Essential... near shore...
fresh water in bottles
a personal strobe
if practical, a hand held vhf with ALWAYS FRESH batteries in it...
If you have the VHF a handheld GPS with fresh batteries so you can give position if you make contact on the radio
Keep the ditch bag in a place where it isn't hard to get to. If you capsize it may not float free but might be easy to get to with a quick duck dive under the boat.
There are numerous other items that can be helpful like energy bars, canned fruit, gatorades and the sort... These can be cycled out every trip.
I admit I never set up a d-bag when I had fishing boats but will build one for my next boat and will have it small enuff that it will not be frowned upon if I go fish with others...
Previously, I was younger and thought I was bulletproof!
A. Keep people alive in the short term...Life preservers
Remember a ditch bag or bagsshould hold ALL your safety stuff and nothing else
A1. GOOD First Aid kit. You might not be ditching, but saving a life.
A2. In winter, a way to get out of the water like a liferaft. In summer you can last a lot longer in the water.
B. Let people know you are in trouble: EPIRB first then ahandheld VHF. Signal flares, waterproof lights that are already attached to life preservers. whistles already attached to life preservers.
C. Long term help: Water, water, water, water, water, food.
That being said, liferafts are big money... throwing bigsilly pool floats in the bag is better than nothing, especially in winter.
The one best all aroundtool is probably an EPIRB. You'll pay $600 or so.
If somebody gets hurt badlyor cut badly, turn it on and you'll have a Coast Guard helicopter overhead in 30 minutes or so. Any life threatening event is cause to use it. Don't hesitate because you are unsure. I'll paraprase a old Navy saying.
"If in doubt...there is NO doubt,..."
USE the EPIRB!!!
Trust me, you won't get in trouble if you believe life or limb was in peril. Same rules or even more relaxed than calling an ambulance.
Would you want to have to ride 20 miles with a pounding sea with a broken arm in a small boat?... Me neither, and I'd bet it would risk further injury too. THAT would certainly qualify as "limb in peril".
What are your thoughts on a SPOT personal locator? I have been leaning towards one of those but haven't quite talked myself into it yet. I know there is an annual fee but are there any other disadvantages?
EPRIB's are great as long as the work, but they are electronic and subject to failure. For signaling, you might also want to add smoke flares, dye packets, and definitely a good quality glass or Lexan signal mirror with the aiming sight in the center, such asthis .