No Need To Travel Light


Abandon-ship bags are essentially the marine equivalent of a hiker’s can of grizzly bear pepper spray—both are purchased in the hope that they’ll never be needed.

Practical Sailor recently received two new and improved abandon-ship bags from ACR Electronics: the RapidDitch and RapidDitch Express. Both bags are constructed of tough, water-resistant, 600-denier polyester and feature internal closed-cell foam construction (for buoyancy), corrosion resistant self-repairing zippers, and a see-through inventory pocket (with waterproof inventory sheet).

The RapidDitch is a large bag—28.5 inches wide x 14.75 inches high x 10 inches deep—with ample room for emergency gear, plus three external pockets with drawstring closures for EPIRB, GPS, and VHF radio storage. The bag’s main compartment offers plenty of bulk storage and features six closable storage pouches, plus an elastic daisy chain organizer to store flares and such. The RapidDitch bag’s advertised 2006 enhancements include padded, gusseted external EPIRB, GPS/VHF pockets, four internal snap-hook gear tethers, resized elastic gear loops, a scuff-resistant bottom panel to lessen wear on the bag, brightly colored interior (for improved gear viewing), and a shoulder strap that converts into a hands-free tether to keep the bag within easy reach when in the water.

Essentially a smaller version of the RapidDitch, the Rapid-Ditch Express is nonetheless big on features. The main compartment is exceptionally roomy; it contains six closable storage pouches and an elastic daisy chain. It also features an external, drawstring pouch that can accommodate an EPIRB, VHF, or GPS. New features include a locator light/strobe attachment loop on the handle, four snap-hook tethers with resized elastic gear loops, bright colored interior, and a shoulder strap that converts into a tether for in-water use. Its smaller size also means more options for stowing the bag itself, like bulkhead mounting using the included soft bracket.

Both the RapidDitch and RapidDitch Express are well built, offer plenty of storage, and appear durable enough to go the distance. Testers particularly liked the integral equipment lanyards and the numerous internal pockets, pouches, and organizers, plus the ability to securely close each via zippers or hook-and-loop.

The downside to all this storage space is the temptation to cram too much gear inside, making the bag negatively buoyant (you’ll want to be sure to float-test it loaded with your gear). Both bags are water resistant, but not waterproof. Water can enter through the zippers if submerged, at which point the bag relies on flota-tion provided by its foam construction, plus the inherent buoyancy of its contents (EPIRB, GPS, rations, and the like).

This also brings up the requirement that all non-waterproof equipment be protected or stored in waterproof pouches or containers. Water-proof pouches or containers. Waterproof “dry bags” keep their contents dry and provide plenty of buoyancy. The problem is that they have no inherent flotation, so if opened in the water, they have the potential to fill with water and sink.

What we’d like to see is waterproof construction or the addition of an internal, waterproof bag or pouch (either permanently mounted or removable). Converting half the interior storage space of the bag into dry storage would give users the means of keeping some equipment dry, while providing a marked increase in overall buoyancy (and the amount of gear that it could support while afloat). We’d also like to see zippers with larger pull tabs or lanyards, to make it easier for numb or gloved hands to open the bags.

An upcoming feature will address the essential ditchbag equipment, but we’d like to hear what you, our readers, pack in abandon-ship bags. Please e-mail your supply list to practical-sailor@belvoir-pubs.


Practical Sailor has been independently testing and reporting on sailboats and sailing gear for more than 45 years. Supported entirely by subscribers, Practical Sailor accepts no advertising. Its independent tests are carried out by experienced sailors and marine industry professionals dedicated to providing objective evaluation and reporting about boats, gear, and the skills required to cross oceans. Practical Sailor is edited by Darrell Nicholson, a long-time liveaboard sailor and trans-Pacific cruiser who has been director of Belvoir Media Group's marine division since 2005. He holds a U.S. Coast Guard 100-ton Master license, has logged tens of thousands of miles in three oceans, and has skippered everything from pilot boats to day charter cats. His weekly blog Inside Practical Sailor offers an inside look at current research and gear tests at Practical Sailor, while his award-winning column,"Rhumb Lines," tracks boating trends and reflects upon the sailing life. He sails a Sparkman & Stephens-designed Yankee 30 out of St. Petersburg, Florida. Darrell is booking speaking engagements in Colorado, Idaho, California, the Pacific Northwest, and British Colombia this summer. You can reach him by email at