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Exactly four weeks ago, I began the classroom portion of the Yachtmaster prep classes, the first step on the path to obtaining a commercial Captain’s License. Whereas I’ve already had a couple of unofficial days out sailing with Alex, the real on-the-water portion of the training began yesterday.

Another great day sailing.

It was a good long day of training and because of my familiarity with the boat and it’s procedures, I was frequently the first of the four students on board to perform any of the exercises. One such duty delegated to me was to give the safety briefing, which essentially meant detailing all of the procedures and equipment to the new passengers prior to setting sail. The location and use of lifesaving equipment (life vests, jack lines and tethers, first aid kits), operation of cooking appliances (propane shutoffs, safety sensors and venting) and communication equipment (VHF radio and GPS) were among the list. One other item included on the fairly long checklist (which I was only to look at after doing my best by memory) was going through the contents of the “Ditch Bag” item for item.

On ZTC we have no formal Ditch Bag (aka Abandon Ship Bag) although, were we doing longer ocean passages, I’m sure we’d assemble one. I am quite certain that the RYA regulates a minimum specific list of items that the Ditch Bag should include and it’s no doubt extensive. By memory, so forgive me Alex if I’ve forgotten an item of two, the kit on Chao Lay includes the following:

  • Emergency water rations
  • Handheld red distress flares
  • Rocket / parachute flares
  • Smoke flares
  • Signaling mirror
  • Thermal protection suits
  • First aid kit
  • Drogue/sea anchor for the Life Raft (more on that another day)
  • Small radar reflector (for use in Life Raft)
  • Emergency food rations
  • Light sticks
  • Sea sickness medicine
  • Signaling flash light (a “torch” for the Brits)
  • Kite (for signaling, or perhaps for entertainment 🙂 )

A commercially available ditch bag.

The above, and any other items you deem appropriate, should be stored in a good waterproof bag, preferably one with some positive flotation. Prior to abandoning ship, I would also grab the ships EPIRB, handheld VHF radio (with extra batteries if available), additional water and a package containing your passport, ships documents and some money, just in case.

Do any of our readers have a ditch bag on board their boat? Anyone have anything to add to this discussion?

One thing is certain, students or charter guests with Bluewater Sailing eat well. We had pizza and salad for lunch and Alex’s special Spaghetti Bolognese for dinner.
I might just gain weight on this course!


  1. Yep, we have that very same ditch bag! In addition, we have fishing line and lure, some heavy duty energy bars and lots and lots of hard candy.

  2. Although we are just in a marina, Alistair put a ditch bag together in the event of an evacuation due to hurricanes. One extra thing he put in was some cash. If we were evacuated due to storm likely power and ATM’s would be down. I realize this is a different set of circumstances but noteworthy I hope.

    • No, that is a good idea Jennifer. As I mentioned in the post, we would grab our passports, ships papers and cash along with the ditch bag were we ever forced to abandon ship.

  3. I got the smaller ACR bag as a freebie with our EPIRB. We would have to grab our wetsuits as we don’t have any other thermal protection suits, along with the handheld GPS and VHF as we aren’t extravagant enough to have one for emergency use. We do have some sunscreen, ballcaps and cheap sunglasses in the bag.

    I have the EPIRB in the pocket on the ditch bag, which means that I don’t have the GPS update cord connected to it. The reasoning is that I’d rather have it with me and take a few more minutes to update the GPS coordinates, than to have it go down on the wall near the nav station with a perfect location.

    • Sunscreen, ballcaps, sunglasses… good, inexpensive additions!
      GPS – grab that with the handheld VHF and the EPIRB
      The thermal protection suits that I mentioned are lightweight plastic suits that fold up into a tiny package.

  4. I have that exact bag. I use it two ways. We are members of a sailboat club so I constantly have to lug around a lot of stuff between each of the boats, so I have it full of a ton of stuff…

    portable VHF & GPS, inflatible PFDs, binocs, toilet paper, batteries, log book, cruising guide, plotting tools, knife, flashlights, tethers, jacklines, spare rope, hammock, inverter, UNO!, cards, ASA handbooks, a waterproof pouch for our cell phones, small first aid kit, etc…

    When we eventually buy our own boat, it’ll become our ditch bag with more of the items that you discuss above but until then, it’s been a great boat bag that will protect all the gear should it fall overboard during entry and exit of the boat.

