Don't Forget your First Aid Kit and Course!
By Wayne Spivak, BC-AIG
United States Coast Guard Auxiliary

After several years in a small 16 foot outboard, I was ready to for a new boat. My wife and I went shopping and bought a used 20 foot cuddy cabin. I am still using it five years later….

Two years after I bought the twenty footer, I realized that my boat was missing something. I couldn’t believe I could overlook this vital aspect of my boat’s equipment, as well as both my safety as well as my guests.
And what makes this oversight even more embarrassing, is that I should know better. In another life (when I was in my early twenties) I was a NYC medic. After leaving the New York City Emergency Medical Service, I kept my qualifications up for over a decade.

What did I forget? Simply a first aid kit for the boat!

Every boat should have a first aid kit, and every boater should take an American Red Cross (ARC) first aid course. What type of first aid kit, and which ARC course you take is a matter of personal choice, but here are some pointers to help you decide.

First Aid Kits

There are a variety of commercial first aid kits available on the market today. Some are marketed directly to the marine industry, others as ‘home’ kits, while still others are termed “industry” first aid kits.

There are two types of differences between these types of kits. The first is the quantity of specific items, such as band-aids, the smaller kits may have two sizes, and three of each, while the larger kits may have five sizes, and ten of each. The second is breadth of items contained in the kits (more types of bandages and dressings).

Speaking of bandages and dressings, a dressing is a sterile gauze pad that is applied directly to the wound, while a bandage holds the dressing firmly to the wound. A bandage is not necessarily sterile, and needs not be sterile.

The Red Cross suggests different types of kits. An example of a kit they suggest for boats is:

2 sterile gauze 2"x2"; 9 sterile gauze 3"x3"; 4 sterile gauze 4"x4"; 1 Roller gauze 2"x4 yards; 1 Roller gauze 3"x4 yards; 13 BZK towelettes; 2 Fingertip bandages; 2 Knuckle bandages; 2 Island bandages 2"x3"; 10 Adhesive bandages 3/4"x3"; 6
Adhesive bandages 1"x3"; 1 Water Jel Burn Jel; 1 Combine pad 5"x9"; 1 Combine pad 8"x10"; 1 Triangular bandage 40"; 1 Rescue blanket; 1 Cold pack; 1 Biohazard red bag; 2 Pair vinyl gloves; 1 Surgical tape 1/2"x 5 yards; 1 Pair of Scissors; 1 CPR barrier (optional); 1 First Aid instruction card. []

You may want to add and/or subtract from this type of kit, based upon the type of boating you do. Fishermen would want to add supplies that would aid in the removal of hooks, and other potential hazards of this popular sport. Other types of boating would suggest other types of first aid equipment.

First Aid Courses

So you purchase a first aid kit, now what? Even though the kit may contain an instruction card, in an emergency, reading about what to do versus knowing what to do is analogous to reading your chart and having local knowledge. The key here is education.

The American Red Cross provides several different first aid courses, geared toward all types of individuals, age groups and requirements. From Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) to Pet First Aid, there is a course for you. Take a course!

Boating education includes all aspects of keeping you, your vessel and your crew and guests safe and secure. A first aid kit and the knowledge and the responsibility that goes with boating safely demands that you acquire the knowledge.

The United States Coast Guard Auxiliary can provide safe boating and navigation educational courses, the American Red Cross, as well as other fine companies and agencies can provide you with a first aid education.

For more information on the USCG or USCG Auxiliary, you can contact them at and The American Red Cross can be found at