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Preparing a Ditch Bag

A well-prepared boat should have a bag full of the necessities for survival—though we all hope we’ll never need it. If the time comes to abandon ship, a ditch bag is the first thing you’ll grab before stepping into a life raft.

As you begin to assemble your own ditch bag, the following categories and suggestions should help you think through the contents. Keep in mind that your needs may vary depending on where you’re cruising and distance from shore you plan to travel.


Contents:


The Bag Itself

Your ditch bag should float and be waterproof in case it doesn’t make it into the dingy. It would be wise to choose a bright color and add reflective tape or an emergency light so it is visible in the dark. It is also helpful if the bag has some straps that can be used to attach additional items.

Some folks use a bag specifically designed for this purpose. These may come as a package with an EPIRB in a survival kit. Alternatively, you could use a basic waterproof drybag. Just be sure to leave some air at the top so it will float!

Communications

Your ditch bag should be stocked with items needed to signal for help and communicate with those who will come to assist you. Carrying an EPIRB or Personal Location Beacon with you into the liferaft could help rescuers find you more quickly. You’ll also want to be prepared to signal anyone who comes into range with visual signals or a handheld VHF.

  • Flares
    Recreational Boats over 16 feet that operate in U.S. coastal waters are required to carry at least 3 pyrotechnic flares for day and 3 for night use (red handheld flares count for both day and night). The USGC has approved electronic flares as an alternative to traditional handheld ones. Unlike traditional flares, these don’t expire but rely on batteries. Make sure you have flares that are best suited for your boat and cruising location and store them with your ditch bag so they can be used to signal your rescuers.

  • Emergency Light
    A long-lasting emergency light should be included or attached to the ditch bag. It could be placed on the outside of your raft to increase your visibility overnight.

  • Handheld VHF
    A reliable handheld VHF radio is handy when navigating through heavy traffic or bridges and invaluable in an emergency—especially one that has built in GPS and an emergency DSC button. See our review of Handheld VHF radios and be sure to grab yours along with the ditch bag.

  • Personal Locator Beacon (PLB)
    Consider adding a PLB to your ditch bag if you don’t already have one for each crew member.They serve as a good back-up for an EPIRB. If you have PLBs attached to your PFDs you should have them with you when you move into the life raft. Set off only one at a time, to preserve battery.

  • Solar Charger, Batteries and Cables
    You should have a way to power any devices that you depend on for emergency communication.

  • Waterproof Whistle This is an essential tool to help rescuers locate you. One sould be attached to your pfd, but it doesn’t hurt to have an extra in the ditch bag.

  • Signal Mirror This visual signal requires no batteries or ignition and takes up so little space, it’s a great idea to have one.

Food and Water

It may take some time for rescuers to reach you, so you should stock your ditch bag with some means of feeding and keeping your crew hydrated. Consider the number of crew you usually have aboard and the distance from shore you expect to sail to settle on an appropriate amount of emergency rations.

  • Emergency Food and Water
    Emergency food and water rations are compact and have a long shelf life. You may also want to keep some spare jugs of water with the ditch bag if you have space to store them together and definitely plan to grab as much water as possible on your way to the life raft. You could also pack energy bars or well-sealed bags of nuts and dried fruit, though be sure to keep an eye on expiration for all food items.

  • Water Collection Devices
    Empty containers and some sheets of plastic can help you collect rain or condensation in a pinch.

  • Fishing Kit
    will help you supplement your food and pass the time.

Shelter

While awaiting rescuers, you will also need protection from the elements. Assuming each person has weather appropriate clothing and a PFD (Personal Floatation Device), here are a few other weather related items to consider adding to your ditch bag.

  • Drogue Anchor
    This may already be included with your life raft, but if not, having one can help stabilize your raft and slow your drift away from the location where you initially called for help.

  • Survival Blankets
    A thermal emergency blanket can protect from sun and insulate from cold. A heavy duty one could serve as a roof-like cover over your raft if you don’t have one. Smaller ones are compact and easy to tuck into you pack.

  • Sun Protection
    You should consider both sunscreen and protective clothing. It might be worth packing a couple of hats or light sunshirts in the bag if you have space.

  • Flashlight or Glow Stick
    To manage on a dark night, you’ll want some glow sticks or a crank/solar powered flashlight that doesn’t require additional batteries.

  • Sponge or Bailer
    Keep sea water out of your raft so you and your crew stay warm and dry.

First Aid

Store your emergency first aid kit in or with your ditch bag so you are sure to have it if you need to abandon ship. Unfortunately, the kinds of events that might prompt you to grab the ditch bag also have a high chance of injuries such as breaks, burns, or lacerations, so equip your first aid kit accordingly.

  • Seasickness Medications
    The conditions in a liferaft are very likely to induce seasickness, so many recommend taking seasickness medication immediately after getting into the life raft in order to reduce the risk of dehydration and other complications that might follow seasickness.

  • Prescription Medications
    Be sure your first aid kit includes a few days supply of any prescription medications required by you or your crew and change them out regularly to avoid expiration.

  • Bandages, Wraps, and a Moldable Splint
    Can be used to temporarily wrap and support injuries while awaiting assistance. Bandages and Blood Clotting products should be used to stop bleeding.

  • Burn Gel and Antibacterial Ointments
    Preventing infection of any wounds should be a priority.

  • Basic Medications
    At a minimim, it is wise to include something to address pain, allergies, and digestive upset in any first aid kit.

Supplies

Most of these don’t require explanation, but you wouldn’t want to forget them as a vital part of your ditch bag.

  • Copies of Important Documents and Cash
    Once you reach shore things will go more smoothly if you have copies of your passports, boat documentation, insurance as well as some cash and/or a credit card. Store these in a waterproof bag in your ditch bag.

  • Notebook and Pencil
    You may want to record a log, calculate your drift from last known location or pass the time by writing.

    • **Multitool ** At a minimum it should include a can opener, scissors, and knife.
  • Extra Line of Various Sizes

  • Duct Tape

  • Repair Kit for the Liferaft

  • Ziplock Baggies

  • Compass and Chart or Handheld GPS

  • Pet Water Bowl

  • List of Additional Things to Grab

Preparing to Abandon Ship

Your ditch bag should be stored somewhere accessible. Not in the bottom of the storage under the aft berth, but some place you can access it at a moment’s notice from the cockpit as you prepare to abandon ship. Everyone on board should know where it is stored.

The first thing you should grab in addition to the ditch bag is boat’s EPIRB. Consider keeping an additional water jug or an empty bag attached to the ditch bag itself. If there is time before you absolutely need to abandon ship grab extra canned food, water, and clothing as well as cellphones, satellite phone, or anything else on your list.


Do you think we got it wrong or are missing something? Let us know!
Curators
Avatar of Dustyn Keepers Dustyn Keepers
References
boatingsafetymag.com
Building a Ditch Bag
theboatgalley.com
The Ditch Bag

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