Space is precious on a boat. Why would you want more than one first aid box?

How Many First Aid Boxes?

When we began cruising, we had one huge first aid bin. Absolutely everything you could ever need was in there . . . somewhere. The previous owner of our former boat, Que Tal, had extensively prepped the boat with all the medical supplies we might ever need.

There was just one problem: finding what we needed. It was impossible.

Now, we have three first aid boxes:

  • The “OH SHIT” box that we hope to never need. It’s got the stuff for major burns, life-threatening bleeding, major painkillers and supplies for serious broken bones and so on.
  • The “everyday” box – Band-Aids, antibiotic ointment, anti-itch cream, needles for splinters, a thermometer and the rest of the stuff that you want to be able to find quickly when you need it, but it’s not a life-threatening emergency. If we’re currently taking cold or cough meds, we usually put them in here “for the duration” so they’re convenient – but the box isn’t big enough for all of them to stay here permanently.
  • The “I’m sick” box – cold and flu remedies, diarrhea meds, upset stomach meds, toothache remedies, and even though it’s not an illness, items for a sprain or break.

The major emergency box is a watertight Lock & Lock box that lives in our ditch bag. I figure that if we ever have to abandon the boat, we want that stuff with us.And since we keep the ditch bag in a convenient place even when we’re at anchor, that stuff is always easy to get to. (You can read more about our ditch bag and the medical supplies in it here.)

The everyday box is a plastic box about the size of a shoe box that sits under the medicine cabinet in the head – it’s just in a convenient place and contains the stuff we need about 80% of the time. I like it as if either one of us gets a cut or splinter (our two biggest injuries aboard), I can just grab it and take it to where the light is good to actually use. (If you do a lot of hiking or other adventuring ashore, you might want to create a pocket first aid kit with just the essentials that you can pop into a daypack, too.)

Everything else goes in the “I’m sick” box, which is about 9” by 12” by 12”. There’s quite a bit of stuff in here, so I sort it by “ailment” – cough and cold, gut, teeth, eye, blisters and so on, putting each group into its own labeled  Ziploc bag (read more about that here). We don’t use these items all that often, but do need to have them aboard. The box is in a less accessible place than either of the other two, as we don’t get in it all that often and when we do, the situation isn’t  immediately life-threatening.

At times, it seems ridiculous all the first aid supplies we have for just coastal cruising, but the reality is that we’re often in places where it’d be an hour or more to medical help or even a drugstore. So we need to have it with us. If we were going offshore or to more remote places, we’d take more – including any likely antibiotics or other prescription meds we might need.

We’re lucky in that Dave’s brother is a doctor and “gets” our need to take prescription drugs and painkillers with us. If you have problems with your primary care doctor not understanding why you need them in advance, you can often find a doctor who does understand in a big “cruiser port” and complete your first aid kit at that point. Once you get to one of the bigger “cruiser towns” just ask other cruisers if there is a local doctor or clinic that they’ve found helpful.

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  • Christopher Wannop
    Posted at 01 January 2016 Reply

    That actually makes a LOT of sense.
    How many times have we all emptied out densely-packed First Aid kits in search of a particular item.
    This gets even MORE messy/frustrating if you are bleeding at the time…………

  • Connie Watkins Weaver
    Posted at 01 January 2016 Reply

    Thank you once again for this super helpful article! Happy New Year!

  • Debbie Brethauer
    Posted at 01 January 2016 Reply

    GREAT idea! This will be my New Year’s Resolution #1! 🙂

  • Kelley - Sailing Chance
    Posted at 01 January 2016 Reply

    I currently have 1 big box, and we kept it all in a bag on our old boat, but breaking it up would definitely be helpful. I love the red electrical tape for the first aid symbol.

  • Lorraine Escher
    Posted at 01 January 2016 Reply

    Happy New Year! Love this post. I find an eye wash cup gets plenty of action on our boat- we have four children. Fortunately, we’ve never had a major eye incident – the cup is used for soap in the eye. Someone else recommended the eye wash cup to me.

  • Mary
    Posted at 02 January 2016 Reply

    As a nurse I have a pretty extensive first aid kit for our boat. I used multiple see through packing “cubes” used for organizing clothes in a suitcase. I have them in different colors. I have a general first aid kid with band aids, Tylenol, nausea mess etc. Then I have the other cubes organized by symptom, The Red cube is packed with anything related to bleeding (gauze, steristrips, skin glue, antibiotic ointments and a suture kit). Other cubes are:
    Head, Stomach, gyn, skin, muscle/bones. When someone on board is ill or injured I just grab the symptom cube.

