First Aid Onboard

Maritime First Aid

Boating is exciting and challenging without the added drama of a medical

It’s important to know what to do in the event of a medical emergency aboard.

There are plenty of things to remember to take aboard when getting out on the water and the thought of an onboard injury just isn’t as compelling as remembering the sunscreen and sandwiches. But, sooner or later, somebody will slip and twist and ankle, get a fish hook stuck in the thumb, or be stung by a bee or jellyfish. And, if you’re going on a longer voyage what do you do in the event of near-drowning,unconsciousness? How do you deal with a medical episode, hypothermia, cuts, fractures, bruising and muscle strain, including more common problems such as, sunburn and sea sicknesses?

That’s the time when you’ll be glad you took the time to learn skills to respond to medical emergencies aboard.

Whether sailing or motoring near the coast, cruising offshore or competing in a race ensure you have the right first aid equipment aboard.

Injuries and medical emergencies can arise at any time, especially when spray is peppering the decks and your vessel’s motion is erratic and nauseating. Coping with emergencies and treating accidents when you are boating requires a cool head and clear mind. First aid training can help to overcome anxiety that comes with having to deal with problems without immediate expert help on hand. In addition a carefully packed first aid kit should be the first item you stow along with safety equipment and provisions.

Steps to take in the event of an on board emergency

  • Skipper should take control immediately, creating a calm atmosphere.
  • Choose a capable passenger or crew member to take the helm.
  • Where possible move the patient to an area where first aid can be administered effectively and without danger to other crew or passengers.
  • Observe and note conscious state – Conscious fully awake, semi conscious – drowsy, unconscious – asleep. Remember, your main goal is not make the situation worse.
  • Check that the patient’s airway is clear, removing any blood, vomit, loose dentures or broken teeth.
  • Loosen the patient’s upper clothing so breathing and chest movements  maybe observed. Feel for and listen for breath from the nostrils.
  • Observe the color of skin, lips and fingers, temperature of the skin (do they feel hot or cold to touch)
  • Check for any bleeding, keeping any eye out for any signs of the injured person going into shock such as clammy skin, labored breathing or profuse sweating.
  • Ensure the patient protected from the elements. If it is cold then cover them up or if it is hot protect them from the sun.
  • If it is necessary delegate a crew member or passenger to radio or phone for medical assistance. Note and log the initial medical assessment.

Call 000 or VHF Channel 16 for assistance

Heading back to shore
If someone is injured or gets sick while you’re out on the water — even if it’s not a life-threatening situation, it’s probably a good idea to call it a day. Whether it’s seasickness, dehydration or a bad reaction to a sting it may get worse. Head back to the boat ramp immediately. Keep your patient low in the boat and travel at a comfortable speed to keep the journey as smooth as possible.

Lifetime skills
Completing first aid training tailored specifically for the maritime environment is a great way to gain the knowledge and skills necessary to manage illness and injuries on board. It’s also a valuable skill to carry through life.

Maritime First Aid Courses
Aimed at anyone who enjoys boating, works in the maritime industry and is passionate about saving lives at sea. This training is a must for recreational boaters (power and sail), commercial or racing crew and offshore sailors. Skills learned will equip you with the practical ability to respond to medical emergencies aboard. A range of maritime first aid courses are now being offered by the College in partnership with International SOS company MedAire. Visit the National Maritime College website for more information.


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The National Maritime College (NMC) is a Registered Training Organisation providing competency-based boat training and education. The College offers boat licence and jet ski (PWC) licence courses and tests designed to improve boating skills and awareness. You can expect friendly and professional training from from us. It is the "personal touch" and dedication to improving safety on the water whilst instilling - confidence, knowledge and good boat handling skills that sets us apart.

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