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Old 05-30-2013
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Re: Ditch bag

Of course there is no one list that works for everyone, nor for every situation equally well. You could be left bobbing in the water with a hull dropping to the bottom in what, 20 seconds? Of course a mortally wounded boat could also linger on the surface for hours first. Then seriously evaluate conditions, the difference between abandoning in calm seas vs. a gale vs. a storm are radically different. Of course very different are also the chances of encountering these coastal cruising vs. offshore cruising.

Let me add another variable. Consider for a moment your boat is sinking, say your instinct is you have 3 minutes, pick the weather. Now the variable I'm adding is someone in your crew (maybe someone you love) has a broken leg, or maybe is unconscious. How many of us have really thought out different, plausible, scenarios like these. Plans of grabbing this or that being nearby and grabbing it will likely never happen. What if you're the one unconscious?

The way I see it, if all plans go to pot, the one thing my crew(family) and I NEED to greatly increase survival is a liferaft. That's #1. So with that in mind, our ocean Winslow is prepackaged with as much survival gear as possible. In the liferaft our job is just to stay alive long enough for someone else to help us. If all we get is ourselves in, we still have everything we need to stay alive, make our presence known, and be visible (water, emergency rations, EPIRB, Flares, smoke, etc.). It also has repair kit, fishing kit, and first aid kit.

When it comes to ditchbags, I almost look at them as a luxury I may be able to grab. If I can, it will increase my resources, but this is still survival mode; not packing for a trip to Gilligan's island. Remove what is not essential. The less you pack, the more buoyant they will remain when you heave it overboard; and the lighter it is the more chances the weakest member of your crew can hurl it into, or near, the liferaft. Don't assume you'll have the luxury of tying your raft so everyone can get supplies and themselves in.

We have two ditchbags, both are in the locker closest to the liferaft, with the thought is that'll be where we are, increasing the chances of grabbing one or both. Both have water, flares, smoke, emergency rations, and glo-sticks. The larger one also has a flashlight, batteries, VHF Radio, sunscreen and a knife. We need to add spare eyeglasses since both of us wear contacts (couple dies at sea, blind f**kers didn’t see the plane approaching, never signaled). That's it. I've heard a lot about having cash or a credit card in the bag. I think it makes sense for offshore boats, and I'd add that item to the bag before getting underway. In fact, why not just keep your wallet there while you're out. If we have the luxury, I'd also grab our first aid kit and binoculars from down below. With two ditchbags, I look at it as I’ve doubled my chances of fishing one out of the water, and could potentially have more supplies.

Another point that needs consideration is how much water, food and flares you need. That is really a calculation of how many souls in your boat multiplied by how many days you could be expect to be at sea before a rescue; again, very different for offshore and coastal cruisers. This was in fact what pushed us into the second ditchbag. Most of the room is really just fresh water (turns out a family of 4 can drink a lot of water in a week). I don’t want to bet everyone’s survival on a little water maker working and not being dropped in when we need it. We have one (packed in the liferaft), as a long term strategy if the freshwater packets run out, not as a primary source of water.

In summary, it is just my opinion that the best chance is to have a prepackaged liferaft. Of course I wouldn’t sail without a properly packed ditchbag onboard, but I won’t forget that there are too many variables to overcome to count on it alone. And the boat leaves with whatever the bag needs already in it.
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