea communities will evolve from simply linear collections of seasteads, to grids and ultimately to sea cities. Whenever someone becomes annoyed with the current state of a seastead community, it is possible to just disconnect and take your seastead some place else.


{Wayne & Andy}

There is not much that we would like to say about shelter. The shelter can be as simple as a tent or as complicated as a multilevel house. For initial seastead prototypes, my suggestion is to simply get some sort of inexpensive RV (recreational vehical) trailer and simply park it on one end of the seastead. An RV trailer provides sleeping accomedations, a small kitchen, a small bathroom, a place hang out, etc Since most RV trailers already have separate grey and black water tanks, it sould be very easy to integrate the trailer into the fresh water management system.


{Explain that by the time we do it, it will be available, the tech is evolving}

The presence of internet on a seastead will certainly make a big difference in what sort of people it appeals to, and might be enough to make or break the project (since geeks tend to have money these days). While there are people who don't mind being isolated communications-wise, there is a growing population who don't consider themselves isolated if they are on the net. This also makes the economic situation easier because the seastead can export technical expertise via telecommunication, rather than needing to sustain its economy solely with physical products, resource extraction, and the investment income of its residents. Note that with a decent internet connection, voice-over-IP can be used to make telephone calls, thus solving another communications problem.

Satellite is the obvious way to have internet in the middle of the ocean. Some points:

  • We're not sure whether satellite dishes can work while moving, however it seems likely that for steady movements (ie seastead moving with the current) the dish could be mounted on a tracking system which would compensate. This should not be a major problem.
  • There are lots of satellite internet providers. The old-style ones, who started out selling phone service ,are prohibitively expensive for anything other than email, ie globalstar and inmarsat are $1 - $1.50 / min for a 5-10Kbps connection(!).
  • The new internet-oriented services are more reasonably priced, but many of them are intended for land-based use, mostly in the continental US.
    • Starband (which covers the eastern half of the pacific, as well as the caribbean) is ~$70/mo for 150-500Kbps (I think the uplink is much slower). Their customer service claims they "cannot be configured to work outside the 50 US states", but this is probably not true.
    • DirecPC is $50-$100/mo for 400Kbps (may not have 2-way communication, though).
    • DirecWay is $100/mo for 128/400, or $500/mo for ~20 users each getting 128/400.
    • Tachyon service is $600 - $2000/mo for 128/800 (2GB/mo) (up/down) to 256/2000 (10GB/month). While they are only renting two satellite transponders right now, they plan to slowly and steadily increase their coverage.
  • Techniques such as web proxies with a document cache on the seastead can reduce the bandwidth used.
  • When the cost is split among the many residents of the seastead, a high-quality service such as Tachyon would still be affordable.
  • While none of these providers explicitly support marine applications, given how much cheaper they are it will probably be worthwhile for a seastead to put significant effort into customizing them if necessary.
  • This is a rapidly improving technology, so by the time seasteads are built it is likely to be cheaper and more easily available. For example, 36Mhz transponder equivalent use for internet traffic increased by an order of magnitude from 1/98 to 4/01(!). Teledesic, a company, partly funded by Bill Gates, aims to provide a global, broadband, satellite internet service starting in 2005. They currently have launch and construction contracts for their first satellites and a frequency allocation from the FCC. They will use a network of non-geosynch satellites, which will greatly reduce lag time (a traditional downside to satellite communications).
  • Coaststeads and steads in the carribbean will have the easiest time of it, since they will be in range of the land-oriented satellite services, (ie DirecWay coverage map).


{Patri - move to ocean conditions/politics}

One issue with the Seastead is where it will live. It needs to keep out of other nations territory, which means at least 12 miles, possibly 200 depending on what sort of resource exploitation is being done. Yet currents and winds in the ocean are both steady and strong, and thus will continually move a seastead. Due to this, it may not be possible to be in deep water and keep roughly put. Anchors may work, but chains must be extremely long and will be heavy and expensive. Seamounts (very shallow areas in the ocean) could perhaps be used as anchoring spots, but this may create conflicts with nearby traditional governments (ie the Minerva incident). The amount of energy required to keep a seastead in one area via engines will probably be prohibitive.

Thus it seems as though two strategies should be used, depending on where the seastead is. For coaststeads (which may be for testing/safety purposes or for economic interaction with a nation) the simple standby of an anchor should suit. (more info on chain length, materials, anchor building, etc.) This is standard technology, ?not too expensive?. Depth 15m from coast?

