The Ultimate Guide to First Aid on a Sailing Trip
The Ultimate Guide to First Aid on a Sailing Trip

Prepare for any medical emergencies that may arise during your sailing adventure with our comprehensive guide to first aid on a sailing trip, covering everything from assembling a well-stocked first aid kit to handling common injuries and illnesses at sea.

The Ultimate Guide to First Aid on a Sailing Trip

Sailing the open seas with your family is an incredible adventure, but it also comes with its own set of challenges and risks. One of the most important aspects of preparing for a sailing trip is ensuring that you have the knowledge and resources to handle any medical emergencies that may arise. In this comprehensive guide, we will cover everything you need to know about first aid on a sailing trip, from assembling a well-stocked first aid kit to handling common injuries and illnesses at sea.

Table of Contents

Assembling a First Aid Kit for Your Boat

Before setting sail, it’s crucial to have a well-stocked first aid kit on board. While you can purchase pre-made kits, it’s often more cost-effective and practical to assemble your own. This allows you to customize the contents based on your family’s specific needs and the nature of your sailing trip. Here are some essential items to include in your boat’s first aid kit:

  1. Adhesive bandages in various sizes for minor cuts and scrapes
  2. Sterile gauze pads and adhesive tape for larger wounds
  3. Antiseptic wipes and hydrogen peroxide for cleaning wounds
  4. Tweezers and a magnifying glass for removing splinters and other foreign objects
  5. Scissors for cutting tape, gauze, and clothing if necessary
  6. A digital thermometer for monitoring body temperature
  7. Pain relievers such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen
  8. Anti-inflammatory medication for reducing swelling and inflammation
  9. Antihistamines for allergic reactions
  10. Motion sickness medication for those prone to seasickness
  11. Antibiotics for treating bacterial infections (consult your doctor for appropriate prescriptions)
  12. Rehydration salts for treating dehydration
  13. Aloe vera gel or burn cream for treating sunburns and minor burns
  14. Sunscreen and lip balm with SPF protection
  15. Insect repellent to ward off mosquitoes and other pests
  16. A first aid manual for reference in case of emergencies

In addition to these basic supplies, consider including any personal medications or medical supplies that your family members may need, such as prescription medications, inhalers, or epinephrine auto-injectors for severe allergies.

Basic First Aid Skills Every Sailor Should Know

Having a well-stocked first aid kit is only half the battle – you also need to know how to use it effectively. Before setting sail, make sure that you and your family members are familiar with basic first aid skills. Here are some essential skills that every sailor should know:

  1. CPR and rescue breathing: In the event of a cardiac arrest or drowning, knowing how to perform CPR and rescue breathing can be lifesaving. Consider taking a CPR certification course to ensure that you’re prepared for this type of emergency.

  2. Wound care: Knowing how to properly clean and dress a wound is crucial for preventing infection and promoting healing. Make sure you’re familiar with the proper technique for cleaning a wound with antiseptic wipes or hydrogen peroxide, as well as how to apply adhesive bandages and sterile gauze pads.

  3. Splinting and immobilization: In the event of a broken bone or dislocated joint, it’s important to know how to immobilize the injured area to prevent further damage. Familiarize yourself with the basics of splinting and immobilization using items found on your boat, such as towels, clothing, or even oars.

  4. Burn treatment: Sunburns and minor burns from cooking or engine maintenance are common on sailing trips. Know how to recognize the signs of a burn and how to treat it with aloe vera gel or burn cream.

  5. Recognizing and treating heat exhaustion and heatstroke: Prolonged exposure to the sun and high temperatures can lead to heat-related illnesses. Learn the signs of heat exhaustion and heatstroke, and how to treat them with rest, hydration, and cooling measures.

  6. Recognizing and treating hypothermia: Conversely, exposure to cold water and wind can lead to hypothermia. Know the signs of hypothermia and how to treat it with warming measures and insulation.

Common Injuries and Illnesses at Sea

While sailing, you may encounter a variety of injuries and illnesses that are unique to the marine environment. Here are some common issues to be aware of and how to handle them:

  1. Seasickness: Seasickness is a common ailment for sailors, especially those who are new to the experience. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, dizziness, and fatigue. To prevent seasickness, take motion sickness medication before setting sail and maintain a steady intake of water and light snacks. If seasickness does occur, rest in a well-ventilated area and focus on the horizon to help alleviate symptoms.

  2. Sunburn and sun poisoning: Prolonged exposure to the sun can lead to painful sunburns and, in severe cases, sun poisoning. To prevent sunburn, apply sunscreen with a high SPF rating regularly and wear protective clothing, such as wide-brimmed hats and long sleeves. If sunburn does occur, treat it with aloe vera gel or burn cream and avoid further sun exposure.

  3. Jellyfish stings: Jellyfish stings can be painful and, in some cases, dangerous. If you or a family member is stung by a jellyfish, rinse the affected area with vinegar or saltwater (not freshwater) to neutralize the venom. Remove any tentacles with tweezers or the edge of a credit card, and apply a cold pack to reduce pain and swelling. Seek medical attention if the sting is severe or if the person exhibits signs of an allergic reaction.

  4. Cuts and scrapes from barnacles and coral: Barnacles and coral can cause painful cuts and scrapes if you come into contact with them while swimming or exploring the shoreline. Clean the wound thoroughly with antiseptic wipes or hydrogen peroxide, and apply an adhesive bandage or sterile gauze pad to protect it from infection.

  5. Fishhook injuries: If a fishhook becomes embedded in the skin, do not attempt to remove it yourself, as this can cause further damage. Instead, immobilize the affected area and seek medical attention as soon as possible.

Handling Medical Emergencies on Board

In the event of a serious medical emergency, it’s crucial to remain calm and act quickly. Here are some steps to follow when handling a medical emergency on board:

  1. Assess the situation: Determine the severity of the injury or illness and whether it requires immediate attention or can be managed on board.

  2. Administer first aid: Use your first aid skills and supplies to provide initial treatment for the injury or illness.

  3. Call for help: If the situation is severe or beyond your capabilities, use your VHF radio or satellite phone to call for assistance. Provide your location, the nature of the emergency, and any pertinent information about the injured or ill person.

  4. Prepare for evacuation: In some cases, it may be necessary to evacuate the injured or ill person to a medical facility on land. Prepare the person for transport by immobilizing any injured areas and providing any necessary medications or treatments.

  5. Stay informed: Keep in contact with medical professionals or emergency responders for guidance and updates on the situation.

Staying Healthy and Fit While Sailing

Maintaining your health and fitness while sailing is essential for preventing injuries and illnesses. Here are some tips for staying healthy and fit at sea:

  1. Stay hydrated: Drink plenty of water throughout the day to prevent dehydration, especially in hot and sunny conditions.

  2. Eat a balanced diet: Ensure that your meals include a mix of protein, carbohydrates, and healthy fats to provide the energy and nutrients needed for sailing.

  3. Get regular exercise: Incorporate physical activity into your daily routine, such as swimming, yoga, or bodyweight exercises.

  4. Protect yourself from the sun: Wear sunscreen, protective clothing, and sunglasses to shield your skin and eyes from harmful UV rays.

  5. Get enough sleep: Aim for 7-9 hours of sleep per night to ensure that your body has time to recover and recharge.


Sailing with your family is an unforgettable experience, but it’s essential to be prepared for any medical emergencies that may arise. By assembling a well-stocked first aid kit, learning basic first aid skills, and staying healthy and fit at sea, you can ensure that your sailing adventure is both safe and enjoyable.