We Had to Pull Out Our Ditch Bags…. Do You Know What to Do?….#46

While out enjoying our time on the water, something happened. Is it a fire? or are we taking on water?? What’s happening here? Panic strikes and we run around trying to figure out what to do. First, can we save the boat? No… what’s next? Can we live through this? Not sure yet. We are out in the middle of the ocean hundreds of miles between us and the nearest foreign land. Oh My… we are going down. What will we do & how do we survive this? 

I hope I never have to tell you a story like this! It is the most feared thing that could happen. It didn’t happen….But are we ready if it did? Do we know what steps to take if it did? See how we prepared for this type of situation.


Today is the day that we pulled out our ditch bags and checked to make sure nothing is spoiled, wet, broken and all is good. We reviewed everything including our ditch bag check off lists & emergency procedures documents too. Keep reading, I will share all of our checklists and procedures document with you to make life easier!

img_7045What is a ditch bag? It is what would be carefully hand over the edge of the boat into the life raft when our BIG boat is going down. It holds some very important items to last until we are rescued and actually helps us get rescued.

What is a Procedure list? It is a document you use when you are in the heat of the moment, so you don’t forget anything. It has all the things we should do, grab, and the process and order in which we perform them. Don’t want to forget anything.

While we are here stuck in quarantine, it is a good time to check on stuff, even practice or discuss our safety stuff. I set up our ditch bags approximately 2 years ago before we left Portland Oregon. Too much time had passed to not check and make sure everything is good. If you are a boater, this would be a good time for you to pull them out and check them over too. Everyone needs a slightly different safety checklist. If you are a small “day cruiser” or a “fishing boat’ you still need one, but maybe one slightly different. Don’t assume you don’t. If something were to happen and you are stuck out in the water for long periods of time, you would need some items.

I created this checklist myself.  I have done tons of reading and looking online for a check-off list and found NONE. There is lots of articles about what to have and why, but I wanted an actual checkoff list and a step by step list procedures for when we are in the emergency moment.  I’m sure they could be better, they always can, right? But those that don’t have them or think they don’t need them, think again.

You need some combination of these types of safety items as a base. We have all of these and some multiples. Basic Safety Items: USCG Safety Outline  

  • Auto inflatable Life Raft √
  • EPIRB – (emergency position-indicating radio beacon) √
  • Communications devices, VHF, Satellite radio/communicator √
  • Personal locator beacon (GPS) √
  • PFD – (personal flotation device)  & tossable flotation devices √
  • Fire Extinguishers √
  • Visual & sound devices (flares/horns) √
  • Immersion suit √

InReach GPS/Communicator – Find me Spot – EPIRB & activation button to push on EPIRB

What does a ditch bag give you if you have all this stuff, won’t someone come and get you? That is what we all hope for, at least! But being in the ocean and/or off a foreign country the response time may not be what you expect.

So, if you want to stay safe and alive in a life raft for 5+ days you need water, food, hat, sunblock, etc, etc, etc. The ditch bag will give you stuff to live on for a while, and be a bit more comfortable & safer than floating in an empty life raft.

As mentioned above each “Ditch Bag” is unique, here are some ideas to get you to build your own. You can buy an already set-up bag on Amazon, West Marine or many other locations, we just choose to be more thrifty and make our own. I also think ours are better equipped.

First you need Bag(s) that have handles/straps and float or have some water resistance to them. Then load them with the items you have collected. When completed you should have a printed off copy stored inside your ditch bag in a plastic baggie. Put X marks by the items in your bag, you may add items later as you gather more.

ditch bag check list pic

You can download and use our list with the below link, adjust as needed.

Ditch bag check-off list PDF

You will notice in the picture I have a hard bottom bag that is water resistant, and all my stuff in these large Ziplock bags that are made for holding very large items. I wanted my stuff to stay dry and thought they would be good water catcher if it rained or just help keep all our stuff dry, while in the life raft.

So you’re all set now, right? You have your life raft, your ditch bags and all your electronics for notification. What’s missing? The steps and procedures to getting off the boat and not forgetting anything. Our procedure list tells us what to do, in what order when we are in the heat of the moment. When things are panic driven, it is easy to not know what to do and miss stuff. Here is our procedure list.

procedures steps pic

You can download and use our procedure list with the below link, adjust as needed.

Emergency Procedures PDF

Reminder your Priorities are:

  1. Protection Life raft with canopy, hats, neck gaiters, sunglasses, first aid kit, sea sick pills, keep warm or cool items, keep dry items etc.
  2. Location – keep lookout, radio beacon, sea lights, etc
  3. Water – minimise body fluid loss by avoiding seasickness, sweating and injuries, Ration water, make water and catch rainwater & store.
  4. food – food is lowest priority, eat only carbohydrates if water is in shortage. (emergency rations)


I hope we never have to use these items and only see them when we are setting them up and then checking them. This is your LIFE INSURANCE… use it wisely and stay safe. Discuss and practice your process and in an emergency you will be safe and be able to tell a story!

As always I’m open to feedback on this article and our lists! I hope they make your safety planning a bit easier!

Special Thanks to Pete Grillo & our own Columbia River Yacht Club Members. We did not do all of this ourselves. We took a going North class held by our own members in 2018, which got us started.

Stay safe and well,

Dan and Angela on MV Angelique



9 thoughts on “We Had to Pull Out Our Ditch Bags…. Do You Know What to Do?….#46”

  1. Well done and so helpful when planning a large voyage……Stay safe and see you two on your return…..

  2. Impressive – I am one for contingency planning too and appreciate the the detailed forethought. I loved reading this (as I do all of them), as it delves into an area completely unknown to me! Surely many people in boating and elsewhere will find this so helpful.

    Thanks so much and stay safe! ❣️

    1. Thanks Penny! Appreciate the comment and also following along with us! So glad you enjoy them!

  3. Angela, these are great safety checklists and preparations. Even for the non-boaters among us, this is a powerful wake up call to prepare for our own emergencies. If you live in the NW, do you have an emergency survival kit for the next earthquake? If there is a fire in your house, what do you grab on the way out?
    Thanks for talking about this!

    1. Thanks so much Sam. Yes, this type of prep is needed in any aspect of our life no matter where we live. Appreciate the comment

  4. Thank you! Thank you! Rand knew about the “Ditch Bag”. I did not. As one who always tried to anticipate what others might want/need on cruises, I thought along lines of ‘paprica’. 🙂 frivilous & LOL If/when we ever get back into boating all of these fantastic & very useful tips & information will be at the top of my list of “to do”. Enjoy all your entries & adventures you share with us & again, thank you so much for sharing. (PS thanks to Pete G. & others who have contributed to this information) Continued safe travels & smooth seas.

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