    • Carolyn Shearlock
      Posted at 02 January 2016 Reply

      Good idea — just make sure you’ve also got major items in the ditch bag.

  • Margie Ochstein
    Posted at 07 January 2016 Reply

    Another side to this is staying on top of expired medications. I find that I really need to keep an eye on the expiration dates on over-the-counter medications. Once a year in the Fall before our charter season starts, I go through the medicines checking the expiration dates. And, of course, before I use a medication, I check the date.

    • Cory
      Posted at 16 May 2016 Reply

      In anybody’s “oh shit” box, consider an “Israeli Dressing”, or four. Developed by the Israeli military and adopted by the US military. Not to popular in civilian first aid kits, but it SHOULD be. Easy to find on Amazon, and there are YouTube vids to show how to use.

  • Charles Badoian
    Posted at 28 May 2017 Reply

    I like to also have multiple kits on the off chance I can’t get to the other “hull” when using the boat as an inverted liferaft.

  • Dawson Cochran
    Posted at 28 May 2017 Reply

    Smart. I hope you never need them.

  • Josh Wilkinson
    Posted at 28 May 2017 Reply

    I use old ammo cans to make mini first aid kits. Durable, not to big and waterproof.

  • Scott Beachbum
    Posted at 29 May 2017 Reply

    Those wide mouth Nalgene type water bottles make perfect daypac, kayak, sup board first aid kits.

  • Cathy Viscount
    Posted at 23 August 2017 Reply

    Has anyone figured out a good method for keeping daily medications organized aboard? I am a Type 1 (insulin dependent) diabetic and I am struggling to find any information about keeping insulin onboard long erm, especially without refrigeration. Any and all suggestions are welcome..
    BTW, Carolyn, I just love The Boat Galley.

    • Carolyn Shearlock
      Posted at 23 August 2017 Reply

      Kathy, I really don’t know about ways to keep insulin, but I’m sure that one of TBG’s Facebook followers does. So I’m going to ask your question there and import answers here. -Carolyn

      • Cathy Viscount
        Posted at 26 August 2017 Reply

        Thanks, Carolyn.

  • Gee Van
    Posted at 23 August 2017 Reply

    small zeer pot

    • The Boat Galley
      Posted at 23 August 2017 Reply

      What’s a zeer pot? It’s not something I’m familiar with.

  • Ellie Ibel Smith
    Posted at 23 August 2017 Reply

    What is a zeer pot? My husband is diabetic and they tried push in him over to us in the injections before we left even though his sugar levels are good. Thankfully they relented and he is still on metformin because there have been times in the last 10 months since we left home where we had no refrigeration. Once our brand new generator conked out and it rained the full 4 days it took to fix it…we are not at a marina so no electric to plug in. Anyways it was the best choice for him, but I too would love to know if there are any good alternative options for insulin storage.

  • William Bledsoe
    Posted at 23 August 2017 Reply

    At refrigerated temperatures, insulin vials are good for up to 2 years. At room temperature (20-25 degrees Celsius) it’s good unopened for about 30 days.

  • Happy Ours Sailing
    Posted at 24 August 2017 Reply

    As a CDE, I recommend my patients use Frio.
    No ice, no refrigeration. Soak in water- lasts 2 days & soak again. Repeat every 2 days.

  • Donna Jenkins Ray
    Posted at 24 August 2017 Reply

    I’m not sure no refrigerator is possible.
    I am diabetic & have stockpiled about 1 1/2 yrs. of insulin pens, but need refrigeration to be good.

  • Gee Van
    Posted at 24 August 2017 Reply

    Sorry a zeer pot is essentially an evaporation fridge, one clay pot inside another surrounded in wet sand with a lid outside temp causes condensation on the inner pot cooling it down, old tech from hot countries , very effective

  • Jack N Sue David
    Posted at 24 August 2017 Reply

    So, I guess I would ask, why don’t you have refrigeration? Then I would go through you bilge areas, storage areas on your boat to see what areas are the coldest.

    • Cathy Viscount
      Posted at 26 August 2017 Reply

      We do have refrigeration but I am a little paranoid about my insulin spoiling. It is what keeps me alive. So I’m looking at redundancy just in case the refrigerator fails.

  • Robert Mann
    Posted at 26 August 2017 Reply

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