No skipper likes to think about the possibility of having to abandon ship.
But if it happens, the best way to increase your chances for rescue and survival is to have a well-stocked ditch bag.
Whether coastal cruising, distance racing, or sailing offshore, you may find yourself in harm’s way and be forced to abandon ship.
“When that happens, there’s rarely time to collect anything at all—let alone a lifesaving kit of survival equipment,” says boating safety expert Captain Henry E. Marx, President of Landfall.
While most life rafts are equipped with some basic survival tools, never assume that yours has everything you’ll need. Due to space and weight limitations, life rafts typically have only minimal gear—and you can’t unpack them to check or add more.
For this reason, you need a ditch bag to store safety electronics and survival gear needed for immediate abandon ship situations. “When you only have a few seconds to get in the water or a life raft, this grab-and-go bag—and its contents—become your lifeline,” Marx adds.
So what should be in your ditch bag? Realistically, that answer is variable depending on your destination, here are the essentials every “grabbag” needs:
The Requirements for Coastal, In-shore, and Nearshore emergencies include:
One Abandon Ship Dri Bag.
The ditch bag itself should have flexible foam sewn into the sides, top, and bottom to provide both flotation and padding.
The bag should also be waterproof to keep its contents completely dry be and large enough to hold everything you plan to include.
The best colors for ditch bags are yellow or international orange or red and you can improve nighttime visibility of your bag by attaching reflector slips. Important:Store your ditch bag in a handy place—below deck, but near the companionway—and make sure everyone else on board knows where it is.
One ACR GlobalFIX V4 EPIRB.
An Emergency Position-Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB) enables you to tap in to the same field-tested rescue technology used by the U.S. Military, Coast Guard, NATO, Special Forces and Arctic explorers.
Small but rugged and reliable, the signaling technology on this device has saved more than 26,800 lives since 1982. The GlobalFix™ PRO broadcasts a unique registered distress signal that not only tells rescuers where you are, but who you are. The internal GPS will automatically turn on and acquire your position upon activation and then utilizes a powerful 406 MHz signal to relay your distress call to orbiting satellites. As local Search and Rescue is deployed, a separate homing signal and integrated LED strobe light guide rescuers to your exact location.
Three Red Parachute Flares SOLAS Grade Flares:
The most powerful distress flare available, these are impossible to miss at their peak altitude of 1,000 feet. The intense red brilliance achieves 30,000 candela and a burn time of 40 seconds, to alert others of a distress situation—day or night.
One Standard Horizon HX870 DSC VHF Radio plus 5 Replacement AA batteries:
Features on this handheld VHF Radio include 6 Watts of Transmit power, a built in 66 Channel WAAS GPS receiver with DSC Calling, an E2O (Easy to Operate) Menu, an oversized 2.3” display, storage for 200 waypoints and 20 routes, a water-activated emergency strobe light, and the ability to navigate to a DSC Distress Call with its Compass Page. Comes with a plastic “battery case” for AA batteries, thus enabling you to use it in a life raft (no charging station required) to communicate with incoming Aircraft.
One ACR Hot Shot Signaling Mirror:
Buoyant with a patented whistle for audible alerting in low-visibility conditions, this device is designed to provide optimum sighting "spot" with its holographic red dot viewing window. Its telescope-quality second surface reflective mirror is bright and provides a focused image.
One Sea Dye Marker:
This marker contains a fluorescent green dye, which spreads over the surface of the water so as to increase one’s visibility for a pilot to see. The bright green pattern on the water can be seen for a mile or more and lasts for 30 to 40 minutes. A field test study conducted by Powerboat Reports that tested flares, streamers, mirrors, and smoke flares found that the Sea Dye marker was the most effective tool for sea rescue.
One Sirius SOS Signal Locator Light:
This buoyant device flashes S.O.S Morse Code when ON. Its LED light will remain at peak performance for six hours and will remain illuminated for up to 60 hours on one set of fully-charged batteries—making it ideally suited as a night-time homing beacon for rescue vessels.
