Select Page

Reducing the risks of an accident happening at sea is a priority for every skipper of a leisure vessel, as is reducing the chance of any of the crew becoming ill.

The first line of defence against a medical emergency at sea is to avoid it in the first place, which may sound obvious but should be at the forefront of a skipper’s mind. This can be done in a positive, relaxed manner and it is worth reassuring your crew that medical emergencies at sea are a rarity.  At the same time there is a genuine need for the skipper to adopt a responsible attitude which means looking out for early signs of seasickness, making sure everyone moves about the boat safely, is wearing appropriate clothing, using sunscreen, is keeping hydrated and getting adequate rest.

It is important to make your crew aware of the potential hazards that a yacht underway presents, things like correct winch handling, the companionway steps and the boom, and ensure no one works on the engine when it is running.  It is also important to be aware of any of the crew’s medical conditions and to make a note of any medication they have with them before you depart.

first aid at sea shock

Knowledge and skills

At least one person on board should be trained in first aid and know how to administer the contents of the first aid kit, ensuring there are adequate supplies for the planned duration of the trip. All skippers and people who crew regularly are advised to do their basic marine first aid training ashore.

In the UK the one day RYA First Aid At Sea Course provides basic support and a working knowledge of first aid for those sailing within 60 nautical miles from a safe haven.

first aid at sea bleeding

What to do in an emergency

If there is a medical emergency aboard, a swift response plus basic knowledge and first aid skills can help you get a dangerous situation under control and a potential disaster avoided.  As skipper, you will need to decide which of the following courses of action to take:

  1. Does the situation call for immediate evacuation of the casualty?
  2. Should you sail directly to the nearest port?
  3. Should you sail to a port that is more convenient for you?
  4. Should you continue with your original passage plan?

In the absence of professional medical advice on board, it is vital to know how to assess the casualty’s condition and if needs be to administer first aid, to communicate the casualty’s condition accurately to professionals ashore and to understand what can be done to alleviate and control the situation.  With this information, the skipper can then decide on a course of action.

While first aid is being given to the casualty, the safety of the crew and vessel must remain paramount. Ensure the vessel is kept well under control and out of danger. If necessary, slow the vessel down and alter course to prevent the casualty being bumped about.

first aid at sea compressions

Assessing a casualty

Start with a Primary Survey. The Primary Survey is also referred to as the ABC check: A for Airway, B for Breathing and C for Circulation.

Airway – First check that the casualty’s airway is open. If conscious, check for choking or suffocation. If unconscious, lift the chin with two fingers and gently tilt the head back to open the airway.

Breathing – Check the casualty’s breathing. Look, listen and feel for breathing for 10 seconds. If the casualty is not breathing, begin CPR immediately – ie chest compressions and rescue breathing (mouth-to-mouth).

Circulation –  Check for signs of external or internal bleeding. Control severe bleeding with direct or indirect pressure.

Seized fixings and fastenings

Maintaining a boat can be a rewarding experience but at times it can also be frustrating. A prime example of this is when you come across a seized fixing or fastening that refuses to budge. Read our tips on how to release and fix them:

Sail trimming for cruisers

Sail trimming tips for cruisers. Whether racing or cruising, a well tuned boat will sail faster and tend to heel less than a boat with badly adjusted sails.

Keel maintenance and Repair – Part 2

If you have ever witnessed a boat colliding with a rock or other submerged obstacle you will know that there is an almighty thump and the whole boat shakes and judders. While such hard groundings seldom result in catastrophic keel failure, something has to give and even the sturdiest keels can easily be damaged by such an impact.

Rudders and steering systems – Part 2

One thing all rudders have in common is that they have three main parts that need to be checked: the rudder, or a steerable drive leg in the case of many power boats; the system that joins the rudder to the steering; the steering control itself.

Jester Challenge 2022 – Sailing single handed from Plymouth UK to the Azores: Part 8 – Arriving at the Azores

Jester Challenge – A modern experiment in old-fashioned self-reliance, self sufficiency, and personal responsibility. This is the eighth of a 10-part post where solo sailor, Bernie Branfield, shares his first-hand account of his single-handed, 2022 Jester Challenge, from Plymouth, UK to the Azores, in his 26′ Invicta Mk2, Louisa.

