Sea Sick: Update first-aid gear at start of new year

Jan 3, 2018 by Keith Murray

Sea Sick: 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.

Although checking your first-aid kit is important every year, this year the reasons should be even more obvious.  In 2017, two major hurricanes hit the United States, a gunman killed 59 people and wounded 527 in Las Vegas, and there were countless other incidents in which fast-thinking first responders saved lives.

The first step in checking your medical equipment is to gather all first-aid kits, oxygen gear and AEDs (automated external defibrillators).  This includes any small kits on the tender, in the galley and in the engine room.  I would like everyone to take this a step further: Look for medical equipment in vehicles and homes as well.  

When looking at the ships medical kit, I suggest gathering as many crew members as possible, especially those who are new to the boat, as this is a very 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’re not sure what something is, ask. If nobody knows what it’s for, it may not be needed.

Note shelf life, expiration dates

Let’s start with the simple things, such as medical exam gloves, eye protection (safety goggles) and a CPR mask. Gloves 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. Does the CPR mask look cracked, dirty, discolored or melted?  If so, replace it. Again, this is an inexpensive item, about $20.  Safety glasses to protect your eyes from blood splatter are cheap too, about $2-$8 per pair. For those who wear prescription lenses, make certain the safety glasses fit over your prescription lenses.

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 the medical kit. If the manual or USB drive that came with the medical kit can’t be found, email me and I will try to assist.

This is where having an organized medical kit and quality CPR AED First Aid training comes into play. It is very important that everyone understand what medications are available, how to use them, where they are located and when they expire.  If told that a crew member were bleeding heavily from a shark bite, how long would it take someone to retrieve glasses, gloves and the trauma bag with bleeding control supplies?

Updating AED, oxygen gear crucial

Having at least one automated external defibrillator onboard is essential.  Without an AED, the chance of surviving sudden cardiac arrest outside of a hospital is 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 the other on the tender. Often the tender is where medical emergencies occur, and often the tenders medical kit is overlooked.

If there is an AED on board, inspect it. Most manufacturers recommend a monthly inspection. If that has not been happening, create a log book or use an AED inspection tag to track inspections.  If no one is comfortable performing the inspection, email me; I can walk someone though the inspection process for free. 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 life span 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 is beeping – that’s the 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 there are children on board. Check to see if the AED has been updated to the new American Heart Association guidelines. Check to see if the AED has been recalled or requires a software update. Several companies have issued recalls on their AEDs. If your AED is affected, it may require service. If it is unclear    , check with the manufacturer or email me the make, model and serial number, and I will find out.

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 cellphone 8 years old? Your computer?

Look at the medical oxygen equipment. 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? Are there both adult and pediatric masks? Are they in good condition? If they look old, worn or yellow, it’s time to replace them. Practice and learn about the oxygen equipment when there is time, not during an emergency. Each crew member should apply the mask to a crewmate and see if they know how to properly work the equipment. Please note: When using the oxygen for training purposes, be certain to have it refilled immediately.

Train crew for all scenarios

Training for any and all emergencies is crucial. When my company teaches classes on board a boat, we talk to the captain and crew about various medical emergencies. 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?

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 ( Comments are welcome below.