For seasteads that are far from shore, observe that winds and ocean currents are conveniently circular, as in this map:

Thus it should be possible to ride them in a continuous circle without using much power. Perhaps one could even ride the currents in a yearly cycle, spending summer far from the equator and winter close to the equator for heat reasons, or whatever is necessary to avoid tropical storm season. Power would be used to make sure one turned each corner without getting too close to land, to make sure one took the correct path at the various "forks", and to correct for major storms. Perhaps only the latter would be necessary.

Given the variability of renewable energy sources, the costs of energy storage, and the fact that exact position is unimportant (only general location), note that we can maintain position through adjustments made with excess energy. Location can act as a huge buffer, sort of free energy storage.

Moving radially from the wind/current circles should be an easy way to affect the period of our travel.

Avoiding hurricanes will be very energy-intensive (they move slowly but cover lots of area). It is unclear whether it will be necessary or desirable. If hurricanes cannot always be avoided, the structure must be able to withstand them. If the structure can withstand them, why dodge? It will likely come down to a tradeoff between the unpleasantness, wear-n-tear, and chance of a catastrophy vs. the energy required.

Making It Happen



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Posts: 11015


This next section contains our opinions about the current state of affairs with regards to seasteading. Obviously, some people may not agree; they are welcome to write and publish their own paper outlining why they we are wrong.

The Expensive Way

Given enough money and will it is possible to build just about any kind of structure in the middle of the ocean that you can think about. Unfortunately, the tough part ise coming up with enough capital to make it happen. Let us examine the state of the Atlantis, Millennium, and New Utopia projects.

There has been very little visible progress with the Atlantis project for quite a while. It is quite likely that the Atlantis project is totally defunct.

The Aquarius portion of the New Millennium project seems to have gone through a number of phases:

Phase 1 (Enthusiasm):
Initial enthusiasm and excitement
Phase 2 (Replan):
Several replans to reduce project costs
Phase 3 (Bummer):
The growing realization that even the rescaled plans are still too expensive
Phase 4 (Slow Death):
Growing disenchantment with the whole project and a slow exodus of people working on the project. (This last part is still a bit speculative.)

The New Utopia project is probably roughly in phase 1. I predict that the New Utopia project will soon enter the redesign phase when when the desired levels of investment fail to materialize. (Remember, this is my prediction; other people are free to disagree!) I suspect that New Utopia will follow roughly the same path that the New Millennium project has.

Basically, the amount of capital (billions) required to build either Avalon or New Utopia is simply too high to be realistically raised. It is awfully hard to make a business case for a large artificial island that has no real intrinsic economic value. We wish to reduce the required capital by several orders of magnitude

{Point out why its so harmful to the movement to invest in unrealistic projects, because there is a limited pool of money.}Bootstrapping Seasteading: The Incremental Approach

Large things tend to grow organically, rather than being monolithically designed and built. We believe that focusing on grand results has two detrimental effects on a project: it distracts people with fantasy and it intimidates them from doing real work. By dividing our vision into workeable chunks, each of which builds on the last, it has a much better chance of becoming reality. By keeping the initial costs low, it is possible to build the initial versions and show potential investors what they are getting into at each step of the way. We see the succession of prototypes as something like:

This is little more than a small model than can be effectively floated in a bathtub or an aquarium. It is useful to provide people a visual model of what is being attempted. The total area of flotation is about 100 cm2.
This a 1-2 m2 platform that is floated in a pool. It demonstrates basic stability and flotation principles.
This is a 10-20 m2 platform that is floated in a sheltered area. It demonstrates limited mobility, some level of food/water/energy self sufficiency, as well as stability and flotation.
This is 100 m2 platform that can be towed out to the coastal regions of the ocean (international waters). In the event of a real bad ocean storm, the owners may elect to have the device towed back into sheltered waters.
This is the final version with hundreds of square meters of living area that is intended to live out in the deep ocean.

Each prototype will be larger, more expensive, able to deal with larger waves, and be more self-sufficient.

{Patri - take out volunteer section. New explanation: a group of interested people will come up with the money, hire real engineers

We figure that Baystead could be built by a relatively small dedicated team of volunteers for between $10,000 and $100,000. While it would not be suitable for the high seas it could survive indefinitely in a large harbor (e.g. San Francisco Bay or the Puget Sound) or lake (e.g. Lake Michigan.)

