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What's in your overboard ditch bag?

Everything You Need to Pack the Perfect Ditch Bag

By DAN Boater

“Abandon Ship!” The possibility of ever having to utter these words strikes fear in the heart of any skipper. But if it happens, the best way to increase the chances of survival for everyone on board 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, which offers a comprehensive curriculum of classroom courses for recreational and professional mariners on topics of boating and seamanship. And 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 kit 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.

How to pack the perfect ditch bag? Depending on your destination, here are the essentials every “flee bag” needs:

Items You'll Need for In-Shore Ditch Bags

Requirements for Coastal, In-shore, and Nearshore emergencies include:

Offshore Ditch Bag Contents

In addition to all of the above items, here are a few extras you’ll need for Offshore and Distance Racing:

No Excuses!

Some boaters raise the issue of lacking sufficient space on board for all the safety gear they should be carrying. Marx acknowledges that, depending on the size and layout of your boat, lack of space can be a challenge. But it should never be an excuse. If space is an issue, here are a few options to consider:

Know the Drill

Remember to rehearse your abandon ship drill before every trip, assigning each crew member or passenger responsibility for specific duties: grabbing the ditch bag(s), sending out the May Day signal, bringing the life raft to the rail, securing the painter, etc. “In addition to having emergency gear easily accessible, checked and regularly maintained, it’s imperative to have all aboard familiar with the drill,” says Marx.

The perfect complement to a well-stocked ditch bag? A DAN Boater membership that includes search and rescue expense coverage, as well as peace-of-mind emergency medical services—such as transportation to the closest hospital, or getting you back home for better-quality medical treatment—once you are rescued.


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