How to assemble a first-aid kit

Dave Osmolski

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One of the most neglected pieces of safety equipment on a small boat is the first-aid kit. As a vessel examiner, I have asked many boat owners if they carry a first-aid kit. Many say “yes,” but when I ask to see it, the kit usually consists of a few adhesive bandages, a couple of dried-up alcohol wipes and a roll of adhesive tape in a plastic box.

A daunting environment, a small boat can move erratically from wave action and passengers shifting positions. Combine this with wet gel-coated decks and bare feet, and slips or falls are inevitable. They often result in only a little bruising and embarrassment, but some accidents can be much more serious. Are you prepared for a bad fall, the sting of a sea creature or a severe allergic reaction?

The most important item in your first-aid kit is you. Enroll in a first-aid and CPR course. Whether it’s marine-oriented doesn’t matter. The knowledge gained is universal.

Next, consider what you are doing in your boat. Are you cruising, sailing or fishing? Is your destination a remote beach for swimming and picnicking? Are you waterskiing or wakeboarding? Think about your primary boating activities and what accidents could occur.

While the boat is in storage and we’re dreaming of things we’ll do next summer, let’s assemble a well-stocked first-aid kit.

First, you’ll want a watertight container to hold the contents of your kit, but don’t buy one until you have assembled the components and can properly judge the correct size container needed. Choose the best quality container you can afford.
Inside the box, place similar components in sealable plastic bags. Your bags should be as follows:


  • 4 alcohol hand wipes
  • 4 benzalkonium chloride antiseptic towelettes
  • 1 bottle povidone-iodine solution
  • 1 bottle hand sanitizer gel


  • 3 packages ibuprofen (200 mg x 2 tablets per package)
  • 3 packages acetaminophen (500 mg x 2 tablets per package)
  • 3 packages aspirin (325 mg x 2 tablets per package)
  • 2 packages antihistamine, Benadryl (2 tablets per package) or Zyrtec (1 tablet per package)
  • 1 tube burn gel or ointment
  • 1 tube SPF 50 sunscreen

Bandages and dressings

  • 1 box assorted size flexible fabric adhesive bandages
  • 6 2-by-2-inch sterile
  • gauze dressings
  • 1 roll 1-inch adhesive tape
  • 1 elastic bandage
  • 1 triangle bandage

Miscellaneous equipment

  • 2 pair surgical gloves (nitrile preferred)
  • 1 pair tweezers
  • 1 pair scissors
  • 1 reflective Mylar (space) blanket
  • 1 first-aid cold pack

You may have trouble finding the medications and other items in small quantities at your local drugstore. Individual packets of aspirin, ibuprofen and acetaminophen can usually be found at a gas station convenience store, particularly one near an interstate. If you cannot find these items, make your own packages by wrapping tablets securely in foil and labeling them with a small piece of tape that includes a description of the contents. Small bottles can be found at many “mom and pop” hardware stores. Use these for items like povidone-iodine solution. The original bottles, even though small, tend to leak at the cap.

A well-stocked first-aid kit will allow you to handle almost any emergency you will encounter in your small boat.

Please be aware when dealing with cuts, abrasions and stings in saltwater that some marine organisms can cause catastrophic infections. Don’t spare the disinfectants, and at the first hint of redness or swelling, see a physician and let the doctor know that it came from a saltwater incident.

David H. Osmolski of Charlotte Power Squadron/27 has been repairing boats since high school when his first boat, a canvas-covered canoe with cedar ribs, leaked in gallons per minute and required constant repair.

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