Abandon Ship bag

Assembling Your Own Abandon Ship Bag.

(Also called a "ditch bag," "ditch kit," "grab bag," or "flee bag.").

by Survival Expert James Mandeville ©2020

This article is primarily for: Those responsible for lives at sea.


Short range yachts, which operate within 96.5 kilometres (60 miles) of a safe haven, must carry a SOLAS (The International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea) B Pack. Other ships must carry a SOLAS A Pack. Both SOLAS packs must have a raft repair kit, pump, paddles, a first aid kit and other emergency equipment. A SOLAS A Pack also carries a can opener, a drinking cup, fishing kit, flares, rocket and smoke signals, and food and water provisions per person. A SOLAS B Pack carries hand flares, rocket signals and smoke signals.

Typical standard accessories provided with a life raft
First aid kit, leak stoppers, sponge, repair kit, bellows, survival manual, signal tables, hand flares, anti–seasickness pills, seasickness bags and waterproof notebook. Accessories attached to the raft: Quoit and line bag; knife and pocket; sea anchor and swivel; whistle; paddles; external light; internal light; torch and bailer.

life raft kit
Life Raft Standard Accessories

Typical commercial abandon ship bag contains
Latex tube; survival manual; whistle; plastic; bagged water; translucent plastic sheet; sharpening stone; personnel distress kit; knife; pocket; space blanket; lensatic compass;  nylon cord; sea dye marker; light; distress marker; sunburn cream – pre–sun factor 15; fishing kit; bailing bucket; sponge, water bags; food packet; knife; desalinator kit; distress signal; signal mirror; first aid kit; repair kit; battery – AA–Alkaline; hand pump; accessories container and radio transceiver and battery for PRC radio (Lithium).

life raft survival bag
Considerations for your own survival kit
It make good sense wherever one is sailing to carry onboard ship an "Abandon Ship Bag" containing additional emergency supplies and equipment. The same applies to pilots who fly over the oceans in case of ditching in the sea. Quality survival items often duplicate expensive equipment already carried onboard, but anything to speed up rescue or enable survival until help arrives is worth the extra investment.

Your own Abandon Ship Bag

(Fit a lanyard to everything possible, thoroughly test every item and make sure your crew knows how to use the equipment before you pack your bag. It is also a good time to inflate your life raft, test it and check that all the equipment provided with it is in place and working.)

Items you should consider carrying:

Eight – Raft Repair Clamps (4 small, 3 medium, 1 large) (Illustrated below is the Clam Seal life raft repair clamp.)

life raft repair clamps
Patch kits that come with most rafts require the surface being patched must be dry, which is impossible, to say nothing of repairs below the water line. So carry your own repair clamps and also take the opportunity to pack a set of Clam Seals in your life raft at the same time just for good measure.

The very best solution, and the only workable one, is the military–style oval clamps which are available in three sizes (one set costs between £35 and £64 ($55 and $100), depending on supplier). Like the name implies, these actually clamp the material between two sealed surfaces, which is the only reliable way to seal a hole in the life raft fabric by mechanical means.

At least one manufacturer includes a set of three, one each size. Bear in mind that the smaller clamps are more likely to be needed most, so try and get more of them if possible.

Ridged, or threaded, cone–shaped, rubber or plastic plugs make a less effective permanent repair than clamps make, but are handy for small punctures and as a quick stop–gap measure.

Two Manual Inflation Pumps
Life rafts that are at sea for some time will needmanual inflation pump inflating. Survivors have reported that pumps fail all too often and a spare is vital equipment. Make sure that any adapters/hose/clamps work with the life raft's topping–up valves; test this before you need to do it for real. Illustrated is the "Northwest River Supply–NRS Wonder Pump Super 6." It has the advantage that it inflates on both the upward and downward strokes and has a non–kink hose.
sea anchor

Three Sea Anchors / Drogues, and lines
Sea anchors are lost far too often in serious weather.

Make sure they meet SOLAS specifications and are equipped with swivels. They should be made from rip–stop fabric and have non–tangle lines.

Four Sponges
Synthetic sponge is longer–lasting than real sponge.spongeChoose a size you can use single–handed. If it is too small it will prove frustrating to use, if too large you will get tired using it after a short while. As with all your equipment, fit a rope to sponges so you can tie them to the life raft or to your wrist; they are easily lost whilst wringing them out over the side in rough weather of if you are cold and depleted. Remember that sponges can also be used to collect rainwater, so it is good practice to keep at least one sponge specifically for this purpose. Life rafts have a strong smell of rubber and sponges used to mop out the raft will also begin to smell of rubber – not pleasant in drinking water (although it will not harm you). All rain water mopped up from the raft fabric must be purified chemically; do not collect drinking water from the floor of the raft unless absolutely desperate.

You may be using the bailer often; make sure it is strong, comfortable to work with, and is equipped with a handle large enough to permit two–handed use. Most survivors agree that bailers provided as standard life raft equipment often proved ineffective in use so buy one that is going to do the job. Make sure it is permanently attached to the raft with a lanyard or to your wrist especially when using it. If it is a raft carrying two or more parsons, it is prudent to carry more than one bailer.

One roll Waterproof Duct or Sail Mending Tape
duct tapeProfessional–grade duct tape is best. Some manufacturers claim the tape is waterproof but make sure it also sticks well when wet. Try it before you pack it. It is effective for repairing small leaks above the water line and is incredibly useful material to have when improvising or making repairs. Also carry a roll of sail mending tape which, while more expensive (for the good stuff), is designed for use around salt water, and the high–strength adhesive and reinforced tape is far stronger. Sail mending tape can be edge–stitched, which is useful for repairing clothing. As with all survival gear, fit a lanyard to the roll.

