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Life Raft and Grab Bag

A life raft is designed and meant to keep crew members, and passengers safe on a vessel that has become uninhabitable and it's one of the most important rescue equipment to have available during an emergency. Life rafts offer a short term of protection from the elements with minimal survival equipment and the launching and inflation of a life raft are meant to be efficient and quick.
For practical reasons, a large part of the survival equipment such as communication equipment, food, water, clothes and much more cannot be stored in the life raft container. Instead it is stored in a so called grab bag, which should be easily accessible and efficiently transferable to the life raft in case of an emergency.

In the event in which the ship has to be abandoned and the crew has to board the life raft, the situation will be hectic and chaotic. Being prepared for this will make a difference to the chances of survival and a well considered emergency grab bag, also known as an "abandon ship bag", is an essential item in the survival arsenal and in the ship evacuation plan (of which each crew member must be instructed).

Life Raft Requirements

The overall general requirements for life rafts are to be able to offer protection for 30 days and stay afloat in any sea state, be launched from a height of 18m and still be in operating condition, and also be durable, resisting repeated jumps from people boarding into the life raft from a certain height above the bottom. The life rafts should have a cover to protect the occupants against the elements of the sea, life rafts approved by the SOLAS (Safety of Life at Sea) are required to have space for a minimum of 6 occupants.
Life rafts and other survival equipment should always be regularly inspected by a certified service facility to ensure it will be ready to perform when called on during an emergency.

It is also worth protecting the items within the grab bag against the elements and some plastic boxes or waterproof resealable plastic bags are useful for storing individual items, particularly those most likely to be affected by damp (such as electronic devices). They can also provide additional buoyancy and may serve a dual purpose as water collectors if necessary.

Parts of the following is copied from:

The Grab Bag Guide

Before considering the grab bag contents, the first thing to think about is the grab bag itself. There are a number of grab bags on the market designed for marine use and they are all waterproof, buoyant and made from high visibility material. They can consist of one or more watertight containers. Some even have dedicated stowage for flares and EPIRBs. Buoyancy, visibility and waterproofing are all things to be considered, as is a means of attaching the grab bag to the life raft once inside.

It is also worth protecting the items within the grab bag against the elements and some plastic boxes or waterproof resealable plastic bags are useful for storing individual items, particularly those most likely to be affected by damp (such as electronic devices). They can also provide additional buoyancy and may serve a dual purpose as water collectors if necessary.

Before getting into the grab bag contents, it is necessary to get acquainted with the contents of the life raft first. Every life raft comes with a safety pack however, specific safety pack contents can differ from life raft to life raft and it is important to find out exactly what is included in life raft that is on board. As a matter of course, any of the vital items that are not included in the life raft's safety pack should be added to the contents of the grab bag.

When planning the grab bag contents it is useful to think in terms of Survival, Rescue and Post-Rescue. Consider also the type of cruising that is planned. The perfect grab bag for island hopping in the Mediterranean during the summer season will be quite different from one suitable for a long Southern Ocean passage. Nevertheless, some general principles apply.

A checklist should be kept for items not stored permanently in the grab bag and it should be ensured someone is responsible for adding them before leaving the vessel. Finally, the location of the grab bag should be known to all crew and it must be easily accessible as there may only be a few moments to abandon the ship.


In order to survive in a life raft it is essential to keep warm, nourished and hydrated and remain as healthy as possible.

The simplest way of tackling keeping warm is by packing extra clothing for every crew member into the grab bag. A space saving alternative is the Thermal Protective Suit, that can be worn over normal sailing clothing and which is designed to reduce the risk of hypothermia. These are available from most marine safety equipment suppliers and are not so expensive. You might want to consider survival suits if sailing in very extreme conditions.

The food in the grab bag needs to be non-perishable, nourishing and easy to eat in the confines of a life raft. Consider things like chocolate, energy bars and dried fruit and nuts and if packing canned foods don't forget to pack an opener. You may also want to look at survival rations in your nearest outdoor store for some ideas. For long term survival you will need to consider catching fish and for this you will need some basic fishing equipment.

Water is a grab bag essential and it is a good idea to keep a 25-litres jerry filled with fresh water near the life raft at all times on long ocean passages so it is ready for transfer at a moments notice. Otherwise keep at hand a number of two litre bottles, filled to about 3/4 so they float, which can be readily transferred to the grab bag. Plenty of water is essential even for coastal sailing as sea sickness can very quickly lead to dehydration.

A basic first-aid kit is vital as part of your grab bag contents and if you have time to grab your vessel's full kit then all the better. Don't forget to include some sun protection. Skippers should be aware of anyone on board needing regular prescription drugs and supplies should also be carried in the grab bag for them.


Equipment for alerting other vessels and rescue services to your plight and communicating your position should be included in your grab bag equipment as a matter of course.

If possible the vessel's EPIRB or SART, if not kept in the grab bag, should be added before taking to the life raft so that the life raft, not the wreckaged boat, will be found first. There has also been increased use of Personal Locator Beacons (PLBs) which, once activated, alert the rescue authorities to your plight and help locate you.

Pack a Portable VHF Radio for communicating with rescuers and a Handheld GPS for providing a precise position to them. If your budget allows for it, a satellite telephone, ideally pre-programmed with useful emergency numbers, for making a long distance call for help could ensure you are rescued quickly. Don't forget to keep all equipment fully charged and pack some spare batteries and a solar charger for rechargeable batteries.

Many life raft safety packs contain only a small number of flares and packing extra flares in your grab bag is sensible. If additionally, the vessels entire flare pack can be recovered, all the better.


After being rescued, who knows where you may end up? If you are picked up by a passing cargo vessel they won't make a detour to drop you off somewhere convenient. Their destination is your destination and it may be the other side of the world. Wherever landfall is, you are going to want hot food, a shower and a comfortable bed for a night or two and to ultimately get home. You may also have to deal with immigration and you insurance company.

While not essential to your survival, the following items are useful once you are back on land: passports, cash, credit cards, house and car keys, mobile phones, vessel's registration and insurance documents. You will then be able to deal with whatever circumstances arise.

It is a sensible precaution to keep several copies of important documents on board and it pays to get one set of copies laminated and leave them in the grab bag at all times. This saves you from getting passports and insurance documents out of the grab bag every time you stop somewhere on a cruising holiday.

Life Raft and Grab Bag Contents

The survival relevant items are either part of the life raft contents or will be permanently stored in a grab bag. Some items may be collect from the vessel equipment and for these things a check list should be available.

ItemLife RaftGrab BagCheck List
Water XXX
Food XXX
Paddles or oars X
Bailer and sponges X
Whistle X
Survival manual X
Signal mirror and signal instructions X
Floating knife X
Drogue or sea anchor X
Repair kit X
Sea sickness tablets X
Rescue quoit and line X
Hand pump X
First-Aid Kit XX
Flares XXX
Light Torch (spare batteries) XX
Thermal Protective Suit X
Satellite Phone X
Handheld Marine Radio (spare batteries) X
Handheld GPS X
Compass X
Cash Money XX
Ship Documents (copy/original) XX
Passports (copy/original) XX
Warm Clothing X
Personal Prescribed Medicines X
Logbook X

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