    I love the bag. It’s made very well.

  5. I have the same bag as well…..With my friend hitting rocks with his boat and sinking this weekend, I have given a lot of thought to everything about safety……We try to think of everything…I would add a handheld VHF to your list

    • Definitely John. I did mention that I would grab that too. If you have bags of money (like most powerboaters 🙂 ) you could always have a dedicated VHF in the bag. Make sure it is charged or there are extra batteries in there too if you do that though. Perhaps a solar charger would be nice, if one were available?

  6. a (sheath) knife would come in handy

    • Definitely. I think there is usually one in the life raft, to cut the raft free of the boat, assuming one had a raft. An extra knife is an easy and cheap addition though. Thanks.

  7. In addition to all the above mentioned items, you would want to grab any presciption medication used by anyone aboard. Ideally, everyone would be responsible for getting their own meds into the bag, but–! A reminder might be needed! Of course, on a cat, you would probably have a large floating raft, even if you flipped. Having access (even if you had to swim to them) to all the boat’s contents sure beats trying to fit everything into a bag!

  8. Hi Mike;
    During our year long sabbatical of the Bahamas that we recently completed, we carried a ditch bag on our catamaran Mango Groove. It was “safety first” on board as I was also responsible for the well being and safety of Christina and our two teenage girls.

    The ditch bag had all the usual suspects associated with it and also included a small medical kit (sunburn / nausea / analgesics including Ibuprofen / topical antibiotics and wound dressings). A hand line and fishing hooks were also included. We also stashed in a hand bearing compass and ACR PLB registered with the Canadian Beacon Registry). Finally, we also included a few solar blankets – really compact and an accessory signalling device with its highly reflective surfaces. Finally, with female crew, a limited supply of feminine hygiene products in the ditch kit was always a good and welcome idea.

    Still enjoying living vicariously through you both at this time!!

    Cheers – Alan

  9. Lots of good points above. A few thoughts of my own:
    * Ships papers. Wouldn’t a sealed bag with copies of everything make sense? I’ll be damned if I’m going to be hunting for paper.
    * Location of the bag. There are really only 2 likely senarios for a PDQ 32: capsize or fire. In the case of fire, the bad risk is a engine, in which case I’m not going below. In the case of capsize the only accesible location is the transom lockers. Is that where the ditch bag goes? It’s not the driest location, but in a salon locker it’s pointless. A monohull has different issues; hit a seatainer and sink in 5 minutes, but the salon is accesible.
    * Means to secure the bag and other stuff in the tender (which I assume is the life raft).
    * Stowage plan in the tender. Lets assume the weather is wild and you want to be lying on the bottom, for stability. You might want to take all of the stuff you want, put it in the tender, and see if you can both worm into workable possitions.
    * Lists. I don’t like to think under extreme pressure. It doesn’t work well. I would have 2 lists on the outside of the bag: what’s in it and what else I want to grab (water gerry can, fuel, clothes, whatever).

    Though I do not keep a bag together, the plan has always been to grab my wet suit duffle (oversized) and quickly fill it, leaving much of the wetsuit stuff in it.

    • Copies of paper: good
      Location: Dry bag in Stern locker.
      Secure bag: Tying it in is probably the easiest to rig and the cheapest solution.
      Stowage: Yes, practice might be good!
      Lists: Good ideas.

  10. People we know who were adrift for a while have said a notebook and pencil, kept in their own dry bag, were really useful. (notes, position, start the book to rebuild your fortunes, amuse the children …)
    The hygeine products – although we barely need them our dry bag has several sanitary towels, because they make great wound dressings and keep for ages, and are much cheaper than the purpose made.
    A loo roll or two, in their own dry bags.
    We have a small folding solar panel and crocodile clips to keep the radio and GPS charged. (V slow and cumbersome, but hey, what else are you doing on that raft?)
    We ALSO have a dry bag (actually an old flare box) under the transom on our dinghy, after nearly being swept out to sea twice. Similar things, just less of them.

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