What’s in your Grab Bag?

A grab bag goes hand in hand with our life raft – in the category of things you need to have that cost lots of money and take up space but you hope you never have to use.

This is the bag that you grab when your boat is sinking or on fire, just as you are abandoning ship and jumping in to your life raft. So therefore it is quite a good idea to pack it full of handy stuff that you might need should you be bobbing about in a life raft for a few days before you are (hopefully) rescued.

Thankfully these days, with EPIRB’s and satellite phones, the chances of being rescued in a reasonably short period of time are quite high. Back in 1989, this technology wasn’t so reliable, and John Glennie and his crew spent 118 days adrift in his upturned trimaran – the Rose Noelle, off the coast of New Zealand. Thankfully their boat stayed afloat and they were able to use all the things on board to assist their survival. You can read their story here. There are similar stories of survival of people in life rafts for long periods of time. Presumably they had some pretty good supplies of things in their grab bags to help them get by.

Once you have got a grab bag set up, you should make a point of checking it at least once a year or before you head off on a long passage. Check the bag’s zips & velcro. Make sure there are no holes. Check all the waterproof bags inside and replace if required, check the battery of your EPIRB, and VHF Radio and dates on any flares. If you have a spare GPS, check the battery on that as well, and add fresh batteries to the kit. While you are doing that it is a good time to also check your lifejackets, double check all the wooden plugs are still attached to the sea cocks and check all your fire extinguishers. Make a note that this has all been done in your ships log.

Yachting New Zealand requires that all New Zealand registered yachts are equipped with various safety gear. A grab bag is one of those items, along with some specific items. Here is what is in ours:


Grab Bag

ACR RapidDitch Bag. It floats as per the Yachting NZ regulations and we have added a spliced two metre long lanyard – which presumably you could use to tie it on to the life raft. It has got pockets for various bits & bobs and elastic loops to hold things in place. It can also be mounted in an easily accessible area. Perhaps under the chart table or in the quarter berth. I just stow it near the companionway when we are doing a passage on Wildy. Just make sure its secured so that it wouldn’t fall out of the boat if you capsized.


EPIRB stands for Emergency Position Indicating Rescue Beacon. We have got two ACR Personal Locator Beacons which we actually carry in our pockets (should we get washed over the side) You should have a boat EPIRB too. It is important that the EPIRB is registered in your home country and has up to date contact info. If we do have to set off an EPIRB we will set them off one at a time. They only have limited battery life, so you shouldn’t set them all off at once.

First Aid Kit

Ive got a little standard first aid kit with all the major essentials.  If you or any of the crew take regular medication then you should also store some in the liferaft.

If you have time, then you should also try and grab your main first aid kits with all the other more serious medications in there.

Also add insect repellent, sunscreen, painkillers and vitamins.

Seasickness Pills

Apparently you get very sea sick in life rafts, so the first thing you want to do is pop a seasick tablet before you even think about feeling ill. My favourite is Stugeron, however we have got Marzine in our kit for some reason. Not sure why, but I will replace this with some Stugeron sometime soon. Best to check it hasn’t expired as well.


Yachting NZ require you to have at least two Cyalume light sticks. We have got three! Your lifejacket should also have a strobe light on there, and you might also like a torch or even better a waterproof, solar chargeable Luci Light.

Signalling Flashlight

I have got also got a wind up, solar powered torch/radio but you might like to include other options like this fantastic 2000 lumen headlamp torch this will definitely attract attention, and you can even charge things up off the battery bank. Fantastic. That will be an additional item to grab on the way out if you have time. 

Signalling Mirror & Whistle

I have just got a mirror, but I think I might get one of these handy tools, as it includes a signalling mirror, a whistle, compass and a torch!

Survival Blankets

These are the silvery blankets and I have got four of them in our kit. They don’t take up much space.

Distress V Sheet 

This is an orange sheet with a big V on there which is an international distress signal. Yachting NZ say you can either have that or your printed sail number on an orange back ground.


