ditch bag

Bil, this sounds like something you would have made a list about. We are doing some bigger crossings and it would be great to hear from some seasoned salts.

  1. Ditch bags as sold by marine retailers are:

a. small with limited floatation (hence easy to overload so integral floatation is compromised); reserve your store-bought ditch bag for light essentials and supplement your ditch bag with other containers each with a line {I used 0.25" 3-strand nylon because it’s easy to splice, unsplice, and resplice together if needed} and an inexpensive carabiner (certified rockclimbing quality not needed) so the line can be connected to a fender). Mark the other additional ditch containers with reflective tape so you and all crew know what goes over in an abandon ship incident.

The other containers Z carried included: a jerry jug full of drinking water; first aid kit; dry bag with clothes and shoes; a flare bottle packed with SOLAS rocket flares; and so on. You’re only limited by the number of fenders and throwable PFDs you carry. In an emergency, litter the sea with flotsam. Apart from watertight bottles (e.g. flare bottles, jerry jugs) use drybags, ziplock bags, and vacuum-pack bags (the ones used for storing clothes and linen - you can even get them in tiny sizes that work as waterproofing for electronic devices).

b. obvious in your cabin (hence easy for an opportunistic thief to remove). This point is a major contradiction with the notion of a grab bag - any bag easy for you to grab is easy for a thief to grab too. We never suffered opportunistic theft on Z (other than the usual government-authorised theft that Australian border officers execute; the corrupt border offices we met in Asia always politely made a case for why we should donate to their family’s welfare - and they suggested amounts much smaller than the robbery done by Aus govt officers). I figure the risk of opportunistic theft is much higher than the risk from wind and wave to a BCC, but we all remember the horror of the whale strike incident on Aeolus!

  1. The contents of a ditch bag in 2016 are different from one in 2000. My Android tablet (with a power bank to keep it running) has a jolly good GPS and a charting app, banking apps that let me move money around the world, books to read, scanned images of vital documents including the ship’s papers and passports, chat apps and contact lists for most everyone I know, etc. In 2016 I can buy a handheld VHF with DSC, GPS etc. Remember the Aeolus - taking the SD card out of the backstay mounted camera (and putting that SD card into the ditch bag) preserved the evidence of the incident).

  2. No matter the change in tech, the basics are covered by a few categories:

A. Documentation & Valuables
including: ship’s papers and stamp, passports, other ID and certificates of competency, ship’s log (taken off the chart table and put into the grab bag at the last moment), prescriptions for medications, currency, banking cards, gold chains etc

B. Wireless Comms and Nav
including: handheld VHF, EPIRB, satellite phone, cell phone, GPS, compass, chart.

C. Radioless Comms and Signalling
including rocket flares, whistles, emergency lasers, strobes, flashlights, mirror, etc (a cruising catamaran overturned at night on the Wide Bay Bar two days sail N of me just days ago - the rescue helicopter crew, wearing night vision goggles, spotted the two crew in the water by the dim flashes of the strobes on their PFDs)

D. Clothes, Hats, and Shoes
A dry bag or two can carry a change or two of clothes and shoes (I always think of what shoes I’d need to walk across a fringing coral reef, a rocky shore, or an asphalt road) plus spare eyeglasses, sunglasses, etc.

E. Provisions

  • Medical: first aid kit, medications both routine and motion sickness (liferafts are notorious seasickness machines)
  • Sanitary: toilet paper and facial tissues, hand sanitizer, seasickness bags, small towels, sunscreen, toothbrushes & paste, dental floss (just another cordage) etc in individual ziplock bags
  • emergency food & water, watermaker etc
  • emergency survival supplies: dry cells, power bank, fishing gear, cordage, knife, repair kit for liferaft (which should be inside the raft already) or inflatable dinghy, duct tape etc