If we had to select an initial site for a prototype seastead, we would probably select either the San Francisco Bay Area or the Puget Sound. Why? The computer industry has generated a simply astonishing number of individual multi-millionaires in the San Francisco Bay and Seattle areas. The future phases of seastead development could definitely benefit from the positive attention of a few millionaires. By locating the initial seastead prototype in one of these two areas, it is far more likely that one of these multi-millionaires will become interested in the seasteading project. Also two of the papers authors, Wayne and Patri, live in the SF Bay Area.

For the sake of argument, let us hypothesize that a team of 20 people from around the United States decide to get interested in a seastead prototype. These 20 people commit $500 towards the project. Most people spend well over $500 a year on their personal hobbies (e.g. RC planes, model trains, etc.) This gives the project a $10,000 budget to play with. Since $10,000 is not much money, it will have to be spent very carefully.

The next step is to identify a staging area. A staging area has some property at which materials can temporarily be stored. It has a pier that goes out into a body of water of sufficient depth that the prototype seastead will not run aground. Furthermore, the staging area needs to be able to park the seastead for years at time as it undergoes development. With a budget of $10,000, an outright purchase of the staging area seems unlikely. Some sort of deal will be required.

In parallel with the staging area, a number of small experiments can be performed. A lot of additional research can take place -- how does a septic tank work?, how much area is required to be self sufficient in fruits and vegetables?, etc. One person can be a librarian who collects books and articles that are relevant to the project.

After all of the initial experiments and research have been completed and the staging area has been selected it is possible for the team to design the first baystead. A complete budget is assembled to figure out what everything is going to cost, staging area costs, materials, any special labor costs, and special tools, etc. Now them moment of truth has arrived. Is there enough money in the budget? If it is close, perhaps the team members can kick in some additional funds. If it is way off, it may be necessary to scale back the baystead plans some and try again. Eventually a coherent prototype design and a realistic budget comes out of this process.

Now comes a lot of rewarding hard work, where everybody synchronizes their vacations to arrive at the staging area to build the seastead. As with any prototype effort, problems crop up and are solved on the spot. Eventually, after a week or two, the first baystead is sitting there in the water, and it is ready for the first person to sleep on it over night.

Now comes a period of a year or two where people come out to the baystead and tend the garden, add features, fix problems that develop, etc. In addition, now that there is a stead to actually look at, some public relations can be done. Publish a few papers about the entire project. Invite the local newspapers to come on out for a tour. Indeed, invite the general public to come on out for one weekend a month. Charge an admission fee to recoup some of the expenses. Use the general public tours and public relations efforts to recruit more people to the cause. If you are lucky some multi-millionaire will get really interested in the project; if not, well at least you tried.

After the first baystead has been built and tested for a couple of years, it is time to take all of that experience and design coaststead, which will probably cost about ten times what baystead cost. Hopefully baystead has generated enough interest in the public that it will be possible to raise ten times the money. This process of building larger prototype seasteads continues until somebody comes along and says `I think it makes good business sense to form a company that builds seasteads and sell them.', or a group of people forms who wish to live on a seastead and have enough money to fund its construction. At this point, the technology has become mainstream, and will take off from there.

Business Plans

{Wayne - There is a market. Residensea, Club Med, general interest}

In our wildest fantasies, we dream of some extremely rich person coming along, reading this paper, saying "Neat", calling us up and saying "Let's make it happen, I'll foot the bill." In reality, seasteads are much more likely to happen if somebody can figure out how to make a buck with them. This section outlines some business possibilities that involve seasteads.



Seastead Construction Corp.

With this buisness model, we hypothesise that there are enough groups of people that want at seastead for whatever reason, that it makes sense to form a corporation that specializes in building seasteads to order These groups can be partitioned into political groups (e.g. libertarians, socialists, communists, etc.), religious groups (e.g. fundamentalist Christians, Muslims, etc.) , and single issue groups (e.g. drugs, nudists, gun enthusiasts, environmentalists, etc.) While sometimes these groups can legally form their own land based communities, they may prefer to do so in a more isloated environment like a seastead to avoid hassles with local authorities. Some of these groups will have no legal land based option available to them, so something like a seastead will be their only option.

