Making your ditch bag list
When putting together an abandon ship bag, ask yourself, “Besides my life jacket, what would I need to survive in the water?” If you plan for the worst and assume you could be in the water for an extended period in the blazing heat, freezing cold, at night, in poor visibility, or in a storm, you quickly begin to understand what essential items to put on your ditch bag list.
Ditch bag basics
- The ditch bag should be watertight and be able to float with all your gear inside it. Your emergency ditch bag won’t do you any good if you can’t reach it in a hurry, so keep it nearby at all times, and don’t leave port without it. It might be a good idea to put your ditch bag on a tether.
- An EPIRB or a personal locator beacon to transmit your location and send a distress signal to the authorities. PLB devices are reasonably priced and readily available, so make sure the device is registered and functional (batteries charged). It will communicate your exact position via the radio (using precise latitude and longitude coordinates) and alert passersby to your plight via the flashing strobe.
- A handheld VHF radio (waterproof or in a sealed pouch, with extra batteries). Some newer models offer built-in GPS as well as the ability to float. Try to get a unit with a high-power feature for extended range in an emergency.
- Signaling devices. Your immediate objective is to get out of the water as quickly as possible. To do this, you must get the attention of a rescuer. To be visible in the water, you’ll need a selection of flares (parachute and handheld), a strobe light (may be attached to inflatable PFD or on PLB), flashlight (waterproof and floatable with extra batteries in a sealed pouch), whistle (may be attached to inflatable PFD), and signal mirror. You should have these items on board anyway, so store them in the ditch bag.
- Food and water. Individually sealed emergency water packets (as much as you have room for) and emergency food rations (commercially available, sealed high-calorie energy bars). It’s important to have energy and to be alert while in the water.
- Rope can keep the crew together should a lifeboat not be available.
- Hats and sunscreen provide sun protection and help retain body heat.
If you are far offshore and expect to be in a life raft, your ditch bag list will be significantly more extensive.
Once you have assembled a ditch bag, check it at the beginning of every season and before a long trip. Look for expired flares and torn food packets. Replace batteries and thoroughly check all items for corrosion or functionality. –Greg Allen