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The Official Magazine of the Bluewater Cruising Association

First Aid Items for Shore Excursions

Rob Murray

Beneteau First 435 Sloop
July 24th, 2023

Most cruisers travelling long distances or to remote areas have fairly comprehensive first aid kits aboard. Whether home rolled or store bought, these are generally based on lists developed by wilderness first aid experts, military personnel or professional paramedics. I wrote a longer article on first aid kits a few years ago, which you may want to check-out. Some of these kits will include smaller first aid kits to take ashore, when going exploring, on a hike or a bike ride.

When smaller first aid kits are based on lists developed by experts in specific fields, typically there is an assumption that some items are present (in this case, somewhere on the boat) but they may not be in the kit itself. For example, wilderness first aid experts think you’re on a camping trip and have all your camping gear close at hand; military personnel think you have your ‘issue gear’ on your person, and professional paramedics think you’re near an ambulance or similar transport with all its accoutrements. For boaters, none of these assumptions hold true, and there are a few things that you can add to your kit that can fill these gaps and prove very handy for use when away from ‘the mother ship’. Here are some items that we include in our shore excursion first aid kit:

Some extra large, heavy duty garbage bags:  Useful as a ground cover under an injured person (to keep them drier and cleaner); as a place to spread out your first aid supplies other than in the mud, sand or dirt; as a rain cover in inclement weather, or to make a shade cover in a relentlessly sunny tropical location. They can be cut along the edges to make larger or smaller covers or mini tarpaulins, or have holes cut in them for your head and arms to use as a kind of emergency poncho. Aboard, they are useful to keep boo-boo juice off the upholstery. Grab a few (3-5) and slip them into a ziplock bag to store. The orange ones are higher visibility than the black or transparent ones, and can be used to mark your position, and small pieces can be cut off and tied to trees etc. to flag a trail to an injured person.

Large plastic bags that can be stored inside a small ziplock bag

A knife: Useful for clearing vegetation, cutting branches, cutting wood for fires, etc.  A simple, cheap, strong and lightweight utility knife like this Mora Companion will do the job. Similar blades are often found in the gardening section of a hardware or dollar store. Get one that’s reasonably sturdy. You don’t need a Rambo style survival knife; something with a blade 3 1/2 inches long or so is enough. Stainless blades are likely longer lasting, but stainless or not, wipe the blade with oil or wax before storing to forestall rust. Make sure it’s sharp before you put it in the kit.

A simple utility knife

A way to make a fire:  In the event you can’t move an injured person, you may want to be able to make a fire for warmth, illumination, signalling/marking a position or simply for morale. The simplest and easiest fire making kit you can carry is likely a cigarette lighter, with a couple of feet of duct tape wrapped around it. You can secure a bit of shoelace or paracord under the tape to make a clip on grab loop. Duct tape makes an excellent fire starter, just peel off six inches or so, tear it lengthwise into fettuccine or linguini-like strips, loosely bunch them into a blob the size of a tennis ball or a bit smaller with lots of air space in it, and light with the lighter. The adhesive and fabric are both flammable and once lit, burn tenaciously. Add kindling and then wood on top. Get a genuine, full sized lighter, the minis are less reliable as their smaller flints fail. Also, try to get a brand name lighter as many of the generic versions have dubious reliability.

A full sized cigarette lighter

Duct tape:  There are 1,000,000 uses for duct tape; and having a bit for mending clothes, securing the garbage bags above, fashioning or securing a splint, binding a bandage to a wound, fire making, etc. can be really handy. Peel ten to fifteen feet of duct tape off your family-sized roll and make a handy size roll by re-rolling it around an appropriate length of drinking straw. Fold the open end over to make a tab so it’s easy to peel with cold or wet hands. A bit of cordage or paracord can be threaded through the straw to make a grab/hang loop. Wrap it in cling wrap or similar, or place in a small ziplock, as the adhesive can ooze out over time and be messy.

Multi-use duct tape

A whistle:  Whistles are useful so you can signal your position to people trying to find you. A neck lanyard is handy so you don’t misplace it. They’re small and weigh almost nothing, you could have a couple, so someone who goes for help can signal their return.

Whistles can help locate people at night

A headlamp: You don’t need a super fancy headlamp, but something to help you see in the dark. (It gets dark almost every night, so a light can be really handy if you can’t move your causality before it does). Hung from a branch, it can be an area light; strapped to a water bottle with the lamp pointed into the bottle it can be used as a makeshift lantern. Also useful for signalling your position at night. Store the batteries separately (perhaps two sets) so they don’t go bad inside the lamp and render it useless.

A bright headlamp

Reading glasses:  Cheap dollar store reading glasses are fine. Useful if you or another rescuer forgot theirs, and useful for wound cleaning or other detail work made easier with magnification even if you don’t usually wear them. The low power (1.5~2.0 diopter) is probably the most universally useful.

Inexpensive reading glasses

Water purification tablets:  You likely have some water with you on a shore excursion, but you probably don’t have much, and you may need more for drinking, compresses or wound cleaning. With a few of these handy, you can make more ‘safe’ water from sketchy local water sources like streams or ponds. Get water from just about any local source, filter it if it’s cloudy (you can use a gauze pad from the kit as a filter), add one tablet per litre, shake to mix, let stand for 30 minutes and it’s potable. They take almost no room, so grab a bunch. Toss the bulky packaging, but make sure you include the instruction sheet with the tablets.

Water purification tabs can come in handy

Most of these items are available at a hardware store, a dollar store or similar venue for a few bucks, fit easily in your first aid kit, and can make a huge difference in your ability to respond effectively to an emergency away from the “mother ship”. And who doesn’t want an excuse to visit their local dollar store?


First Aid


  1. Stefanie Schulz says:

    Thanks Rob, as always super helpful tips.

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