Safety aboard – Care, Health & First Aid


imageWhile being careful and avoiding accidents is a natural instinct for us, doing so aboard is of even more importance as the distance in miles and hours to the nearest professional help is always longer than ashore.

What complicates matters on a boat is that the environment itself makes being careful difficult. First of all, the boat itself is constantly moving around – sometimes at extreme angles and accelerations. Secondly, the more the boat is rocking and rolling around you, the more likely it is that you are going to have to go and do something active, which increases the chances of something going awry.

Since most sicknesses are bacteria/virus borne and often have human carriers, sailors are less likely to contract them – living away from densely populated urban centres. We won’t catch anything offshore that we didn’t already bring with us and most likely started incubating before departing the last port. While it is important to pay attention to hygiene aboard in order to avoid bacteria to get a foothold, the major concern, in my opinion, is to attempt to prevent and avoid accidents. No matter how well-designed, a boat is a myriad of sharp corners and edges, oddly shaped object and protuberances that all seem to want to do nothing else than snag parts of your body.

imageThe major cause of accidents aboard a sailboat is the galley. Be it open flames or scalding water, the galley has plenty of potential to do damage and the recommendation for galley cooks to wear thick clothing (oilskins or the like) while working in weather is understandable, but not necessarily practicable, particularly in tropical climes.

With the advent of proximate first aid in urban areas most of us have little or no knowledge of first-aid measures. Both initial and advanced first-aid courses teach measures and methods to provide initial care and patient stabilization until professionals arrive. Getting training that goes beyond this basic set of skills is difficult to find as the target audience is quite small, so far I have seen classes for sailors and for wilderness guides as both groups need to ensure that the injured person is not only given initial aid but then stabilized for a lengthy transport and potentially the measures need to last for days or weeks.

So while a first-responder course teaches how to stop a bad cut from bleeding , the advanced class needs to augment that skill with the ability to change the dressings or, if necessary, to suture the wound.

I’ve had a number of first-aid courses of varying levels but I wonder how effective I will be when called upon to use the skills I have been taught!

imageI can recommend the Hamble School of Yachting Courses as an excellent RYA Training Centre. The RYA First Aid course is designed to teach you exactly what to do in these situations. From the minor ailments such as headaches, sunburn and small lesions through to the immediate response to serious medical emergencies. This course covers the situations that a yachtsman is likely to encounter. There is particular emphasis on resuscitation techniques and the “first care” of a man overboard victim. Your instructor will explain the procedures for obtaining outside medical assistance such as “pan pan” and the helicopter rescue service and can advise you on the correct first aid stores for your own boat. Our instructors all have experience of the particular difficulties of administering first aid within the confines of a small boat away from land and you will have the chance to try actions such as CPR and the recovery position both in the classroom and on a yacht.

image image

There are a number of excellent books available in both electronic and print form which I consider to be indispensable aboard any boat more then 30 minutes from primary health care.

I’ve listed them below:

Title Link Description
Ship Captains Medical Guide image The Ship Captain’s Medical Guide is intended primarily for use on ships where no doctor is carried and it is necessary for laymen to assess and treat injuries and to diagnose and treat ill health. The Guide can also be recommended for use in other situations where professional medical advice is not readily available, for example on expeditions.

For the 22nd edition the Guide has been comprehensively reviewed and updated. It contains a wide range of authoritative advice – from birth to death, from first aid, general nursing, hygiene and the prevention of disease, to the treatment of injuries and diseases. The recommended measures for prevention and treatment can be safely carried out by an intelligent layman.

RYA First Aid Manual image Step-by-step photographs show you how to treat casualties and over 100 medical conditions and injuries, from minor burns to heart attacks. Find information on the latest life-saving procedures and resuscitation guidelines as well as basic first aid techniques, like bandaging and applying dressings. Plus, chapters explain what it’s like being a first aider, what to do in an emergency situation and how to look after a casualty. Keep it handy – for home, for work and for leisure
Where There is No Doctor image This is the most widely used health education book in tropical and sub-tropical developing countries. Based on David Werner‘s experiences at his Project Piaxtla in western Mexico, it was originally written in 1970 in Spanish as Donde No Hay Doctor. It has since been revised multiple times, has sold over one million copies and been translated into over 100 languages issued by the Hesperian Foundation 

PDF Download  – costs only $4

Special Operations Forces Medical Handbook 1st Edition 2001 image Contains a great store of information particularly useful when improvisation is necessary.

PDF Download (64Mb) – Free

Wound Closure Manual Wound Closure Manual (PDF) – Free Issued by Johnson & Johnson, it is relatively easy to comprehend.

Many of the First Aid Kits available in the average chandlery or online are pathetic. They include cut down version of dressings or not enough or just miss out on what should be essential – such as your own hypodermic syringe.




We have resorted to building our own – that even meant sourcing a suitable box that could contain the kit – I recommend looking at fishing tackle boxes – much more practical that the ridiculous boxes that made up kits come in.


Details of medical stores to be carried by UK commercial ships are included in the current statutory Merchant Shipping Notice (and it’s accompanying Corrigendum) issued under the Merchant Shipping and Fishing (Medical Stores) Regulations 1995 as amended.

The Merchant Shipping Notice also includes advice on the use, potential side effects and precautions associated with the medical stores and should be read in conjunction with the Guide.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.