Skysail Training


GRAB BAG CONTENTS  - Sea Survival - Life raft - Life saving

The contents of your grab bag will depend on where you cruise. In a busy area such as the English Channel you can be more selective.  Further offshore the list gets longer. it is essential to check what is already in your liferaft.

Short version



Food / Drink


Spare sea anchor and line

Survival Bags


Seasickness tablets


2 red parachute

2 red hand held

2 red smoke

Hand held GPS

EPIRB  (406 MHz)

Hand held VHF

Cyalume light sticks

Wind up torch



10 litres water in plastic bottles.

Measuring cup

Knife + board


Fishing line, hook and lure

Food - self-heat soup?

Safety tin openers


Hand bags



Ships Papers

SAFETY AT SEA – Seriously offshore: the extreme case
The Complete Ditch Kit
by Steve Callahan
(who spent 76 days and travelled 1800 miles in a 6 ft dinghy)

When it’s time to abandon ship, sailors should be prepared to become aquatic survivalists who can live off the sea indefinitely.

The horror stories of the survival equipment found in life rafts are legend—the fishing kit that consists of a 50-foot piece of string and a trout hook, the foot pump that’s nearly impossible to squeeze by hand in a tossing life raft, the missing watermaking and signalling gear, no helpful tools, not even a little "How to Survive" booklet. Such omissions can quickly take the life out of a life raft.

Consequently, your ditch kit should contain everything essential to survival in a life raft or a dinghy. Like the life raft, it must be rapidly deployable. In essence, your ditch kit is your life raft’s inseparable companion. So when it’s life-raft recertification time, it’s also ditch-kit inspection time.

Store ditch kits on board so that under normal conditions you can use their components and become familiar with them, employing your emergency watermaker if your onboard tanks become fouled or using the kit’s handheld VHF in harbour.

Because smaller kits are easier to store and jettison, it’s best to have separate kits organized by such categories as survival basics (water, food) and damage control (tools). I keep 5-gallon water jugs, food stuffs, and flares in separate containers. If you don’t have enough space in your ditch kit to store a large 406-megahertz EPIRB, position it near the ditch kit, ready for use.

Keep emergency kits accessible in a deck locker or under the chart table so they’re ready to be jettisoned. Mine have quick-release snap shackles. I’ve also tied a sheath knife to each one so I can cut anything quickly if I need to.

Once in the survival craft, tie all salvaged gear to the raft and keep it attached throughout the ordeal. For that purpose, my kits have strong 25-foot tethers that also aid quick deployment. Such individual items as knives and gaffs should also carry lanyards through holes in their handles and sheaths to cover sharp ends. Whenever a piece of gear isn’t stored in the life raft, keep the lanyard looped around your neck or wrist or tied to the raft itself.

Put your vessel’s name on all major safety items: life raft, ditch kit, EPIRB, water jugs, life jackets. If they become separated from the survivors and are found, they’ll give rescue personnel such valuable information as drift rates and the vessel’s identity. You should file a full list of your emergency equipment with people ashore so that rescuers will know how long you’re prepared to live on the ocean.

Protect the kits against the elements. Tupperware-type boxes, polyethylene wide-mouthed jars with screw lids and O-ring seals, and waterproof plastic bags make great containers for subdivided gear within a kit, protecting it from environmental degradation before and after deployment. These containers can also serve double duty as water collectors. Any box or jar that can let water in should be sealed with tape with long tags to help survivors grab the end of the seal. With a list of equipment printed in waterproof ink on the outside of each container, in a tossing life raft you can quickly find what you need without opening and thereby jeopardizing other gear.

Store these smaller containers in a soft valise or rigid box. A soft valise is easier to handle in a survival craft, but a hard container may be towed to provide more space in the craft. Any container should have strong attachment points and handles. Heavy webbing wrapped completely around the kit and D-ring attachment points provide great security for soft packs.

Make sure your ditch kit floats. Subdivided waterproof containers within will likely provide enough flotation. You can also incorporate some sheets of closed-cell foam into the pack to provide flotation and improve cushioning.

Survivors may prioritize the dangers they face as follows: drowning, injury, hypothermia, dehydration, and starvation. Although most life rafts contain a first-aid kit, try to transfer the mother craft’s full kit and its life jackets. If you sail in waters colder than 70 F, I recommend survival (exposure or immersion) suits or other dry suits for all crew. Because survival suits are large and bulky, treat them as separate ditch kits.


