How do you handle a medical situation while you are sailing offshore? It’s a difficult question as most of us are not professionally trained for this but it does happen so we need to think about what we would do. Similar to deciding what other safety equipment you have onboard, you need to consider what medical equipment you need and how you will be trained to use it.
I’ve done some big passages in the past year; back and forth across the Atlantic and the length of the European Atlantic coastline. Knowing I would be offshore in some cases for weeks, I spent some time thinking about a solution. After all, it's not just about me getting hurt but the other crew members as well.
As best you try, when you get crew you hope at least one of them has some basic first aid training. As it turned out, I was the most qualified crew member on all our passages despite the fact that I was the least experienced at sailing (Boy Scouts and American Red Cross training years back).
As long as I was not the one who needed medical attention we might be alright with just a good first aid kit onboard however what if I was the one who was injured? Hmmm.
So I did some research and found Medical Support Offshore - MSOS. They have been in business since 1993 and have put professional medical kits together for boats on charter as well as for international races like the Vendée Globe, Volvo Ocean Race, etc.
They seemed like the guys to contact so I started a discussion with them about my sailing plans, my skill level as well as the skills of the other guys I'd have with me as crew and they suggested to put two kits together for me. The smaller kit was the first response kit and was kept in a location that was easy to grab for the everyday small emergencies (cuts, bruises, sunburn, headaches, etc.). The second kit was for really serious emergencies.
The contents of the second kit would allow someone to take care of just about anything else that happened onboard including broken bones, serious cuts and bleeding, internal issues, etc. It contained some prescription drugs as well as over-the-counter drugs for all sorts of conditions as well as sutures, splints, etc. This kit was the one I knew the least about but… the guys at MSOS had a good plan for this. I contracted with them to be on-call 24/7/365 to have them help me (or another crew member) call them for help.
They would ask questions and offer advice on how to handle the situation. As it turned out, this was very worthwhile for me as, over the course of a year, I had to call and email them a number of times for helping me handle medical issues. On every occasion they were available to help, provided great assistance and follow-up on the problem.
They also offer training in the UK and, if you have the time, it's well worth going over to learn from them. I'm hoping to get some time to do this in the near future as my 'skills' are a little old now and need to be updated.
Medical kits are something you hope you never need but, when you do, you better have the best
If you are doing any kind of extended offshore passage-making, you need to get a kit from these guys. Good safety equipment (like life rafts, epirbs, etc) and medical kits are something you hope you never need but, when you do, you better have the best.
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