Luxury Resort

The luxury resort business is thriving. While many resorts try to leverage some local community or artifact, there are others that merely exist to provide a complete experience unto themselves. For example, many people go to Club Med® and cruise ships with no real intention of ever leaving the facilities. A luxury seastead resort could be tailored to meet the needs of people like Note that a luxury resort seastead would have to compete with the existing luxury resorts. Thus, issues of how to get to and from the seastead, providing amenities, etc., all have to be worked through. A seastead can offer some experiences that may not be possible at other Luxury Resorts.

Ocean Science Platform

In order to study the ocean, ocean scientists need to get on a boat and go out to sea. Some scientists would like to have a platform that stays on station from which they could do their research. Under this scenerio, the seastead would be towed to an interesting location and the research would take place as a dedicated community. The benifit of having the scientists always on station might overweigh the additional costs of operating a seastead.

Environmental Demonstrator

The kinds of seasteads described in this paper will be quite self-sufficient once they are built. As such they will appeal to members of the environmental movement as an example of how to build communities that live within their environmental means as opposed to the resource wasteful communities of today. In addition, the environmentalists have successfully managed to raise large amounts of money to support their cause. Perhaps several of these organizations could get together to fund an environmental demonstrator seastead.

World Library

Most of the countries in the world have signed onto the Berne Copyright Convention. A seastead in the middle of the ocean is not bound by any copyright laws. Thus, it would be legal to obtain and digitize a vast library of material, that national and university libraries can not amase simply because of copyright restrictions. While it would not be possible to export this material back out to the Internet, one could imagine researchers choosing to come to the world library seastead simply because they could do their research in a fraction of the time required to do it using conventional libraries.

Patent Free Zone

Patent laws vary from country to country. There is a push to unify these various patent laws across all of the industrialized nations. A seastead in the middle of the ocean would be exempt from all patents. Thus, to save money, somebody could choose to implement some portion of a patented process on a seastead. While nations could choose to impose tariff on products imported from a seastead, not all countries would do so.

A risk with such a venture is that a corporation who is being infringed upon, might encourage their friendly local nataional navy to board the seastead and shut it down.

Off Shore Banking

A seastead that specializes in off-shore banking will not have to worry about any pesky banking laws. They also might not have any other bank that would be have transactions with it.

The Choice Is Yours

Let us compare this strategy with the strategies being employed by the Atlantis, Millennium, and New Utopia projects. All three of these projects require significant up front investment from investors. Which strategy do you think has a greater chance of happening? A bootstrapping process from small prototype seasteads or going straight to the ultimate city on an artificial island that skips all the intermediate steps? Our opinion is that the bootstrapping process is far more likely to succeed.

[what now / how can I help?]{Wayne}

Mailing List for discussion. List of people interested in living there & willing to pay (timeshares also) - customers. List of investors (small vs. large)

Summary {Wayne}

6. References



The Atlantis Project by Eric Klien. URL:
In episode 1207 of Scientific American Frontiers, Ballard spends a couple of minutes discussing the idea.
Willard Bascom. Waves and Beaches 1964 (1st edition) 1980 (2nd edition). Anchor Press/Doubleday, Garden City, New York.
The Bikini Island Atoll.
Personal correspondance with Rich Clark, Berkeley California.
URL: h ttp://
Freedom Ship. URL:
Seasteading -- Homesteading the High Seas by Wayne C. Gramlich. Web Site:
Oil and Water by David Helvarg in Poplular Science Augest 2001 (Vol. 259 No. 2) pp 44-50.
Voyaging on a Small Income by Annie Hill, published in 1993 by Tiller Publishing (URL: ISBN: 0-9610396-5-5.
The Island Foundation: an organization dedicated to the creation of a culture based on Aldous Huxley's last novel, called Island. URL:
Hurricane Iniki. URL:
[Intentional Communities]
Intentional Communities. URL:
Eric Lee Seament URL:
Blueprint For Paradise: How to Live on a Tropic Island by Russ Norgrove, published by McGraw-Hill in May 1983. ASIN: 0877421544.
From Founding your own nation, ... {better reference needed}
Living Aboard by Jan and Bill Moeller, published in 1977 by International Marine Publishing Company, Camden Maine 04843. ISBN: 0-87742-079-3.
Recycling, Homesteading Style in Mother Earth News, Dec/Jan 2001, page 62. The original article was published in the Summer 2000 issue of The Amicus Journal published by the National Resources Defense Council.
Sailing the Farm: A Survival Guide to Homesteading on the Ocean by Ken Neumeyer, published in 1982 by Ten Spped Press. (URL: Ten Speed Press.) ISBN: 0898150515.
The Principality of New Utopia. URL:
The Solar Boat Book by Pat Rand Rose, published in 1979 by Ten Speed Press (URL: ISBN: 0898150868.
Marshall T. Savage: 1992. The Millennial Project: Colonizing the Galaxy in Eight Easy Steps (Denver: Empyrean Pub.) ISBN: 0-316-77163-5. LCCCN:94-15965
The Millennial Project by Marshall Savage. Living Universe Foundation URL:
The Principality of Sealand. URL:
Personal communication between Wayne Gramlich and F. Marc De Piolenc.
How to Start Your Own Country by Erwin S. Strauss published by Breakout Productions Inc., Port Townshend, WA.(1st. ed. 1979, 2nd. ed. 1984) ISBN: 1-893626-15-6.
Plastic Island Paradise published by The Sun. URL:,,5-2002410050,00.html.