Perhaps you’ll never need to deploy your ditch kits. But if you ever do need to bail out of the big boat, these items will prove essential for creating a tolerable, if minimal, life afloat.

Steve Callahan, a CW editor at large, is the author of Adrift (Ballantine, New York) and Capsized (Houghton Mifflin, Boston).   This story originally appeared in the December 1999 issue of Cruising World

Ditch-Kit Contents

The ditch kit should contain items that allow survival from the moment the raft is jettisoned to potentially a period of several months. The short-term concerns, calculated in minutes and hours, deal with injuries sustained during abandon-ship procedures, hypothermia, and the ability to keep the raft afloat. Signalling devices can be useful immediately or long-term; they represent the capacity to signal one’s presence to potential rescuers. Medium-term survival, calculated over a few days, depends on the ability to collect water. Finally, long-term survival, measured in days to months, is based on the potential to gather food.

Short-Term Survival (Minutes to Hours)

• Thermal protective aids such as space blankets or survival bags that consist of compact aluminized sheets of heat-reflective material shaped into a suit or a mummy-bag

• Chemical heat packs, either four six-hour units or two 20-hour units per crew, to warm crew

• Self-inflating foam pad or air mattress, especially if the raft has no insulated double floor, for cushioning and added insulation

• Wool and rubber work gloves and watch cap

• Minimal first-aid kit including instruction manual, sterile bandages, sutures, seasickness medication (tablets, suppositories, or injectables), pain killers, aspirin for heart attacks, surgeon’s tape, antibiotics, enema sack for rehydration, sun screen, burn cream, petroleum jelly (also for lubricating metal), and inflatable splints

• Repair kit with small tubes of silicon seal that cures under water or similar "good goop." For inflatables, include a spare air pump, clamps (assorted sizes of cymbal type), heavy needles and sail twine, spare canopy and raft material, and glue patches. For rigid dinghies, include underwater epoxy and glass and fabric for making and repairing the canopy

• 200 feet of 3/16-inch line and 100 feet of 1/4-inch line, duct tape, spare line for lashings, securing items, and improvising

• Tools: sheath knife, multitool or Swiss Army knife, several flat blades, file, sharpening stone, tube of oil

• Two 1/8- by 8- by 12-inch marine-plywood cutting boards to protect the raft floor from puncture; one can be marked and used as a sextant

• Two sponges

• Plastic sacks and ties

• Lights: small diving flashlights, chemical light sticks

• Reflective tape attached to the outside of raft

Short- to Long-Term Survival (Minutes to Months)

• Secondary EPIRB

• Waterproof handheld VHF

• Six SOLAS-approved parachute flares or 12 non-SOLAS parachutes, three handheld red flares, and two orange smoke flares. Metal flare guns may be prone to rust, so carry oil

• Signalling mirror

• Navigation kit: survival manual, pencils, pads of paper, waterproofed pilot chart for the ocean traveled, compass, waterproof watch, plastic protractor

• Parafoil signalling kite that’s compact and light and may be flown in moderate winds, providing some propulsion and extending visibility, even at night (e.g., the Sky-Alert Rescue Kite by Davis Instruments, 510-732-9229)

• Backup improved Icelandic-style sea anchor (many models are available) that’s a tapered cone with mesh or straps around bridle to prevent fouling, with a strong swivel and rode

Medium-Term Survival (Days)

• Reverse-osmosis watermaker equivalent to Survivor 06 (Survivor 35 is preferred for a crew of six or more)

• Water in pouches or cans; 16 ounces per person for immediate use

• Transparent biking bottle with secure cap to help rationing

• Other bags and plastic sheets for water collection

• Siphon/enema tubing to transfer water between containers or help survivors absorb water rectally

Long-Term Survival (Weeks to Months)

• Survival ship’s biscuits

• Multiple vitamins 

• Dried fruit and chocolate

• Fishing kit: small trident and handle, large gaff or Hawaiian sling, 200 feet of 50-pound test (natural cod line shrinks as it dries, good for small lashings), 20 feet of heavy-wire leader, hooks from trout-size to 4-inch, various jigs and lures, sinkers

• Small plankton net or stockings with stiff metal ring to keep waist open to troll at night (you may be able to live off plankton, but beware of jellyfish)


• Photocopies of all essential crew documents, including passports and boat documentation to aid you when reaching land. (It’s advisable to file additional copies ashore along with a list of safety equipment and a float plan.)

• Shore survival items in case you land in an uninhabited area: waterproof matches, flint, wire saw


grab bags content sinking life raft survival ditch kit


updated 13th April 2011