By Francis Diebler
Life aboard is not always smooth sailing. Sometimes unexpected things happen and you should be prepared to handle most, if not all, accidents. Yes, I know, the old cliché “we are only going in the bay, or the sound, or out to the first marker.” I don’t know the accurate statistics of injuries afloat and where they happen, but if you are planning to cruise in the true sense of the word, accidents will happen in the most remote or distant places you can be at the time. That may not be any famous rule, but it is my rule. At least that is how I think about accidents and how to be prepared.
When we were cruising in Maine and New England, I did feel somewhat the same. We had a radio. We had an SSB, We did not have a cell phone in those days. Nowadays you should have at least one cell phone aboard. Much of the time, most us travel within sight of land or at least a quick ride back into harbor where help can easily be found. When you are cruising in uninhabited areas or in the Gulf or ocean, you may or may not have a cell phone connection. There are major incidents where time matters. So what should you do?
First of all, if you are just going out for a day sail or overnighters, you should carry all the necessary meds that you need to take daily. You should include aspirin, Pepto Bismol, assorted bandages and larger pads for bigger cuts, peroxide and some form of antibiotic. Also, include an assortment of ointments for bug bites, skin burns, excessive sunburn, and sunscreen. You will need some kinds of pain killers. Aspirin, as well as an RX dose for severe pain you may get if hit by the boom from an unexpected jibe, twisted ankle or from some sort of food poisoning or from an allergy to eating raw fish of a sort. Among our regular medicines we included splints and a suturing set up of needles and suture threads. You can make a sling out of a pillow case or even a large towel.
To prevent food poisoning, make sure that your perishables are well iced or refrigerated.
Another situation you should be prepared for is mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Anyone preparing for a long open-ended trip should spend time researching ‘First Aid’ for boaters. Look for courses being offered in your area. Also, CPR is frequently being advertised as classes for the public, not just boaters. Some more in-depth classes are offered by the SSCA which is South Seas Cruising Association. Check with your local Coast Guard or boating group to see if there is any information about your local area. Also go online and see what courses are listed which are convenient for you. The Red Cross offers an excellent course in First Aid which all boaters should take. If you are planning any open water trip which takes you miles from help you must be prepared. After all, you or a crew member, are automatically the “first responders.”
If you can, and the situation is not a life or death emergency, you should call ahead to alert authorities in that particular harbor so they can meet your vessel. Give them your estimated time of arrival. Try calling the Coast Guard with a “PAN, PAN” or “May Day” on Ch.16 if it is a life threatening event. Have your coordinates ready to give to the Coast Guard or whomever you reached so that they know exactly where you are. Follow their advice if you are asked to anchor. No one is truly ever prepared for an unexpected emergency afloat. However, “Do Not Panic”. If it appears to be a heart attack, or severe head wound, food poisoning or other bloody or gory problem, quietly try to get as much information from the victim you can. If you are within range for them to hear you, give coordinates right away in case you lose your connection. If you are a guest, look at the instruments and give the responder your latitude and longitude and let them figure out just where you are. Do not panic!
Your first task should be to help and try to determine just what the situation is. Next get on the radio and put out a call for any nearby vessel, give your boat’s name, coordinates, approximate position and explain the situation. Write down your last known position so that if you are drifting, you can relay this information to a rescue vessel. This way they can tell which way you are headed and how fast you are going. If the sails are up, loosen the lines and drop the sails even if they fall onto the deck. Try, if you can, to tie something around them to keep them from billowing up. Make sure there are no lines in the water. Start the engine to try to keep the boat in position by riding in circles until rescued. If a passenger is injured, whose medical status is not known to the boaters, he should be made as comfortable as possible until medical personnel respond.
Modern technology has developed a device that we should all consider carrying aboard our vessel. It is an AED or Automated External Defibrillator. This is used in “Sudden Cardiac Arrest” situations. It is easy to operate and is found on airplanes and in most public facilities. It would be an excellent addition to your boat if the event requires immediate attention and you are miles from land. In any event, keep cool, do not panic, keep the patient quiet, and good luck.
Frances is a Commodore of the Seven Seas Cruising Association and a member of Sailing Association of Marco Island and AP United States Power Squadron.