Several – Plugs for pressure release valves (PRV) and topping up valves
plugs for pressure releaseTubes expand in the sun, the PRV simply releases the excess pressure. If your life raft doesn't have this fitted, pressure builds up and simply works its way between the glued sections, causing the raft to have a permanent annoying leak. How many you carry depends upon how many valves are in the raft; pack at least one spare for each valve. Many topping–up valves have integrated plugs attached, but carry a couple of spares because they tend to be torn off and lost. Some PRV plugs don't have lanyards attached, but most PRV's are located on the exterior of the raft, so it ispressure release valves easy to drop the plugs into the sea. Most PRV's don't float, so add lanyards to them. The body valve is coloured grey and the safety cup is coloured red. They come in different colours, each colour corresponds to a setting pressure. If you over–inflate, the PRV releases air leaving the tubing at the correct pressure. Make sure you have the correct adapter fitted to your inflation pumps. Note that some PRV designs cannot be plugged, but can be closed using a special tool, which should be included, along with a spare.

pressure release valves
Illustrated above are other types of PRV's ready fitted with cap loops to which a lanyard can be tied. This Pressure Relief Valve combines rapid opening, high flow rates and consistent reseat pressures. The valve can be provided with a skirt to smooth the external profile of the valve which is useful if snagging of safety lines is a problem. Two types of plug are available; the standard rubber plug for normal use on life rafts (photo above, left) and a screw–type plug for sealing against higher pressures (photo above, right). These valves are also colour–coded:
1.00 psi Grey; 1.75 psi Yellow; 2.00 psi Blue; 2.50 psi Brown; 2.75 psi White; 3.25 psi Orange; 4.00 psi Red; 5.00 psi Black; 6.00 psi Green and 10.00 psi Pink.

At least one – 406 MHz EPIRB (Emergency Position–Indicating Radio Beacon):
Emergency Position–Indicating Radio BeaconA 406 MHz EPIRB is possibly the single most important piece of survival kit in the life raft. However, they are electronic and they have been known to fail. It is best to invest in two, made by different manufacturers, so there is no chance that some inherent design flaw or manufacturing fault could cripple both. Keep one in the bag, the other can either be packed in the life raft or mounted on the boat where it can be grabbed quickly as you abandon ship.

If you are only sailing in busy coastal waters, one EPIRB and a VHF radio is probably all you need.

Make sure the 406 MHz EPIRB you purchase has a fresh battery. It is possible that some EPIRBs have sat on shelves long enough to have less than half their original battery life remaining. Many 406 MHz EPIRBs require the unit be returned to the manufacturer or an authorized service centre for battery replacement. In such an instance, it may be advisable to check the battery level before departing your home port.

NAT 406 MHz GPIRB (with GPS). Don't forget to register your 406 MHz EPIRB(s)! Remember, the primary goal after surviving the abandonment is to get rescued!

Important: Most 406 MHz EPIRBs are equipped with a flashing beacon to serve as a location aid, as such, the 406 MHz EPIRB is designed to float on a tether outside the life raft. If you don't want to trust your life to a thin nylon or polythene line, especially in foul weather, keep the EPIRB onboard the raft. Be aware that the EPIRB must be oriented with the antenna vertical to operate properly. You can't just lay it down on the floor of the raft. If your raft is equipped with a canopy, tie or tape it to the vertical canopy arch. Also, the beacon flashing inside the raft will be a mental and physical health risk so cover the flashing beacon over.

One – ICOM Marine GMDSS (Global Maritime Distress and Safety System) Hand held Radio
Global Maritime Distress and Safety System Hand held Radio The best solution is to pack a special survival radio, but in most cases this is likely to be the one you normally use on the boat, preferably waterproof (or in a waterproof enclosure). Ideally, it should be GMDSS  compliant; most new models are. Illustrated photo left, is the ICOM, IC–M23 buoyant VHF Marine Handheld Transceiver. It measures just under 13 cm (5 inches) in height and is the smallest and lightest buoyant handheld currently on the market. An important safety feature of the buoyant IC–M23 is that it has a bright internal red LED which automatically starts flashing on three sides of the base of the radio when it comes into contact with water. This function will be especially useful if the radio is dropped in the water in low light conditions or even at night. If your radio is fitted with rechargeable ni–cad batteries used for normal operations replace them; be sure your emergency hand–held takes alkaline or lithium batteries and make sure you carry a spare set in the abandon ship bag. If your hand–held is not able to be equipped with an alkaline or lithium battery pack, it isn't really suitable for survival use. Most radios give around 10 hours operating time fully charged.

Two – Signalling Mirrors:

ACR Electronics Hot Shot Signalling Mirror and whistle

Hot Shot Signalling Mirror and whistle
Author recommends: The Hot Shot is in essence a mirror and whistle combo, all attached via a lanyard and a float to keep it from sinking if dropped in water. In a survival situation, it should always be worn around the neck because one never knows when a ship, helicopter or passing boat will appear. The low profile 102–decibel whistle is patented and meets USCG's (United States Coast Guard) audible level for alerting nearby rescuers under low visibility conditions.

ACR mirror
Consists of a polycarbonate mirror, a whistle that meets the USCG requirements, and a float to keep from sinking if dropped in water.

The Signal Mirror, with the integrated red dot viewing window, is very straightforward to use. Just place the back of the mirror close to one eye. ACR Electronics recommends a distance of about two inches. Then reflect sunlight into your hand or onto a nearby object where you can easily see the reflection. Now look into the viewing window and look at the reflection from the mirror. You'll notice a red dot where the reflection is located. After you have obtained the red dot, simply move the red spot to the target. The spot shows you where you're signalling.

ACR mirror red dot
When looking through the viewing window the red spot will appear like the picture on the right when your light source is the bright sun. Point the red dot at your target when signalling.

By viewing your subject through the window and the red indicating spot on the target, you know you're sending the reflections where it counts. The only down side to any mirror used as a signalling device is that when there's no sun, you cannot use it. But when there is, the reflective signal from the Hot Shot mirror can travel a great distance. On tests we were able to easily see the reflection over 3.2 kilometres (2 miles) away on the water and on land.

