If you take your boat offshore or make frequent crossings, you really should carry a ditch bag on board.
A ditch bag FOR boaters holds a collection of safety items one might need if you ever have to abandon ship for any reason, be it a sinking ship or a boat fire.
The ditch bag keeps all of the key items you need in an emergency close at hand, such as your flares, dye markers, whistles, first-aid kit, handheld VHF radio and EPIRB if it is not mounted on the vessel. Follow these simple steps to make a ditch bag for your helm and keep your crew safe on the high seas.
- Use a waterproof bag such as a dry bag to hold all of the emergency equipment, and keep it within easy reach from the helm. If you ever need it, you’re going to need it quick!
- Pack your flares in the bag and don’t forget to check the expiration dates on your flares and other pyrotechnic devices. If you ever get stopped by the “man” he won’t forget to check. It’s alright to keep some of the expired flares in the bag because they will probably still work; however, you should label and seperate the good flares from the expired flares. It is also better when being checked, if you can hand over the good ones right away.
- Charge your handheld VHF often if you carry one.
- Let your fishing buddies know that you have a ditch bag, where it is and what’s in it. Also make it a point to show all of your passengers the location of lifejackets and fire extinguishers.
- Develop a safety speech for the beginning of your trip. It may sound lame, but it can save lives. Don’t assume that your passengers know where the ditch bag and lifejackets are located. If something hits the fan, you may get knocked out. It’s safer to make sure everyone knows where the safety equipment is.
- A radio check is a great idea before each trip, as that may be your only link to help. Ask for the responder to give you their location to make sure they are not beside you at the ramp.
- Can any of your passengers get the boat home if you have a problem and can’t run the boat? A quick lesson on how to get a heading home and making sure that everyone knows the emergency channel is 16 never hurts.
- File a float plan with a friend, wife, girlfriend or relative. Make sure someone knows your basic plan for the day. Plan to check back in with them when you arrive home. Make sure they know what to do if you don’t call in, such as having emergency phone numbers and such.
- Carry a satellite phone. Sat phones have become very affordable and the ability to call the authorities from just about anywhere on the ocean is priceless. If you have one, tape the phone for the Coast Guard right on the phone itself and don’t forget to charge it! Most sat phones are not waterproof so store it in a protective case or bag.
- Carry a life raft. If you spend a good deal of time offshore, you should carry a life raft. Take the time and check the raft’s last service date. The hydrostatic release also has an expiration date.
- Always go through your safety gear as part of your normal fishing checklist and you and your passengers will be better off for it.
- Stay up to date with the Coast Guard’s safety requirements. This link will help you determine what is required and prudent, United States Coast Guard.