One minute you're on your dream cruise, the next is your worst nightmare. Being prepared will likely make it a really good sea story. If you're near the U.S. coast, being prepared might mean just having a personal locator beacon as well as a strobe light and signal mirror to help rescuers zero in once close. All this can be stuffed in pants pockets. If you're farther from shore but still in range of quick rescue, a small belt pack with more essentials will leave your hands free.
If you cruise offshore, a proper abandon-ship bag keeps survival gear where it's quick to grab. It could also provide redundant first-aid and emergency gear, along with a backup VHF and GPS for use after an electrical fire or lightning strike disables primary equipment.
Add to your ditch kit in the moments, or even hours, you'll have before leaving the boat. Gather all the bottled water you can — there is never too much. The same holds true of warm clothing. Tie together everything that floats to increase visibility; a string of extra life jackets, for example, is easier to spot from the air than just a raft.
Basic Ditch Bag
» A PLB is a great backup to an EPIRB and easier to use inside a raft.
» A serrated knife should have a blunt tip, a lanyard and should open with one hand.
» Braided cord and tie wraps keep together what you can salvage.
» Once deployed, an orange rescue streamer continually signals.
» A strobe is the best nighttime signal and works well during the day. Some strobes double as flashlights.
» Flares and a signal mirror might be easier to see from sea level but require active use.
» If an airplane or merchant ship is first on scene, a waterproof handheld VHF with fresh batteries can be worth its weight in gold.
» Sunscreen and seasickness pills prevent dehydration.
» Pack extra prescription drugs and eyeglasses, reading glasses and sunglasses.
» Don't forget cash, a credit card, identification and a plastic bag to keep your cell phone dry.
Offshore Ditch Bag
» Start with a floating, brightly colored bag and attach a strobe light.
» Attach a laminated checklist of additional equipment to grab if there's time.
» Keep a couple of waterproof duffle bags handy, all with snap hooks to clip together.
» A knife, waterproof flashlight, braided line and tie wraps should be easy to reach yet secured to the bag.
» Eyeglasses and reading glasses also need to be quick to find.
» Have an EPIRB for the boat and a PLB for the ditch bag.