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Safe at Sea: The perfect ditch bag

By Staff | May 23, 2018

(Editor’s Note: This is part III in a three-part series for the column. Part I ran in the May 9, 2018, issue and Part II ran in the May 16, 2018 issue of the Island Reporter. Both can be found online at www.captivasanibel.com under “Opinion” then “Local Columns.”)

“A what?” you ask.

A ditch bag is just what its name implies: it is a well-provisioned, water-proof bag that one grabs in the worst circumstance – when an emergency requires you to abandon your vessel should there be a fire or collision. The bag should be bright-colored and floatable and have strap handles.

However, the truth is, that a ditch bag – often referred to as a grab bag – comes in handy during any of your boating excursions.

So how does a ditch bag differ from a boating bag? There are a few very important additions, particularly for boaters heading out into the Gulf of Mexico.

– The ditch bag must be able to float.

– Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons, or EPIRB: When activated, it uses satellites and earth stations to notify the U.S. Coast Guard and local search-and-rescue teams of your emergency and provides your GPS position over two separate frequencies, 406MHz and 121.5MHz. Your EPIRB must be registered with vital information for rescuers. You can register your EPIRB through America’s Boating Club or the Coast Guard.

– Emergency lights: This cannot be overstressed – specialized lights help rescuers spot victims. ACR makes a variety, including the Rapid Fire Vest Strobe that attaches to a lifejacket and activates for with hours with a pull-pin. Another choice, the ACR Firefly Waterbug Strobe Light activates automatically in water.

– Hand-held VHF radio (already in your boating bag) may prove to save your life. Regularly, every boater should check that it works and has spare batteries stored in a waterproof container.

– SOS distress light, which many believe should be used in tandem with flares: Currently on the market is an LED Visual Distress Signal Device by Weems and Plath; it is the only SOS distress light which meets U.S. Coast Guard requirements to completely replace traditional pyrotechnic flares. Unlike traditional flares, the electronic flare never expires which solves the challenge of flare disposal. It comes with a large orange distress flag that floats on the water, making your location even more clear to air and water rescue. Remember to check the batteries to make sure they work.

– Waterproof “floatable” spotlight

– Floating stales steel folding rescue knife

– Handheld compass

– Waterproof watch

– Rescue “flash mirror” to make contact via the sun with surrounding vessels and planes

– Drinking water

– Whistle or sound-producing device

In short, there is no such thing as an “over-prepared boater.” But there are plenty of under-prepared ones out on our waters.

For more information, contact 239-985-9472 or Commander@SanibelCaptivaSPS.org.

Pat Schmidt is a member of America’s Boating Club of Sanibel-Captiva.