Selecting a Boating Medical Kit

Adventure Medical makes our highly-rated Medical Kits, like this 2.0 Medical Kit, which is made for 2-day trips for 1 to 6 people

By Tom Burden

Boating is one of the last opportunities for a truly self-sufficient experience in our always-connected world, and this includes the possibility of handling medical problems. While medical attention may only be a few hours away, it becomes the responsibility of someone onboard to administer appropriate first aid. Boaters who face an onboard medical emergency need the appropriate tools, not only because a medical or first aid kit could save a life (because it could), but also to avoid an expensive visit to a hospital in a remote location. A little preparation and planning could make all the difference.

First aid kits vs. medical kits

Do you need a first aid kit that can treat the basics like abrasions, sunburn, minor cuts and sprains? Should you invest in a more elaborate collection that can help deal with significant illnesses or injuries at sea? There’s no standard medical kit that’s right for every boat, and we assist you by rating the kits in our catalog based on the length of your trip and the number of people in the crew. For about $30 you can buy a basic medical kit designed for four or fewer people on a two-day trip, and a reasonably-equipped first aid kit for the same number of folks on a day trip costs even less. Our most comprehensive Marine Series 3000 Medical Kit will cover up to 14 people for a month on an offshore voyage, and costs about $950. With many options in between, you can consider the following questions to help define your needs. The list could continue in even more detail, and those planning for serious offshore cruising or racing need to explore all these topics and more.

Modular organization is clear and logical in this Marine Series 3000 offshore kit for boaters who may be at sea for a month

Questions to ask

  • What is your boating style? Are you primarily an angler, a watersports junkie, daysailor, coastal cruiser, racer or long-distance voyager? How long are you likely to be completely self-reliant? Hours? Days? Weeks?
  • How about your crew: Who are your passengers? Will there be children aboard? Do members of your crew have specific health problems to consider, like heart problems or diabetes? Does anyone regularly require prescription medicines? What are their ages and general health status?
  • What communication gear will you have aboard; VHF radio, SSB, a satellite phone, just a cell phone?
  • Do members of your crew have special skills like first aid or CPR training or a medical/nursing background? Are you an improviser? Could you easily use lee boards and duct tape to build a traction splint for a broken leg?
  • Custom-made vs. off-the-shelf kits: do you have the time, skills, energy and interest to custom-build your own kit from scratch, or are you looking for an “off-the-shelf” kit to meet your needs, perhaps with a little customization?

Marine Medicine Vol. 2 is an excellent 336-page guide by doctors who are experienced boaters, which is included in many of our Medical Kits

The medical guidebook

The guidebook is one of the most basic items in your kit. We’re fortunate that our kits include Marine Medicine, a Comprehensive Guide by Eric A. Weiss, M.D. and Michael E. Jacobs, M.D., a remarkably complete text on how to take care of common medical problems. It’s on the list of guidebooks endorsed by US Sailing, and was called “a gem” by a reviewer in Practical Sailor magazine. The guide, and our medical kits in general, are organized around the following principles:

  • Kits are organized around common injuries or problems that are likely to be encountered. Rather than sift through a hundred bandages, you can find exactly what you need right away. An “inner-pack” organization scheme compartmentalizes the kit into logical problem-solving modules, with color-coded packets split up by ailment for easy identification. You’ll be able to find the supplies you need for a particular ailment fast with this modular system. NOTE: first aid kits, such as the Coastal First Aid Kit, do not utilize this modular system and are designed for day trip use only.
  • The items in the kits are top quality, and in reasonable quantities. We say reasonable because most kits advertise hundreds of insignificant items (like tool kits at discount stores that count every wire terminal), but they lack the quality and diversity of products necessary to handle emergencies. We’re proud of both the Adventure Medical Kits and West Marine Kits’ quality inventories. We even have an Adventure Medical kit called the Trail Dog First Aid Kit, for hunting dogs, water dogs, or the pup that gets into trouble.
  • Boaters’ first-aid kits have to remain functional in the marine environment, which is generally wet and less than sanitary. Both the Adventure Medical Kits and West Marine Kits are packaged in durable nylon cases, which have waterproof transparent inner packs to protect the contents. This combination keeps the kits from slip-sliding away (apologies to Paul Simon), and allows you to see what’s in each pack without rummaging around.