The Ditch Bag

By August 15, 2023August 17th, 2023Snag-A-Slip News

An abandon ship kit, or a “ditch” bag, is sort of like insurance. You hope to never use it but if you need it, you’d better have a good one. Freak accidents can happen even on a well-found ship and there’s very little time to mull over what you’ll need if you must leave the boat in a hurry so it’s important to pre-pack as well as possible.

The ditch bag is the emergency kit you grab as you head for the life raft. You can start with a large duffel bag or choose a professionally designed floating ditch bag with pockets for essential items like the one designed by ACR. There’s a long of list of items that should go into an abandon ship bag, especially if you plan to travel far offshore, but there are other realities to consider when packing one.

  • Do you have room for a ditch bag on the boat and where will you store it? 
  • Will you remember to grab supplemental items that aren’t stored in the ditch bag like the ship’s beacon (EPIRB), everyone’s personal beacons (PLBs), handheld VHF radio, handheld GPS, paper charts, ship’s papers and personal documents like passports, food and extra water? (Hint, make yourself an emergency ditch checklist to go along with your ditch bag.)
  • Can even the smallest of your crew move the ditch bag from its storage location to on deck and into a life raft? If it’s too heavy or bulky, it may be left behind.
  • How much space will it take up in a cramped life raft when the whole crew is aboard?

25 items to put into your abandon ship kit

Preparing an emergency bag | David Pereiras on Shutterstock

Once you’ve addressed the points above, consider these 25 items as a start of a solid ditch bag but remember, there are many other items that may be useful if you have the room and the strength.

  1. Space blanket – reflective is best to keep you warm and for signaling ships passing by
  2. Dry bag – take more than one if you can
  3. Duct tape – toss in some thin wire and electrical tape as well
  4. Multi-tool – and/or knife
  5. Length of extra line – 50 feet at least to use as a drogue or to tie other floating equipment like coolers and the dinghy together with the life raft
  6. Flashlights and headlamps – preferably LED-powered with extra batteries
  7. Chemical light sticks – like those used by divers that don’t need a battery
  8. Laser pointer and/or strobe light – for nighttime signaling
  9. Sunglasses – and extra prescription glasses
  10. Extra T-shirts and warm gear – to manage exposure and for sun protection
  11. Hats with clips – things go flying in a life raft and you’ll need head protection
  12. Sponges and a towel – sitting in water in a raft guarantees saltwater sores so sop it up
  13. Water container – plastic or metal bottles work best
  14. Food – freeze dried food or energy bars can be kept in a life raft for an extended period but grab extra provisions if you have time before ditching
  15. Medical kit – pack a small, dedicated kit into the ditch bag but also grab the ship’s kit if possible
  16. Medications and supplements – include personal and seasickness meds beyond the medical kit
  17. Sunscreen and lip balm – especially important for life rafts with no tops

    Signal flare gun and 3 rounds on top of marine map | Leo on Shutterstock

  18. Flares – handheld and aerial with a 12-gauge gun
  19. Whistle or air horn – you want to be seen and heard when rescuers are nearby
  20. Signal mirror – the best is a polished metal plate that will reflect the sun but won’t cut the life raft material
  21. Sea dye – SOLAS-grade to mark your spot and increase your chances of being seen
  22. Fishing supplies – pack at least some line and hooks
  23. Funnel – to capture any condensation for drinking water
  24. Trash bags, Ziplock bags and aluminum foil – good for keeping gear together and dry
  25. Bailing bucket – also used for a variety of uses including as a toilet


Whether it’s shipboard fire or a breached hull, boats can falter and when they do, you need to be prepared. Put together a ditch bag and check its condition and contents once annually or before setting off on an extended passage. Even if you never use it, a ditch bag is insurance that brings peace-of-mind.

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Author Zuzana Prochazka

Zuzana is a freelance writer and photographer with regular contributions to over a dozen sailing and power boating publications. A USCG 100 Ton Master, Zuzana is the founder of a flotilla charter company called Zescapes that takes guests adventure sailing at destinations around the world. Zuzana serves as an international presenter on charter destinations, safety issues and technical topics. She’s also the Chair of the NMMA Innovation Awards, a member of the American Society of Authors and Journalists, and the Executive Director of the Board of Boating Writers International.

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