What to Pack in Your Grab Bag

A grab bag is a hot topic when it comes to long distance cruising. We all agree it's something we have to have but never want to use. Not preparing it before you go is a risk most of us do not want to take. If for some reason you have to abandon ship, not having it ready and at hand could be disastrous.

So how do you go about making sure you have everything you need in a small watertight container?

I have 3 small water tight containers and a few other grab items but then there are four of us who would need to climb into the life raft if something were to happen to our yacht and having children aboard means I'm not prepared to leave the dock without a fully stocked set of grab bags.

You may say your life raft comes with a packed life-saving kit, but keep in mind, a life raft is designed to last 3 days for the number of people the life raft is rated for. So if you have a 6 man life raft there are enough rations for 6 people for 3 days inside. Beside are you really sure what is in that life raft pack? Are you sure the water has not gone foul?

With that in mind here's what I believe you actually need to pack in your personal grab bag.

Grab bag 1:

This grab bag is for equipment. In mine I have:
1 x Waterproof torch
1 x Spare set of batteries for torch
1 x Diving knife
1 x Set of hand fishing gear [including some thick hand line, a makeshift reel, a pair of good fishing gloves, 3 x lures, 8 x hooks, 4 x sinkers]
1 x Canister smoke flare
4 x Red parachute flares
4 x Hand held smoke flares
1 x Sound signaler
1 x Police whistle
1 x Mirror reflector
1 x Handheld compass
1 x Handheld GPS
1 x Set spare batteries for GPS
8 x Emergency blankets [space blankets – I have 2 per person]
1 x Roll sail tape
1 x bicycle puncture repair kit
1 x 2m x 2m Plastic sheet [this can function as rain catchment, shade as well as a makeshift sail if necessary.]
1 x Small notebook kit containing: 2 x pencils, 1 x sharpener, 1 x eraser, 1 handheld notebook
1 x Small basic medical kit containing: 10 x Plasters, 1 x 200ml disinfectant, 2 x bandages, 1 tube anti-bacterial salve, 1 x box pain pills, suntan lotion, aftersun, motion sickness pills, Immodium [anti diarrhea], 10 x Rehydrate sachets

Grab bag nr 2 & 3
This bag contains our rations. This list would depend on your food preferences but here are the essentials:

1 x Can opener
1 x Spoon or teaspoon for each person aboard
1 x Sharp knife
1 x Large Packet of glucose rich sweets
2 x Packets ginger biscuits [they help for motion sickness too]

Tinned foods
I picked them as follows:
High protein:
10 x tinned meat. [1 per 4 people per day for 10 days] corned meat or picnic ham works well.
Baked beans would work too but my fussy family would not touch them anyway!
5 x tinned tuna [1 per 4 people per day for 5 days]
5 x tinned chicken [1 per 4 people per day for 5 days]
5 x tinned viennas [1 per 4 people per day for 5 days]
10 x tins Sweetcorn [1 per 4 people per day for 10 days]
5 x Tins Peas [1 per 4 people per day for 5 days]
Vegetables are packed in liquid that can supplement drinking water shortages
5 x tins Peaches [1 per 4 people for 5 days] The syrup these are stored in can be used as glucose additive to water or alone if water becomes a problem
2 x tins cream [this is also glucose rich and can substitute liquids]

These tins fit perfectly, with a little good packing skill into 2 x 10kg watertight buckets.
The other things ready to go and stacked along the grab bags are 2 x 5l water bottles and a double action hand pump.

Remember that the 1 item you want to grab from inside the boat if everything goes wrong is your satellite phone if you have one!

When leaving for an offshore passage we tie all these items as well as our life raft to our dinghy / tender that is easily deployable from the davit system at the rear of the cockpit. That way we have our dinghy, complete with 2 sets of oars [unfortunately no motor], a little spare rope and the above items to hopefully keep us going until we are rescued or find a way to shore ourselves.