Safety At Sea: Inside a Ditch Bag and Med Kit

Now that the ocean is our home, it’s even more critical that Peter and I have the supplies we need in the event of an emergency. This is similar to carrying emergency supplies in your car and stocking up in your home if you live where “The Big One” could tremble the earth so much it knocks out all roads, power and water at any minute; or if you live where a snow storm could leave you trapped inside a car or home; or if you live where a hurricane or tornado could demolish your town.

There are increasing numbers of Doomsday Preppers around the world today that fear a disaster of epic proportions could render them completely on their own. TV shows have depicted some of the extremes these preppers have gone to ensuring their safety and survival.

For others, it’s a less of an obsession but rather a desire for a ‘Plan B’ type of scenario that inspires them to always be prepared for anything to happen.

Peter’s uncle Dan and his wife Terry own a compound in the desert primarily for off-roading and weekend fun. They also know in the back of their minds that they have somewhere safe to go that is fully stocked up with supplies and survival gear in the event that the economy crashes beyond repair and chaos breaks out in the masses.

Two of our favorite TV shows before leaving our little home in San Diego were SurvivorMan and Dual Survival. Both of these shows are of course based on survival and they really get us thinking about whether or not we would have the know-how to truly survive in the wilderness. These guys demonstrate that it’s not as easy as it looks to survive in less-than-ideal conditions when it comes to extreme cold, heat, wind, shelter, food, hydration, finding help, medical issues, and know-how. We believe it is just as important to actually get out and tests your skills before you need to use them. Could you really make a fire with wet kindling or no kindling? Do you know how to use a magnesium stick? Could you catch fish without a fishing pole? Would you actually know how to use a water purifier if you were dying of thirst? Do you know what to do if you’re bitten by a snake or poisonous insect? Would you know how to signal for help without a radio?

It seems so basic to know how to survive, but when you really think about it, could you?? Going from life on land to living on a boat brings a whole new meaning to SIMPLE LIVING. It’s about sustaining life and getting by with the skills and tools available to us.

One of the first projects Peter and I tackled after moving aboard was to build a thorough Ditch Bag and Medical Kit with everything we could think of and get our hands on. It was near the top of our priority list as we began outfitting the boat, knowing it MUST be done before we left the protection of Charlotte Harbor.

Wonder what kind of survival tools we have on board?


We assembled our Ditch Bag with the idea that we need to be able to survive and find help if something ever happened to the boat, if we were swept out to sea in the dinghy or stranded on an island somewhere. Our Ditch Bag is essentially a dry-bag with all of the basic survival gear we might need in the event of an emergency. Although one time the Ditch Bag was accidentally left on the big boat instead of taken out in the dinghy during a diving expedition, we have made it a policy to always bring the Ditch Bag when we take the dinghy anywhere. Even if it’s just for a quick potty run to shore with the dogs, anything could happen. Two items we’d like to include but have not yet purchased are a handheld GPS and a handheld VHF radio.

Our Ditch Bag lives in the cockpit where it’s readily accessible during a storm. In the Caribbean, high wind squalls are a common occurrence and they seem to appear ‘out of the blue’ catching us off guard. If we ever needed to leave the boat, we would be stepping up into the life raft with our Ditch Bag in hand and hydrostatic inflatable Mustang life vests and harnesses already on. We’ve also each got an ACR ResQLink+ GPS-enabled Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) fastened to our life vests.

Ditch Bag Inventory:

  • Line to tie the Ditch Bag to the dinghy/life raft – JUST INCASE 🙂
  • Spot Tracking device with 911 capability
  • Beef jerky – high protein content, light weight and stores well
  • Knife
  • Fishing line
  • Fishing hooks
  • Fully charged 2-way radio (the other one stays on the boat, both recharged periodically)
  • GRAYL Fresh water filtration and purification cup
  • PUR water desalination pump (pickled)
  • 1 beach towel
  • Flares
  • Matches
  • Lighter
  • Waterproof flashlight with fully charged batteries
  • Dog leash
  • Bungee cord
  • Paracord
  • 2 space blankets
  • Dinghy patch kit
  • US Army compass
  • 2 rain ponchos
  • Duct tape
  • Sunscreen
  • Bug spray
  • Whistle/mirror/watertight container of matches/compass – combo tool
  • Magnesium stick
  • Tourniquet made from an old Hawaiian sling band
  • Napkins in a Ziploc bag
  • Gloves
  • 2 gallon-sized Ziploc bags
  • Large black plastic trash bag
  • Wound seal powder
  • Medical tape
  • Ace bandages
  • Ear drops
  • Eye wash
  • Potable Aqua drops
  • Antibiotic ointment
  • ChapStick with sunscreen
  • Miscellaneous Band-Aids
  • Burn gel
  • Antiseptic wipes
  • Rubbing alcohol spray
  • Nail clippers
  • Medical scissors
  • Insect bite relief wipes
  • Ibuprofen
  • Benadryl
  • Bar of soap
  • Imodium – antidiarrheal


