New year is time for medical kit check up

Jan 13, 2014 by Keith Murray

It’s that time of year again. Time to buy a new calendar, make new year’s resolutions and go through your first aid medical kit.


The first step in this medical kit check-up is to gather all of your medical equipment together, first aid kits, oxygen and your AEDs, automated external defibrillators. Don’t forget any small kits on the tender, in the galley and in the engine room, too.


I suggest gathering as many crew members together as you can for this exercise as it is a valuable safety lesson and good learning experience.


After everything is assembled, check all kits for missing or expired items, opened packages or things that look out of place. If you are not sure what something is, ask. If nobody knows what it does, you may not need it.


Let’s start with the simple things such as medical exam gloves, eye protection (safety goggles) and a CPR mask. Gloves and masks have a shelf life and should be replaced annually. Gloves are inexpensive, about $6 for a box of 50, so when in doubt, throw them out.


Give the CPR mask a once over. Does it look cracked, dirty, discolored or melted? If so, replace it. Again this is an inexpensive item, about $20.


Next, look at each medication. Is it current? Is it organized? What is it used for? If anything is expired, order replacements and dispose of the old medication properly. Unsure what the medication is prescribed for? Check the manual or USB drive that came with your medical kit. If you can’t find the manual or drive, call or e-mail me I will try to assist.


Having a medical kit that is ready in an emergency is vital to handling the emergency. Make sure your kit is organized. It is important to understand what medications you have, how to use them, where they are located and when they expire.


Having at least one AED onboard is essential. Without one, the chances of surviving sudden cardiac arrest outside of a hospital are small, less than 5 percent. However, if the AED is applied quickly, the victim’s odds increase to about 70-90 percent. Many of the boats I work with have two AEDs, one on the main ship and another on the tender. Often, emergencies happen off the main ship where the closest source of assistance is the tender. Make sure the medical supplies on your tender are not overlooked.


If you have an AED, inspect it. Most manufacturers recommend a monthly inspection. If you do not already have one, create a log book or use an AED inspection tag to track inspections. If you are not comfortable performing the inspection of your AED, call or e-mail me. I can walk you through the process.


AEDs have two major parts that must be replaced periodically – the electrode pads and the battery. Most electrode pads have a two-year life and the expiration dates should be clearly marked. The battery, once installed in the unit, has a lifespan from two to five years. Write the installation date on the battery or on a sticker on the back of the AED as a reminder. Don’t wait until the AED beeps its low battery warning. Be proactive and order a new battery before this happens.


Verify that you have a spare set of electrode pads as well as pediatric electrodes if you welcome children on board. Check to see if your AED has been updated to the new American Heart Association guidelines.


It’s also important to check to see if your AED has been recalled or requires a software update. Several companies have issued recalls on their AEDs. Yours may have been affected and may require service. If you are unsure, check with the manufacturer or e-mail me the make, model and serial number and I will check for you.


Look at your medical oxygen. Is the tank full? When was the last time the oxygen tank itself was inspected? Oxygen tanks generally require hydro testing every five years and should only be filled with “medical” oxygen, which is highly filtered. Turn it on to make sure the regulator and tank function properly.


What about the oxygen masks, nasal cannulas and tubing? Do you have both adult and pediatric masks? Are these in good condition? If they look old, worn or yellow, it’s time to replace these.


Practice and learn all about your oxygen equipment when you have time, not during an emergency. Ask one of the crew to apply the mask to another crew and see if they know how to properly work the equipment. Please note: If you are using the oxygen for training purposes, be certain to have it refilled immediately.


Training for any and all emergencies is crucial. When my company teaches classes onboard a boat, we talk about locations that might present challenges when administering first aid. For example, someone is knocked unconscious in the bilge. How and where should we treat them? A crew member goes into cardiac arrest in the crew quarters. Is there enough room to perform CPR or do we need to move them?


During our courses we also pull out the ship’s AED to inspect it and show the crew what to look for. If a medical kit is available, we also review what is in the kit and explain how things work.


Be proactive. Asking questions is a good thing and being prepared for emergencies is the key to saving lives. Have a safe and happy new year.

Keith Murray, a former firefighter EMT, owns The CPR School, a first-aid training company. He provides onboard training for yacht captains and crew and sells and services AEDs. Contact him at 877-6-AED-CPR, 877-623-3277 or Comments on this column are welcome at