Your ditch bag is a critical piece of safety gear on your boat. It’s the one thing you’ll grab if you ever have to abandon your boat. I have to admit, our ditch bag is pretty good sized and not exactly light. We hope to never use it. So where do we store our ditch bag?
My philosophy is that if we need the ditch bag, something bad is happening — most likely we’re sinking or there is a fire. Both can happen very quickly and there is not likely to be time to get anything out from a “stored away” place. Or even perhaps from a cabin.
When we are on passage or traveling the majority of days, we put the ditch bag under the table in the saloon. It’s about five feet from the companionway door and is the most accessible place we have. If we stay in one place for a bit, we’ll move it back to a less accessible place but get it out again before we get underway.
Several more tips for making sure that you’ll be able to use the ditch bag and its contents should you ever need it:
- Make sure it will float. It’s bad enough if you have to abandon your boat. You don’t want to have your emergency gear sink to the bottom leaving you with nothing — or only what’s in your liferaft. Our bag came with 25 pounds of flotation — but the bag weighs over 40 pounds. We have several Lock & Lock containers in there that have emergency items — plus air. And I cut up a swim noodle and stuck pieces in every nook and cranny to add additional flotation. If there is any question about whether your bag will float, test it. It’s also a good way to test that things that need to be kept dry will be.
- Make sure it won’t float away. Tie a long, strong 1/8″ line (paracord — available on Amazon) to the bag. The line should be at least 25′ long; 50 is better. If an emergency occurs and you put it in the cockpit, tie the other end of the line to a padeye or stainless rail so that it can’t wash overboard and be lost or be lost as you try to load the liferaft. You may want to tie a knife to the outside of the bag so you can cut it free when ready.
- Make sure you can see it in the dark. Emergencies always seem to happen in the dark. I used a fair amount of SOLAS reflective tape (it’s much more reflective than less expensive reflective tape) on the bag so that it could be found in moonlight or with a quick sweep of a flashlight. Buy SOLAS reflective tape on Amazon.
- Put a light on the ditch bag. In an emergency at night, light is going to be the first thing you want. I clipped a waterproof ACR C Light to the outside of the bag. These are the same lights that go on your PFD. I figure turn it on before tossing the bag to the liferaft, both in case I miss the liferaft (it’s one more way to find the bag) and to immediately have light in the liferaft.
- Check the contents at least twice a year and before any major trip. Do it far enough in advance that you can get replacements for anything needed — particularly batteries. And be sure to operate anything that uses batteries or a solar charger to make sure that connections have not corroded.
It’s tempting to try to get by with a less complete ditch bag and not make the effort to put it out where it’s easily accessible or not to check it and replace items as needed. But if an emergency were ever to happen, you really need that ditch bag and the items in it need to be in working order. Spend the money to put together a good kit and figure out the logistics to keep it readily available. You never know when you may need it.