Abandon-ship bags


Prior to any offshore passage, the captain of the vessel readying to head offshore should bring the crew together for a safety briefing. This is particularly important on deliveries where it may be the first time the crew has sailed on the vessel.

The safety briefing should include all essential topics, including watch schedule, expectations of crew on watch, harnesses, the crew’s proficiency in moving about the boat safely with harness on, and clipping and unclipping. The briefing also should cover the mechanics of launching a life raft, an explanation of where to find the EPIRB, as well as the location of all fire safety and firefighting equipment (extinguishers) and, of course, the all-important “abandon-ship bag,” also known as the ditch bag, ditch kit, grab bag, flee bag or “holy shit!” bag. In an emergency, you do not want to be wasting precious time frantically hunting down safety gear — the abandon-ship bag gets that job done in advance. Your abandon-ship bag should be clearly labeled and stowed. The captain may know where the abandon-ship bag is kept, but everyone else on board must know as well because the captain will likely be busy if the boat is going down. Keep the abandon-ship bag in a handy place belowdecks near the companionway where everyone will see it.

Until fairly recently, most sailors assembled the elements of an abandon-ship bag themselves. Many still do, but now there are a handful of companies that have ready-made bags to supplement the life raft’s emergency items, which are limited due to weight and space. Do be aware of what safety items are in your life raft so that you do not double up unnecessarily.

The need for an abandon-ship bag is not limited to offshore voyagers. Coastal cruisers stuck in a life raft or dinghy should also be prepared with a ditch bag in case the wind or current carries them away from the possibility of immediate rescue — though the inshore version need not be supplied quite as comprehensively as the offshore version. Let’s take a look at some of the options for pre-packed abandon-ship bags.

Liferaft Services offers both a coastal and an offshore version. The coastal product, packed in an ACR RapidDitch Express bag, is intended for the near-coastal cruiser staying close to shore while making day trips and the occasional weekend getaway. The coastal bag includes:

  • (1) ACR Firefly Plus strobe and flashlight
  • (4) Orion glow sticks
  • (1) Survitec Survival Products life raft first-aid kit
  • (6) anti-seasickness tablets
  • (2) thermal foil blankets
  • (5) PVC waterproof storage pouches
  • (1) ACR Hot Shot signaling mirror with float and whistle
  • (1) stainless-steel multitool (pliers, scissors, knife, screwdrivers, etc.)
  • (1) 50-foot floating rope throwline with bag
  • Price: $375.00

The offshore product, also packed in an ACR RapidDitch Express bag, is intended for boaters taking multiday journeys with offshore passages, and especially those operating at night or in potentially adverse weather. The offshore bag includes:

  • (1) ACR ResQLink+ personal locator beacon
  • (1) Standard Horizon HX290 hand-held VHF with alkaline battery tray and spare Li-ion batteries
  • (1) ACR Firefly Plus strobe and flashlight
  • (4) Orion glow sticks
  • (1) Survitec Survival Products life raft first-aid kit
  • (18) anti-seasickness tablets
  • (4) thermal foil blankets
  • (5) PVC waterproof storage pouches
  • (1) ACR Hot Shot signaling mirror with float and whistle
  • (6) 125-mL drinking water pouches
  • (4) 2400-calorie food rations
  • (1) stainless-steel multitool (pliers, knife, scissors, screwdrivers, etc.)
  • (1) 50-foot floating rope throwline with bag.
  • Price: $675.00

This ACR ditch kit has heavy-duty distress signaling power with a GlobalFix 406 GPS EPIRB, a ResQLink PLB, a strobe, flashlight, signal mirror and whistle.


Courtesy ACR


ACR has taken a different tack. When time is of the essence and no assistance is in sight, the GlobalFIX V4 Survival Kit offers a convenient pre-packed means of alerting the Coast Guard of your emergency. The ACR ditch bag contains a comprehensive array of rescue items only. It does not contain any food, water or capability for making water, or personal comfort gear. Items included are:

  • RapidDitch Express bag (will float with up to 15 pounds of gear, includes two 4-foot tethers)
  • GlobalFIX V4 Cat.2 EPIRB plus secure EPIRB holder
  • ResQLink+ personal locator beacon
  • Firefly PRO Waterbug emergency distress strobe(batteries not included)
  • Hot Shot signaling mirror with Res-Q whistle
  • HemiLight3 (automatic survivor locator light with strobe, visibility of two miles)
  • Price: $800.00

Landfall (previously known as Landfall Navigation) makes a very comprehensive abandon-ship bag that contains most everything you will need, including various flares, smoke can, dye markers, VHF with DSC/GPS, space blanket, hand-bearing compass, watermaker, foghorn, first-aid kit, drinking water, GPS and more. The full list is:

  • (1) Landfall Abandon Ship Dri-Bag
  • (1) ACR GlobalFIX V4 EPIRB
  • (3) PW SOLAS hand-held red flare
  • (3) PW SOLAS red parachute flare
  • (2) PW SOLAS orange smoke can
  • (1) Standard Horizon HX870 DSC/GPS
  • (5) AAA alkaline batteries
  • (1) ACR Hot Shot mirror
  • (1) fluorescent dye marker
  • (1) Sirius Signal SOS distress light
  • (6) emergency space blankets
  • (2) Pelican Pocket SabreLite flashlights
  • (4) C-cell batteries
  • (12) red 12-hour light sticks
  • (30) emergency drinking water packs
  • (1) emergency first-aid kit
  • (1) Comprehensive Guide to Marine Medicine
  • (12) anti-seasickness tablets
  • (1) Perko manual foghorn
  • (1) Suunto hand-bearing compass
  • (1) Garmin 73 GPS
  • (1) Katadyn Survivor 06 manual watermaker
  • Price: $2,700.00

It is also recommended that you add personal items to your pre-made bag, especially when making long passages or traveling internationally. These items include:

  • Spare prescription/reading glasses
  • Sunglasses
  • Prescription medications
  • Photocopies of picture IDs
  • Photocopies of passports
  • Photocopies of vessel documents
  • Spare credit card
  • Cash
  • Waterproof sunscreen (UPF 30) and sunburn lotion
  • AA batteries (used in Firefly Plus light and radio found in offshore bag)
  • Roll of duct tape.
  • Zip-lock bags (gallon)
  • Warm clothing (in waterproof bags)

Coastal cruising and offshore sailing can provide incredibly beautiful, calm and safe passages. But remember, Mother Nature is truly indifferent to sailors and can also be fierce and unpredictable. The sea is also filled with debris, some natural and some man-made, that can do serious damage to a hull. Prudent and well-prepared voyagers will arm themselves and their crew for any and all possibilities. Unfortunately, one of these possibilities is the need to abandon ship. Thankfully, we have a wide range of pre-packaged options to choose from to ensure our preparedness.

Charlie Humphries is an ON staff member and an experienced sailor with more than 40,000 offshore miles on passages and deliveries.

By Ocean Navigator