Abandon Ship List
by safety consultant Charlie Bond, AMSEA Instructor
The following is a list of items that you might consider as you put together your own Ditch Bag. No list can be considered complete. These items are grouped into broad categories and for the most part reflect the useful items used in emergencies or in survival training. Much of this equipment is based on long term survival which might not be an issue for mariners with a properly operating 406 EPIRB or PLB on board.
Your Ditch Bag and your EPIRB must be stored where you can get it without re-entering your vessel. Some vessels mount their Ditch Bag also referred to as an Abandon Ship bag under the companion way ladder or in a deck or cockpit locker. You and your crew must train to grab the abandon ship bag and bring it with you in any emergency. It is safer to have to put it back when everything turns out okay than to try and grab it after the emergency has begun, especially in the case of fire or rapid sinking. Where possible, everything should be designed to be secured to the raft.
406 EPIRB – Your most important signaling device. You must be able to get to it in any emergency. If kept in the abandon ship bag, the bag must be able to be reached without having to reenter the vessel in distress. Many vessels mount their EPIRB in a quick release bracket just inside the companionway or by the pilot station.
406 PLB – Personal Locator Beacon Pocket sized 406 beacon, can be packed in a life raft, attached to lifejacket or immersion suits or stowed in an abandon ship bag. They are manually activated.
Waterproof VHF & batteries – To call & talk with vessels (line of site) or communicate with rescuers.
Portable Aircraft radio – Will allow you to talk with over flying commercial aircraft, often 10s of thousands feet above you. If you see a vapor trail, you might be able to raise them.
Waterproof GPS & batteries – A good way to provide your exact location and acts as a backup for your ships system.
Flashlight & batteries – A powerful flashlight that can light up objects or attract attention.
Floating Flashlight & batteries – A backup floating flashlight, the brighter the better.
Whistle – Marine style whistles are best when at water level, however in a raft a police style whistle on a lanyard will do. Have one for each person.
Fog Horn – Mouth or canister operated, you may want to make as much noise as you can. The canister is louder; the mouth type operates as long as you have breath.
Signal Mirror or Heliograph – The fancy Heliograph takes some training to use, a good mirror does the same thing. Reflect the light on your outstretched hand and move it towards who you want to signal, move your hand away and wiggle the mirror.
Strobe Xeon & batteries – Strobes, like an EPIRB, are passive signals, once activated they keep on working while you can do other things to save your life. Strobes are visible under almost all conditions from over 10 miles away by aircraft, twice that with night vision. Strobes work for more that 8 hours with new batteries.
Flares SOLAS, Handheld – 2 minutes of brilliance, and a class D fire hazard. Flares should be handled with care. Know what you are doing and use them wisely, two minutes is not a long time at sea. Keep them away from your survival craft, pointed down wind and watch that the hot slag drops away from your survival craft.
Flares SOLAS Parachute – Can be seen if you can see the vessel. Can focus attention on where you are once vessels reach the area and are looking for you. Read instructions before you have to use them.
Cylume light sticks – Cold light. Use to read, make notes, attract fish, or just to provide comfort. Can also use PFD lights or waterproof LEDs.
Spare air pump (that matches your raft) – Tie your pump into the raft. A spare pump set up to work on your raft will allow you to keep your raft firm and more comfortable.
Duct tape – 100 mile per hour tape, will sometimes work miracles. There are also tape and patches that can be used on wet surfaces.
Nylon cord – Hang clothes to dry, secure bags, string fish to dry.
Sail repair kit and safety pins – repair clothes and equipment
TPA – Thermal protective Aid – sort of a space blanket made as a bag you can wear. When insulated from the water, they are very effective at reflecting your body heat back to you, plus they can keep you dry.
Closed cell padding, ie camping pads – Even a boat cushion will feel good, especially since where ever you sit is the lowest spot for water to settle. A closed cell pad allows you to stay dry. It also affords you more protection from big fish eating the little fish under your raft.
Garbage & plastic bags – Can be made into a waterproof jacket, used to keep other things mostly dry or just to keep things together.
Ziplock bags – Valuable stuff can be kept almost dry and is accessible when you need it, notes, food, books
Matches – Waterproof and in a waterproof container.
