Safety First, Have a Ditch Bag Packed
Fishermen spend a lot of time both on and off the water hoping for good things.
We hope for good weather, calm seas and cooperative fish. We also hope that some things never happen. Hope may be a strategy we use for a lucky day, but hope certainly
is not the game plan for the safety of you and your crew.
There are many aspects to safely enjoying a day on the water, and the US Coast Guard website is a full of valuable safety information. Life jackets, of course, are the most important piece of safety equipment on any boat. Another item every boat should have, especially those who venture offshore is a ditch bag.
No boater wants to think about having to "abandon ship," but the reality is that could happen on any trip. Being prepared could be the difference between a bad day on the water or a tragic one. A properly packed ditch bag could be what makes that difference. "The first two questions I ask when I get on someone else's boat are where are the life preservers, and where is the ditch bag?” says Forrest Long of Bluewater Yacht Sales in Orange Beach. It's one thing to know where everything is on your boat, but when you board another vessel, you need to have that same awareness.
Ditch bags are floating safety bags packed with vital equipment and meant to be grabbed just before you have to "ditch" the boat. Having your ditch bag easily accessible is just as important as the safety items it contains. "If you are at the point that you need your ditch bag, it must be easily within your reach," said Officer Caleb Winfield of the Orange Beach Marine Police. A ditch bag should never have anything piled on top of it or be in a place that is hard to access. "It is the classic example of boaters thinking 'It will never happen to me,' and those are the ones who get in trouble,” said Winfield. “Cramming a ditch bag in some hard to reach spot is asking for a problem. Don't add to a bad situation by having any of your safety gear tough to grab.”
What all goes into a ditch bag is a personal choice, but there are certainly some non-negotiable items. An Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB) is one item every boat that leaves the pass should have, and the ditch bag a great place to store it. Most boats have one EPIRB attached to the boat and one in the ditch bag. Every ditch bag should also include a handheld GPS and VHF radio with extra batteries, flares, a signaling device, and a noise making device. Your ditch bag should be reflective of your boating style. The internet is full of experienced captains and boaters with suggestion on ditch bag contents.
Even in a non-emergency situation having your ditch bag ready to go signals that you take safety seriously. When boarded for a routine stop by the Coast Guard or Marine Police, safety gear is going to be inspected. When the officer spots your ditch bag nearby, you are sending a message that you are prepared, and law enforcement always appreciates safety conscientious boaters. If you don't have a ditch bag, get one.
If you do have one, routinely check the contents both during the boating season and the offseason. Find the perfect spot for it, show everyone who gets on your boat where it is, and then hope you never have to use it.