A well-stocked emergency first aid kit is a very important part of the equipment aboard a cruising sailboat. Your choices are to purchase a commercial kit at a chandlery or outdoor equipment store or either from the Canadian Red Cross or the American Red Cross. Alternatively, you can put your own kit together.

Purchasing a commercial kit has obvious advantages. The contents have been pre-selected and pre-packed for you. One criticism is that they tend to focus almost exclusively on wound treatment to the exclusion of other types of medical issues. Creating your own emergency first aid kit results in a first aid kit that can better reflect your own personal needs. There are several excellent First Aid kits in our STORE.

What follows here is a suggested emergency first aid kit list. Use it as a starting point to create your own first aid kit. If you add a good first aid course and some good reference books, you will certainly have covered off this area of planning. Also check out First Aid resources in our FREE RESOURCES section.

Keep in mind that on the Great Lakes, we are fortunate to be within virtually continual VHF radio coverage of the Canadian Coast Guard and the US Coast Guard. In emergencies, these two agencies can reach any sailboat or sailor in distress. Therefore, you certainly do not need a first aid kit suitable for a hospital emergency room!

As a container, you can choose either a soft-sided bag or a pelican-style container. I prefer the bag because it is easier to store. Inside the bag, there are several smaller packs, each designated and clearly marked for a particular problem: minor problems, wounds, burns, fractures, medications, and instruments. Also included is a good first aid manual (see suggestions). Each pack is clearly marked for easy access.

Inside the bag, have a complete list of all contents plus the date purchased. Items that have an expiry will need to be replaced - an easy way to identify these is to put a coloured sticker on the item with the date written in.

Keep a duplicate list of contents and a copy of all prescriptions with your ship's papers.

These supplies can be purchased at big-box stores, major drug store chains, outdoor equipment stores and specialty suppliers.


Basic Module

  • Assorted band-aids (1-2 dozen in various sizes)
  • Alcohol wipes
  • Cotton swabs
  • Eye pads
  • Eye wash
  • ASA (acetylsalicylic acid) - Aspirin
  • Acetaminophen - Tylenol ®
  • Antacide tablets
  • Antiseptic towelettes
  • Povidone Iodine (a broad spectrum antiseptic for treatment and prevention of infection in wounds)
  • Ice bag (with compression strap)
  • Several pair of hypoallergenic disposable gloves

Wounds Module

  • 1-2 dozen strip bandages 1" x 3"
  • A dozen butterfly bandages
  • 1 elastic bandage 2"
  • 6 -12 gauze pads 2" x 2"
  • 6-12 gauze pads 4" x 4"
  • 2-4 Dressing Pads 5" x 9"
  • 6 Povidone Iodine Preps
  • 12 Antiseptic Wipes
  • 2 rolls of gauze 2"
  • Several pair of hypoallergenic disposable gloves
  • Antibiotic Ointment

Fractures Module

  • Several pair of hypoallergenic disposable gloves
  • 2-3 Adhesive Tape 1/2"
  • 1-2 Elastic Bandage 4"
  • 1 Ice Bag
  • 3 Instant Cold Packs
  • 2 finger splints 1" x 6"
  • 3 triangle bandages for slings
  • 1 SAM ® splint (compact and easy to use, ask for it by name at outdoor equipment stores)
  • 12 Safety Pins

Burns Module

  • Burn Cream (there are prescription burn creams your doctor may prescribe for your medical kit)
  • Burn Gel such as 'Water-Jel'®
  • Several pair of hypoallergenic disposable gloves
  • Rolls of sterile gauze – 4''

Medications Module

  • Personal medications and prescription drugs.
  • Prescriptions for any prescribed drugs
  • Additional ASA (acetylsalicylic acid) – Aspirin
  • Additional Acetaminophen - Tylenol ®
  • Benadryl ® – an antihistamine for allergic reactions
  • Oil of cloves for a tooth ache
  • Antacid tablets

Instruments Module

  • Notepad & pen/pencils
  • Surgical shears (to cut clothing)
  • Scissors
  • Tweezers
  • Magnifying glass
  • Thermometer
  • Flashlight (with package of spare batteries)
  • Knife
  • Razor blades
  • Lighter to sterilize a blade
  • Emergency blanket (also known as space blankets)


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