By definition, a ditch bag is a compact floating bag designed to hold helpful items needed in case your boat breaks down, begins to take on water or if you have to abandon it. All boats should have a ditch bag on board, even if they’re not offshore cruising boats. Fishing and cruising adventures on the ocean or Great Lakes can put you far from assistance, and even inland lakes can prove dangerous if the weather turns or if there’s an accident.
A ditch bag needs to be small enough that you can carry it, and it must float. Inside, it should contain a mix of critical safety gear, signaling and communications equipment, and items that will help meet basic survival needs if you’re in the water for an extended period or find yourself on remote shoreline.
What should you put in your ditch bag?
1. Ditch Bag: A bag that’s large enough to carry all your necessary emergency items. Make sure that it has positive flotation, that it’s water-resistant (it doesn’t need to be fully waterproof, as you can put sensitive items inside sealed bags or pouches), and that it has durable carry straps.
2. VHF: A handheld VHF radio. If it’s not waterproof, put it inside a sealed pouch; don’t forget to pack extra batteries.
3. Emergency Lights: Strobe lights (these might be part of your lifejackets or other personal flotation devices), as well as flashlights. Again, pack with extra batteries in a waterproof bag or pouch.
4. Handheld GPS: This will give you the ability to pinpoint and report your position via VHF or cell phone. Waterproof, floating models are available, as are models with upgraded mapping capabilities.
5. Signaling Devices: Selection of parachute and handheld flares, smoke signals, chemical glow sticks, and a signaling mirror (consider adding a small pair of binoculars, too).
7. First Aid Kit
8. Sun Protection: Extra sunglasses, sunscreen, and hats.
9. Drinking Water Packs
10. Snacks: These should include nonperishable items such as snack bars, dried fruit, and nuts.
11. Solar Blankets: These will come in handy if you’re planning on doing any fishing or cruising during the shoulder seasons, when mornings and evenings can get quite chilly.
12. Emergency Position-Indicating Rescue Beacon (EPIRB): A functioning, registered 406 EPIRB, which will let rescuers know exactly where you are. The battery life is usually 48-plus hours.
13. Personal Locator Beacon (PLB): While a PLB also sends a coded message on the 406 MHz distress frequency, it’s different from an EPIRB. An EPIRB is installed on your boat; a PLB can be carried on your person and used anywhere, on the water or on land. Battery life is typically a minimum of 24 hours.
Final tips: Make sure you have appropriate PFDs for everyone on board. Children should be wearing them at all times; if the adults are not wearing their PFDs, store them where they will be easy to reach in the event of an emergency. You may never need a ditch bag on your excursions, but being prepared is the best way to protect your loved ones and be ready for any unexpected experiences.