ACR mirror instructions
Instructions for use clearly printed on back of mirror.

StarFlash Mirror
(The flash can be seen for 161 kilometres/ 100 miles)
StarFlash Mirror
Another very good signalling mirror. It floats, is lighter than glass and is virtually indestructible. Use it for emergency signalling, to send a pinpoint flash to a rescue plane, helicopter, vehicle, or distant search party. Do not dazzle the pilot once you have been spotted; aim the mirror at the tail of the aircraft.

Pains–Wessex SOLAS flares: 8 to 12 Para Red Rockets Mk8A

Pains-Wessex SOLAS flares

A day or night long–range distress signal. The Pains Wessex Para Red MK8A Rocket conforms to SOLAS 74/88 as amended. Designed to withstand exposure to harsh environments and to perform reliably even after immersion in water. The pull–wire igniter and improved grip provides easy handling. Ejecting a red flare on a parachute at 300 m (100 ft), burning for 40 seconds at 30,000 candela.

Carry 8 to 12 (you can never have too many of them) in your Abandon Ship Bag.

To Use:
Remove red end cap. Hold firmly, vertically above head at arms length. Turn head away and pull toggle. Rocket is ejected instantaneously with a loud report and slight recoil. Be careful not to direct towards people or property. Ideally, flare should be stored in the robust, specially designed polythene bottle, or in a dry, easily accessed location at ambient temperature.

Red Hand flare Mk8
Red Hand flare Mk8Red hand–held, short range distress signal. Used to pinpoint location by day or night.

A compact, telescopic handle allows easy extension for safe operation and saves space in stowage. Burns for 60 seconds at 15,000 candela. Easily extended and pull wire operated.

Use to signal distress by day or night. Typically, 6 hand flares are required to be fitted in SOLAS/commercial life rafts and lifeboats. Ideally, should be stored in the robust, specially designed polythene bottle, or in a dry easily accessed location at ambient temperature.

Lifesmoke MK8
Orange, smoke distress signal providing effectiveLifesmoke MK8 position marking or indication of wind direction during rescue operations. Designed for stowage in life rafts. Safe to use on oil or petrol covered water. Produces dense orange smoke for a minimum of 3 minutes.

To Use
Peel off the top cap, pull the string sharply away from the body. A 2–second delay allows time to throw the canister downwind into the water. Ideally should be stored in the robust, specially designed polythene bottle, or in a dry, easily accessed location at ambient temperature.

24+ Pen or Pistol launched Meteor Flares
Pen or Pistol launched Meteor Flares
Illustrated: Orion 25 mm red aerial flares and Orion flare pistol. Orion 25 mm red aerial flaresNote that in many countries you need to present a firearms certificate to purchase a flare pistol or flare cartridges.

Average candlepower: 35,000. Average burn time: 7 seconds. Altitude: 1,128 m (3,700 ft).

Orion Pocket Rocket pen style flares
Orion Pocket Rocket pen style flares
These are compact (the smallest ones use a pen–style launcher taking up in total no more space than a single SOLAS parachute flare and they are nearly as effective as the much bulkier and more expensive standard 12 gauge pistol flare.). They are relatively inexpensive, loud, and bright enough to be reasonably effective at attracting attention from a moderate distance. Comes with launcher, waterproof floatable storage container that is compact and corrosion resistant, and 3 red aerial flares. Average candlepower: 10,000. Average burn time: 6.5 seconds each (19.5 seconds total). Altitude: 91.4 m (300 ft). Be sure to order lots of additional flares. Make sure also that they are well packed to protect them from moisture as these flares are the most susceptible to damp problems. These are not a substitute for SOLAS parachute flares.

In general
Seal all flares in vacuum bags for longest life, especially the small meteor flares. Good flares are expensive, treat them with care so your investment lasts as long as possible and they will serve you more reliably in time of need.

Finally, practice with some live flares so you know what to expect. Many sailing and coastguard organizations provide training. Pyrotechnics are dangerous, both to people and your raft. Be very careful when using them, read the instructions, and THINK FIRST before you fire off any pyrotechnic device!

Rescue Streamer

Rescue Streamer

Far better than short lived and messy sea dye marker, the 12.2 meter (40 ft) long streamer is long–lasting, unattended, and gives much improved visibility for easier sighting by airborne SAR, often critical in open water rescues.
Rescue Streamer packed

visibility of rescue streamer
Photo left, SAR (Search And Rescue) view of life raft in ocean.
Photo right, view using Rescue Streamer. Photo top, Rescue Streamer packed.

One Personal Strobe Light

Personal Strobe Light
Not a high priority, but worth having. Be sure to include spare battery(ies).

Noise Signals Whistle or HornSea Horn
You should carry a whistle on your person at all times but they are of questionable value on the high seas. A horn could be useful, especially in heavily travelled coastal or inland waters, but the gas canisters have very limited life. Seachoice 46311 Pump Blast Air Horn (Photo right) is a manually pumped horn. Pump to fill the canister and then blast away. When empty, pump again to refill the cylinder. Meets all USCG requirements for boats up to 19.8 m (65 ft) and is a useful addition to an Abandon Ship Bag.

One pair Binoculars
BinocularsWill you have time to grab the pair you normally use on the boat in the stress of abandoning ship? To be safe, pack an extra pair of waterproof binoculars in your Abandon Ship Bag.

One Raft Knife

Raft Knife
The raft knife is the one that comes attached to the raft to be used to cut the painter if necessary (though by regulation and design the painter should break free before the raft is submerged). The knife is supposed to be designed so it is almost impossible to harm the raft or survivors in the often wild moments immediately after an abandoning ship. This can be a "zip" style or a conventional style, but both are much useless for anything else except opening plastic bags and such. You should know where to find it when you board the raft. It should be close by the painter attachment point, but "close" is subject to interpretation. Some are outside on the canopy, others inside.