Last Frontiers of Earth
Unclear what the concept is here.
The raft's major goal is to create a port in International Teritority as a transient ocean community. The idea is mostly inspired by the book Snow Crash by Neil Stephenson.
Floating Cities mail archive
Pnematically stablized floating structures
Sausalito floating homes site
Warning against New Utopia
Dani's Dead Sea island proposal.
Business atop SeaLand.
Hyrdroponics supplier
Living Universe Foundation.
Wave forcasting
Underwater ROV's"
A big ocean seastead. Pretty pictures.
Offshore oil projects mostly
Episode 1207 of Scientific American Frontiers has Ballard spend a couple of minutes explaining his modest seastead concept.
The `snake' style of wave energy generator.
Wolf Hilbertz and sea-cretion

7. Acknowledgements

{Acknowledgements go here.}

Copyright (c) 2002 by Wayne C. Gramlich, Patri Friedman, and Andrew Houser. All rights reserved.

{Dead stuff, just in case we want to revive it.}

The largest issue facing prospective attempts at autonomy is that terrestrial governments are notoriously reluctant to sell sovereignty. For example, Laissez-Faire City [link to history of LFC - its down right now because LFC is defunct] accumulated a seven-digit trust to purchase a small amount of land for a libertarian enclave. They announced their desires to the world and met with resounding silence. After finding no suitable offers, they had to shift their strategy to online products. One might think that one of the numerous nations of the world could be induced to cooperate, but it turns out to be very difficult with the resources available to most individuals.

In the past, pioneers and malcontents would head to the frontiers, of which few now exist. The oceans, which make up 71% of the earth's surface, have always been a place for those seeking new ways of life. They are the last great unclaimed region. Ships are not well suited for permanent living, but by creating new land on the oceans we can achieve both freedom and a reasonable degree of comfort. This approach to seasteading avoids the difficulties of terrestrial sovereignty by operating in international waters.

Freedom of movement and self-sufficiency are both intimately connected with political freedom. Fixed locations such as seamounts, islands, and atolls are much more vulnerable to the whims of nearby governments [minerva link], but a mobile seastead can always move. Ships are already firmly established as a political category, and one which is allowed a great deal of freedom. Since a seastead does not try to stake out territory, governments will be less worried about it as competition for their citizens. While a seastead is likely to import many goods, being able to supply its own basic necessities will add greatly to its independence.

{Wayne=>Patri: We really need to be more honest here. There is international law and it cut its teeth figuring out maritime law. My understanding is that every ship on the ocean needs to be registered with a country. By registering with that country, the laws of the country are in effect on the ship. If you do not register, you are at the whim of who ever wants to board you and can not go to an internationl maritime court for redress. Many countries will let your register in their country for a nominal fee. (This is a so-called `flag of convenience'.) These countries have little interest about what you do on the high seas. However, legally, the laws of the country are in effect on the ship. We can not wish away international law, just like we can not wish away countries claiming sovergnty over every chunk of territory on the planet.

There have been several proposals to build platforms on seamounts, which are places where the ocean is very shallow. Perhaps the most noteable of these is the Principality of New Utopia [NewUtopia], which got press a few years ago when the SEC busted them for selling unlicensed securities. Reports from former project participants are also not encouraging [Sawyer]. One of the problems with seamounts is that they are vulnerable to claim by land-based jurisdictions, as happened with the Minerva Reef.


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