How to Prepare if You Need to Abandon Ship

When sailing offshore—whether cruising, sport fishing or yacht racing—it is the responsibility of the vessel’s owner and captain to ensure the vessel is ready for its intended use. Consider using the following to help you guide your preparations. 

Act well in advance

Factors such as distance offshore, water temperature, and distance from assistance all should be considered prior to departure from land. Even if it isn’t necessary for your purposes, it is highly recommended to have a life raft onboard. In addition, keep a fully equipped “abandon ship bag” or “ditch bag” easily accessible. These are watertight buoyant bags or containers that hold your most important emergency equipment. The bag allows for quick evacuation in time of distress and ensures that you have everything needed to improve your chances of rescue and survival. 

Train your crew

Training with your crew for abandoning ship is essential. Each person onboard should be able to locate the safety equipment and know how to operate it. If you are forced to abandon ship due to fire or flooding, time may be very short. Abandon ship bags should be located close to the companionway, in the wheel house, saloon, or muster station. Whenever possible, do not store your abandon ship bag in a locker. After completing abandon ship drills with your crew, debrief to discuss the location of equipment, procedures, and ways to improve your routine.

Select or prepare your abandon ship bag

Depending on your vessel and needs, you may choose to purchase a pre-packaged abandon ship bag or create your own. Here are a few examples of what the bag may look like:

National Marine Center (complete kit)

Landfall Navigation (complete kit)

Most marine retailers (self-created)

Customize your bag’s contents 

If you decide to fill your own abandon ship bag, see below for a list of suggested items. Please remember that your bag contents are largely dependent on the intended use of your vessel.

Signaling and communications

  • 406 MHz GPS enhanced EPIRB
  • Handheld DSC GPS enhanced VHF
  • Red parachute flares
  • Red handheld flares
  • Signal mirror
  • Whistles
  • Dye markers
  • Strobe light
  • Flashlight
  • Glow sticks

Survival gear

  • Water (packets or jugs)
  • First aid kit
  • Essential prescription medications
  • Emergency food 
  • Round tip safety knife
  • Hand operated water maker
  • Fishing gear (drop line and jig)
  • Solar blankets

Other equipment/items

  • Bailing scoop
  • Duct tape
  • Emergency raft repair clamps
  • Sun block
  • Portable GPS
  • Hand-held compass
  • Prescription glasses; sunglasses
  • Small binoculars
  • Small cutting board
  • Photocopy of ship’s documentation, passports, insurance contacts, etc.

Key reminders 

  • The owner and captain are responsible for preparing and equipping the vessel for its intended use.
  • Conduct regular drills with your crew and make sure everyone knows where safety equipment is, and how to use it.
  • Keep your abandon ship bag readily available.
  • Check the contents of your bag and expiration dates on a regular basis.
  • Add a lanyard to your abandon ship bag for easy identification.