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    Updated: 25-Apr-2006

Preparing to Abandon Ship
Blaine Parks 

DitchBag.jpg (85769 bytes)
Our "Ditch Bag" stocked and ready to go
DitchBagContents.jpg (128512 bytes)
Some of the bag's contents laid out while re-packing

     Every boat that goes to sea should have a plan for abandoning ship.  You hope it never happens, but you can’t ignore the possibility.   The plan should include knowing how to make emergency calls with every radio aboard your boat and how to activate the EPIRB.  It should also include knowing how to deploy the life raft, when to leave the boat for the life raft, and having a pre-packed bag of essential survival items ready to take with you.  With safety being a major component of our cruising, we felt our plan was well thought out.  However, after our stormy passage this summer, we gave our plan a comprehensive review.  The one item that came up short was our “ditch bag.”  

     When we packed the bag initially, we packed as though we were going on a trip.  We weren’t sure what we’d need, so we took a little of everything.   When we unpacked the contents for review, we acted as though we were sitting in the life raft.  It was then that we realized how shortsighted our planning was.  We must have assumed that we’d be rescued in the first few hours when we originally packed the bag.  Even with a 406 MHz EPIRB, a quick rescue doesn’t seem likely.  We needed to rethink our ditch bag inventory.

     We had all the necessary electronics in our original inventory – an EPIRB with a GPS interface, a hand-held VHF radio, and a spare hand-held GPS – and a supply of extra batteries to keep them going.  We also had several traditional signaling devices such as flares, signal mirror, whistles, and a packet of sea dye.  There was even a small supply of non-perishable food for us and some dog food for our four-legged crew.  A flashlight, knife, and our small, hand-operated water maker were inside, as well.  But the one item that proved to be invaluable, among all the other miscellaneous gear, was a book. 

     The book, “The Captain’s Guide to Liferaft Survival” by Captain Michael Cargal, was something Janet found before we started cruising.   We had good intentions of reading the book before leaving the docks, but those days were filled with pre-departure craziness.  Instead, the book was placed in our ditch bag to use as a survival resource.   When we came upon the book during our ditch bag review, we took the time to examine the book’s contents more closely.   In addition to numerous chapters on life raft survival, Captain Cargal provided a thorough discussion of items to be considered when assembling a personal survival kit.  It was time to read the book.

     After digesting the book’s contents, we started rebuilding our ditch bag.  Since I didn’t fish before going cruising, our kit was lacking in fishing supplies.  That oversight was easily remedied with my new fishing skills.  We also added items like plastic sheeting, nylon twine, and aluminum foil.  All have several uses in survival from water collection to fishing to signaling for help.  Then, there were the more obscure items like a pair of tights, or leggings, to catch plankton and a turkey baster for enemas, which can help keep you hydrated through the large intestine.  Our kit was beginning to look like a science fair project, but it was much more useful than the original contents had been. 

      We went back and forth on how to provide for medical emergencies in our ditch bag.  The onboard medical kits we’ve built over the years were suitable for everything from small cuts to major injuries.  We didn’t want to duplicate the kit for our ditch bag.  That would take up too much valuable space and the costs would be unreasonable – even if our survival depended on it.  Instead, we put together a small medical kit for the ditch bag aimed at solving minor medical emergencies.  We then moved our medical kit into two water-resistant, floating bags.   Now our evacuation plan includes grabbing these two bags in addition to our main ditch bag.  If time prevents us from grabbing our larger kits, we still have our smaller one to fall back on.  It was the best compromise for our situation.

      I was disappointed when Janet vetoed a few of my ideas.  For example, I thought we should bring the laptop computer along to document our ordeal.  After all, books about life raft adventures sell by the millions!   Janet didn’t see that as an essential item.  She also didn’t see the humor in bringing along a pair of dice to use when determining who should get in the water to attract fish.  That’s OK; we can always play the rock/scissors/paper game for that.  Things like a full library of paperback books, games, and a portable barbecue grill didn’t make the list either.  And, what about costumes in case we cross the equator for the first time?  I guess this life raft survival stuff won’t be much fun. 

