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Building a Ditch Bag

Boaters should prepare to survive, even for just a few hours.
Boating Safety

» Fit a handheld waterproof VHF and GPS with lithium batteries and carry spares.

» A small compass and watch are handy.

» A satellite phone is not a substitute for an EPIRB. If you have one, put Coast Guard numbers in speed dial and pack an extra battery and solar charger.

» Passive signals are best, such as a strobe light, floating rescue streamer and dye markers.

» Orange smoke flares, a signal mirror and a whistle draw attention in daylight.

» Red meteor or parachute flares, handheld locator flares and chemical light sticks work at night.

» Take seasickness medication immediately, but save water rations, survival food and hard candy.

» Add waterproof duct tape, medical shears and an indelible ink marker.

» Don't overlook toilet paper, sanitary napkins, hand sanitizer and Ziplocs for gear and as vomit/waste bags.

» Polypropylene clothing, warm hats, gloves and two-person survival blankets help keep you warm.

» A bailer, bucket, sponge, washcloth, sunglasses, hats, sunscreen, aloe and light protective clothing all increase comfort.

» First-aid items include a pocket mask for rescue breathing, large pressure dressings and gauze, Silvadene for burns, a splint with self-adhering ace bandages, tweezers, medical shears, BZK towelettes to clean wounds, antibiotic ointment, waterproof bandages and tape.

» Add Tigan suppositories for severe vomiting, Imodium for diarrhea and prescription medications.

» Bring shoes for landing on rocks or reef, a waterproof fire starter and aluminum foil.

» Pack a small backpack or belt pack for helicopter or ship rescue with laminated photocopies of passports, immunization records, cash (small, new U.S. bills), traveler's checks, a credit card, ship documents and insurance information, medication names and dosages and important phone numbers.

» Shipwreck survivors all wish they had a camera and notebook. One suggests a laminated copy of Rime of the Ancient Mariner.

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The U.S. Coast Guard is asking all boat owners and operators to help reduce fatalities, injuries, property damage, and associated healthcare costs related to recreational boating accidents by taking personal responsibility for their own safety and the safety of their passengers. Essential steps include: wearing a life jacket at all times and requiring passengers to do the same; never boating under the influence (BUI); successfully completing a boating safety course; and getting a Vessel Safety Check (VSC) annually from local U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, United States Power Squadrons(r), or your state boating agency's Vessel Examiners. The U.S. Coast Guard reminds all boaters to "Boat Responsibly!" For more tips on boating safety, visit

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