Have you let off a flare lately? We did a demonstration at our local yacht club recently and it is terrifying! If you don’t blow your head off in the process of letting one off, they only last about 30 seconds, and they are gone. We have got the standard flaming scary flares, but my lovely Mum also bought us this Odeo Electronic Flare. Battery powered, no heat no flames, runs for ages. No brainer in my opinion, however many countries still require the old traditional kind, so I carry both.


Handheld VHF

I have got a Uniden Waterproof handheld VHF. Just make sure it is charged up and you have got some spare batteries in the kit as well.

Sharp Knife 

Yachting NZ also wisely recommend that this knife is kept in a sheath. No good puncturing your life raft with your knife. Now that wouldn’t be good. A multitool could also be useful.


Yachting NZ say you should have at least half a litre of water per person. We haven’t got anything in our kit at the moment, so this is something we will need to add, or grab on our way out the door. Apparently bottles filled almost to the top will still float and if you get the bottles with a handle you could also have them tied on to a lanyard perhaps.

Plastic Graduated Drinking Vessel

This should be graduated in 10, 20 & 50ml measurements. I have simply used a plastic cup and written the measurements on the side. You might want to be a bit flasher than that. Here is an option.

Barley Sugars

Takes me back to the days of doing the 40 hour famine at school. Yachting NZ call them non-thirst provoking food rations. Id also be grabbing some bars of chocolate, tins of food and anything else I can lay my hands on as we head out the door!

Nylon Line 

We like fishing! Ive got a line and a hook already rigged to go. Might be an idea to add some more hooks to the kit too as if you have only got one you could be pretty upset if you lose it on the first fish. A packet of Gulp soft baits will last forever in a grab bag, and could come in handy! Maybe throw in the soy sauce and wasabi for the fresh sashimi you catch…

Add in a length of cord for other multiple uses.

Polythene Bags

We have  got a stash of big and small and snaplock bags for every occasion in our grab bag.

Illustrated table of Life Saving Signals

According to YNZ this should also be in your grab bag. Here is the table. Print this out and you are good to go.



Ive got a sponge, but its not my favourite kind. The bailer Sailor sponges are the best. You don’t want a silly car washing sponge like the one in my kit. They are useless!

So there ends the Yachting New Zealand recommended list.

In addition to to their list we have also added the following:

A notebook & pencil

For keeping notes, working out navigation, writing a log, and perhaps a pack of playing cards for keeping boredom at bay.

Matches & a lighter

Could be handy if you end up on a beach somewhere

Charts, Navigation tools, Hand Held GPS & a Compass

Ive got my old hand held GPS chartplotter and extra batteries. We should also try and grab the iPad, and Garmin Glo as we are on the way out the door. Of course I could also grab my sextant, and tables… here is hoping we get rescued before I need to use that.

Take any of your paper charts for the area, a small compass, dividers etc.

Solar Charging Kit

Very handy for charging things when you are on the go.

Extra Batteries

For any of the electronic items in the kit – VHF, GPS etc

Duct Tape

Handy for fixing holes in life rafts, holes in people, and heaps of other stuff. Every wannabe MacGyver needs duct tape in their kit. Add some cable ties while you are at it.

Baby wipes & toilet paper

Just makes life better!

Desalination Kit

Having some water would be essential. A kit like this could be handy to keep in the kit as well. It desalinates the sea water by using a reverse osmosis process. You can also get hand operated water makers. They are expensive but would be great to have if you were going somewhere very remote.

Satellite Phone

Technology in this area is improving by the day so there is bound to be an even better product available by the time we go sailing, however this one looks awesome. Gives you satellite data , phone calling and texts from anywhere in the world using satellite technology. I will be keeping an eye on the Iridium Go product. It looks brilliant. Also just released is the Garmin InReach which looks amazing.

Large plastic container

We have got a large Systema container to store some of the products in the bag, keeping them waterproof and the container could also come in handy when at sea. Hopefully it will also help the bag float.

Important Documents

If you get picked up by a ship you are possibly going to end up in another country with just the stuff you have got on you. Therefore it would be handy to at least have copies of your important documents, like your passports, boat documentation, Insurance documents, credit card numbers, some cash etc

Another Dry Bag

We have got a large heavy duty dry bag beside the grab bag, this will be for grabbing any additional items we can lay our hands on as we head out the door.

