With the turn of the calendar, take time to check in with medical kits onboard

Jan 9, 2017 by Keith Murray

It’s that time of year again. Time to buy a new calendar, make New Year’s resolutions and go through all onboard first aid medical kits.

First, gather all medical equipment together. That’s all the first aid kits, oxygen and the Automated External Defibrillator (AED). This includes any small kits on the tender, in the galley and in the engine room. For those yachts with crew cars, be sure to include those kits in this review, too. And for crew who have a shore-based home, bring those kits into this process, too.

When looking at the ship’s medical kit, I suggest gathering as many crew members, especially those who are new to the boat, as this is a great 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.

All well-stocked medical kits should include the basics: medical exam gloves, eye protection (safety goggles) and a CPR mask. Gloves have a shelf life and should be replaced annually. They are inexpensive, about $6 for a box of 50, so when in doubt, throw them out. Inspect the CPR mask. Does it look cracked, dirty or discolored? If so, replace it. Again, this is an inexpensive item, about $20. Safety glasses protect the eyes from blood splatter and are also cheap, $2-$8 a pair. For those who wear prescription glasses, make certain the safety glasses fit over those prescription lenses.

All medications should be current, and all crew should know what each type is used for. IF any are unclear, check the manual or USB drive that came with the medical kit. If that is unavailable, call or e-mail me and I will try to assist. If anything is expired, order replacements and dispose of the old medication properly.

First aid kit

An organized medical kit and quality CPR AED First Aid training are critical in a medical emergency.

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 in the tender. Often, medical emergencies happen on excursions and the tender is the closest place to find help.

Most AED manufacturers recommend a monthly inspection. Create a log book or use an AED inspection tag to track inspections. If you are unsure how to inspect an AED, call or e-mail me and I can walk you through it.

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 of 2-5 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 is beeping its low-battery warning. Be proactive and order a new battery before this happens.

Verify that there is a spare set of electrode pads as well as pediatric electrodes if the yacht ever has children on board. Check to see if the AED has been updated to the new American Heart Association guidelines.

Check, too, to see if the AED model has been recalled or requires a software update. Several companies have issued recalls on their AEDs. If you are unsure, check with the manufacturer or e-mail me the make, model and serial number and I will check for you.

How old is the AED? Look at the back; often there is a manufacture date. If the AED is more than 10 years old, consider replacing it. Many of my customers trade in their old AEDs every eight years. Remember, this is a life-saving medical device. Is your cell phone eight years old?

Check the yacht’s medical oxygen tank’s fullness. 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 the 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 to the captain and crew about various medical emergencies and the 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.


Trained as an emergency medical technician, Keith Murray now owns The CPR School, which provides onboard CPR, AED and first-aid training as well as AED sales and service (www.TheCPRSchool.com). Comments are welcome at editor@the-triton.com.