One (or more) Survival Knife
Gerber Clip-Lock KnifeFor example, the Gerber Clip–Lock Knife, photo right. The argument over whether this should have a blunt tip or not will probably go on forever. USCG and SOLAS insist on a blunt tipped jack (folding) knife. Most that are included in rafts are of questionable design and quality. Certainly, given the risks of using a knife in an inflatable boat or life raft at sea, a blunt tip can prevent injury to both person and the raft. However, as a primary survival knife, a blunt tipped blade is far from ideal.

Sea KnifeTalk to a few survivors who have been there, or read their accounts, and they will tell you how useful a real pointed tip is and how much they wished for one, if they didn't have it. From my point of view, the best situation is to have both a blunt blade, such as the SS Lockback, illustrated left, for use in rough seas for example, and a pointed tip blade for your primary survival knife.

Gerber Knife
Ideally, this pointed tip blade should be a sturdy fixed blade knife in a plastic (not cloth or leather) sheath, not a folding knife. It should be single edged, not double edged as many "dive knives" are. A quality folding knife with a locking blade would make a good back–up to your primary survival knife and can provide the blunt safety tipped blade.

This is one instance where you don't want a high carbon steel blade. Water, particularly salt water, and high carbon steel do not go together. A stainless steel knife will not hold an edge quite as well, but that is a compromise you have to accept.

One Multi–purpose Tool
Mulit toolIllustrated above is the Leatherman Super Tool 300. Described by the manufacturer as 19 tools: 420HC stainless steel clip point knife. 420HC sheepsfoot serrated knife. Needlenose pliers. Regular pliers. 154CM replaceable wire cutters. 154CM replaceable hard wire cutters. Stranded wire cutters. Wire stripper. Electrical crimper. 5/16" screwdriver. 7/32" screwdriver. 1/8" screwdriver. Phillips screwdriver. Wood/metal file saw. Bottle opener. Can opener. Awl with thread loop. 22 cm (9 in) ruler. Comfort sculpted handles with cut outs for access with gloves on. Stainless steel body. All locking blades and tools. Lanyard ring. Part leather/part nylon or nylon sheath. Compatible with removable bit driver (sold separately), which is also compatible with bit kit (sold separately). 25 year warranty. Knife blade length: 8.13 cm (3.2 in). Closed length: 11.5 cm (4.5 in). Weight: 272.15 g (9.6 oz).

This can serve as your back–up knife (though I would hope all survivors are equipped with their own folding knife of some sort, which they keep on their person at all times), and depending on your choice of tool, can include the sheepsfoot safety blade (as manufactured – or altered by you) discussed above. This tool will also serve as substitute for things like can openers, pliers, and others items that are normally included in lists such as this.

One Knife Sharpener
Diamond sharpeners don't resist salt water well, so you'll want either a conventional stone or a ceramic sharpener.

Navigation Equipment
One – Sextant:
Davis MK 15 Master Sextant
Davis MK 15 Master Sextant – A quality sextant for professional use, made from high impact, weather resistant plastic with salt–spray resistant mirrors.

Life rafts have no keel and tend to drift with the ocean currents, though some makers claim a limited sailing capability via various means. Dinghies, on the other hand, can be rowed or sailed if properly equipped. A sextant is useless, of course, without the relevant tables and a chronometer.

This means a sextant is probably not much use in a typical life raft (though a basic compass could be useful if you make landfall), while a good hand compass with adjustable declination, sextant, tables, charting tools, and some waterproofed charts would be a real asset in other situations. Don't forget waterproof paper and pencils. Given the cost, few are likely to include a spare sextant, but try to ensure the boat's sextant is handy to grab and stored in an appropriate watertight case (Pelican case, not the fancy wooden box it probably came in).

Garmin GPS
Garmin GPSThere is also the possibility of packing a hand–held waterproof GPS, for example, the Garmin GPSMAP 78s, which has a built–in 3–axis tilt–compensated electronic compass, which shows your heading even when you're standing still, without holding it level. Its barometric altimeter tracks changes in pressure to pinpoint your precise altitude, and you can even use it to plot barometric pressure over time to keep an eye on changing weather conditions. The price of basic models is so low as to make it a practical addition to an Abandon Ship Bag, though this is yet another piece of electronic equipment, with all that entails regarding reliability and useful life. If you plan to rely upon this as your primary navigation equipment (not the smartest plan unless you pack two) be sure to pack extra batteries and ensure it's really waterproof or in a waterproof enclosure.

If navigating after abandoning ship is a possibility, I also recommend reading David Burch's "Emergency Navigation – Pathfinding Techniques for the Inquisitive and Prudent Mariner" and including in your Abandon Ship Bag the companion water resistant "Starpath Emergency Navigation Card"

Two or more torches (flashlights) with spare bulbs and batteries

Apart from their obvious uses, torches are also an important signalling device. However, it is not at all necessary for the torch to have a momentary push–button switch with which to signal. Simply moving the light off an aim point is just as effective. This means you can select fully submersible scuba style lights (Pelican Products or Underwater Kinetics) that are inherently much more waterproof than traditional coast guard approved flashlights. (Note the wrist lanyards, which have sliding adjusters to cinch them up tight so they won't slip off, attached to the Pelican Super SabreLite torch illustrated above.)

Pelican Products AA–cell torches:
Pelican Super SabreLite torchChanging bulbs and batteries in a survival situation is not always the easiest task, and there is a lot to be said for not having to open the torch to install them while in potentially very wet survival conditions. It is better to carry a number of smaller AA–cell or AAA–cell lights instead of a single two or three D–cell torch. These are relatively inexpensive and very bright, but light and easier to handle and use. Again, fit them with wrist lanyards.

