Dock Lines

Assembling and updating onboard medical kits

We’ve all had the experience of accidentally injuring ourselves and scrambling for an appropriate bandage, cleanser or medication — and coming up short. We may have discovered we’re out of the right-sized bandage, or the long-stored adhesive bandages have turned to sticky goop and don’t adhere properly.

Since Arv and I often suffer minor cuts or burns while working in the engine room or galley, I regularly replenish our stock of adhesive bandages in many sizes.

Turns out our replenished stock came in handy last fall, when an extra-sharp knife I was using to slice a watermelon rolled off the cutting board and plunged into my big toe. Fortunately I’d stashed several boxes of bandages in the galley, along with alcohol and cotton pads for disinfecting wounds, and I cleaned and staunched the bleeding quickly.

In contemplating this column, I examined our three on-board medical kits and realized many of the contents are so old they may be useless. Nothing has an expiration date, as newer marine medical kits now do, nor do the kits contain many items I’ve needed in the past. Necessary items to have on-hand include waterproof adhesive bandages, elastic bandages for sprains (I’ll never forget stepping in a Baltimore pothole and spraining my ankle), liquid bandages for protecting odd-placed cuts or blisters, antibiotic ointment for pesky skin infections, allergy and anti-diarrheal medications as well as essential ibuprofen and aspirin.

We will update our medical kits, replacing everything that’s expired or unusable, and supplement them with other items we often use or might need in an emergency, including a QuikClot Trauma Pack, a mylar blanket to combat shock and a first aid manual such as Marine Medicine, a Comprehensive Guide by Drs. Eric Weiss and Michael Jacobs.

We’ll be adding emergency medical supplies for our two boat cats as well (please don’t forget your pets’ needs).

Be mindful of your commonly used home supplies and whether any crewmember has special needs or is accident-prone. Address those requirements first, coordinating with your boating practices.

Do you primarily use your boat at or near your home dock or cruise offshore? Also consider where you use your boat, how long you’re cruising, how many people of what ages are aboard and how far you’ll be from professional care in case of a medical emergency.

If you’re buying a kit, how do you know what to buy? Do you buy a basic first aid kit or a comprehensive medical kit with an array of supplies?

The internet provides excellent resources on choosing a commercially-prepared kit or assembling your own custom medical supplies.

West Marine’s catalogue provides an insightful article on “Selecting a Boating Medical Kit.” It also matches up different styles of boating, from brief cruises to transoceanic adventures, with appropriate medical kits, at varied prices points. Numerous other vendors offer wide choices in marine medical kits.

If you prefer to pull together your own medical kit to respond to your crew’s specific needs and cruising activities, be sure to consult Practical Sailor’s guide to “Creating a Custom Med Kit.” This offers comprehensive advice on what to pack in your waterproof containers, recommending medical supplies, medications (including over-the-counter drugs, antibiotics and pain relief in case of infections or broken bones) and other equipment, as well as guidance on where to purchase supplies.

In preparing your onboard kits, remind all crew or guests to bring their own standard medications and anything else they might need, such as EpiPens for severe allergic reactions.

Although we all hope never to need any medical supplies, it’s better to be well-equipped than be unprepared for an emergency.

Everyone needs an occasional Band-Aid!

(Nicole Sours Larson photo)

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One thought on “Assembling and updating onboard medical kits

  • Dean A West

    I would urge for the inclusion of a versatile splint and an ice pack in any comprehensive medical kit. Broken bones can occur during rough weather, and the inability to immobilize the break could be unpleasant at least, or disastrous at worst.



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