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Build a Diving First Aid Kit

Pharmacies can be hard to find in popular dive spots, so pack a good first-aid kit

A good first-aid kit belongs in every intrepid traveler’s bag, be they hikers, backpackers, rock climbers or divers. Pharmacies may be hard to find if you’re far from an urban center, and getting an ambulance or finding a hospital emergency room can be impossible, or at least take much longer than you’re used to, so packing a useful diving first-aid kit is always a good idea.

Even if you’re joining a tour operator, such as a liveaboard boat or a dive camp, it’s still wise to bring a first-aid kit — you should never rely on the availability or quality of someone else’s medical supplies. If you’re staying in a comfortable resort, maybe even one with a doctor and pharmacy on call or nearby, you can leave your kit at home, but in many other instances, a first-aid kit can be the difference between a minor annoyance and something that ends your trip, or worse, threatens your health.

What to Bring

The American Red Cross recommends the following inclusions for a basic first-aid kit for a family of four:

Two absorbent compress dressings (5×9 inches)
25 adhesive bandages (assorted sizes)
One adhesive, cloth tape (10 yards x 1 inch)
Five antibiotic ointment packets (approximately 1 gram)
Five antiseptic wipe packets
Two packets of aspirin (81 mg each)
One blanket (space blanket)
One breathing barrier (with one-way valve)
One instant cold compress
Two pair of non-latex gloves (size large)
Two hydrocortisone ointment packets (approximately 1 gram each)
One roller bandage (3 inches wide)
One roller bandage (4 inches wide)
Five sterile gauze pads (3×3 inches)
5 sterile gauze pads (4×4 inches)
Oral thermometer (non-mercury/non-glass)
Two triangular bandages
First-aid instruction booklet

If you’re traveling solo, you can dial back a bit on some of the items, such as band-aids. If you’re putting together a first-aid kit for a dive shop to use on dive trips, add more of almost everything.

When I’m traveling in developing nations, I like to bring a suture and a couple of hypodermic syringes and needles as well, as this way I know that both are sterile and new if I must use them. In addition to the gloves, I also like to pack a face barrier for giving CPR hygienically, as well as a few sachets of salt and sugar (the kind you find in diners), to add to water in case I need to treat myself or someone else for dehydration.

Dive-Specific Items
Consider adding the following dive-specific items to your first-aid kit:

* A cheap razor, for scraping off jellyfish tentacles
* A small bottle of vinegar, for neutralizing the venom of some (tropical) jellyfish
* Motion-sickness medication, or simply ginger tablets, which work well for many divers, as they don’t cause drowsiness like some OTC medications.
* Waterproof band-aids, for any cuts or blisters from your fins.

If your first-aid kit is to be used as a dive-shop kit, you should also bring an O2-kit with an oxygen bottle of sufficient size, as well as a feed system, to treat decompression illness, especially if you’re planning deep dives and/or boat dives.

Every year, as well as before any major trip, review the contents of your first-aid kit and check for any expired medication or for anything that needs to be restocked. Store your kit in a suitable bag that is easily identified as containing first-aid supplies.

Of course, the best first-aid kit in the world does little if you don’t know how to use it, so take a first-aid class and get CPR certification. You’ll probably never need to use your new skills, but having them will help prepare you in case an accident happens.

Do you pack a first-aid kit when you dive? Did we leave any essential items off our list? Share them with us!