Standardizing on one battery size for all your electronic equipment, is an advantage, and most equipment is available that will run off AA–cell batteries. Lithium AA–cells are also readily available, they are more expensive, but are best for survival use having a very long shelf life, higher capacity and better cold weather performance. Spare batteries should be packaged in sets and vacuum bagged separately. The spare bulb or bulb module also should be protected from water damage and will also require protection from being crushed. A 35 mm film container works well for the bulb(s) with some packing material to prevent them rattling around.

LED torchWhile a tightly focused beam is best for signalling use and some other needs, something like a multiple LED torch will give exceptional battery life. Though not as bright, the better ones will provide adequate illumination for most uses in and around a life raft.

An LED back up wind up torch:
There are many dynamo LED torches on the market ranging from £20 ($35, €29) to twice or three times as much. At the top end, consider buying a Jonta. The state of the art ultra bright 1 watt white LED in this torch is highly efficient and never needs replacing.

JontaBoth wind up and rechargeable, this torch has an effective beam of over 50 metres (160 feet) and signal visibility over 3 kilometres (1.9 miles). 30 seconds of winding = 10 minutes of use. Microprocessor control gives a choice between energy saving, full power and flash settings for emergency signalling.

One Headband for Holding Torch or Headlamp

The ability to work with both hands free while lighting the work area with a torch can be a life–saver at times. The alternative to a simple headband would be a headlamp or an adaptable light such as one of the Pelican Versa–Brite series as illustrated below. Choose yellow, orange or light red coloured torches as these are more easily found in a dark life raft. They come with Lithium cells that burn for 100 hours. The light clips to clothing, etc., and tilts and swivels.
Pelican light

4 or more Chemical Light Sticks or Krill Lamps

If your raft is well equipped, it will have a central interior raft light, but few do. These can be powered by either a lithium cell battery or a water–activated battery. The lithium style can generally be switched as necessary, but often there is no good way to turn off the water–activated type (though some are designed so you can remove the cell from the water). In any case, once they have run out, any general illumination will have to come from an alternative light source. If your raft is not equipped with an interior raft light, then some alternative source of general illumination upon first boarding the raft is critical at night.Cylume This is both a working advantage and better for morale. Torches are not the best light source for this illumination.

Eight to twelve hour chemical light sticks (Cyalume, etc.) provide useful general illumination if hung from the canopy arch. The problem is that they cannot be turned off; once activated, that's it. Also, care must be taken not to puncture the protective foil package in storage or in the raft, for they will not retain their useful life for long if not sealed. Their light output in colder temperatures is significantly degraded.

Krill Lights:
Krill LightsAnother option is the Krill Light which uses AA–cells; an AAA–cell version is also available. They are preferable to chem–sticks, because they last much longer and can be switched on and off as needed. Fitting lithium batteries gives a longer shelf and working life. For life raft use, I'd probably include both chemical light sticks and Krill Lights. They come in Original and Extreme types, and in 180° and 360° versions as illustrated photo, left. The 360° give a good all round light and the 180° gives a good directional light (like a lower–powered torch), which is OK once the eyes have accommodated to low light and it is then possible to comfortably read with the light. The Extreme lights burn for 50 hours and the Original for 120 hours per set of AA batteries. The polycarbonate housing and O–ring seals make the Krill lamps waterproof to 45.7 m (150 ft).Krill Stick

The Krill sticks come in standard electroluminescent (EL) colours. For review, I got a blue one that lights up blue–green, a greenish–yellow that lights up aquamarine and a pink one that lights up greenish–white. If you want to read maps or anything coloured use a pink one; it's not a very clean white, but it's good enough for many purposes. The aquamarine one's the brightest, by a small margin, because aquamarine is the natural light colour of the EL material.

The Krill lamps are, however, no brighter than a regular long–life ("twelve hour") glow stick, at room temperature. They'll be a lot brighter at low temperatures; even at several degrees above freezing, chemical glow sticks dim considerably, while alkaline batteries can still supply the modest demands of the Krill light with no trouble. If you want a glow stick that'll work when it's really cold, a Krill light kitted out with lithium AA cells should be good for forty below (Celsius or Fahrenheit – minus forty is where the scales cross over).

One Diving Mask
Diving maskPrimarily to help perform raft maintenance and repairs underwater. When choosing a mask, make sure that there is an inscription on glass TEMPERED or SAFETY. This means that the porthole is made of tempered safety glass or plastic. Such materials are resistant to mechanical damages; when broken there are no dangerous fragments.

One Fire Starter and Tinder
Not much use in the raft at all, but could be life–savers if you make landfall.

One Sewing Kit

Sewing kit
This should include a variety of sturdy needles (stainless steel if you can find them), sewing awl and a spool or two of waxed thread for use in making repairs and improvisations. The sail palm (shown bottom, left of the photo) is a good idea if the seas are choppy.

One Fishing Kit
The biggest problems with most of the fishing kits supplied with life rafts or pre–packaged for life raft use are the lack of an easily gripped winder to hold and manage the line so it doesn't cut into your hand when "reeling–in" a fish, lack of wire leaders, and far too few hooks. In addition, the hooks included are never stainless steel. To be honest, most of the fishing kits included with the majority of rafts are virtually worthless, with very little equipment and what's there is of dubious quality.

Despite the expense, it only makes sense to pack stainless steel fish hooks. Hooks are small, light, and easily lost, so carry plenty of them. Most long–term survival tales include descriptions of the survivor agonizing over the use of their few fishing hooks, worried they lost them. Include plenty so you can eliminate this worry

hand fishing lineSome possible sources for a winder are a flat kite winder, available at many toy stores, or the "Streamlines Casting Handline" (photo, left). Both offer a decent grip and are large enough to be practical while still small enough to pack well.

Remember, you are not going big game fishing; you can't risk damaging the raft fighting a large fish, so your tackle needs to be sized for the small to moderate size fish you can safely handle. You may still find yourself cutting loose a larger shark, sacrificing some line, leader and hook for safety's sake.