Six Emergency Space Blankets:
Think of this product as a three-ounce life insurance policy. Waterproof (84" x 56") blankets are virtually indestructible and a necessity for cold nights and treatment of hypothermia. Make sure you get ones made from the finest polyester material and purest vacuum deposited aluminum for the reflective surface, and pack at least one per person onboard.
Two Pelican Pocket SabreLite Flashlights (with 4 spare batteries):
The Pelican Pocket SabreLite 2C is made of unbreakable ABS body with a polycarbonate lens and thermoplastic rubber shroud. Features include a pre-focused Xenon laser spot lamp module, belt/shirt clip, and lanyard. It’s compact, waterproof (up to 500 feet), and fits comfortably into your hand or clips easily onto clothing. Two C-cell Alkaline batteries are included, but be sure to purchase and pack four spares.
Thirty Emergency Water packets:
These 4.227 oz. (125 ml.) individual pouches exceed military specs (MIL-B-131F) and are portioned to ration fresh drinking water servings to two per person per day. Each lot is lab-tested for sterility before packaging, and is individually marked with the month and year of manufacture. Unaffected by heat, cold, or shock, they have a minimum shelf life of five years. Approved by U.S.C.G., Canadian Coast Guard and the British Board of Trade.
One Life Raft First Aid Kit:
Weighing just one pound and designed for life rafts, this kit follows U.S. Coast Guard specs with a 14 unit packages individually heat-sealed and double-packed in a water-tight, zip-lock package for reclosure. These zip-lock bags have been tested by the Underwriters laboratory for weathering and water tightness under adverse salt water conditions.
One Marine Medicine Book: Take your pick of these four:
Advanced First Aid Afloat (5th Edition)By Peter F. Eastman, M.D.
This book addresses virtually every accident or ailment that might occur when professional medical care is unavailable. The writing is clear and in layman's terms, with step-by-step instructions that allay panic and calmly take the reader from diagnosis through treatment.
First Aid at Sea (4th Edition)by Douglas Justins and Colin Berry.
This recently revised edition is ring bound and color tabbed for quick reference. Full-color illustrations with concise text cover all major emergencies you're likely to encounter at sea—bleeding and shock, breathing difficulties, hypothermia, burns and fractures, head injuries, resuscitation, and emergency procedures. Both authors are doctors and experienced sailors.
International Medical Guide for Ships (3rd Edition)by the World Health Organization with illustrations by S. Smyth.
Provides complete information and advice for non-medical seafarers faced with injury or disease on board ship. This third edition shows designated first-aid providers how to diagnose, treat, and prevent the health problems of seafarers on board ship.
A Comprehensive Guide to Marine Medicine(2nd Edition) by Eric A. Weiss, M.D. and Michael Jacobs, M.D.
More than 300 pages of text cover topics including hazardous marine life, submersion injury and dive medicine, rescue and evacuation of sick and injured, wound cleaning and closing, and much more. More than 106 illustrations, improvisational techniques and "when to worry" tips help you give pointers on medical care and guidance on when to seek professional medical help.
In addition to all of the above items, here are few extras you’ll need for Offshore and Distance Racing:
One Garmin 72H GPS:
This lightweight, waterproof handheld not only floats, but acquires satellite signals quickly and tracks your location in challenging conditions.
One Katadyn 06 Water Maker: At 2.5 pounds, this is the smallest hand-operated emergency desalinator (water maker) in the world. While extraordinarily compact in size (weighs less than 3 pounds), it has the capacity to make an ounce of drinking water in less than two minutes using a hand pump. Recommended for four- to twelve-person life rafts.
Landfall Knows that every ditch bag is different which is why they offer you the ability to customize yourAbandon Ship Bag, but purchasing a commercially available abandon ship bag will not only save you time and money, it ensures that your bag has everything you need.
Landfall offers ready-made ditch bags for all your yachting needs. When you purchase one of their Abandon Ship Bag Kits at savings of 20 percent or more. Visit www.landfallnav.com/abandonship.html for details and prices.
Information provided by Captain Henry Marx, President of Landfall, which offers a comprehensive curriculum of classroom courses for recreational and professional mariners on topics of boating and seamanship. You can direct any question concerning ditch bags to Marx by calling 203-554-3981 or sending an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org