Grab bags you hope you will never need. Photo by Rosie Burr
Grab bags you hope you will never need. Photo by Rosie Burr

What’s in Your Grab Bag?

The idea of abandoning ship at sea is not an appealing one. But if the unthinkable happens then it pays to have a well thought-out grab bag. As the name suggests, a grab bag is a selection of crucial items readily assembled that you can grab quickly should you have to abandon ship. Your grab bag should contain a variety of things to help you survive at sea, aid rescue and ease life when you make it back ashore. What you take with you may depend on the type of life raft you have or if you have one at all. Everyone has their own ideas of what should be included in an abandon ship bag. Here are some suggestions and ideas for items you might consider.

The Grab Bag
Whether you use a bag or container it needs to be waterproof and buoyant. It should be visible both night and day and stowed in an accessible area know to all on board. Many bags/containers come in high visibility orange or yellow. Reflective or luminescent tape could be added to make it more visible at night. It should be robust to protect its contents and have straps and tethering points.

Carry plenty of flares, if your electronics fail, they could save your life. Photo by Rosie Burr
Carry plenty of flares, if your electronics fail, they could save your life. Photo by Rosie Burr

Rescue Items / Signalling Equipment / Communications
In these days of EPIRBS, SAT Phones and personal locator beacons you would think that rescue would be easy.  Sadly, there is always a possibility that this equipment won’t work or isn’t carried onboard. Ideally you should be prepared for the worst possible scenario. The more methods of communicating you have, the better your chances for a speedy recovery.

EPIRB 406
EPIRB 406

Electronics to carry in an abandon ship situation may include an EPIRB 406, SART, and VHF handheld radio and/or Satellite phone with spare batteries. Most yachts carry a handheld GPS and this, with a selection of likely pre-programmed waypoints and a small laminated passage planning chart of the area in which you are sailing, would be good to have.

It goes without saying that every grab bag should carry a selection of in-date flares including parachute, hand and smoke for both day and night use. Low-tech items like signalling mirrors and whistles and horns have saved countless lives at sea, these, along with a waterproof torch and, if possible, radar reflector / kite radar reflector, all have a place in the bag.

Are you sure you have everything? Photo by Rosie Burr
Are you sure you have everything? Photo by Rosie Burr

Survival Items
The priorities for survival are shelter, water and food. Make sure you have protection from the elements and appropriate clothing. Take sunscreen. Maybe a tarpaulin could double as a rain catcher as well as a shelter. Without fresh water, we die. If you do not carry a hand-operated water maker in your grab bag you need to carry water rations with you. Food in the form of dried goods, rehydration packs, tinned goods and high energy snacks are all good options. Don’t forget a can opener and a blunt-end knife. A fishing hook and line or even a small spear gun could provide a valuable source of food, but great care should be taken with these items in an inflatable dinghy or liferaft. Pack a bailer and duct/sticky tape.

A first aid kit is essential covering all your basics as well as more complicated issues. Plus any personal medications you need.

A selection of items from a grab bag. Photo by Rosie Burr
A selection of items from a grab bag. Photo by Rosie Burr

Other Items
To help ease the path of bureaucracy once you step ashore, carry your passports and any visas, ships papers, cash and a credit card.

Binoculars will help confirm what you are seeing before you decide to let off precious flares or waste valuable battery life.

Your grab bag is an item that should be constantly checked, re-evaluated and updated. It sounds obvious but that fresh pack of batteries you packed five years ago may no longer be so fresh. It is up to you to give yourself the best possible chance of surviving after abandoning ship.

What are the MUST HAVE ITEMS in your Ditch Bag?  Comments appreciated below…  They may just save a life!

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