What's a "go" bag? Hint: it is NOT a ditch bag

20.07.23 03:29 AM By Richard Westrick

Sailing on other people's boats means that you are relying on them to have all the appropriate safety equipment. My experience led me to create a "go" bag that I have with me whenever I go boating.

Most everyone has heard of, or knows what a ditch bag is. It's that bag you want ready in the event you abandon ship. (If you want to know what goes in one, there is a "ditch bag" template in BoatProject.) I created a "go" bag with what I feel is necessary so I know that I'll be safe when I go on other people's boat.  Here is what I mean by that.

As most of you are likely aware, the boating community is very friendly.  Many times I am invited to go out with someone, sometimes last minute.  I jump on and away we go only to find that I am very nervous. Why? Because not all boats will have a VHF radio. How do you call for help or signal another ship? Or a pair of binoculars. Or a first aid kit.  Most boats have most items, some have all. For me, I want to know that I am self-reliant when it comes to managing my own safety.

Every item I keep in my "go" bag is there because I got burned at one point or another. A couple of items just make sense.  So let me list what I keep in a very small duffel bag (that I got from Sailor Bags) that I take with me sailing always.  In fact, I don't leave it on my boat in case I head directly to someone else's boat in a different marina; I keep it with me at home and transport it back and forth.

  • PLB - Personal Locator Beacon. Not overly expensive; it will send a signal up to satellites with my position and a distress call. I have never (thankfully) had to use it, but I'm not going to be one of those lost at sea with no one having any idea where I am.
  • Hand-held VHF radio - This is a good backup for boats that have one (especially if they don't have one in the cockpit and you have to hail the marina for your slip assignment) and a must-have for boats that don't have one.  I keep the charger with it in case I need to top up the batteries.
  • Sailing knife - ropes are made by twisting strands and, thus, will coil around extremities.  Having a sailing knife with you (and on you connected with a lanyard) is not only handy, but can cut you loose if you get tangled in a line or need to cut a line free in an emergency.  This comes out of the bag and attaches to my belt every sail. Once I'm back on shore, it goes back in the bag.
  • Small First Aid Kit - I like knowing that if I need some first aid, the supplies are there, in good condition, and not expired.  I added some ibuprofen, Benadryl (for allergic reactions), and seasick meds.  Not a lot of each as I rarely need them, but I'm glad they are there when I do.
  • Flashlight - I grab it when jumping in the dinghy. Too many times I hear, "we'll be back before dark" and then find that my flashlight is what gets us back to the boat safely.  Also, I know it works, where it is, and how to get to it quickly.
  • Binoculars - I keep a small Celestron pair of binoculars (there is a nice compact one) in my bag.  I was on a charter and the boat did not have any and we were in a high traffic area. Mine came in handy. On boats with binoculars, this provides a second set of eyes and I'm not fighting anyone to see what's out there.
  • Sailing gloves - actually, they are finger-less work gloves from Home Depot.  After having a sheet get yanked through my hands in a storm and causing severe rope burn, I ALWAYS wear gloves. 
  • Sailing hat - I keep a Tilly hat that is waterproof and has a brim that unsnaps to cover my ears.  It also has a chin strap and a strap for the back of the head so it doesn't get blown off.  It's needed to keep sunburn and sunstroke at bay.
  • Light windbreaker - I picked up a Marmot windbreaker that just breaks the wind and keeps out the rain and sun. I wear it when I get chilly at the helm from the wind, but the temperature is still hot.  It rolls up nicely and fits easily into the bag.
  • Sunglasses - For when I forget my usual glasses.
  • Glasses keeper - to keep my glasses on my head.
  • Camp towel - this very compact towel is great when you need to dry off from a rain or errant wave. This is more a "nice to have", but is so small and light I threw it in the bag.
  • Headlamp flashlight - another "nice to have", but helpful if you need light but you need your hands to work on something.
  • Spare battery pack - I use this to ensure my mobile phone will work when I need it.  It also can charge via solar.  It is primarily in there so I have power for my phone in the event I need to use my phone for navigation.  Not all boats have chart plotters!  I also have appropriate USB cables to charge my phone.
  • Multi-tool - another "nice to have" but I'm finding that it comes in really handy on other people's boats when you find they don't have any tools on board!

These all fit nicely in my small duffel bag. When I jump on my boat (or anyone else's boat), I know I have the basics to keep me safe and facilitate a rescue.  And when someone needs something and you pull it out of your magic bag, you look pretty cool.  So, there is that. :)

For those using BoatProject, there is a template called "Pack Go-Bag" that lists these and a few other items so you can pack your own. Then review the list annually to see if you need to replenish anything.

Feel free to comment below, and Happy and Safe Boating!  -- Rich

Richard Westrick