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DIY Survival Kits for Anglers: How to Piece Together Items to Keep You Alive

Anglers who follow the rules of boating safety are unlikely to encounter life-threatening situations on the water, but you never know; anyone can be put into a survival situation anytime, anywhere, without warning

DIY Survival Kits for Anglers: How to Piece Together Items to Keep You Alive
DIY Survival Kits for Anglers: How to Piece Together Items to Keep You Alive

A sudden storm capsizes your boat in rough water. You sinkafter hitting an unseen obstacle. An unsafe operator crashes his boat intoyours. Motor problems strand you in a remote area. Your fishing partner cutshimself deeply with a knife.

Hopefully you’ll never be involved in serious situationslike these. If you are, however, your story is much more likely to have a happyending if you follow a bit of sage advice: hopefor the best but prepare for the worst. Part of that preparation shouldinvolve designing, assembling and carrying customized survival kits.

A survival kit is a collection of supplies that can help youcope with unexpected events. A wide variety of prepackaged kits are availablethrough sporting-goods dealers and online distributors, and if you know you won’tfind time to assemble your own kit, you should buy a commercial package suitedto your needs. Assembling your own survival kit can be fun, though, and creatingcustomized kits well-suited to your own particular situations is the best wayto be sure you have the items you’ll need in case of emergency.

Having a single well-equipped survival kit is better thannone at all, but most experts suggest you make at least two: a small personalkit and a larger “ditch kit,” also called an abandon-ship or go kit.

Personal SurvivalKits

A personal survival kit should be light and small enough soit always is with you. Ideally, each person fishing with you should have one,too. Contents depend on individual preferences, environment and activity, but essentialsin each of these categories should be included.

First Aid: Ifanyone is seriously injured, rendering first aid should be top priority. Apersonal kit isn’t large enough to carry a full array of supplies but shouldinclude basic items such as bandages, gauze, alcohol swabs and pain reliever.If space permits, you also may want to include adhesive tape, antibioticointment, butterfly wound closures and water-purification tablets. Smallprepackaged kits in waterproof containers are available from severalmanufacturers.

Shelter/Warmth: Wherethere’s a likelihood of getting soaked in cold weather, wearing wool clothingthat insulates even when wet is a good idea. But you also should carryadditional items for emergency use.

A small emergency poncho can help keep you dry. Spaceblankets are waterproof, windproof and available in sizes small enough to make oneideal for inclusion in a personal survival kit. Wrap up in one to reduce bodyheat loss in cold weather, or fashion the blanket into a temporary shelter orwindbreak or a signal for rescuers.

If you can reach shore, you’ll also want a fire to get warmand dry as quickly as possible and for signaling rescuers, cooking food andproviding a feeling of comfort and security. You can keep matches in awaterproof container for this purpose, or use devices like a magnesiumfirestarter. But if you keep it dry, a windproof butane lighter is one of thebest tools for quickly lighting a fire. It’s provides hundreds of lights andfurnishes a larger flame for a longer time than matches. You also shouldinclude in your kit a candle stub and/or some type of fire-starting aid thatwill help you get a blaze going fast.

Signaling aids: Inan emergency, getting help quick should be a prime concern. Attract rescuers’attention using a whistle, flares, signal mirror, smoke canister, distress flagand/or other device(s) kept in your personal kit. Then provide a homing signalfrom a small waterproof flashlight, strobe, chemical light, whistle or othersignal to guide the responding party to you. Many anglers now also carry a personallocator beacon (PLB) such as the SPOT Satellite Personal Tracker ( that can be activated in the event of a critical emergency to notify emergencyservices of your GPS location and need for assistance.

Tools: A goodstainless multi-tool such as those made by Gerber and Leatherman can beinvaluable for repairing equipment, preparing shelters and food items, makingcooking utensils and fashioning other survival equipment.

Miscellaneous items:Include necessary prescription medications in your kit, and, space permitting,consider the addition of compact items such as insect-repellent swabs, energyfood bars, a compass (that you know how to use), fish hooks and line, sunscreentowelettes and hand warmers. A foldedpiece of heavy-duty aluminum foil doesn’t take up much space and hasmany uses. Make it into a drinking cup, use it as a windbreak when starting afire, fashion it into a container for boiling water or cooking and much more.

Container: Allitems should be kept in a durable, waterproof container that’s small enough soyou can (and will) keep it on your person. Small belt pouches available frombackpacking suppliers work well, but you also can use zip-seal freezer bags, anArmy surplus first-aid pouch or just a small plastic container with asnap-tight lid.

Ditch Kits

Because it’s stowed in your boat until needed, a ditch kit cancontain larger items from the same categories as contents for personal survivalkits. The kit should be accessible and known to all onboard. It should be placedwhere it can float free if the boat sinks or capsizes and should be waterproof,durable and have a handle. Don’t count on it being there when you need it; thisis not a personal survival kit. But keep it handy so, if time permits, you can grabit and take it to shore in the event of an emergency.

Items you may want in your ditch kit include extra clothing,a water-purification filter, nylon cord and a small tarp or plastic sheetingfor making a shelter, a folding saw and/or sheath knife, extra flares or smokecanisters, high-energy foods like tropical chocolate bars and hard candy, a waterproofhand-held GPS and/or VHF transceiver, a water bottle, extra fishing tackle, binoculars,survival literature and a larger first-aid kit with a more extensive selectionof supplies. The inclusion of multipurpose items when possible reduces theamount of weight and needed space. And as with personal survival kit items,everything should be inspected on a regular basis to be sure it functions asintended and isn’t out of date.


Perhaps soon you can say, “My survival kit is ready.” Butare you ready? Do you know basic survival techniques: how to signal, how to usea compass and GPS, how to build a fire in rain or snow and so forth? An angler witha kit full of items he can’t use may be in trouble.

Can you make decisions without panic in the face ofadversity? If you can’t rely on yourself, all the survival equipment in theworld won’t help you.

Do you have the judgment and maturity to back away fromunsafe situations? Remember, the best survival kit is one you never have touse.

And finally, does your survival kit go along on allyour outdoor ventures? Even the best kit is useless if you don’t have it withyou.

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