Here’s Why This Doctor Recommends A Medical Guide First Written in 1868 for Preppers

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I have waited in anticipation for this new edition of The Ship Captain’s Medical Guide to be published. It is the latest version of a book that was first published in 1868. It was designed to address the health needs of sailors at sea for prolonged periods without access to a doctor. It was one of the first books to try and simplify relatively complicated medical ideas for laypeople. Over the last 150 years, there have been 22 editions. The 22nd edition published in 1999 was by my estimation a fantastic book for preppers and survivalists. It was accompanied by the legally mandated “medical scales” which were required to be carried all merchant and fishing vessels. So, it was a book that addressed all the commonly encountered medical problems but also tied the treatment to a defined, narrow and easy to source list of medications to treat these conditions – avoiding problems seen with other medical texts that reference a huge range of different and hard to source medications. While not perfect, it was a great book.

With the publication of the 23rd edition, the PDF of the 22nd edition has been taken down from the official website, but It is still widely available for free online as a PDF with a simple search for “The Ship Captain’s Medical Guide 22nd ed pdf”.

This experience of the previous edition had me excited at the prospect of the new edition which was published last month.

This book is a good resource for preppers and survivalists.

The new edition is published in hardback format A4 size. It is printed on good quality, robust paper and is full of color illustrations and diagrams. It is easy to use and a beautiful book to read.

The format of the new edition has 5 main sections:

  • Emergency Care
  • Trauma
  • Medical disorders
  • Medical procedures
  • Reference material

The first three chapters make extensive use of flow charts to identify likely clinical problems and arrive at the best treatment options. They begin with a broad topic like “Abdominal pain” and provide a summary of relevant history and examination techniques and findings, before listing common causes of abdominal pain such as “peritonitis” or “constipation”. Subsequent sub-sections detail the likely history and exam findings and treatment for that condition. The treatment box provides information about general care (and infection control information if required) as well as specific information about medications or simple procedures that may be required.

The medical procedure chapter has detailed descriptions and easy to follow instructions for common medical procedures including IV insertion, suturing wounds, and simple manipulation of fractures and dislocations. It also includes some slightly more complicated ones like needle aspiration of a collapsed lung and bladder aspiration in patients with urinary obstruction.

The medical reference section has more detailed information about simple anatomy and physiology, keeping medical records, and some of the legal responsibilities in providing medical care at sea.

Because the book is tied to a relatively small list of drugs it provides a simple table of antibiotics and their uses which is handy, especially for those who are feeling overwhelmed with the extensive range of antibiotics for humans (or fish!)

There are a few things the new edition is lacking.

The last several editions have all referenced “seeking radio medical advice” following the initial advice regarding treatment – but the treatment was always comprehensive and specific. This is where this new edition falls down in my opinion. Over the last 20 years, technology has evolved enormously, with satellite phones and internet giving access to medical advice instantly and easily. The consequence is that this edition has been dumbed down. There is less information about how to treat conditions and a much greater focus on “seeking radio medical advice.”

It is also unfortunate that a significant amount of great material has been removed – gone are the chapters on childbirth, infectious disease, and public health and hygiene. Some of this material has been re-distributed to other sections but not nearly in as much detail and ultimately the book is the worse for this – especially the infectious disease material being reduced from a detailed chapter to a table in one chapter.

The book builds on basic first aid knowledge and can help you improve your skills.

That is not to say this is a bad book. But compared to the last couple of editions this one has been dumbed down and is very heavily reliant on the availability of telemedical advice via radio or internet. One of its strengths is how it builds on basic first aid knowledge taking it to the next level. It isn’t trying to be all things to all people – its only goal is to enable laypeople with a basic first aid knowledge to perform more comprehensive care and I think for the most part it does this well.

I’ll give this book two different ratings, based on the skill level of the reader:

For the prepper with little more than basic first aid training: 4+ out of 5 stars

For the more experienced medical prepper: 2 out of 5 stars

Where to get this book

It is likely this book will appear in a free PDF format in the near future and it is definitely worth getting a copy of it, but its level of usefulness will vary depending on experience. At $50 plus shipping for a physical copy of the book, it is pricey – but I think for most preppers, it is worth the cost.

The book can be purchased on Amazon. For the most recent edition (the one discussed in this review) click here: The Ship Captain’s Medical Guide

The 22nd Edition is also available on Amazon: The Ship Captain’s Medical Guide by Maritime and Coastguard Agency (1999-02-25)


About the Author

BCE is a Critical Care doctor who has 25 years’ experience in pre-hospital, remote and austere medicine. He has been a prepper/survivalist for even longer and pessimistically thinks a grid-down long-term collapse is not far away. He is passionate about improving medical knowledge within the prepper community and he is currently working on a book about truly primitive medicine and improvisation. He lives somewhere south of the equator on a Doomstead in a (hopefully) quiet isolated part of the world.

He helped write and edit the book “Survival and Austere Medicine” which is available for free download at and from a number of other sites and for purchase (at cost) from Lulu at

Questions, comments, and criticisms are welcome – post here and he will respond.

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