     So, now our bags are packed for a journey we hope to never take.  Our personal plan is to never leave Charbonneau unless we’re stepping up into the life raft. That doesn’t mean we won’t deploy the life raft, make our Mayday calls, put on our life jackets (usually already on), and prepare to abandon ship.  It’s only prudent to prepare to leave the ship as soon as it looks like other remedies to save the main boat are failing.  However, making a decision to abandon ship too early could leave us in an inflatable life raft when Charbonneau may survive.  You read about those scenarios all the time.  Once in the life raft, we will not cut ourselves free until Charbonneau takes her last breath.   That’s the plan, anyway.

      We’ve included a copy of our ditch bag inventory to give you an idea of what we came up with.  We’ve also listed the few items not in our ditch bag that we always keep at the ready whenever we’re on an offshore passage.  We haven't listed any items already packed into our life.  We'll treat those items as bonus extras if we ever find ourselves sitting in the life raft.  

If we had the time, we’d transfer as much gear as possible from Charbonneau to our life raft and tow our dinghy and motor along as well.  In short, we’d take everything possible to help in our survival.  Our list may not seem all-inclusive to you.  In fact, we expect that each crew will have differing needs.  But the contents work for us and perhaps our list can help you begin to develop your own.   Good luck in your journeys and let’s hope that none of us ever has to rely on all this planning. 

Ditch Bag Inventory 

  • ACR RapidDitch Abandon Ship Bag

  • Book - Captain’s Guide to Liferaft Survival   by Michael Cargal

  • PUR Survivor-06 Water Maker with extra Biocide Inhibitor

  • ACR Rapidfix 406 EPIRB with GPS Interface

  • Garmin Etrex Hand-Held GPS (to use with EPIRB)

  • Garmin 12 XL Hand-Held GPS

  • Icom IC-M3A Hand-Held VHF Radio

  • Flashlight (2)

  • Batteries, AA (20)

  • Watertight Bag for Electronics

  • Sea Dye Packet

  • 3 Handheld Flares

  • Whistle

  • Signal Mirror

  • Passports (and laminated B&W copies to resist water damage)

  • Fishing Supplies

    • Hooks (large and small saltwater variety)

    • Line – 300 lb test

    • Small Hand Reel

    • Sinkers

    • Wire leader

    • Spinners, Spoons, etc.

    • Feather Lures

    • Swivels

    • Rubbing Alcohol in sprayer (to subdue fish)

    • Pocket Pliers (14 tools in 1)

    • Filet Knife

    • Small Gaff (1’ length)

  • Water Container

  • Freeze Dried Food

  • Granola Bars

  • Cutting Board

  • Heavy Plastic Eating Utensils

  • Dog Food

  • Portable Dog Bowl

  • Small Medical Kit (bandages, tape, small splints, antiseptic creams, etc.)

  • Multi-Vitamins with Iron

  • Seasickness Medicine

  • Laxative

  • Aloe

  • Advil

  • Imodium

  • Small Turkey Baster (for enema)

  • Emergency Space Blanket (2)

  • Extra Contact Lenses and Cleaning Solution for Blaine

  • Absorber (to use as sponge)

  • Can Opener

  • Swiss Army Pocket Knife

  • Duct Tape

  • Spool of Nylon Twine

  • Polypropylene Floating Rope - 1/4” x 100 ft

  • Sunscreen

  • Polarized Sunglasses (2)

  • Tights (for plankton net)

  • Waterproof Matches

  • Dry Clothes

  • Knife Sharpener

  • Bail Bucket

  • Blanket

  • Aluminum Foil

  • Gloves

  • Dish Towels

  • Ziploc Bags

  • Funnel

  • Sheet Plastic

  • Light Sticks

  • Hard Rubber plugs

  • Hose clamps (to be used with rubber plugs in fixing life raft leaks)

  • Stainless Steel Wire

  • Finger/Tree Survival Saw


Additional Supplies Prepared to Supplement Ditch Bag 

  • Complete Minor Injuries/Burn Medical Kit

  • Complete Major Trauma/Lacerations Medical Kit

  • Complete Flares and Signaling kit

  • 5-Gallons Drinking Water in Collapsible Container

  • Personal Flotation Devices (always worn) and 2 Floatation Cushions

  • Foul Weather Gear

  • Charts and Navigational Tools 



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