Thursday, October 28, 2021

First Aid on Your Boat


Be prepared for emergencies and have a wellstocked first aid kit on board. Photo by Laurie Harris

Be prepared for emergencies and have a wellstocked first aid kit on board. Photo by Laurie Harris

Last year I was out fishing with a neighbor and one of his friends named Jim. It was a warm day with almost no breeze. The gulf was smooth as glass as we headed out about 20 miles hoping to catch some red grouper. When we reached our secret spot and started to cut bait, Jim accidentally cut his hand with the bait knife. He was bleeding quite a bit as we rushed over to help him. The training we had recently received in an American Red Cross First Aid course kicked in.

I grabbed a bottle of water and rinsed the area to clean the wound. Bleeding, by itself, actually does a good job in cleaning the wound, but I wanted to remove material from around the wound area. While I was doing that my neighbor opened his first aid kit and brought over some sterile gauze and he was wearing a pair of nonlatex gloves. He placed the gauze over the wound and applied pressure to stop the bleeding. We also raised Jim’s injured hand above his head and had him sit down. Within a short period of time, the bleeding stopped and we bandaged his hand. Unfortunately, the adhesive on the bandage strip had dried out. We checked another bandage and it too would not stick to Jim’s skin. Not to worry, most boaters have some duct-tape on board and we used that over a new piece of sterile gauze. The wound itself was not life threatening but we decided to return home, so it could be treated at an emergency room. Jim had recently received a tetanus shot, so there was minimal threat of infection.

On the trip back from the emergency room, we talked about what had transpired out on the gulf and how our training played a vital role in how we handled the emergency – that, and a well stocked first aid kit with functional items. When you consider that in most cases you will be far away from land based emergency services, your actions and the equipment on your boat are all you have to deal with an injury. I highly recommend that you take a first aid course if you plan to do any recreational boating. A quick internet search will provide you with course offerings in your area.

Like my neighbor, you also need to have a well-stocked first aid kit on your boat. Most marine stores carry a prepackaged first aid kit that will provide you most of the basic items you will need. But don’t buy it and forget about it. Check your supplies at least once per year and replace



any items that are questionable. Here is a list of what you should have on board. Remember that everything does not need to fit into a single box. This list should be viewed as a minimum. Depending on your level of first aid training, you may be qualified to use additional medical technology. Include only items you feel comfortable with using in an emergency. Make sure your guests know where the first aid kit is located. Ensure that the contents of your kit remain dry.

  • Gauze pads, 2×2, 4×4, “ABD” (thicker, extra absorbent pads, usually folded in the package and fold out to 5×9 size). There are now hemostatic agent gauzes/ pads for cuts and nosebleeds, which are impregnated with a material that accelerates clotting. These are great for people who take aspirin and other medications that prolong bleeding time. (Important note: These products are designed for minor injuries and NOT for bleeding from an artery. Follow directions on the packages, especially regarding getting medical attention if the bleeding doesn’t stop quickly.)
  • Kerlix/kling (rolled gauze)
  • Bandage scissors
  • First aid tape
  • ace bandages
  • Band-Aids
  • duct tape (yes, duct tape)
  • Towels
  • rain ponchos
  • blanket
  • travel umbrella (use as “shade”)
  • Big Ziploc bags to discard contaminated stuff
  • Paper towels
  • Non latex gloves
  • CPR masks
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Betadine (more effective disinfectant than alcohol)
  • bottled (drinking) water
  • Ice (better than commercial “ice packs,” if they leak, they can cause a chemical burn)
  • Eye irrigant (clean water at room temperature – not right out of the cooler)
  • First aid booklet/”Emergencies at Sea,” or “First Aid Afloat”
  • Single-serving powder packets of lemonade
  • Gatorade
  • sugar
  • peanut butter or cheese crackers
  • trail mix
  • ginger or ginger ale
  •  Water, water, water!
  • Sunscreen Liquid
  • Benadryl (single dose vials)
  • Chewable baby aspirin

Call 911, if in cell range, or USCG Resources (Ch. 16) on your VHF radio, they will guide you in use of aspirin and walk you through the emergency. Only carry Benadryl and aspirin if YOU are comfortable using it or giving it to others.

For more information about safe boating courses, contact Joe Riccio at 239- 384-7416 or email To schedule a free Vessel Safety Check contact John Moyer at 239-248-7078 or or call the Coast Guard Auxiliary Station – Flotilla 95 at 239-394-5911. Interested in joining Flotilla 95, USCG Auxiliary? Call Bob Shmihluk at 215-694-3305.

Keith Wohltman retired to Marco Island from New Jersey, where he spent decades on the water. He joined the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary to help make boating safer around Marco and the 10,000 Islands. He has served as the Flotilla Commander and a Coxswain and is currently the Public Affairs Staff Officer for Marco Island’s Flotilla 95.

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