If you are planning an extended cruise or ocean passage, it is vital that should give thought to packing a grab bag for immediate emergency use – but what should you actually be packing? 

A grab bag should contain emergency items that, should the worst occur and you have to abandon your vessel, will assist in getting you rescued and help you to survive in your liferaft until you are rescued.

If you do not have a liferaft, then your chances of surviving may be significantly lower depending on the location, the weather conditions and the water temperature. Each manufacturer will include different equipment within a liferaft and this should be considered when you decide what to pack in your grab bag. Liferafts built and certified to ISO 9650 are packed with equipment according to the time likely to be spent on board before rescue. The list is comprehensive and certain items that have a shelf-life may be carried separately in a grab bag.

All grab bags should be stowed in an easily accessible location. The grab bag should be brightly coloured and able to float for 30 min in the water when fully packed. The grab bag should have a means of attaching it to an inflated raft.

It is worth preparing a list of the things you will need to put in a grab bag- assuming there is time – in priority order. The Royal Ocean Racing Club specifies a number of items in its Special Regulations for offshore racing which a useful place to start. The goal should be to ensure you are rescued having spent the shortest possible time in the liferaft. The order of priority is therefore:

  • Items that will indicate you are in distress and assist with your rescue, if you cannot do this then no one is going to look for you
  • Items for survival whilst waiting for rescue

Each liferaft, dependent on make and model, will have differing additional items included so it is important to check what may already be packed.

There are a variety of items you could pack which will indicate you are in distress and can attract attention: EPIRB/PLB, flares, EVDS, a waterproof handheld VHF, a powerful waterproof torch, spare batteries, a strobe light, a whistle and a satellite phone are all useful. A handheld GPS will help you to keep track of your movements in the liferaft.

You must also think about your needs for survival. The basic requirements are high energy food and water (a hand operated water maker may be useful). But you may need a spare pair of spectacles, warm and waterproof clothing, sun glasses, sun protection, lip salve, medication and antibiotics, seasickness tablets and a basic fishing kit. You should also collect together vital personal items that you will need once rescued, such as a passport, credit cards, keys, mobile phone, money, ship’s papers and insurance documents.

To find out more about how to keep yourself and everyone on-board safe whilst on the water, visit the Safe Boating hub.