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Grab Bag – What is in Yours?

by Jo Fielding on 17 Oct 2006
Could it happen to you? SW
What’s in your Grab Bag? (If you said ‘What’s a Grab Bag?’, then you really need to read this article!) If you crew on someone else’s yacht, do you know what’s in THEIR Grab Bag? Do you know where it is? Do they even have one?

A Grab Bag, otherwise known as an ‘Abandon Ship Bag’, contains all the things you want to take with you if you have to leave a yacht in 30 seconds – no time to think, no time to plan – just Grab the Bag and Go!

The type of incident that is likely to cause such an event (apart from heavy weather, where one could mostly expect more time to prepare) is a collision at sea. The potential culprits are well known – ships, floating containers and whales being the most talked about. The last two, floating containers (or any other just-below-the-surface debris) and whales are hazards that can affect the best prepared yacht, so the keeping of a Grab Bag in a handy place is a very serious consideration for the ocean going yacht.

And what should be in your Grab Bag? - Well, there’s no final answer, but a list of suggestions is a very good way to start. If you’re sea savvy and already have a Grab Bag, now maybe is the time to check your current Grab Bag for appropriateness.

Some of the items mentioned below will be already secured in appropriate positions for use on the boat. If this is the case, then a list of those items, such as the 406 Epirb, should be available to be quickly grabbed IN ADDITION to the Grab Bag, should the need arise.

Here’s a list of suggestion for the desirable contents of a Grab Bag for an ocean going yacht:


1.                  Bottled water – bottles should NOT be full, so that they will float

2.                  A hand-pump water maker.

3.                  Supply of tinned food, especially tinned fish, enough food, that does not need cooking, for one week for each crew

4.                  Graduated drinking vessels

5.                  Hats and sunglasses

6.                  Toilet paper and/or tissues in waterproof bag

7.                  Cutting board

8.                  First Aid Kit, including a good supply of anti-seasickness tablets for each person and a good supply of anti-seasick suppositories and tube of antibiotic cream. Large tube of good quality sun cream.

9.                  Fishing gear, including different sizes of hooks, and lots of line, a quantity of flour, vacuum packed, to make bait.

10.              Inflatable patch repair kit

11.              Safety tin openers

12.              Needle, thread and safety pins, polythene bags.

13.              2 very sharp knives, maybe a Swiss Army Knife

14.              Waterproof paper and pencils

15.              Candles and lighters/matches, waterproofed

16.              Air horn

17.              Daylight signalling mirror

18.              Parachute flares

19.              Hand flares

20.              Gloves for use with flares

21.              VHF Hand Held Radio

22.              Waterproof GPS

23.              Hand held compass

24.              Floating flashlights, with spare batteries and bulbs

25.              406 Epirb

26.              Orange fabric for jury sail or for signalling

27.              Passports and ship’s documentation


Some of the items, like passports, can be stored as a matter of course in the Grab Bag, even though they are used often for purposes other than abandoning ship.

Cryovacing, or vacuum packing, will prevent rusting of many of the items above, and is strongly recommended, as, after being placed into the Grab Bag they will last for lengthy periods of time without having to be renewed.

To go with the preparation of a Grab Bag, a procedure for abandoning ship is a sensible thing to develop. The knife to be used for cutting free the liferaft should logically be the one of the emergency knives that are clipped to the cockpit and the mast.

Step 1: All crew to don lifejackets, and attach safety harnesses.
Step 2: A nominated person to send Mayday (A)
Step 3: A nominated person to exit with the Grab Bag and be responsible for it(A)
Step 4 A nominated person to collect other ‘Grab items’ previously agreed upon, and be responsible for them(B)
Step 5: A nominated person to check the presence of all crew, Grab Bag and other ‘Grab’ items(A & B)
Step 6: A nominated person to cut loose the liferaft, ready for deployment(B)
Step 7: Deployment of the liferaft with all crew present.

The fact that on a cruising vessel there may be only two people on board does not invalidate the necessity to have the above responsibilities clearly defined. A suggested sample of this is shown indicated above, with the two crew shown as A and B.

Naturally, one hopes that all of the above preparation turns out to be unnecessary, but if you ever had to abandon your yacht in extreme circumstances you would be sorry – out there rocking on the ocean - if you hadn’t given serious thought to the contents of the Grab Bag.

There are commercial organisations also who specialise in offering Grab Bags ready made up for sale:

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