Understanding tides

If you are used to sailing in tidal waters, you will know that tides can be both a benefit and a hindrance to the sailor. In many ways,...

Boat electrics inspection checklist

With the boat ashore, here are some recommendations for carrying out a boat owner electrics inspection. Safety is always paramount so remember to do the checks with the batteries off. Wearing a head torch helps, make notes as you go and only tackle a repair if you are 100% sure you know what you are doing:

Jester Challenge 2022 – Sailing single handed from Plymouth UK to the Azores: Part 2 – Weather

Jester Challenge – A modern experiment in old-fashioned self-reliance, self sufficiency, and personal responsibility. This is the second of a 10-part post where solo sailor, Bernie Branfield, shares his first hand account of his single-handed, 2022 Jester Challenge, from Plymouth, UK to the Azores, in his 26′ Invicta Mk2, Louisa.

Seasickness – how can you prevent it?

Seasickness is a common problem at sea and affects both seasoned sailors and novices. What are the causes and symptoms of seasickness?...

Boat Engine Failure – what to check

Engine failure If your engine fails or is overheating there are a number of things to check immediately: • Air filter...

Sailboat rig checks – Part 1

Sailing boat rigs need to be checked regularly to reduce the risk of rig failure at sea. In part one of Sail boat rig checks we run through a series of useful checks that owners and skippers can carry out.

Engine failure at sea – common causes and how to avoid them

Many engine failures are caused by lack of maintenance, resulting in fuel filter blockages, water pump failures, overheating and other breakdowns. Indeed, one of the most common reasons for marine rescue service call outs is for one of the most basic reasons possible – boats that have run out of fuel.

Gybing a sailing boat

Gybing is the sailing manoeuvre used to change a boat's direction through a following wind. As with the tacking manoeuvre,...

Marine diesel exhaust checks

You should inspect the exhaust system for corrosion damage regularly, especially around the injection bend. If you have noticed the engine exhaust smoking a lot during the sailing season this can also indicate a number of potential problems.

Fractures, sprains and dislocations at sea

Moving about a boat at sea often results in a few knocks and bruises, but if a crew member has a fall or major bump and is in serious pain, they should be examined and treated accordingly.

Fire prevention on boats

  Fire prevention on boats - common causes of fire: • Smoking below decks • Galley cookers • Build-up of butane or...

Points of Sailing

The course on which a boat is sailing can be described by its angle to the wind, not to be confused with its compass...

Boating Rules of the Road – International ColRegs

    International ColRegs Rule 7: Risk of Collision Anyone who is responsible for a vessel at sea, from the...

Galvanic and electrolytic corrosion

Galvanic corrosion is an electrochemical reaction between two or more different metals, in the presence of an electrolyte (note salt water is a good electrolyte).

Getting a tow for your sail or power boat at sea or on inland waterways

FREE tips from the Safe Skipper App for iPhone/iPad/Android: Getting a tow for your sail or power boat Plan how to secure a...

Sterndrive maintenance

Sterndrives are a popular form of propulsion in the powerboat market, but require a fair amount of care and maintenance. The main factors to be aware of are salt water corrosion, lubrication and regular inspection of the bellows, the condition of which is vital to prevent water from entering into the hull.

Boat batteries

Under-sized battery banks are one of the key factors behind power failure at sea, as well as the premature failure of batteries, so make sure that your boat battery measures up to the use you want to put it to.

Sailing to windward – how to take advantage of wind shifts

For most sailors, sailing upwind is the most exhilarating point of sail as you tack your way to your destination. Sailing to windward is a bit like zig-zagging your way up a mountain road through a series of hairpin bends – great fun but also calling for concentration and hard work.

Liferafts

Liferafts should be stowed where they are ready for immediate launching. All crew should know the location of the liferaft and know how to launch, inflate and board it. They should also know what equipment it contains.

Preparing for sailboat cruising

Preparing for a sailing trip entails a lot of planning. In this blog, we take a look at some of the many safety aspects that a skipper needs to consider before heading off on a cruise.