As the old saying goes, it is always better to be safe than sorry. While applicable to many areas in life, the quote also applies to boating ventures. While boats rarely sink these days, you could find yourself in an unfortunate situation where a ditch bag— aka an abandoned ship bag— could come in handy. So ask yourself the question, am I as safe as I could be? If the answer is no, continue reading for ditch bag ideas and necessities for boaters.
Ditch bags should contain essential items that you will need for survival should the unthinkable happen while out on your boat. Keeping your ditch bag in an easily accessible location is also crucial for immediate removal should you need it. Also, be sure everyone on board knows where it is in case of an emergency; and you are incapable of retrieving it. First things first, make sure your bag is floatable. Since the worst-case scenario is your boat sinking, you will want the bag to float in the event it lands in the water before making it onto a raft. Look for a bag with buoyancy panels sewn in. For even more security, a water resistance ditch bag is also a great idea to have.
Your bag should be big enough to carry all the survival gear you choose to pack. For easy grab-n-go, the bag should contain a supportive strap and tether to transport and handle with ease. Another tip, purchase a bag that is easy to see should an incident occur at night. Colors such as neon yellow, red, or neon orange are easy to spot should your bag separate from you. Reflective patches or tape are also vital to have for higher visibility for yourself as well as search and rescue personnel.
What exactly should you add to your ditch bag? Your bag should include everything you will need to signal help and items that will help you survive until help arrives. Items for signaling help should incorporate an electronic signaling device such as an EPIRB or a PLB. A handheld waterproof VFH radio preferably, with a built-in GPS and additional batteries; flashlight; visual signaling devices such as a signal mirror, red/yellow streamer that deploys in the water, flares, or waterproof strobe light; and an audible signaling device such as a whistle or horn.
Other considerable items should include: some form of flotation if you are not wearing a life jacket; rope; first-aid kit; folding knife or scissors; matches stored in a waterproof container; sunscreen; drinking water, or emergency water packets; prepackaged food such as protein bars; and cash.
Additional items to add if you have the room or a second ditch bag include space blankets to keep you warm and dry; a self-sufficiency fishing kit; gaff; survival water maker; seasick pills and prescription medicine; navigational devices, such as a compass; zip-lock bags; duct tape; spare air pump for raft; bug repellent; and vitamins.
Remember to notify your guests or passengers of the whereabouts of your ditch bag. It’s crucial to create a plan in case of an emergency. Assign guests/passengers specific duties such as someone to grab the bag, another to send out the May Day signal, someone to grab the raft, etc. Specifics such as creating a plan and having a ditch bag aboard can mean the difference between surviving and not. So, in all situations, be as safe as you can be and prepare for the unthinkable.