Other things to grab if we have time:


Some polypropylene clothing would be great to have, and perhaps a last minute addition to the kit. If you are in a hot climate add long sleeve tops and trousers and a wide brimmed hat to keep the sun off you.


Along with sunglasses, hats etc.

Life Jackets & tethers

Our life jackets have a harness attachment and they have also got strobe lights on them too.


Grab tins, muesli bars, anything easy to lay your hands on. Also have a can opener in your life raft.

Jet Boil

If it is possible to be in love with a cooking appliance, then I am having an affair with the jet boil. This cool camping stove can boil water in just 2 minutes. Could be great for cooking up the tinned food, and all the fish we would catch…?!


As much bottled water as you can get.

Cell Phones & chargers

In another dry bag if possible.


I have got some very cool Steiner binoculars with a compass in them as well. Very handy for spotting ships or people on land etc.

Extra first aid kits

And any extra regular medication you might need.

Here is hoping we never need to use any of this stuff, but just knowing it is all there and ready to go should we need it is quite reassuring. The key thing is to try and stay with the boat as long as possible. They say you should just be stepping up in to the life raft as the boat goes down. There have been plenty of boats found floating around long after the crew have disappeared in to the life raft, never to be seen again.

Anything I have missed? What are your essential grab bag items?


36 thoughts on “What’s in your Grab Bag?

  1. Sanitary products for the girls! 🙂 We met a guy who was sunk by a pod of whales – he said his watermaker saved him and his wife – the portable ones are very small and compact. We had one and never had to use it thankfully – cheap insurance eh? Great post.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great post and a nice reminder to get things ready for next season (for us in the Northern Hem.) We have a < 24h life raft which means we need a grab bag for the Bay of Biscay and a few other large hops we do around Europe and the Med. I wrote a post several years ago about the french regulations (including the official suggestions to carry lipstick and pantyhose ! http://www.sailingmareda.blogspot.fr/2012/08/the-life-raft-conundrum.html ). To that, we've now included a hemostatic gauze/compression pads for serious wounds. We keep that in the grab bag, which we can use even if we don't ditch, but it's more likely to have a serious wound in an abandon ship situation. If we did any long crossings, I would definitely have a sat phone !

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Because some of our grab bag items were necessary on board in daily functioning, (such as hand held compass / binoculars) I keep a list of grab bag items stuck on the wall next to companionway, with the location of those items listed as well. The grab bag lives under the nav table seat (which is next to companion way) with all the other items already packed. The assumption is that there is an amount of time you have to put them in, of course, (altho its true sinking can happen dramatically and in minutes). We have assigned roles as to who grabs the bag and said items, who grabs the kids, who launches the life raft. Interestingly, there is almost no way possible (other than those emergnecy bursts of strength one reads about) that I could launch our life raft; it is way too heavy for me. Hmmmm.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That is a great idea Ruth, I will do the same for those additional items. Great to have the assigned roles as well. I imagine I would be running around like a headless chicken I imagine unless I had a procedure like yours to follow! Lets hope we never need to launch the heavy life rafts!


      • Biscay is about 350 M from Brittany to La Coruna. While there is a lot of commercial traffic in the area, there are also some big dead zones in the middle of Biscay with no traffic. The advice we received was to be prepared for a >24 hour rescue in those areas. You can port hop your way around the French and Spanish coasts if you’ve got time and there are some beautiful places along that route, but it’s tough sailing. Besides the ever-present derelict fishing nets waiting to wrap themselves around your propeller, you’ve got a complicated weather situation with the Picos de Europe mountains along the coast that can generate “surprise” gales with little warning even in the summer, and if you’re working your way west you’re going against predominant winds and currents. Trying to sail in 3 meter swell with only 10 knots of wind is never fun !


      • We’re going straight across. We’ve done the coastal hop several times already. We’ll aim for La Coruna but if the winds turn too westerly, we’ll head for Gijon instead (typical strategy for these parts).


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