Stocking Your Ditch Bag

Most experienced boaters have heard the stories of boating disasters — vessels capsizing, sinking suddenly or catching fire far from help and the reach of other boaters. These misadventures usually share a few things in common — the crews began the day without a care in the world and things — sometimes several things — went wrong quickly. And at that moment when you realize this really is happening to you, there is no amount you wouldn’t pay for the proper safety gear — particularly if you don’t have it.

“Safety gear — particularly modern rescue electronics — can literally make the difference between life and death,” said Scott Heffernan, Sales Manager for The GPS Store. “There are just as many stories with happy endings, where families were saved because they had planned for that worse case scenario by preparing a Ditch Bag with items to help them be found by rescuers quickly. If you sail, cruise or fish in the ocean, you owe it to yourself and your loved ones to invest in your safety,” added Heffernan.

What is a Ditch Bag? Bags like the ACR RapidDitch Express are designed to keep safety electronics and survival gear organized and ready for immediate abandon ship situations. They are meant to “grab and go” when you have only seconds to get in the water or life raft. This floating bag and its contents then become your lifeline. If you ever do find yourself in this situation, here are some of the things you’ll be glad you have packed inside:

Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon: EPIRBs (like the ACR Global Fix Pro) can be affixed on the vessel or carried in a ditch bag to notify Coast Guard and local Search and Rescue teams and provide your GPS position over two separate frequencies (406MHz and 121.5MHz, respectively). Some EPIRBS are meant to be manually deployed, while others activate automatically if the vessel sinks. These are required equipment on many commercial and passenger vessels — for good reason.

Personal Locator Beacon: PLBs are small but powerful rescue aids. Much like an EPIRB, it broadcasts a 406MHz satellite distress signal to the Coast Guard and a separate homing signal for local Search and Rescue authorities to pinpoint your position. Prepared boaters should have an EPIRB for the vessel and a PLB for each person aboard — as individual crew may end up miles apart in an emergency.

Emergency Handheld VHF: Standard Horizon’s HX851 handheld was designed for use in ditch bags, with a Digital Selective Calling (DSC) distress button and built-in GPS that alerts all DSC-equipped vessels in range with your position. This is vital, as nearby boats are your best shot at quick rescue. A full functioning waterproof VHF, the HX851 lets you talk with rescuers and other vessels. It also glows in the dark, includes a built-in strobe light that automatically activates when the radio gets wet, and it floats.

Light Yourself Up. Being rescued takes on a whole new sense of urgency in the dark. You must be seen to be found, regardless of the electronic aids you have at your disposal. A stocked ditch bag should contain plenty of emergency strobe lights. Designed to attach to each crewmember’s life jacket and activate with a pull-pin, this tiny light puts out a bright flash and operates for eight continuous hours — making a big difference in your chances for survival.

This is just some of the equipment that goes into a well-stocked ditch bag. Whistles and signal mirrors also help you get seen and heard by nearby boats and rescuers. Other items like water packs, flashlights, duct tape, glow sticks, protein bars and sunglasses can add to your comfort and safety.