Suggested fishing kit contents:

122 m (400 ft). – Monofilament Fishing Line, 9 kg (20 pounds).
36+ – Barbed Hooks, size 2/0
36+ – Barbed Hooks, size 2
24+ – Barbed Hooks, size 6
6 – Barbed Treble Hooks, size 1
6 – Barbed Treble Hooks, size 6
6 – Barbed Treble Hooks, size 8 or 10
24 – Nylon Leaders with Snap Swivels, 25.4 – 30.5 cm (10 – 12 in)
12 – Wire Leaders with Snap Swivels, 20.3 cm (8 in)
24 – Snap Swivels
24 – Assorted Sinkers
12 – Chrome Spoons and Lures
3 – Straight Shank Hook, size 9/0 (for gaffing)
2 – Winders
1 – Waterproof Fishing Instruction Booklet including illustrations of fishing knots

BCB fishing kit
BCB make a life raft survival fishing kit as illustrated above. All items are good quality but you need more hooks – or pack several kits!

Two pairs of Gloves
waterproof glovesThese should be sturdy well–oiled leather or coated manmade material that will withstand immersion in water and damp conditions. They are used when fishing and doing other tasks where your hands could be injured. Pack a lighter pair of waterproof gloves that allow for greater dexterity when performing more delicate tasks. Non–slip gripping areas would be an asset.

One Spear Gun with spare parts
Life raft survivor Steven Callahan gives a detailed description in his book "Adrift: 76 Days Lost At Sea (1986)" of how vital his spear gun was in his epic tale of survival. Callahan's inexpensive spear gun eventually did not stand up to the rigors of prolonged use. A decent gun with a set of spare power bands, shafts, and heads is expensive. The most compact designs probably will not fit inside your Abandon Ship Bag, even if disassembled, so you'll need to make other arrangements for storage and to make sure it goes with you when you leave. Cressi make a 40 cm (15.74 in) gun that has a high specification. The Cressi SL Star 40 cm (15.74 in) is illustrated below. This short, but effective, spear gun is all one needs for use from a life raft.

spear gunOne Cutting Board
chopping boardThis will protect the raft when cleaning fish and other seafood and will provide a hard work surface upon which to make repairs and improvisations. Should be impervious to saltwater. If using a soft–sided bag, size the board to fit fully in the bottom and it will make the bag much easier to handle. Be sure all edges and corners are smooth and rounded to prevent damage to the bag or raft. Chose a board with a cut–out handle (as in above photo) or drill a hole through it so you can secure the board to the raft with a lanyard. Some paddles, which are included with some rafts, can be used as improvised cutting boards, but others are not flat enough or large enough to be useful.

One – Collapsible Bucket, 4 – 8 litre (1 – 2 US gallon) size
bucketThis might serve as your bailer, but is useful for many purposes, such as, collecting rainwater. Fabric or plastic, make sure if it is fabric it doesn't leak at the seams.

One Waterproof camera
waterproof cameraIf you end up with an epic survival story you may just be able to sell the publication rights and replace your treasured sunken craft. Many have made a lot of money out of book and film rights. You can also use the built–in flash gun as a signalling aid.

Basic items for general use
Other items to include in your Abandon Ship Bag depend for a large part on where you operate. I will include only the basics for general use. You should supplement this with additional clothing for colder waters, essential prescription medicines, etc., if appropriate.

Anti–emetics (Anti Sea Sickness)

One set of clothing (per person)
There are many stories of how survivors had to abandon ship in a hurry or in the middle of the night in the clothes they were wearing. So, packing a set of clothing appropriate to the climate for each person would be a good idea. If this is not possible in your Abandon Ship Bag, have a second waterproof, floating bag containing the additional items to hand and ready to go at all times. You can die of sunburn and most clothing gives no protection from the sun, especially when it is wet. It is a good idea to have clothing that is UV treated; the same goes for headgear.

Include one UV–treated Shade Hat or Watch Cap (per person, as appropriate to climate).

Include one pair of Polaroid sun glasses (per person, wrap around style with retainer strap).

One Thermal Protective Aid (per person)
themroprotective clothing
  • Designed to keep people warm and protected against rain, wind and cold. Provides protection down to –30 Centigrade (–22 Fahrenheit).

  • Keeps survivor warm and dry by preserving body heat.

  • U.S.C.G. (United States Coast Guard) and EU (European Union) approved, meeting the latest SOLAS specifications.

  • For use in lifeboats and life rafts.

  • Uses a strong, superior laminate material which meets strict coast guard specifications.

  • All seams are heat welded (not sewn) which makes the bag impermeable to water leakage.

  • Has a long zipper for easier donning.

  • Sized large enough to accommodate a person wearing a life jacket.
(Packed Dimensions: 13.3 x 17.8 x 3.2 cm (5.2 x 7 x 1.26 in). Weight 200 g / 7.05 oz)

One large tube of waterproof sun screen (per person) and several tubes of intensive skin repair cream
Most survivors talk of the terrible problems they had with skin that cracked and became sore or infected because of effects of salt water and burning sun. You are not on a life raft to get a Mediterranean tan, so pack a high factor (50) sun cream or total blocker, especially if: you are fair–skinned and easily burn, and risk children or babies being casualties of your maritime disaster. Pack several 100% sun protection/moisturizing sticks for nose and lips. Avoid sore, cracked skin by packing several tubes of intensive moisturizing cream for both hands and face.

One tube or tub Zinc Oxide
SudocremThis gives 100% sun protection for cheek bones and nose and is also useful for treating minor cuts and abrasions.

How to use
First, wash and dry the affected area. Apply a generous amount of ointment to completely cover the affected area. Wash your hands immediately after using Zinc Oxide Cream. Zinc Oxide Cream is for external use only. Avoid getting Zinc Oxide Cream in your eyes, nose, or mouth (so do not use on the lips). Zinc Oxide Cream may be harmful if swallowed.

