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Stocking Your Boat's First Aid Kit

West Marine

A first-aid kit is not a Coast Guard requirement, but it is highly recommended and appears on Coast Guard Auxiliary checklist. If it's well kept, your first-aid kit can be a lifesaver and a great comforter in times of necessity.

Too often, first-aid kits, those made up by mariners or sold in chandleries, won't be checked or looked at until needed. At that time, it may be too late. Why, you may ask? The answer will be right in front of your face when you open your kit.

Most kits contain latex gloves that break down and become sticky and can actually melt. If the kit is stored in a very hot environment — such as in a compartment near the heat from the engine — or exposed to sunlight, many items can be affected. Tape and Band-Aids may be unusable; they get mushy and won’t stick. Salves, lotions and ointments may burst and leak out of their containers and contaminate other items.

Take your first-aid kit out and check it (at least every month or so) before you need it for an urgent event. It would be a good project for a day at dockside, when weather keeps you in port. Make a list of items you have after checking them and consider how they may be used. Any that need replacing, put on another list and add to that list items you think you may want to include.

As you re-stock, consider your scissors. Often, they are the wrong type. If you have a need for them during rough seas that create lively conditions, regular sharp-tipped scissors could be dangerous. Find the type with rounded tips that will cut tape and gauze.

Fibers from old poly ski towlines or worn mooring lines can become imbedded in skin areas and need to be removed. Tweezers will work well for this task and are a handy item to have but may not be in standard kits.

Be sure you have antiseptics of various types to clean a wound such as the one described above.

Many kits don't allow room for clean water or rubbing alcohol, but these need to be on board. Any cut from fish scales, fins or teeth should be flushed with clean water immediately and than washed with rubbing alcohol.

A must-have item is the spray or brush-on Skin Shield Liquid Bandage, which will seal a wound and provide an antiseptic. Put the containers with liquids in zip-locked bags, so if they do break, their contents won't foul all the other items in your kit.

There are many seasickness remedies on the market in the form of pills. If in your kit, refrain from offering them to anyone who may take medications that would react to them. Offer instead a pair of Queaz-Away Travelers Wrist Bands by Davis, which work better than drugs and offer no side effects. These work for all size people and can be re-used many times.

For major emergencies, be certain to have a couple of large gauze pads to apply pressure and a roll of cling for wrapping the wound. If you expect to have young children on board, a special box of kids Band-Aids will be well received. Let them find the one they like themselves; this activity will help them get over the boo-boo quickly.

Because of the chance of having kids on board, select a safe place to store the kit, out of their reach. If you want to make up your own first-aid kit, a case with a tight gasket seal is best. Look for an ammo box or a hard plastic box like the type used to store flares. Be sure the size of your kit fits the size of your boat. You don't want it to be in the way, but it must be accessible.

During the off season, take a first aid refresher class. Classes are available through the Red Cross and many other agencies. Take other family members with you, because you never know who may need first aid — it could be you. The knowledge gained will give the whole family peace of mind on your boating outings.

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