Skip to main content

For a comprehensive lesson on this topic, visit and enroll in the Safety & Rescue at Sea course. The goal of the course is twofold: To teach ways to parse and effectively attenuate risk and to describe techniques that optimize the chance for rescue in a worst-case scenario. Watch the course trailer below.

Here's what you can do to create your own onboard survival kit:

  • Use a heavy-duty waterproof ditch bag fastened to a life preserver; interior contents should be in zip-lock bags.
  • Fill two 5-gallon jugs with water (two-thirds full) for flotation, just before each offshore passage.
  • Secure bag and jugs with 30 feet of brightly colored polypropylene line as lanyards; store in a readily accessible place.


Emergency signals - EPIRB, flares, signal mirror, personal strobes, dye marker, smoke floats, whistles, radar reflector, binoculars, 4-foot-square international orange panel.
Emergency navigation - GPS, scout compass, laminated pilot chart with currents, waterproof watch, dividers, pencils, ruled pad.
Protective clothing - sunglasses, brimmed hats, space blanket, towels, warm clothing, sandals.
Medical kit - first-aid manual, broad-spectrum antibiotic, pain relievers, seasickness tabs, medicated rash salve, disposable towelettes, antidiarrheal and laxative tabs, antiseptic cream, sterile bandages, antibacterial soap.
Food and water in addition to raft stock - handheld watermaker or solar still, multivitamins, lemon juice for marinating fish, energy/granola bars, dried fruit.
Tools - needle-nose combo pliers/wire cutter, small screwdriver kit, combo pliers/adjustable wrench, sheathed bosun knife/marlinespike, duct tape, five-minute underwater epoxy kit, waxed twine, sail needles, stainless hose clamps, spare rubber for hand pump, flashlight.
In foreign waters - copy of passports, small amount of cash, duplicate credit card, copy of ship's documentation, ship's log.
Note: Items should be inspected and replaced as necessary before each bluewater passage. If you have a vacuum-packing appliance, keep your stuff even drier. It is best to store batteries in the ditch bag, including those for raft survival gear, so they can be protected and readily inspected. (Dead batteries leak acid.)

Inflatable Raft Throw-Over, Release, And Inflation
•Ensure operating cord is not UV-rotted and well secured to the boat before throwing raft overboard; beware of lifeline fowling. Lift and toss.
•Pull cord out to its maximum length and give it a sharp tug to start inflation; beware of exploding
•Raft should be fully inflated and ready for boarding within seconds.

Abandon-Ship Procedure
•Shout: "Prepare to abandon ship!"
•Don warm clothes and flotation gear.
•Note position and transmit Mayday (identity, position, number of souls on board.)
•Drink as much fresh water as you can consume before leaving the boat.
•Continue Mayday until answered or forced to leave.
•Turn on EPIRB and put it in abandon-ship survival kit.
•Toss survival kit and water jugs toward liferaft.

Boarding The Raft
•The strongest crew member should jump first. If the raft is inverted, right it by standing on bottom equipment and holding straps; try to aim into the wind.
•Once aboard, help all others get on board. Lifting them faced outward may be easier.
•Gather gear into raft and secure with lanyards; use a safety knife to cut the raft operating cord.

On Board The Raft
•Get a safe distance from the sinking vessel; deploy sea anchor.
•Treat any injuries immediately.
•Arrange lookout watches. Use flares only when they might be seen; during daylight always use a mirror.
•Read operation manual and refresh your memory on the details and contents of the raft (food, water, medicines, equipment, etc.)
•Keep as warm and dry as possible. Ration water and food.