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Your Essential On-Board First-Aid Kit For Any Boat

Your Essential First-Aid Kit

Whether setting out for a day, week, or longer, you need a well-stocked first-aid kit on board. Here are the essentials.

Open Boating First Aid Kit

No matter the type of boating you do, there are certain medical supplies every boater should have on board. | Photo Credit: Mark Corke

Checking life jackets, VHF radio, and flares before setting out for a day on the water should be a standard part of your predeparture checklist. But your first-aid kit is likely stowed and forgotten — as it seems you rarely need it. If setting out for just a few hours, most boaters assume they're unlikely to suffer a medical emergency. Or they reason that they're not going far and can quickly get back to the dock, so why worry? But having basic supplies at the ready could save you a trip to the emergency room — or even a life.

We talked to Anne Marie Lennon, M.D., Ph.D., of The Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, who sails an Ericson 33, about which firstaid essentials every boater should have on board.

"Of course, don't be slow to call for help if the situation demands it or the nature of the emergency is outside of your capabilities," she cautions. "But an onboard first-aid kit should be your first line of defense. A good starting point is to purchase one of the larger kits available from a retailer like West Marine, to which I add a few extra items such as hand disinfectant, antacids, motion-sickness medication, and jellyfish anti-sting." You may want to add additional items based on your personal preferences, where you boat, and the needs of the crew.

Tip

Consider attending a first-aid course. The American Red Cross offers both online and in-person classes at a moderate cost. Visit redcross.org/take-a-class.

Essential Items For Your First-Aid Kit

  • Scissors — to cut bandages, surgical tape, and clothing away from a wound if removing the garment is impossible
  • Safety Pins — to hold bandages or slings in place
  • Tweezers — to remove ticks, splinters, and other small foreign bodies embedded in the skin
  • Syringe (without needle) — to fill with saline and flush dirt from a wound, or as an emergency eye-wash pump
  • Saline Solution — to flush wounds prior to applying bandages
  • Fabric Tape — to hold dressings and bandages in place
  • Elastic Bandages — provide both covering and support to injuries
  • Triangular Bandage — to support and immobilize a damaged arm or shoulder
  • Large Adhesive Pads — to cover larger cuts and wounds
  • Instant Cold Pack — temporary relief from minor burns and swelling from sprains and strains
  • Foil Space Blanket — reduces shock by retaining body heat
  • Disposable Gloves — to wear during contact with bodily fluids — yours or anyone else's. some people are allergic to latex, so stock nitrile gloves
  • Sterile Absorbent Pads — to cover wounds and abrasions
  • Rolled Gauze — to cover wounds where an adhesive bandage is too small or extra absorbency is required
  • Adhesive Bandages — keep a selection from small to large. include round ones, and butterfly bandages to effectively close a deeper cut
  • Burn Cream — treats sunburn or galley burns. Note: treat a significant burn as a medical emergency
  • Individually Wrapped Common Medications — for treating stings, heartburn, seasickness, diarrhea, and so on
  • Alcohol Wipes — to sterilize hands, clean scissors and tweezers before/after use, or to gently clean a wound
  • Storage Container — keeps everything organized and easily accessible
  • First-Aid Guide — essential reference. read it before you need to use your first-aid kit
  • Aspirin — if you suspect a heart attack
  • Ibuprofen — general pain reliever
  • Acetaminophen — general pain reliever for those who can't take aspirin or ibuprofen
  • Cotton Swabs — to clean delicate areas before applying a dressing
  • Sam Splint — to immobilize a suspected fractured limb
  • Antiseptic Ointment Or Spray — apply to minor scrapes and abrasions to prevent infection
  • Eye Wash — for flushing chemicals, fuel, dirt, and grit out of the eye. can offer relief in cases of severe pollen allergies

Cleaning Cuts With Hydrogen Peroxide

For most minor cuts and scrapes, rinsing thoroughly with plenty of clean water, removing foreign bodies, and cleaning the surrounding area with soap is effective in preventing infection. It's also less irritating to wounded tissue. Once a first-line treatment, hydrogen peroxide is useful when you don't have access to clean water, but it is not recommended for deep cuts, bites, or burns. See a doctor immediately for those.

4 Tips For A Safe & Healthy Time On The Water

1. When you think of first aid, cuts and bruises probably come to mind. But sunburn, heatstroke, and overexposure to the elements can pose serious health risks.

Dr. Anne Marie Lennon of The John's Hopkins Hospital says, "Overexposure to the sun puts you at real risk of skin cancer. Avoid sun damage by using the 'slip, slap, slop' approach. Slip on a long-sleeved top, slap a hat on your head, and slop on some sunscreen, which you reapply every couple of hours."

2. Before heading out, ask if any crew members have allergies to medications, including simple pain relievers. Some people may be allergic to the adhesive on bandages or the latex in gloves, or may have been told to avoid certain pain relievers for medical reasons. If someone on board has a life-threatening allergy, know where to locate and how to administer an epinephrine auto-injector (EpiPen), if required.

3. Make sure that more than one person knows how to operate the VHF radio to call for help in an emergency.

4. Keep the booze locked up until you're safely anchored for the night or tied up at the dock. Alcohol tends to dehydrate and make you more prone to seasickness. Plus, it could slow reactions that could lead to an accident.

— M.C.

Mark Corke

A marine surveyor, and holder of RYA Yachtmaster Ocean certification, Mark has built five boats himself — power and sail. He was senior editor of Sail magazine's hands-on "Boatworks" publication, worked for the BBC, written four DIY books, skippered two round-the-world yachts, and holds the Guinness World Record for the fastest there-and-back crossing of the English Channel, in a kayak! He and his wife have a Grand Banks 32.