Summer Boating Safety Bag Essentials

Even a perfect day on the water can bring with it circumstances every boater must be prepared for. Although it’s not pleasant to think about, the fact is, accidents happen. Being prepared with a properly stocked boat bag can make all the difference. You may have heard it referred to as a ditch bag or abandon ship bag. No matter what you call it, its purpose stays the same – a waterproof container to stow crucial survival tools that will keep you alive and get you rescued.

Ask ten experienced boaters to list what they keep in their boat bags, and you’ll most likely hear as many different lists. The reason for this is that a lot of items are unique to the type of boating you do. For just this reason, we’ll omit most deep-sea emergency gear (like cold-water immersion suits) and customize our boat bag to near-shore daytime cruising.

It goes without saying, but we’ll say it anyway, don’t cut corners on your boat safety bag – or the contents. Look for a boat bag that comes highly rated. There are many reputable brands available so you’ll have plenty to choose from. But expect to spend over $100. Consider it an investment. Here’s a sensible tip, purchase the contents before you purchase the bag, this way you know that everything you want in your bag will fit nicely.

Summer Boating Safety Bag Essentials

Some of these items will seem obvious to you, while others may seem odd. But know that they have been included as a result of years of boating experience. Can you pack more? Absolutely. You should consider what works for you and your boating style. Regardless of how big you choose to go, these items make an excellent foundation.

Cell Phone

Today, our cell phones do far more than call ahead to the dock or 911. Using them for information and communication makes them essential.  Smartphones provide navigation, tide, weather, and even video tutorials. Here’s what you must have on your phone to be prepared and stay safe:


-Tide Chart

-Wind Prediction

-Weather Radar

-USGC App for Emergencies

-FWC App for Boating/Fishing Info

Power Inverter

 We depend heavily on our smart devices. For this reason, get a small 12-volt inverter for the electronics you and your passengers may have aboard – like you would in your car. In addition, check the power source before leaving the dock. And keep in mind that water intrusion (salt or fresh) at the helm of an open boat can quickly short out an outlet.

Battery Backup

Because you never know when the 12-volt power outlet will go out.

First Aid Kit

In an emergency situation aboard your boat, a first aid kit could make the difference between life and death. They come in all sizes and are quite reasonable. Also learn how to use proper lifesaving first aid techniques.

Handheld Waterproof Radio

You can use it to contact nearby vessels within 5-10 miles. It will also send out a distress call with GPS positioning.

Tool Kit

A small tool kit, or a multitool like a Leatherman, gives you many solutions to issues that can arise at sea. When shopping, be sure to choose tools that are stainless steel to prevent corrosion. You will also need at least one flat-head and one Philips-head screwdriver, pliers, and a knife.

Waterproof Flashlight

During a nighttime emergency, a flashlight can serve many purposes. 

Foul Weather Gear

A picture-perfect summer boating day can quickly take an unexpected turn. Rain and 20-knot winds can come up suddenly, drenching and chilling everyone. That’s why you should pack a few ponchos to keep you and your crew somewhat dry and comfortable. 


You only need to include important medications for treating conditions like blood pressure or diabetes. Also include an Epipen® if an allergy can trigger a life-threatening situation.


Even if you don’t venture far from busy beaches, engine trouble could keep you from getting to resources for quite some time. Especially in the summer, when the heat index can climb pretty high in the south, pack water!

Several Forms of Sun Protection

ack them all! Being prepared means more than sunblock and a hat. Consider polarized sunglasses and a UPF 50+ Long Sleeve T-Shirt.

Water Shoes

Especially if you’ll be boating to an island or beach, water shoes will give you some protection from sharp rocks and shells.

Emergency Positioning Indicating Beacons (EPIRB)

These beacons will send your exact coordinates to satellites and notify rescuers.

Personal Locator Beacon (PLB)

These attach to lifejackets and send a distress beacon in the event you become separated from the EPIRB.

Self-Inflating Life Jacket

 Especially if you take your boat out alone, these small (the size of a winter scarf), comfortable, self-inflating life jackets can save your life should you fall overboard.

If you have these things, you’ll have a nicely packed safety bag. As we said, you can absolutely include more. For that matter, there are gadgets and new products coming on the market every day. However, keeping the essentials at the ready in your boat bag is the responsible thing to do. We heel toward boating safety, but pack whatever you think will be most useful for you. Once you do, you can enjoy the satisfaction of knowing you’re prepared.

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Jo Montgomery

Author Jo Montgomery

Jo is a lifelong boat lover and writer. She learned the ropes of boating on her family’s 36’ Carver at the Jersey (joy-see) shore. With over 30 years of writing under her belt, she delights in seeking out, and sharing, the things most important to fellow boating enthusiasts. Jo now lives in Connecticut, near the water she adores, with her husband, two children and large, hairy dog. She is over the moon to be part of the Snag-A-Slip crew!

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