First aid kits for paddlers

I’ve been getting my kit ready for a season of raft guiding in Iceland, which should hopefully mean lots of time spent on the river kayaking too. When you’re responsible for looking after others on the water, you have no excuses for not carrying the right kit. As part of my preparation, I’ve modified my first aid kit to make it more paddling specific.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe first thing to think of, is “what first aid scenarios are possible in paddle sports?” Just about anything. However, the most common are going to be injuries caused by:

– Hitting rocks whilst swimming (cuts, bruises and breaks and head injuries from being upside down whilst still in the boat)
– Trips and falls whilst portaging (fractures, breaks and sprains)
– Kayaking technique (dislocations from hyper-extension of the shoulder and damage to the spine from landing flat off drops)
– The environment (hypothermia)

And of course:
– The unexpected (heart attacks, stroke, hypoglycaemia in diabetics)

With this is mind, its worth tailoring your first aid kit to deal with these injuries as well as realistically possible, within the remit of your training. Off the shelf first aid kits aren’t tailored specifically to your needs. You often end up carrying things that you don’t need, or don’t even know how to use. At the other end of the scale, you’ll find the hardcore types, adamant that any problem can be solved with enough duct tape! Somewhere in the middle lies the answer.

I know of a few coaches that carry a main first aid kit in their boat, as well as an “ouch pouch” of plasters and gloves on their person to save having to wade through all of their kit. I prefer to put all of my first aid kit in the same place in my boat. So, here’s what goes in to my pelicase:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALatex gloves, trauma shears, saline sachets (20ml x 3), casualty card and sharpie pen, personal medication, 300mg aspirin tablets, military first field dressing, number 3 ambulance dressing, triangular bandage, CPR mask, cleaning swabs, plasters, duct tape and boat repair kit (flashbanding tape, cable ties, glue gun sticks, lighter, Lendal padlock key, wine cork.)

Some thoughts on some of the items:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATriangular bandage: can be used in the conventional way to support broken arms and dislocated shoulders, or folded to support a wound pad. Bear in mind that paddlers will be wearing bouyancy aids… which is why some paddlers make a larger triangular bandage made out of tarp material to be worn over everything. Or use tape/vet wrap instead…

Field dressings: Designed for the military, they absorb a massive amount of blood and the waterproof packaging can be used on chest wounds and the like. They’re well worth investing in.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGloves: I put these on top of my kit, so that they’re the first thing to take out if needed.

Medical shears: Much more comforting to approach a casualty with these rather than your trusty river knife.

– Saline sachets: These are for irrigating wounds, although you never seem to have enough. I was told that 200-250ml  is a good amount, but it became a trade off with space for other items.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA– Casualty Card: These allow you to record your observations in a logical way to be able to pass over any information that you have to the emergency services. They’re also reassuring – if you don’t train for, or encounter these experiences often, they’re bound to be stressful and things easily get forgotten. The sharpie? Works when wet.

– Aspirin: 300mg aspirin tablets for heart attack victims*, see here. These are normal tablets, although I’ve heard it said that soluble ones are needed for this. Need to look in to that.

*there’s obviously a number of caveats to this. Are they already taking aspirin? Are they allergic to it? etc.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA– Personal medications: Ibuprofen for joint pains, stomach tablets for dodgy foreign food and tablets for sinus infections (because other painkillers seem to have no effect on this with me)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA– Boat repair kit: The boat repair kit goes in with my first aid kit, so that all my emergency gear is in the same place. Flashbanding to repair cracks/holes, lendal padlock key for my split paddles, cable ties to bodge a broken back rest and a wine cork for lost drain bungs. I’ve used hot melt glue gun sticks and a lighter in the past to fill in small cracks in plastic. 1) It’s not as effective as flashband and 2) it easier with a turbo lighter.

What’s missing?

Not pictured is vet wrap (a bandage that sticks to itself and works in water) and a sachet of lucozade glucose gel (the type used by runners, which can be administered to diabetics suffering from hypoglycaemia). SAM splints are useful too, but can be improvised fairly easily. I often carry a head torch as well, not shown in the article. Likewise a map of the area, with the local hospital and escape points marked is vital, but starting to move away from the first aid kit and in to group kit.

I don’t tend to carry a survival bag or foil blanket any more. Most of the time when somebody gets hurt, the rest of the group need to stop and end up fairly static whilst administering first aid. Usually if one person is cold, everybody is starting to go that way and so a group shelter is more useful and works more effectively.

This article serves to give others some idea of what to carry and to provoke discussion. It wasn’t intended to be used as or replace first aid training.

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One Response to First aid kits for paddlers

  1. Brian Stanbridge says:

    Very good, I will feel safe paddling with you especially if you get the soluble aspirin.

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