Monday, March 23, 2015

Medical Kit(s) Onboard

While looking at what others have included in their first aid kits for cruising you find that approaches to medical strategies are as different as the people are. Some people barely managed to pack a box of Bandaids while others prepped for some sort of medical apocalypse. There is no right or wrong here, it's all about what you're comfortable with.

I based our medical kit contents on 3 key factors:

  1. Past/Current medication use and medical conditions
  2. Possible events/conditions that might arise
  3. Cruising location
For us, we have no current medical conditions requiring regular medication. Besides a little Aleve or Excedrin Migraine once in a while, we rarely take anything. Therefore our meds mostly consist of allergy, cold, stomach relief type of remedies. That said, I am going to add an epi pen to our kit solely due to family history. Let me tell you a little story....Ron's dad loved shrimp, he ate it all the time until one day he had a serious, out-of-the-blue reaction and can't eat shrimp or shellfish any more. Sad story, but with the amount of seafood we plan on eating we probably shouldn't chance in. Yup, we'll throw one of those bad boys in if only for the shear enjoyment it would give me to stab Ron in the neck leg. <--TOTALLY kidding! I'd only enjoy it once the meds kicked in.

One area that I did go a little heavy on was supplies for cuts and lacerations of various sizes. With all the hazards on land and on the boat I wanted to make sure we would be prepared should anything happen to us or someone else nearby. We have an entire sterile suture kit, various packs of sterile gloves, multiple needle/thread suture packs, isopropyl alcohol and hydrogen peroxide, gauze pads, Bandaids, butterfly bandages and skin glue. I'll also be adding lidocaine (local anesthetic) to the kit before leaving.

Our medicine cabinet
Another major consideration in deciding what to put in our medical kit were the places we plan to go. Yes, we're going to find ourselves a ways from medical care at times but we're not going to be thousands of miles away from care so I felt comfortable not getting too crazy. I think it's also valuable to think about all the other items that you're bringing for other purposes that could also help in a medical situation if needed (for example magazines and fishing poles could be used to stabilize a fracture, baking soda can be used on burns, lots of resources on board). 

I found this Medical Kit List on the Facebook Women Who Sail page (If you're female and you sail, you should be on here! If you sail but you're not female too bad). I really like this list because it's easy to see what requires a prescription so when we see the doctor we can easily discuss the need for these items and possibly others. 

Again, it's all about personalizing. Some items on the list weren't appropriate for us so we skipped them and I added other items that I felt we needed: ear plugs, eye drops (allergy and art. tears), Azo UTI relief, Icy Hot/Tiger Balm, licocaine, skin glue, gloves. 

Piece of advice - DON'T FORGET THE GLOVES! They are not on the list above but are a very important piece of any medical kit. No, they don't need to be sterile but you do need them. Protect yourself while helping others.
Our "minor injury" box
I broke up our medical kit into 2 separate boxes; 1 for minor cuts/scrapes and a larger one for more serious injuries. I like the idea of being able to easily grab a smaller kit and not having to rummage through more items in the larger kit for something minor. Some people have items split by type of injury but, again, I like having items readily available (many items have multiple uses for various situations). To each their own.
I've also added my stethoscope to this kit
Thank you to Ron's mom for all these goodies!
I really love that our big kit is still a 'grab and go' 
We still need to add a slew of antibiotics, bacitracin (for eye infections), pain meds, silvadene salve and an epi pen to our arsenal, but you have the basic idea.


  1. Couple of tips. Get a half dozen pairs of sterile gloves. A LOT of places in third world don't have them. 3cc syringes and 22ga 1 1/2in. LOTS of places in third world places don't have them (Roatan). Take your own and they are usually grateful and you will be much happier. Ear drops. Nothing like being in paradise and you cannot enjoy it because you got a external ear infection from the water. If you don't have any, warmed olive oil can really help. Avon Skin So Soft. It is one of the best repellants for the "no see ums" we have used. Debra gets eaten alive by them. Put on SSS and she is a happy camper. You will know them when you suddenly have dime sized red spots that ITCH. Cipro is great for travelers diarrhea but plain old Pepto is faster and usually about as effective. Ken and Debra----Soon!

    1. Uh oh, we only have 5 pairs of sterile gloves ;) We also have ear drops and hydrogen peroxide for ear care and will be having SSS onboard for no see ums, yuck! At this point we don't plan to bring medical supplies outside of our kit or head to the Western Carib but if plans change we'll keep you suggestion in mind. Thanks for reading!

  2. Great and helpful post!! Very thorough job!

  3. Haha. Too funny. We have a similar post in draft. We are doing a couple of different kits too. We have a travel kit that goes in the dinghy, a small kit in the ditch bag, a day-to-day kit, a sh@t got serious kit and a dog kit. Definately picked up a couple of good things from your post. Thanks.

    Here are a couple of thoughts and suggestions from my yet to be published post:

    Our travel clinic is recommending some malaria medication. What did yours say? We are also getting Hep A&B, typhoid and having our TB & mesial antibodies checked.

    I had to use a dull pocket knife to cut a fish hook out of my father's thumb on a fishing trip. So we added some surgical blades, surgical lubricant and a small military field medical instrument kit.

    A friend in the military suggested QuickClot. They have it to stop bleeding in between just gauze compression and a tourniquet.

    I can't remember which cruising book it was, but one of them talked about having a dental problem while in the Bahamas and they couldn't find a dentist near by. So we are including one of the dental med kits.

    Thanks for the good info in your post!

    Fair winds,


    1. Hey Jesse!
      We've already had hep A/B vaccines but will likely get tetanus and typhoid vaccine. We're not decided on the malaria prevention; with those meds you need to start it before you arrive somewhere with endemic malaria and continue taking it daily for 1-4 weeks after you leave (plus, some have very unpleasant side effects) and many of the places we'll go (Bahamas, Dominica, Grenada) don't have endemic malaria. My main concern is mosquito exposure period and we'll take measures to protect ourselves, there are many other vector born illnesses transmitted by mosquitoes that preventive meds aren't available for. We will certainly plan to wear protective clothing and repellent either way. We have not gone to our travel clinic yet, so we'll see what they say but from my previous experience working in one, I'm sure they'll encourage it for certain places.

    2. Thanks for the Quick Clot info, we'll be adding that to our kit! We had planned to use powdered alum to help stop bleeding but this sounds a little more heavy duty.

    3. On the malaria, the travel clinic said that almost all of the Caribbean is now seen as risky but Dominica particularly is an issue. They recommended two treatment options, one like you said and the other is after you think you have been exposed. We are looking to go with the second.

      Curious to see what you get for info to compare when you do your travel clinic visit.

      Tetanus was not mentioned to us. Something to bring up when we go back for our next round of shots.

    4. Looking at the CDC's Malaria map ( it looks like only documented malaria cases in Haiti/DR. The post exposure regimen (same meds as preventive regimen) sure sound like something to look into though, especially since it's just a couple pills and not dozens. But I'm more worried about things like Dengue fever that pose a risk through pretty much all of the carib and don't have any prevention/treatment/vaccination available. So many things to think about right?!?