Even though our boat is small and limited on storage, we make room for the important things. All of the medical items we would normally have in a larger house are also here on the boat. We keep most internal medicines in the lockers in the aft head while the water-tight med kits are stored in the lockers in the forward head. It is critical that these items are organized in a way that we can find what we need very quickly.

Just like the Ditch Bag, it’s important that our med kit is sealed in a water-tight container. Because we have so many items in our med kit, we opted to use two large locking lid plastic containers. We personally like the SnapWare brand that comes in different sizes and lid colors. They have gaskets that seal well and the lids stay locked keeping out air, water and bugs.

Each container has the contents labeled in permanent marker on the outside for quick reference and the items inside are organized in groups, separated by Ziploc bags and labeled in further detail. We keep a tote bag nearby in case we need to grab our whole med kit in a hurry and bring our supplies to an injured person in need of help somewhere outside of our boat.

One item we didn’t have in the beginning was antibiotics. We didn’t plan far enough ahead to meet with our doctors before we left California to obtain the courses one might need in a marine environment. Luckily, it was easy to get inexpensive antibiotics in the Dominican Republic when we passed through last spring. We did start off with one course of antibiotics, however Peter needed it back in Florida when a hardhead saltwater catfish barb punctured his knuckle. It was horribly painful and poisonous. Thanks to our friends Lisa and Will at The Trading Post/Calusa Queen Eco Tours in Burnt Store Marina, we Googled it in a hurry and found that hot water over 103 degrees (or as hot as you can stand) will neutralize the poison and take the pain away instantly. It could have turned into a nasty infection but we were lucky to already have the medicine we needed on hand. During this experience we learned that hot water is also the remedy to neutralize a sting from Lionfish, Stonefish and most other venomous creatures in a marine environment. If you’re ever out in a dinghy and someone happens to be stung by one of these painful encounters, the raw water exhaust on an outboard motor will do the trick until you can get to shore to find hotter water.


Large Medical Kit Inventory (blue lid – external supplies):

  • Medical tape
  • Respirator mask
  • Scissors
  • Space blanket
  • Antiseptic prep pads
  • Sterile gauze compresses
  • Miscellaneous Band-Aids – latex and latex-free organized by size and material
  • Thermometer
  • Tourniquet made from an old Hawaiian sling band
  • Permanent marker
  • Latex free gloves
  • Tweezers
  • Lidocaine
  • Sutures and suture removal kit
  • Surgical lubricant
  • Sterile blood collection kit
  • Sterile disposable lancet
  • Sterile closure strips
  • Several quick reference first-aid guides


Small Medical Kit Inventory (purple lid – external supplies):

Antiseptic Ointment:

  • Antiseptic lotion
  • Bacitracin
  • Polysporin
  • Triple antibiotic ointment

Burn Treatment:

  • Burn gel
  • Black Tea


  • Nasal spray
  • Sinus rinse packets


  • Contact solution
  • Eye drops
  • Vigamox – pinkeye


  • Drawing Salve
  • Poison ivy, oak and sumac cleanser
  • Hydrocortisone cream
  • Antihistamine cream
  • Clobetasol propionate – eczema, rash, skin inflammation
  • Meat tenderizer – jellyfish stings


  • Preventative premixed ear drop solution – rubbing alcohol, hydrogen peroxide and vinegar
  • Prescription drops for ear infections
  • Wax ear plugs
  • Foam ear plugs

Miscellaneous Topical Ointments:

