Every time you think about your liferaft, the grab bag should be included in the same thought. Pip Hare reveals what’s in hers
The kit packed inside a liferaft will vary hugely across different brands and models and there is no way of checking that the liferaft’s contents are serviceable outside of its regular inspection.
So what’s in the grab bag should always be considered as an essential part of the liferaft inventory. The grab bag’s contents should be inspected and packed before each offshore voyage, tailored to reflect crew numbers and the length and location of your voyage.
In the event of an abandonment, aim to gather as much equipment, food and water as possible to take with you into the liferaft to aid survival; your grab bag should be considered the number one emergency essential. This is the vital bag that gets grabbed first – and always – in the event of abandonment.
Let’s take a look at some of the essential items that should be packed into every emergency grab bag.
The first thing to consider is what form your grab bag itself should take. The container that holds this vital survival equipment needs to be strong, waterproof, easy to identify and a bright colour. It also needs to be big enough to contain the optimum amount of survival equipment for your entire crew, but not so big that when full you won’t be able to lift it or store it sensibly.
Most grab bags on the market are roll-top dry bags with carry straps, but it’s also worth considering using a hard waterproof container, similar to a flare box.
I use a hard container. Mine is clearly marked ‘survival’, striped with reflective tape, has a robust carry handle and is fitted with a lanyard and carabiner.
This is the style of container favoured by most ocean racing classes and I prefer it to a soft bag as it provides more protection for the contents inside and is very buoyant.
Grab bag contents
Electronic location aids
These need to be in two forms: with the ability to call for help globally, and the ability to help search and rescue (SAR) services and rescue vessels home in on your position locally. An EPIRB or PLB will provide you with both of these functions – transmitting on both 406MHz (for the global message) and 121.5MHz (for homing).
It’s worth noting that merchant ships and leisure vessels will not have the ability to receive 121.5MHz; this frequency is predominantly used by aircraft and SAR authorities. Therefore, it’s wise to include another homing device such as a search and rescue transponder (SART), either radar or AIS. Personal AIS devices could also provide AIS homing ability, but will have a limited battery life and need to be held aloft for maximum range.
What I carry: I have two EPIRBs, one mounted by the companionway, the other in my grab bag. I carry a PLB on my person and have a personal AIS device fitted in my lifejacket. In my grab bag I have an AIS SART, and a second PLB.
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Making a liferaft as visible as possible is critical to rescue. It’s important to understand what is in your liferaft already, what will work best in extreme wet conditions, battery and charging requirements, as well as range of visibility, then supplement this where necessary.
Items to consider are flares (additional to your liferaft contents), laser flares, torches, strobe lights and glow sticks. Remember many modern torches have rechargeable batteries so without a means of charging have a limited lifespan.
Ensure you have replacement batteries for all devices individually stored in waterproof containers.
What I carry: Multiple torches using conventional batteries, including two head torches, one high powered LED light, one strobe light, spare batteries for all, four glow sticks and two packets of fluorescein (sea marker dye prescribed for all offshore grab bags in French offshore racing classes). I also carry four handheld red flares and two orange smoke flares in addition to those in the liferaft.
Food and water
If abandoning to a liferaft you should gather as much food and water as time allows, in addition to your grab bag. The amount of food and water in the grab bag needs to be adjusted for each trip to take into account the size of the crew. You need to balance the minimum to survive for a short period and the maximum you can fit into the bag and still be able to lift it.
The emergency water in the grab bag and liferaft (if applicable) comes in 0.5lt pouches, which avoids contamination problems. When calculating how much water to put in the grab bag consider that the recommended intake of water for survival is 0.5lt per person per day.
Your liferaft may have emergency water packed in it. Also think about how far offshore you are going and how close you are to rescue. A person is able to survive without food for up to a month but can only survive without water for about a week so prioritise water over food if short on space. Always aim to take additional water in jerrycans.
What I carry: I mostly race alone or double-handed and have a four-man liferaft that contains 1.5lt of water per person inside; I therefore do not carry emergency water in my grab bag.
However, I am generally racing a long way offshore with rescue unlikely inside a week. So, I keep a 10lt jerrycan ready to go beside my grab bag. This is filled with 9lt of water so it will float above sea level, is covered with retroreflective tape, has the name of my vessel on it and a lanyard and carabiner. In my grab bag I have emergency rations of 10,000kJ per person.
This includes satellite phones, handheld VHF and trackers. The difficulty here is around budget; buying two of each item then designating one for the chart table and one for the grab bag is ideal but can be expensive. If you include a sat phone, or handheld VHF, make sure you also have a portable GPS so you can give out your position by voice; trackers and DSC radios have GPS inbuilt.
Many trackers can be used for two way communication and may also have the facility to call for help, though it’s important to remember that not all satellite networks have global coverage and this type of device is not required to conform to the same standards of battery life and ruggedisation as an EPIRB or PLB. Remember charging and spare batteries for all devices.
If taking a satellite phone, ensure you have a SIM card that is in date and has airtime, your device is programmed with key numbers (such as the MRCC from your country of registration) and take a laminated card with numbers as a back-up.
What I carry: I have both a dedicated handheld DSC VHF and Iridium phone in my grab bag and a handheld GPS (all with spare batteries). I have a separate SIM card for the Iridium phone that is reloaded at the start of every race or delivery.
Pip Hare’s 15 grab bag essentials
- Torch and strobe
- AIS SART
- First aid kit
- Emergency food rations
- Fluorescein dye markers
- GPS personal locator beacon
- Handheld GPS
- Handheld DSC VHF radio
- Satellite phone
- Spare batteries for sat phone and VHF radio in waterproof case
- Red and orange flares
- Survival blankets
- Strobe light
- Spare batteries in sealed bag
- Glow sticks
I regularly change the extras in my bag, but try hard not to overload it and have enough room inside so I can rummage around without having to take everything out. Typical contents would be sunscreen, waterproof notepad and pencil, passport, ziplock bags, fishing kit (hooks well protected), narrow diameter string (to hang things up inside the raft), lip balms, a multitool, and a survival blanket for every crew member.
It’s worth noting that in the event of an abandonment I’d also aim to put on my immersion suit and lifejacket.
First published in the July 2020 edition of Yachting World.
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