Possible side effects of Zinc Oxide Cream:
All medicines may cause side effects, but most people have no, or minor, side effects: Severe allergic reactions (rash; hives; difficulty breathing; tightness in the chest; swelling of the mouth, face, lips, or tongue). This is not a complete list of all side effects that may occur; make certain you are not affected or ask your doctor for an alternative if you are.

16 or more – 125 ml (4.224 fl oz) Water Packets minimum (per person)

7.6 litres (2 US gallons) + – Supplementary Water (per person).

Potable water is essential for survival. However, you can only pack a limited amount in a life raft and Abandon Ship Bag. Supplementary water supplies are essential, even if you carry solar stills and an osmotic pump. Be sure that supplementary water supplies are stored in sturdy containers with watertight screw–on caps. These should float when filled, it sounds obvious to read here, but I have heard of at least five people who threw water barrels overboard, only to watch them sink to the depths. Allow sufficient air space to provide flotation. All containers should be tethered together with lanyards to ensure they are not lost.

emergency water packs
Almost universally these days, emergency water for life rafts is supplied in 125 ml (4.224 fl oz) foil water packets (photo above). These are difficult to open and drink from, especially in rough seas. Carry a plastic cup and empty the contents of the packet into it so there is less chance of wasting this precious water.

One – Katadyn Survivor–06 Desalinator
Katadyn Survivor 06 Desalinator
The only practical and reliable way to turn salt water into fresh. Output: 0.89 litres/hr (30 oz/hr). While much more expensive, the military model offers significant advantages. Note also that the 06 requires regular maintenance, just like the life raft. You can perform the required biocide application yourself (biocide is included when you purchase the pump), but every few years it is a good idea to have the complete pump serviced. If money and space is not a major consideration, consider a Katadyn Survivor 35 model.
Katadyn Survivor 06 Desalinator
The difference in effort required pumping and the quantity of water delivered is significant. Output: 4.5 litres/hr (1.2 gallons/hr).

One Bottle Water Purification Tablets or Filter
water purification tabletsA bottle of Potable Aqua should suffice. Won't turn salt water into fresh, but will ensure freshwater is more or less safe, whether you're floating in it or if you make it to shore. It is a good idea to repackage them in a plastic bottle with a plastic screw cap (old multivitamin container, for example) as these tablets are packages for land use and salt water will rapidly attack the top. A filter can provide even greater protection. Also useful if the boat's freshwater supply turns foul.

One Enema Syringe or Kit

enema syringeNow we are talking about a seriously desperate situation when the only available fresh water is contaminated. The colon absorbs the water and there's no risk of vomiting the water. A saltwater enema is less–likely to work because the colon still absorbs high concentrations of salt – but better than drinking it. Be sure to include lubricant and sterile wipes to clean the business end of the enema tube. Perhaps that back–up 406 MHz EPIRB doesn't sound quite so expensive now?

Emergency rations for at least three days per person
For example, Datrex 3600 Emergency Food Bar – 3 Day/72–Hour Bar – Single Pack; illustrated in photo below.

Datrex bars
Datrex 3600 Emergency Food Bars are low in sodium (essential when water is scarce), and provide full nutrition and energy 24 hours a day without dehydrating the consumer. Lightweight, compact, and portable, these rations will last an individual for 3 days, providing 4 meals each day. They are easy to digest and have a coconut cookie flavour. The U.S. Coastguard has certified these emergency rations for use anywhere. Rations contain coconut and wheat. May be a problem if you have active Crohn's Disease or Diabetes. Young children can be fed a half ration, and the ration can be mixed with water for babies and others with sensitive digestion or those missing teeth. Available for individual purchase or purchase by the case. Case contains 30 individually wrapped 2400 calorie ration bars. Shelf life: 5 years.

Note: There are many options when it comes to choosing survival rations. Try to find rations recommended for maritime use. Army MRE (Meals Ready to Eat), for example, contain high sodium concentrations and this just makes one thirsty – they are meant for consumption along with an adequate supply of drinking water. Pack a supply of boiled sweets. Apart from supplying sugar, they are successful in reducing the effects of impending thirst.

One – Plastic bottle of chewable Multi–Vitamins per person (sufficient for the worse–case scenario of many days drifting in a life raft).

One Medical Kit
The code of practice first aid kit is the MCA, SOLAS approved first aid kit required on all vessels operating commercially in the UK (or your home country) under the MCA Codes of Practice.

sea first aid kit
This first aid kit is suitable for vessels with up to 10 passengers operating in Areas 2, 3 and 4 as defined under the MCA Code MGN280. There is also a version that comes in a waterproof box, along with a first aid manual.
sea first aid kit Code MGN280
Dimensions: 34 cm (13.4 in) x 10 cm (4 in) x 26 cm (10 in).

Contents (manufacturer's list):

1 x Adhesive Elastic Dressing 7.5 cm (3 in) x 4 cm (1.5 in)
20 x Assorted Adhesive Plasters
2 x Medium Standard Dressing No 9
2 x Large Standard Dressing No 15
1 x Extra Large Standard Dressing No 3
10 x Paraffin Gauze Dressings 10 cm(4 in) x 10 cm (4 in)
4 x Calico Triangular Bandage 90 cm (36 in) x 127 cm (50 in)
5 x Sterile Gauze Swabs 7.5 cm (3 in)
20 x Loperamide Capsules 2 mg (Diarrhoea Treatment)
60 x Hyoscine Hydrobromide Tablets 0.3 mg (Sea Sickness Tablets)
65 x Paracetamol Tablets 500 mg
50 x Ibuprofen 400 mg
1 x Glyceryl Trinitrate Spray (Preparation to Treat Angina)
1 x Laerdal Pocket Mask/Mouth Resuscitation Aid
1 x Cetrimide Cream 50 g (1.76 oz)
5 x Pairs Disposable Latex Gloves Large
1 x Burn Bag
1 x Scissors Stainless Steel 12.7 cm (5 in)
6 x Medium rustles safety Pins
6 x Sutures 75 mm (3 in)
1 x Pack 10–Antiseptic Wipes

Finally, the first aid kit is no good if you don't know how to use it. Take a course that focuses on the possible situation you'll have to deal with, which will vary considerably whether you are near to help or blue–water sailing.

