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Q&A ditch bags

What should be carried in a ditch bag?

The contents of a ditch bag will vary from boat to boat, whether you’re an ocean voyager or a day tripper. Well-provisioned ditch bags can be purchased from a variety of sources and manufacturers. As expected, the higher the price, the more (or better) gear that’s included. But whether you purchase a prepacked ditch bag or assemble your own, start by considering how and where you use your boat, and consult experts for suggestions.

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An Internet search yields various suggestions and opinions, but start with the essentials: waterproof handheld VHF radio, PLB, handheld GPS, flare kit, strobe light, dye markers and smoke signals, signaling mirror, whistle, waterproof flashlight, chemical light sticks, drinking water, first aid kit, sunscreen and zip-close bags for cell phones, spare batteries, duct tape and personal items, such as medication and eyeglasses. Other items to consider are binoculars, a fishing kit, Mylar space blankets, protein bars or sealed beef jerky, sunglasses and lip balm. Unless you’re heading far offshore, most experts suggest preparing for two or three days awaiting rescue.

Beyond the contents, the bag itself should deliver on a few qualities, namely positive flotation. Look for a flotation rating, or float load. For example, the ACR RapidDitch Bag has a float load of “18 pounds dead weight” with the bag “flooded in fresh water.” Other features to look for include water resistance (only the most expensive bags are waterproof); visibility (most are yellow or international orange), preferably with reflector strips; and sturdy handles and lanyards.
A well-assembled ditch bag is not the end. Be sure to check the bag at the beginning of every season and replace all batteries, expired flares, and torn water or food packets.

This article originally appeared in the April issue.