  • A&D
  • Tinactin
  • Clotrimazole
  • Preparation H
  • Icy Hot
  • Retin-A
  • Compound-W
  • Mederma scar gel
  • Muscle rub lotion


Miscellaneous Medical Supplies and Internal Medication Inventory:

  • Vinegar
  • Sunscreen
  • Aloe Vera
  • ChapStick with Sunscreen
  • Bug Spray
  • Nyquil
  • Pepto-Bismol liquid and tablets
  • Tums
  • Fiber chewables
  • Throat lozenges
  • Throat Coat tea
  • Nasal spray
  • Sore throat spray
  • Various antibiotics
  • Omeprazole – acid reflux/heartburn
  • Ranitidine – acid reflux/heartburn
  • Benadryl
  • Caffeine pills
  • Dimenhydrinate – motion sickness
  • MotionEase – topical motion sickness
  • Aspirin
  • Ibuprofen
  • Excedrin Migraine
  • Imodium tablets – anti-diarrheal
  • Ondansetron ODT – nausea/vomiting
  • Arsenicum album – food poisoning
  • Xopenex inhaler
  • Stool softener
  • Vaseline
  • Rubbing alcohol
  • Witch Hazel
  • Tea Tree oil
  • Epsom salt
  • Vinyl gloves
  • Betadine/Iodine
  • Hydrogen Peroxide
  • Tinactin fungal spray
  • Gauze
  • Ace bandages

Medical Books and Reference Guides:

  • The Merck Manual of Medical Info
  • Your Offshore Doctor
  • American Red Cross 1st Aid/CPR/AED manual
  • The US Armed Forces Survival Manual

There are many great medical reference books out there but these are what we had on hand before we left. In hindsight there are a few others we would have liked to order, but hopefully this will be sufficient should we ever need them. What medical books do you recommend?

Please share any survival stories you have as well as tips and tricks we might not find in any books 🙂

We feel we have done a pretty thorough job at assembling our medical supplies and Ditch Bag. We also know you can never be too prepared. Leave a comment and let us know what other MUST-HAVE items we may have forgotten!!

By Jody Pountain for the [Tiny House Blog]

10 thoughts on “Safety At Sea: Inside a Ditch Bag and Med Kit”

  1. Wow- you guys are thorough! One thing I have always taken on backpack trips is a few small packets of honey. Honey works on burns- after the burn has cooled. It has antiseptic properties and it is one food that never goes bad.
    Happy sails!

  2. I like the way you organised your supplies, much easier to deal with specific situations quickly. I have the Field Guide to Wilderness Medicine by Paul Auerbach though it is an older 1999 edition. I also have an assortment of old military survival manuals picked up at thrift shops and second hand book stores over the years and lots of field guides to edible and medicinal plants. There are some great little laminated folding charts you can get for plant identification at a reasonable cost.

  3. AWESOME! I am totally inspired by this post and noted a few things I need to add to my kit(s). Thank you for sharing!


  5. Great article. We took many hours assembling ours. If you stuck one of Alice’s books in yr ditch bag’ you could use it as a cutting board for all the fish you are going to catch. Also deck of cards…

  6. I’ve read a few first hand accounts of people surviving at sea during WW2 (Rickenbacker, Oluf Reed Olsen) and a couple things that stuck with me was the need for sun protection i.e. long sleeves, hat, etc. high calorie rations and perhaps a multivitamin to augment foraged/caught food, and gloves to protect your hands should you need to bail for hours on end, and a signaling device (a signal mirror comes to mind as the only device that can’t be “used up”). The dominating feature to all “lost at sea” stories I’ve read was the individuals faith in God and determined will to live.

  7. Your ditch bag seems to be very complete. I would add a small unbreakable mirror, maybe some polished aluminum or stainless steel. The other thing to remember is that it’s important to avoid boredom as this leads to depression which can be dangerous when in a life raft for a long time. So it’s a good idea to add a pack of cards or a puzzle book, for example.

  8. My father in law spent 72 days in a life raft after he and his corsair were shot down in the pacific during ww2. Talk about will to survive. Good old military survival. iv’e still got some of my stuff from the 60’’s in my bag to this day. i’m a professional licensed captain. great article by the way. some of these greenhorns should be forced to read it. thanks,capt. mike


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