Have you ever wondered what’s in those white cabinets with either a red or green cross-mounted on the bulkhead?

It’s your handy-dandy first aid kit. It has been hanging on the bulkhead so long it’s become invisible and everyone just walks by it. That’s until somebody needs first aid and you run for the medicine chest.

Sometimes there’s a big surprise waiting for you. I’ve seen it many times. The contents have been used and picked over so much all you can find is a Band-Aid. I’ve seen cigarette butts and even some “reading material” in the cabinet. I guess it’s always good to be entertained while you’re trying to stop the bleeding.

On the other hand, I have seen some very nice medicine chests that are filled with everything you need for basic first aid and more. It’s good to have it when you need it. I’ve seen some that were so stocked you could almost perform surgery.

Probably the best thing you can do for your medicine chest is pay it a little attention so it doesn’t feel like an orphan. First find the kit and take a look to see if the box is in good shape and hanging securely in the right place. Most kits I have seen are in the galley with some in the wheelhouse. I don’t think I’d want to be doing first aid while I was trying to thread the approach to a bridge. Other spots like the master’s room just bury it deeper. They’ll find it when they scrap the boat. A good way to check on it is during every crew change. You’ll find out if you need something and get it before you come up empty handed.

After finding the kit, open the medicine cabinet and take inventory. There are hundreds of items that get recommended for the medicine chest. There isn’t one right answer for stocking its contents. There are many choices to buy off the shelf. You decide what’s needed. Near coastal vessels may need different contents than river towboats. Safety managers and SMSes should address this issue. Check with them.

Here are some typical items that may be useful to have in your medicine chest (However, I am not suggesting that these items make up a fully ready kit.):

  • Probably everything you’d find in your medicine cabinet at home
  • Band-Aids, gauze, bandages and tape
  • Stomach remedies
  • Seasick pills
  • Aspirin
  • Antihistamine
  • Sunscreen
  • Eye wash
  • Antibiotic and burn ointments
  • CPR life mask
  • Nitrile gloves
  • First aid handbook.

This is not a complete list. This might be a good time to remind you to keep up your first-aid training and qualifications, including CPR. All the supplies in the world are wasted if you don’t know how to use them.

When you need it, your best friend is a full first aid kit.


A collection of stories from guest authors.