The Complete Overboard Bag
Time to abandon ship? Plan and pack your ditch kit to stack the odds of survival in your favor.
When they’re faced with an ever-expanding list of work and expensive equipment required for departure into the briny blue, it’s understandably difficult for potential cruisers to divert time and money toward an event as unlikely as abandoning ship. And after all, no matter how extreme the conditions, abandoning the boat is a tactic of last resort: Consider how often we’re told that one should only step up into a life raft.
But if and when you ever do, you’ll find that the quantity and quality of survival equipment packed inside the average life raft is laughable—laughable, that is, if the situation weren’t potentially a matter of life and death for yourself and your family or crew.
Fortunately, technology has come a long way, and we now have more affordable and efficient emergency signaling devices and more sophisticated search-and-rescue facilities. But just as the bottom of our charts always cautions that the prudent mariner will not rely solely on any single aid to navigation, neither should the prudent mariner rely on a single piece of equipment, such as your EPIRB. While rapid rescue is clearly preferable, survival is the primary goal, and the likelihood of that happy outcome is immensely enhanced with thoughtful planning.
As a way to prepare, I find it helpful to visualize the conditions that might lead to abandoning ship, then mentally walk myself through the evacuation procedures. I break down the ensuing events and activities into cohesive, thematic segments, including stabilizing the raft and occupants, activating rescue procedures, employing survival equipment and techniques, navigation, and the eventual pickup or landing, always remembering that landing itself may not mean the immediate end of the ordeal.
Fire is a leading cause of sinking, so give careful thought to the accessibility of the overboard bag. Next, the bag must be manageable in size, shape, and weight. Make sure that you don’t overlook the attachment system, for all your hopes will float away with your bag if the tether fails. Personally, I don’t want lives to depend on a knot tied in a panic, so I use a large carabiner to attach the bag to the boat, and then to the life raft.