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First Aid on Boats

Though the many hope they never use it, all captains should have a first-aid kit on board their sailboat and the knowledge to use it. Whether you are planning a short sail across a calm bay or circumnavigating the globe, a captain can never be too prepared for a medical emergency.

The Basics

There are certain first-aid basics that all boats should have on board. Most store bought kits contain the barest essentials, which can often be inadequate for most emergency situations. Larger commercial kits are available depending on the size of the sailboat and your travel plans (how far you will be from medical assistance.) If you decide to purchase a store bought kit, check the contents and fill in with additional materials according to the hazards likely to be encountered. Many of the consumable products, like gauze and ointments, are only adequate for slight injuries.

Instruments needed:

Scissors—one blunt tipped surgical pair and one small sharp pair.

Tweezers—with pointed tips.

Thermometer—many kits include a forehead thermometer strip. Digital oral thermometers are relatively inexpensive and give an accurate reading to the tenth of a degree.

Hot/Cold packs—depending on the availability of refrigeration on your vessel, one-time use hot and cold packs can be added to any kit.

Supplies needed:

Dressings—tourniquet, bandages, waterproof adhesive tape, cotton swabs.

Ointments and Liquids—antiseptic liquid, preferably in individually packaged applications. For larger kits, add a bottle of peroxide or rubbing alcohol. Burn cream, for sunburns and

Medicines—antihistamines (like Benadryl) can be used to treat asthma, allergic reactions or insect bites and stings, pain-killers (like Tylenol and Advil), sea-sickness remedy (like Dramamine), anti-acid liquid or pills, laxatives, anti-diarrhea liquid or pills.

White vinegar—a small 6-8 ounce bottle. Use small amounts to neutralize jelly-fish stings.

The Kit

The first-aid instruments and supplies should be kept in an air-tight plastic container. If you are making your own kit, a small tackle box will keep your supplies organized and dry. All supplies that are used should be replenished as soon as possible.

Managing an Emergency

All safety on board a boat is the responsibility of the captain. All passengers on the boat should know where the kit is and be able to easily access it. The captain, at a minimum, should be prepared to render emergency care. The National Red Cross offers complete training in CPR as well as first-aid instruction.

If you are prepared and follow a few simple rules, you will be able to effectively administer first-aid in almost any situation.

First, always take the first aid to the victim. Moving an injured person can cause additional discomfort or damage. Second, take your time. Only when a victim has stopped breathing, suffers from significant blood loss or has been bitten by a venomous animal is timeliness a factor in treatment. If you are in VHF range, medical advice for treatment of serious injuries or illness is available by radioing the Coast Guard on Channel 16.

Being well prepared, having proper supplies and the knowledge to use them will give you confidence that you can treat any minor injury or illness effectively.