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LIVING ON A BOAT: First Aid at Sea

LIVING ON A BOAT: First Aid at Sea



You are often on your own at sea, so you should be well prepared for a wide range of situations. Among those that require special attention are the problems related to health and life threatening situations, so before you set sail, it would be very wise to prepare your ‘off-shore pharmacy’ and first aid kit, as well as to gain basic medical knowledge in order to be able to provide first aid.

Of course, one should cosider all the potentially dangerous situations that might happen on board, at sea, or on dry land, and that would be good to avoid if possible.  Therefore, preparing a carefree navigation includes first-aid knowledge, awareness of potential dangerous situations, being familiar with the protocols for seeking assistance, as well as sufficient quantity of medicines and other medical supplies.

Basic first aid kit

It is compulsory to have a first aid kit in each car, and you should have something similar on board a vessel. You can take the same kit as for a car and add some “nautical” accessories, or you can buy a special “Marine First Aid Kit”. The marine first aid kit is usually in a watertight box, but as far as the contents are concerned- there are many different sets. The basic one looks as follows:

  • PVC bag 20cm x 30cm, one piece
  • PVC bag 40 x 60cm, one piece
  • PVC disposable (single use) gloves, two pairs
  • Sterile first band aid 10cm x 5cm, bandage dimensions with one padding 12cm x 10cm, two pieces in total
  • Calico bandage 10cm x 5m, two pieces

Calico bandage 8cm x 5m, two pieces

  • Sterile gauze, 80cm x 50cm, single package, two pieces
  • Sterile gauze, 80cm x 1m, single package, one piece
  • Sterile gauze compression 10cm x 10cm, 12 layers, single package, five pieces
  • Adhesive band aid 10cm x 8cm, five pieces
  • Triangular bandage, dimensions: 100cm x 100cm x 140cm. The bandage must be made of cotton, weight of minimum 60g / m2, two pieces
  • Patch 2,5cm x 5cm, one piece
  • Safety pin, minimum length 4cm, six pieces
  • Curved scissors, rounded tip, minimum length 12cm, one piece
  • Isothermal blanket, minimum length 150cm x 200cm, disposable/single use, one piece
  • Cold pack, two pieces (one larger and one smaller)
  • Protective device for giving artificial respiration, single use, one piece

Add to the box a few more patches of different sizes and shapes, tweezers for removing ticks, and more disposable gloves. The contents of the box should be inspected on regular basis (expiry date) and supplemented after each use.

The box itself does not provide much benefit if you do not know how to provide first aid, apply a patch, clean the wound … Therefore, it is not a bad idea to attend a first-aid course at least once in two years in order to refresh your knowledge.

Off-shore pharmacy

Drugs are another very important part of each vessel’s equipment. Apart from medicines, which you must administer in accordance with the doctor’s instructions (prescription), the basic contents of the pharmacy include medicines:

  • fever reducer,
  • against sea sickness,
  • anti-diarrhea,
  • pain reliever,
  • allergy reliever.

You can adjust the list of drugs to children (syrup fever reducer …) or to other passengers’ needs on board.

Besides the drugs in the boat pharmacy, add also:

  • sun burn creams,
  • stings and bites cream,
  • antiseptic cream,
  • skin cooling cream.

Although they are not medicines, do not forget high factor sunscreens, insect repellants (mosquitoes and other insects), hand cream and skin cream, as well as lip balm.

The most common injuries and other medical problems

“Don’t be complicated. What can happen to us on sailing?” Of course, no one is going sailing or on any vacation on a boat thinking about injuries and illness, but ‘just in case’… Injuries and other problems have various causes – from weather conditions, allergy, food, steering a vessel, sports or recreation, and many more. Let’s take a closer look at some of the most common ones:

Handling and life on the vessel: injuries while moving around the vessel, fall on the deck or stairs (wet floor, sudden movement of the vessel), fall from the vessel into the sea, injuries due to handling the ropes with bare hands, scratches and various cuts. There are injuries during food preparation (sharp knives) and working with various tools, and every year many sailors get injured while getting off the vessel to a dock or to another vessel.

Injuries and illness related to weather conditions (sun, rain, wind, sea …): sun burns, consequences of overexposure, dehydration, headaches, inflammation and allergies (sun, sea water, wind), sea sickness.

Dangerous sea and land animals: When swimming, diving or fishing, beware venomous and dangerous animals in the water (fish, jellyfish, urchins). Among the worst is an encounter with a sea spider, and there are also dangerous fish, jellyfish and urchins. Therefore, do not touch sea animals and do not walk on the sea bottom without slippers or sandals for the water. If you are going for a walk on islands, watch out for the land animals – snakes, scorpions and various insects, and after every walk through the nature, make sure that you have not brought any ticks with you.

Various diseases and allergies: weather, seawater, sun and food can cause various illnesses and allergies. Fever, headache, stomach cramps, diarrhea, vomiting, and the like can occur out of the blue, and each time you have to respond quickly with aid and medication. This is especially important with young children and chronic patients.

Make an emergency plan

Before going on long sailing journey, check for health centers and pharmacies in the cities on your route. Although on some islands there are outpatient health centers, this does not necessarily mean that the doctor is always there, because some of them work only for certain days outside the peak season. It is also wise to learn how to send an emergency message via the VHF or GMDSS station and to complete a reanimation and first-aid course.

Text: Matej Ogorevc

Foto: Depositphotos, Pixabay



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