First Aid

Written by barrington

When injuries or illness occur at home, what you can’t treat or cure from your medicine cabinet, you usually can from the corner drug store or the emergency medical clinic in the shopping center next door. When those same injuries or illnesses occur on your boat, you need to be more self-sufficient. Having a well-stocked first-aid kit on board and the knowledge to use it, enables you to handle accidental injuries or a medical emergency while on the water.

Like so many things in boating, how and where you use your boat will determine whether you need a basic first-aid kit or an advanced medical kit. It is recommended if you are engaging in any outdoor adventure activities that you take first-aid and CPR courses. Your ability to treat an injury doesn’t just depend on having the proper materials but the knowledge to use them.

First Things First

“First aid” is just that — what you do first to aid an injured person. In minor cases there may be no need to go beyond the first aid. In more serious cases,the first aid is temporary until more advanced medical care can be administered. In the event more advanced care is needed, communication becomes the next most important item to first aid. Because we frequently boat outside of mobile phone range, the VHF radio could be the best tool for summoning help. If you are the boat owner or captain, others aboard the boat will need to know how to use the radio in the event you are the one in need of care. Also make sure others aboard the boat are capable of telling authorities your position or how to locate the boat.

The Basics

For day boaters remaining close to shore, the basic first-aid kit will be equipped to address minor abrasions, cuts and burns. The important items include supplies to stop bleeding, close wounds and clean the wound area to prevent infection. One of the most useful items to control bleeding and protect a wound is an “Emergency Bandage” or frequently called an “Israeli Bandage,” because it was invented by an Israeli military medic. Emergency Bandages are similar to the elastic bandages we are accustomed to wrapping around a sprained joint. They have a sterile nonadhesive pad which is placed over the wound and a built-in clip to secure the bandage to itself while applying pressure to the wound. The bandages are inexpensive, come in a variety of sizes and are easy to apply. A basic first-aid kit should also include materials to immobilize a limb and ice packs to place over a joint or body area to reduce swelling. Additional items not usually found in a pre-packaged basic first-aid kit, but which could be useful are:

  • Seasickness medicines such as Bonine
  • Povidone-iodine
  • Tincture of benzoin
  • WoundSeal Powder (to stop bleeding)
  • Mask or face shield for CPR
  • Eye flushing kit
  • Solutions for drying ears and preventing ear infections
  • Space blanket for hypothermia

A priority in first aid requires that person providing aid is kept safe. Anyone administering first aid needs to be certain it is safe to provide care. The last thing you need is to allow a situation where two people need care.

Advanced Medical Kits

The farther you are from medical assistance, the more advanced your kit needs to be. While not a complete list of advanced care items, a few items added to make a more advanced kit are dental repair materials, blood pressure cuff, stethoscope, syringes, sutures and catheters. Consult with trained emergency medical personnel or a qualified medical kit provider to choose a kit to suit your specific needs. It is also important to note more advanced materials will require more advanced training.

One of the most valuable life-saving devices available today is an Automated External Defibrillator (AED). They are frequently seen in public places like grocery stores, swimming pools and are now carried on all airlines. An AED is a portable device that checks the heart rhythm and can send an electric shock to the heart to try to restore a normal rhythm. The devices are compact and come with simple instructions. Many offer voice guidance and, because they are monitoring actual heart activity, they will not shock a normally beating heart. AED devices are relatively inexpensive and should be considered as a valuable life-saving device to keep aboard your boat.


With the advanced communications we have available, we may have the ability to have medical care on the phone or even on a video stream with us. Many doctors and some travel medical insurance companies are now specializing in what has become known as telemedicine. With some of the advanced tools listed above, injuries can be handled, illnesses can be diagnosed, and treatment administered by on-site individuals being guided by remotely connected medical personal.

Medicine and Precsription Drugs

When boating in remote places, you may need to address illnesses or other medical conditions besides an injury. Your advanced medical kit should also contain medications for treating conditions that could develop. Over-the-counter drugs for nausea, diarrhea, inflammation and pain are important to have available. It is also valuable to include prescription drugs to treat illnesses or injuries that could occur. Some items to consider include: oral prednisone tablets for inflammation, ciprofloxacin for diarrhea or urinary tract infections, amoxicillin and clavulanic acid for skin and soft-tissue infection or respiratory infection, naproxen or meloxicam for pain and inflammation and prochlorperazine or ondansetron for nausea. Consult with your doctor to determine the correct items for your personal needs.

Marine Specific

Boating takes us into a very unique environment where we are likely to encounter dangers not typically found in other adventure activities. Injuries from aquatic stings may require treatment different than other wounds or injuries.

Be familiar with any marine life you may encounter. First aid items specific to aquatics stings include:

  • Alcohol prep pads
  • Antibiotic ointment
  • Benadryl (diphenhydramine)
  • Disposable razor
  • Hydrocortisone cream
  • Instant hot pack
  • Sterile saline wash (Use in place of salt water to decrease exposure to contaminants in sea water)
  • Tweezers
  • Vinegar

Consult a first-aid guide specific to the marine environment for training in the use of these materials. Be prepared. Some aquatic stings can be life threatening!


Many boaters travel with four-legged companions. Remember to keep pet-specific first-aid items onboard for their needs as well. Pre-assembled first-aid kits for pets are available or you can consult with your veterinarian for your pet’s specific needs. Remember to always have your pet’s current shot records in case you need to see a veterinarian while traveling.


First-aid kits and medicines should be kept in cool, dry places. That may be a challenge on many boats, especially small boats intended for day or weekend use. Heat and moisture accelerate the decay of materials and medicines. Most material in a first-aid kit will have expiration dates. Inspect and renew items regularly. Keep first-aid kits easily accessible and organized so items needed first are most easily reached.

Boating appeals to us for a wide variety of reasons, from the sense of adventure to the feeling of self-sufficiency we get in our small floating world. Whether out for an afternoon cruise around the lake or for a long-distance sea voyage, being prepared for accidents or medical emergencies, enables us to enjoy this pastime safely.