Whether you're a dedicated live-aboard cruiser or like to go out for day sails on your local waters, having a thorough marine med kit will prove to be one of the most valuable pieces of equipment you can have on board your sailboat. Sure, it’s not as romantic as topics like buying boats or epic offshore passages, but addressing medical emergencies is an integral part of cruising. A lighter, pre-assembled med kit will probably do the trick when you're sailing close to shore. However, crossing an ocean or traveling thousands of miles from medical assistance, will require putting more thought into expanding your kit to meet the higher demands of possible first-aid requirements. The beauty of living on your sailboat is the ability to travel off the beaten track, but means that if a medical emergency arises, you will likely be dependent on yourself.
In this blog, we will share what we have in our personalized marine med kit and why we decided to build our own as opposed to buying an overpriced (in our opinion) pre-made one. We’ll also highlight the items that aren’t included in most mainstream marine med kits, share how we get our prescription medications and antibiotics, as well as include lists and links to help streamline your process of building your own DIY marine med kit.
If you've ever done a Google search for a cruiser-specific med kit you may have been shocked by the price tags that these pre-assembled kits can come with. Some marine med kits range from $1000-$3000 USD for premium kits. At that price, it is easy to assume that they’d be stocked with everything one would need but we can tell you from our experience that this is not always the case. And who wants to pay more for a kit that doesn’t meet your needs? We believe the better option is to put together your own med kit, that is ultimately more comprehensive, fits your specific needs, and is more cost-efficient. Even more important than better prices is that there are very specific yet crucial items in our personalized med kit that we haven't seen in pre-made ones that we believe are some of the most important items that you can carry. To create a centralized place for this information and to prepare our sailors for their adventures with the most thorough kits possible, we’ve set up an Amazon Shopping List. You can reference this list and add items directly to your cart, which does give us a small kickback.
Beyond the scope of common first-aid supplies like band-aids and gauze wraps, we’ve compiled several categories of key medical items specific to offshore sailing and cruising. Let's dive into what some of those important items are.
Contrary to the stereotypes, we want our sailors to come back from sea with all their teeth intact! A golden rule for cruisers is that you never go out to sea with any toothaches. Not only can dental issues be extremely painful but they can often escalate rapidly from a minor ache to a serious infection. Not to mention that whenever you arrive at your destination there’s always a chance there may not be the dental facilities or resources that you need to address these issues. That's why we recommend carrying the following products which may not be a permanent solution but can prevent serious infections and buy you more time to reach professional care. Check out the dental items we keep onboard for our Cruisers Academy courses:
Yes, we know the ocean is a sailor's best medicine, but having the right medications on board can be a make-or-break situation when you encounter health emergencies as well as long-term health management out at sea. Most marine first-aid kits don't come with any kind of antibiotic or emergency medicine other than over-the-counter NSAIDs (aspirin, ibuprofen), allergy meds, and minor illness alleviators (like Motrin and Dramamine). Beyond pain management and illness mitigation, we all have individual medicine regimes that are key to keeping ourselves healthy and able to be away from immediate care for long-term periods. Often going to a regular “land doctor” means that you will have difficulty explaining your lifestyle and the kind of medication that you need in large quantities to suit a live-aboard lifestyle. Fortunately, doctors who can meet these specific needs for cruisers’ lifestyles DO exist. We found the easiest and most cost-effective solution to be Duration Health. If you've ever been on a commercial boat or a live-aboard dive boat, Duration Health is likely the supplier for the med kit on board. Signing up with them is easy and all you have to do is do a FaceTime/zoom call with one of their doctors/employees to explain your specific needs, and where you will be traveling so that they can prescribe you with the medication that will outfit you to meet the demands of your trip. Legally speaking, medications prescribed to a single person are not supposed to be used on other people but, in an emergency situation, we leave that up to you to decide. Common antibiotics that we like to carry include:
Metronidazole- (generic for Flagyl) for parasite infections
Ciprofloxacin- abdominal infections
Ofloxacin- ear and eye infection
Doxycycline Hyclate- generic infection antibiotic for UTI's, sinus infections, STI's
Azithromycin- Pneumonia, pink eye/conjunctivitus
Amoxicillin-clavulanate- Wound Infection
Other medications that we carry in our specific med kit include:
Prednisone- allergic reactions
Epinephrine- severe allergic reactions
Oseltamivir- generic for Tamiflu, flu symptoms
Ondansetron- generic for Zofran, nausea and vomiting
Trimcinolone- rashes, topical treatment
Albuterol- asthma, breathing problems
Clotrimazole- fungal infection
Diphenhydramine- allergic reaction
Ioperamide - diarrhea
Beyond those examples, you will want to consider any specific needs that you and your crew may have, for example, Brady has acute asthma so we carry inhalers to be prepared. One thing to note about these medications is that they do have an expiration date. In a perfect world, you'd never have to use them at all and our opinion on this is that while medications lose strength over time they can still be effective past their expiration date. The good news is that Duration Health can help you refill and revamp your prescriptions as needed.
Not surprisingly, one of the other important categories of medical items that many pre-assembled marine medical kits do not include are women’s/reproductive health products. One of the most common issues we've seen aboard a sailboat is bladder infections, so having the proper medication to address this issue is crucial and will likely be one of the most used items in your kit. It's important to have medication to address yeast infections, as well. Some of the women’s-specific care items we carry include:
When talking about possible medical scenarios that may occur offshore, the harsh reality of sailing is that sh*t can hit the fan really fast. All you have to do to imagine the possible emergency injuries on a sailboat is to recall the extreme stories shared about demastings, rig failures, boat damage, and the list goes on. To realistically address this potential for traumatic injuries and in the effort to best prepare ourselves and our crew to address extreme medical emergencies days away from professional care, we’ve included crucial trauma-specific care supplies in our marine med kit. Some of these items include:
Skin Stapler **
**(while sutures may be included in most marine medical kits, a skin stapler is often not. We highly recommend carrying a stapler in your med kit for emergency head wound care. These are often disposable and relatively cheap).
As mentioned before, there will likely be items you will want to have in your med kit specific to the areas you’re traveling to and also in case of those random yet pesky medical situations that may arise. For example, a few other obscure items that are not included in most med kits are antifungal cream for nails, which is important in warmer, more humid climates as well as things to treat infections such as ringworm, etc. Our med kit includes:
Once again, we recommend buying what you can in bulk to reduce the price (and the waste!) of your marine med kit. Specifically, items such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen, and seasickness medication are great to get bulk so that you don't have a bunch of individually wrapped pills.
Finally, a highly important yet often overlooked aspect of an effective marine med kit is that it be stowed in a water-proof bag, of course! The last thing you’d want is to have your beautiful, meticulously crafted marine med kit ruined by moisture or by taking on water. This is the specific bag that we have selected to use. We then have smaller pouches in which we organize all of our items per category so they are easy to identify and grab in a rush.
The beauty of years of exposure to many different medical scenarios that may arise while sailing is being able to pool our collective knowledge to make it easier for others to buff out the most effective and responsive med kits possible for their sailing adventures! Once again, we've put together this Amazon list to make it as easy as possible for you to see exactly what products we ordered for our med kit and throw it right into your cart to start building your own. This list includes exactly what we pack in our offshore kit. Just know that if you click this link and purchase any of these products we do get a small kickback for being an Amazon influencer account. If you feel we've left out any important items that you use or have come across, please share them in the comments below. We'd love to hear what your experience has taught you over the years! Safe seas, all!