Also include:

50 metres (150 ft) – 550 Military–Spec. Parachute Cord.

60 metres (200 ft). – #18 nylon twine (approximately 75 kilo (165 lb) breaking strain).

One – Magnifying Lens:
Useful for many reasons – removing splinters, etc.

One – Roll of heavy duty Aluminium Foil.

Ten – Seasickness bags.

Four – Zipper Lock Plastic Freezer Bags, 8 litre (2 US gallons).

Eight – Zipper Lock Plastic Freezer Bags, 4 litre (2 US gallons).

Sixteen – Zipper Lock Plastic Freezer Bags, 1 litre (1 US quart).

Four – HD Garbage Bags, 100 litres(30 US gallon).

Four – Karabiners.

Ten – Assorted Split Rings.

Shark repellent

shark repellentIt is said that sharks do not bother life rafts, however, there is a good chance that those they did bother left no one around to tell us about it. Talking to shark experts convinced me that no one knows everything about shark behaviour and their views on the risk of a shark attacking a life raft were varied. Better to be safe than part of the food chain, I'd pack some shark repellent. The search for an ideal shark repellent is still ongoing. Some research, based on semiochemicals, looks promising. Electrical devices that disturb a shark's delicate lateral line system also seem to be at least partially effective. But the perfect shark repellent still remains elusive.

Sorry, couldn't resist including this picture!

Personal Supplies (per person as applicable)
Maintaining personal hygiene in a life raft is difficult, but necessary for maintaining your health. Bearing in mind that fresh water will likely be scarce, self contained cleansing materials like impregnated wipes may be best option. Salt water boils are a constant health threat, so being able to cleanse salt from your body would be an advantage. Dental hygiene should also be maintained to prevent health problems.

One Contact Lens Maintenance Kit
Contact lenses and life rafts probably won't go too well together over the long term, but for the short term you should be OK. You should wear glasses as a preference.

Two Prescription Eye Glasses
For many who need them, losing or damaging their prescription eye glasses could be a virtual death sentence. Include a neck lanyard with each pair and pack them carefully in a hard protective case, then vacuum pack.

Thirty day supply plus personal medications
In the rush to abandon ship, prescription drugs can be overlooked; to prevent this, it is advisable to have a supply in your Abandon Ship Bag. With this advice comes the problem of shelf–life and rotation; you should discuss this with your doctor or pharmacist to develop a strategy. All drugs need to be clearly labelled with waterproof labels and kept in an appropriate container, equipped with a lanyard and clip.

Some drugs lose their potency fairly quickly if not kept refrigerated. It may be beneficial to consider some means of safely and securely submerging these medications in the water, where temperatures may well be much lower than in the raft.

Identification and Documents
If you are rescued or make it ashore, there will come a time when you need I.D. When you abandon ship you may not have time to find your original documents. Photocopies of everyone's drivers' licenses and passports should be carried in vacuum packed waterproof packets.

Money or Equivalent
How much is enough? This is a call only you can make. Carry some small denomination bank notes that are internationally accepted (UK Pounds, US Dollars, Euros, etc.) and a few larger denomination notes. A duplicate or spare charge card could come in handy, as well as a letter of credit from your bank. A phone credit card could also prove useful.

One Waterproof Paper Notebook and Pen
waterproof notebookKeeping a log is good for morale, helps you to keep track of time and occupies the very long days. You want to ensure the paper is waterproof so it will survive with you. Test both the paper and pen in seawater before adding it to your Abandon Ship Bag. Not all makes are reliable.

One Life Raft Survival Manual

Some life rafts have excellent, thorough, and waterproof survival manuals, many do not. Captains Survival GuideNote that a survival manual is not a very good substitute for training and knowledge, but it helps. Pack the Captain's Guide to Life raft Survival by Michael Cargal. Nice of me to recommend a rival, but this book is useful in a raft. This text contains many things a castaway needs to know to survive in a life raft and to get rescued as quickly as possible. It draws on contemporary research in equipment, techniques and emergency medicine. It tells how to abandon ship, make a solar still, choose a life raft and medical care. It is not waterproof, so you need to protect it in a plastic bag.

Some Inspirational Material
Many survivors talk of long days of boredom, relying only on religious or spiritual beliefs for support during his or her survival ordeal. Nothing wrong with that, of course, but we all need a bit of light entertainment to take our minds of a bad situation. Pack a couple of inspiring books and at least one, very long novel. It is very motivating if people take turns to read a book out loud to the others in the raft.

One – Wind up radio

Depending upon where in the world's oceans you find yourself, it may be possible to pick up radio transmissions. Good for morale and keeps survivors entertained. Consider a wind up radio to reduce consumption of your precious stock of AA and AAA batteries.
wind up radio
Photo above, Gelert Wind up and Solar Radio:
Super Compact Cubed Eco Friendly Radio, has and integrated solar charging panel. Compact folding winding handle on the rear; covers AM, FM, WB bands. Has a collapsible aerial for storage and includes a signal–strength indicator. Soft touch green rubber finish, it has a headphone socket (headphones/earpieces are not included). Gives twenty minutes of air time from approximately one minute of winding. Will run from the solar panel in direct sunlight.

Some radios can be fitted with replaceable AAA NiMH batteries, which can increase radio playing time up to 48 hours from one charging.

One Packing List
A packing list can be helpful for others to know what's in the Abandon Ship Bag. (You may not have survived!) Also, a useful place to keep track of expiration dates. Make sure it is laminated and waterproof, or it will soon disintegrate.

Pack as much long–life, high energy value food as you can get into your bag. Remember to check expiry dates from time to time and replace items as necessary. This is a vital discipline — you never know when you will need your Abandon Ship Bag!

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