Lighter – a back up to matches, not a replacement.
Candle – Not for the raft, unless you are celebrating your birthday, for starting a fire under shore survival.
Fire starters – They work even under the wettest conditions and if you have prepared your burning materials, you should be able to get a fire going almost anywhere.
Utility knife/tool ie, leatherman or Swiss Army – Need I say more, if you have to do anything, one of these attachments will make you life easier.
Sharp knife with case or a folding knife – If you catch fish, then a good knife will make your preparation easier. Be careful when using a sharp knife while in an inflatable raft.
Blunt knife folding – For use during bad weather. Much less dangerous aboard a raft, but you must still be careful.
Floating cutting board – For use with your knife, tied to the raft. One can also use paddle blade.
Sharpening stone – A dull knife is dangerous.
Scissors/Shears – Another useful tool.
Fishing Kit – Hooks, line, sinkers, attractors, either make your own or purchase a SOLAS one from a raft repacker.
Gaff – A short handled gaff will allow you to secure and hold a fish that appears too big for your raft.
Spear Gun – for when they are not biting. Larger fish often circle the raft or dart under it; a spear gun with cord attached could make your day much brighter.
Landing net – Ditto above under gaff.
Documents – Your vessel documents, logbook, everyone’s wallets, photographs etc. in a waterproof bag.
If all the wallets, credit cards & passports are in the ditch bag, Then everyone will always have what they need no matter who rescues you and what country you might end up in.
Passports – Well, who knows where you will be going next. If they are all in bag, everyone will have theirs.
Money & bankcard – Don’t leave home without it – waterproof of course.
Note pads & pens & pencils – Where memories are made, thoughts about loved ones, and navigation notes.
Charts & Navigation tools – Know where you are, currents, shipping lanes, also can be used as a note pad.
Paperback novels/Bible – You will have some time on you hands. Also, Plastic Playing cards
Bottled water – Plastic bottles with a little air on top float. If one bottle gets contaminated the others will still be OK. When empty they are reusable, for rainwater, water from a watermaker, or even to pee in when the weather is not so nice. Easier to use and reusable unlike foil packed water.
Water Maker, hand operated – Make all the water you’ll need and gives you a break from reading the novel.
Food – Survival biscuits – Not the best tasting unless you are starving, then they are great. Eat only with water.
Look for high energy long storage foods. Select foods that are not heavy on water use in their metabolism. There are many good reference books on survival foods.
Vitamins – Will help keep you at your best. Use only if you have some food and water.
Wool or poly caps and gloves – You lose 50% of your heat through your head and neck. Cold feet, don a cap.
Wool or poly underwear – Good quality ones are washable, and wick moisture away from your skin, making you feel more comfortable. They also provide sun protection without retaining heat. When covered they do help with heat retention.
Bandanna – Cotton & colorful, Cool your head, attract attention, use as a quick bandaid, use as a wash cloth, use as a towel or to wrap things that can be broken.
Small Towel – Can be used as a bandanna
GI style can openers (2) – Just in case you had a chance to empty the pantry, can be used to gut a fish also.
Sponge, large in ziplock bag – To back up the raft sponge. Use for bailing, bathing. Place a soap bar in the bag and you can lather up yourself or your utensils.
First Aid Kit – Know what is in it and how to use it. Read the first aid book before you cruise.
Eyeglasses/Sunglasses – Spare eyeglasses and polarized sunglasses to see and reduce glare.
Toothbrush – If you add toothpaste, it can change the way you feel.
Dental floss – Handy, not only for cleaning teeth, but repairing a variety of things.
Anti Seasickness pills – Rafts are only better than being neck deep in water. These will help you prevent dehydration caused by vomiting.
Toilet paper in ziplock bag – There are no Sears catalogs at sea.
Portable or disposable urinals-unisex – It can be very useful in bad weather.
Bug repellent – In some oceans, this can be useful, shoreside it can be critical.
Prescription medicines – Any specific medication should be packed into the bag,
Aspirin – Ibuprofen – Sometimes a wonder drug.
Tampons and or feminine products – To make your life easier.
30+ waterproof sunscreen – To protect you skin.