Is Your Ditch Bag Ready?

Randy Boone June 8, 2009

Whether you’re traveling to The Bahamas from nearby South Florida, or departing from Port Canaveral in search of hefty yellowfin tuna on the other side of the `Stream, safety should always be of the utmost importance. Before departing on any journey to the deep blue you need to have the appropriate safety equipment well maintained and equally as important, easily accessible.

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Photo: ACR

The purpose of a ditch bag is to have a collection of survival items in a bag or container that’s capable of floating (did you float check yours?) should you be faced with the unthinkable – a quick decision to abandon ship! When compiling a ditch bag you should keep the following ideas in mind. Will I have some sort of floatation/hypothermia protection? Will I have appropriate signaling devices? Will I have ample drinking water?

This essential device which costs only a few hundred dollars is absolutely mandatory and could easily make the difference of being rescued in hours, or never at all.

Floatation: Life vests allow you to maintain an upright posture without having to expend energy while trying to stay afloat. This floatation will also allow you to assume the heat escape lessening position (H.E.L.P.) needed to slow down the rapid heat loss that causes the on-set of hypothermia. Hypothermia is the lowering of your body temperature and is enhanced 25 times by water submersion. Because of this, floatation from a life raft or a life vest is paramount for your survival, even in the warm waters off the coast of Florida.

Signals: With over 3,000-hours as a side window scanner for the U.S. Coast Guard, I know first hand how difficult it is to be spotted from an aircraft. Without signaling devices, your chances of being spotted are nearly zero. This is why you must keep your signals ready and be effective and precise with your motions.

Water: The human body is comprised of approximately 70-percent water. Once your water level drops, you start to lose dexterity and the ability to think clearly. Being submerged in the water while waiting for rescue is not a good time to lose your mind! Do not ration water. Drink water up front so you will have the strength and energy to perform at your best while establishing a survival platform.

It’s important you look at the practical uses of a ditch bag. Is it a survival station for a person in the water, or is it meant to be a supplement to enhance your life raft survival equipment? When building a life raft compliment ditch bag you should first determine what equipment is packed in your life raft. You may be surprised to find that there’s less equipment than you originally thought.

If your vessel is not equipped with a life raft, then I would be very careful with my selection. A ditch bag stuffed to the brim with a massive amount of survival equipment could turn out to be your worst enemy. It becomes very easy to fall into the “more the better” syndrome. Chances are you’ll never use half of the items, and depending on the sea state, you may not be able to use any of them!

Tips To Consider When Preparing A Ditch Bag
Do not place signaling items in the interior of your kit. Signals play an integral role in your rescue and you need to keep them close at hand and easily accessible. I highly suggest you attach them to an exterior pocket using a nylon cord. On the walls of the inside compartment you should find additional storage pockets. Water foil packets are small and flat, and you will be able to fit many in these interior pockets. This is the only place where the “more the better” rings true. Next, insert as many life vests as you can without making it difficult to get them out. The best life vests for this application are the manual inflation belt design. Before placing the life vests in your ditch bag it’s a good idea to attach a signal mirror, whistle, and sea dye marker. If you connect your EPIRB to the bag with a nylon tether, when it’s time to deploy the EPIRB simply turn it on and let it float away. This essential device which costs only a few hundred dollars is absolutely mandatory and could easily make the difference of being rescued in hours, or never at all.

While we’re at it, let’s not lose our ditch bag! Fabricate a 10-foot cord that will allow you to keep the ditch bag close at hand while also enabling others in the group to use the line as a hold-onto point to stay together.

As you can see, it’s not so much about what you put in the ditch bag, it’s about how well the equipment functions for you. Without a ditch bag, the results of an unforeseen emergency could result in tragedy!

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