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By Boat US 

First-Aid Kit

Check It Out: 'Your Essential First-Aid Kit


September 1, 2022

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

Words And Photo By 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. Butyour first-aid kit is likely stowed and forgotten - as it seems you never need it.

If setting out for just a few hours, most boaters assumethey're unlikely to suffer amedical emergency. Or they reason that they're not going far and can quicklyget back to the dock, so why worry? Buthaving 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 first-aid essentials every boater should have on board.

"Of course, don't be slow to call for helpif 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.

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Visit this article at or go to our YouTube channel at to learn how to call for help in an emergency.

1. Scissors – to cut bandages, surgical tape, and clothing away from a wound if removing the garment is impossible

2. Safety pins – to hold bandages or slings in place

3. Tweezers – to removeticks, splinters, and other small foreign bodies embedded in the skin

4. Syringe (without needle) – to fill with saline and flush dirt from a wound, or as an emergency eye-wash pump

5. Saline solution – to flush wounds prior to applying bandages

6. Fabric tape –to hold dressings and bandages in place

7. Elastic bandages – provide both covering and support to injuries

8. Triangular bandage –to support and immobilize a damaged arm or shoulder

9. Large adhesive pads – to cover larger cuts and wounds

10. Instant cold pack – temporary relief from minor burns and swelling from sprains and strains

11. Foil space blanket– prevents shock by retaining body heat

12. Disposable gloves – to wear during contact with bodily fluids – yours or anyone else's. Some people are allergic to latex, so stock nitrile gloves

13. Sterile absorbent pads – to cover wounds and abrasions

14. Rolled gauze – to cover wounds where an adhesive bandage is too small or extra absorbency is required

15. Adhesive bandages – keep a selection from small to large and include round ones, and butterfly bandages to effectively close a deeper cut

16. Burn cream – treats sunburn or galley burns. NOTE: Treat a significant burn as a medical emergency

17. Individually wrapped common medications – for treating stings, heartburn, seasickness, diarrhea, and so on

18. Alcohol wipes – to sterilize hands,clean scissors and tweezers before/after use, or to clean a dirty wound

19. Storage container – keeps everything organized and easily accessible

20. First-aid guide –essential reference. Read it before you need to use your first-aid kit

21. Aspirin – if you suspect a heart attack

22. Ibuprofen – general pain reliever

23. Acetaminophen –general pain reliever for those who can't take aspirin or ibuprofen

24. Cotton swabs – to clean delicate areas before applying a dressing

25. SAM splint–to immobilize a suspected fractured limb

26. Antiseptic ointment or spray – apply to minor scrapes and abrasions to prevent infection

27. Eye wash – for flushing chemicals, fuel, dirt, and grit out of the eye. Can offer relief in cases of severe pollen allergies

Where's the hydrogen peroxide?

Once a staple in first-aid kits and medicine cabinets, doctors no longer recommend using hydrogen peroxide to clean cuts and abrasions. It kills all cells at the wound site, both damaged and healthy, and may slow down the healing process.Dr. Anne Marie Lennon says, "If you want to clean an area, use alcohol wipes instead".

Four Tips For Safe, Healthy Time On The Water

• Other Concerns: 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."

• Allergies: Before heading out, ask if any crewmembers 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 administeran epinephrine auto-injector (EpiPen), if required.

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

• NoBooze Until Docked: 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.


Consider attending a first-aid course. The American Red Cross offers both online and in-person classes at a moderate cost (

Another Online Extra

Visit learn more about taking care of onboard emergencies.

This article was reprinted with permission from BoatU.S. Magazine, flagship publication of the membership organization Boat Owners Association of The United States (BoatU.S.). For more expert articles and videos to make your boating, sailing, or fishing better, visit


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