Hot and humid conditions can make medications melt . . . here's a reader tip on a great way to store those expensive and important stores!

Storing Medications

If you have a serious medical condition, yet want to cruise for more than just a few days at a time, you probably have some questions about how to store your medications.  And reader Diane Dashevsky has some answers of what has worked for her and her husband, Al — a cancer survivor now on maintenance meds.

Party---Diane-Dash-thumbThat’s Diane on the left in the photo with me — at the get-together we had at the Annapolis Sailboat Show a few years ago, where they attended by boat.  They were on their trip south to the Florida Keys for the winter, with a six-month supply of Al’s pills.

Later, Diane wrote me:

We learned the hard way the other day that high humidity can wreak havoc on medications – especially capsules…they “melt.”  I got a large Lock & Lock container and put all the pill bottles in it and made room to store it in the bottom of the refrigerator.  While I hate to give up the fridge space, meds are important and take precedence.

I asked her for a follow-up report on how this had worked.  Her answer:

Putting the meds in the L&L in the bottom of the fridge worked perfectly!!! No more “lost” meds due to “melting” 🙂

The only inconvenience of sorts was that every 2 weeks I had to empty half of the fridge to retrieve the “stash” containers from the bottom so he could refill his daily organizers. But since we were traveling with a 6 month supply of meds ($$$), the inconvenience was well worth it!

For those without refrigeration, I feel quite certain that any dry storage area below the waterline would work equally well.

I’ll just add a couple of thoughts:

  • Check with your doctor or pharmacist as to the proper storage for the particular meds you take.  Most meds are okay in the refrigerator as long as they don’t freeze . . . but I’m not a doctor or pharmacist and can’t make any sort of blanket statements.
  • If the refrigerator would be too cold for one or more of your meds, try under the floorboards if it’s not directly open to the bilge.  Compartments next to the hull but below the waterline are also possibilities.
  • Use a good Lock & Lock or other gasketed and positively locking storage container.  To be watertight, it should latch on all sides, not just two (those tend to leak on the non-locking sides).  Small Pelican cases are also good, despite not locking on all sides (they’re engineered to be watertight).
  • Meds-foilMeds in the little foil bubble packs (see photo at right) are also very susceptible to humidity — the foil is thin and I’ve had meds packed like this turn to goo a number of times.
  • Don’t put your entire stock of any one medication in one place.  Should a container leak, the entire stock will be destroyed.  Instead, separate it into two or three groups/containers.
  • We found that dessicant packs (those little “do not eat” packs in many meds and other items) were only marginally useful on the boat as they quickly reached the limit of what they could absorb.  Keeping things in moisture-proof containers to begin with was far more helpful.
  • Don’t forget meds for any pets aboard!

And a final tip if two or more of you use similar daily organizers (Dave and I use similar ones but in slightly different colors).  In the blur of morning or night — especially on an overnight passage or a late night socializing — it’s easy to grab the other person’s organizer instead of yours.  More than once, Dave and I have almost taken the other’s meds in that half-asleep fog.  Then we used a permanent marker to put our names on the boxes.  Right on top. No more problems.

Got any other tips on keeping medications on a boat?  Please leave a note in the comments so that others can benefit!

I'd like to know about...

Explore more

Want weekly tidbits of cruising information? Sign up for The Boat Galley's free weekly newsletter. You'll get the newest articles and podcasts as well as a few relevant older articles that you may have missed.

Do you find The Boat Galley useful? You can support the site when you buy from Amazon by using the links on this site or clicking below. No extra cost for you!

  • Cindy Balfour
    Posted at 13 July 2013 Reply

    We are getting closer and closer to our second launch. I only have one required med but was glad to read your tips. I had also read the suggestion to pack tablets with rice to help absorb moisture and add cotton balls to limit them rolling around I the bottle and turning to powder, I will definitely use the refrigerator . I am wondering if the cotton might gather moisture?

  • Sue
    Posted at 04 May 2014 Reply

    Hi there,
    In our fridge we have a cool store which only gets to about 15 degrees C. It is perfect for medications, red wine, chocolate, Sikaflex… anything that doesn’t like being hot. In the bilge doesnt work when the water is close to 30 degrees C. Oh and fruit. It was tge freezer.

  • Jim Allen
    Posted at 18 July 2014 Reply

    How long will the meds survive in the daily containers? I usually do mine 4 weeks at a time at home, but was wondering about on the boat.

    • Carolyn Shearlock
      Posted at 18 July 2014 Reply

      I do one week at a time, and then put the container inside a Ziploc. So far (knock wood!), I haven’t had any problems.

  • Danielle Moreau
    Posted at 26 May 2015 Reply

    My apologies for being the contrarian…There may be implications of having prescription pills not in their original bottle, particularly narcotics. I know of situations where people have done “time” for pills found in a vehicle which were not in the original container. While I love the idea of the pill organizer, we are living in a world that is changing rapidly….Danielle

Post A Comment