Preparing to Abandon
Our "Ditch Bag"
stocked and ready to go
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
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.
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.
ACR RapidDitch Abandon
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
Icom IC-M3A Hand-Held
Batteries, AA (20)
Watertight Bag for
Sea Dye Packet
3 Handheld Flares
laminated B&W copies to resist water damage)
Hooks (large and small
Line – 300 lb test
Small Hand Reel
Spinners, Spoons, etc.
Rubbing Alcohol in
sprayer (to subdue fish)
Pocket Pliers (14 tools
Small Gaff (1’
Freeze Dried Food
Heavy Plastic Eating
Portable Dog Bowl
Small Medical Kit
(bandages, tape, small splints, antiseptic creams, etc.)
Small Turkey Baster
Emergency Space Blanket
Extra Contact Lenses
and Cleaning Solution for Blaine
Absorber (to use as
Swiss Army Pocket Knife
Spool of Nylon Twine
Rope - 1/4” x 100 ft
Tights (for plankton
Hard Rubber plugs
Hose clamps (to be used
with rubber plugs in fixing life raft leaks)
Stainless Steel Wire
Additional Supplies Prepared
to Supplement Ditch Bag
Minor Injuries/Burn Medical Kit
Major Trauma/Lacerations Medical Kit
Flares and Signaling kit
Drinking Water in Collapsible Container
Flotation Devices (always worn) and 2 Floatation Cushions