Dealing with Medical Emergencies on a Sailing Trip
Dealing with Medical Emergencies on a Sailing Trip

Being prepared for medical emergencies while sailing with your family is crucial. Our guide provides practical advice and tips to help you handle these situations with confidence.

Dealing with Medical Emergencies on a Sailing Trip

Embarking on a sailing adventure with your family is an exciting and fulfilling experience. However, it’s essential to be prepared for any medical emergencies that may arise while you’re out at sea. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll cover the basics of first aid and medical emergencies, as well as provide practical advice and tips to help you handle these situations with confidence.

Table of Contents

Understanding the Risks

Before we dive into the specifics of dealing with medical emergencies, it’s important to understand the risks associated with sailing. Some of the most common hazards include:

  • Drowning: Falling overboard is a real risk, especially in rough seas or during storms. Always wear a life jacket and use a safety harness when necessary.
  • Injuries: Slips, trips, and falls can lead to cuts, bruises, sprains, and fractures. Keep the deck clear of obstacles and maintain a clean, organized living space.
  • Sunburn and dehydration: Prolonged exposure to the sun can cause sunburn, heat exhaustion, and dehydration. Wear protective clothing, apply sunscreen, and drink plenty of water.
  • Sea sickness: Motion sickness can lead to nausea, vomiting, and dizziness. Take preventative measures such as medication or acupressure wristbands.
  • Infections: Cuts and scrapes can become infected if not properly treated. Keep wounds clean and dry, and apply antibiotic ointment as needed.

Preparing a First Aid Kit

A well-stocked first aid kit is essential for any sailing trip. Here are some items to include in your kit:

  • Adhesive bandages (various sizes)
  • Sterile gauze pads and rolls
  • Adhesive tape
  • Antiseptic wipes and solution
  • Tweezers and scissors
  • Safety pins
  • Disposable gloves
  • Digital thermometer
  • Pain relievers (e.g., ibuprofen, acetaminophen)
  • Anti-inflammatory medication
  • Antihistamines for allergies
  • Hydrocortisone cream for rashes and insect bites
  • Antibiotic ointment
  • Rehydration salts for dehydration
  • Motion sickness medication
  • Aloe vera gel for sunburn
  • Emergency blanket
  • First aid manual

Remember to check the expiration dates on medications and replace them as needed. It’s also a good idea to customize your first aid kit based on your family’s specific needs, such as including prescription medications or additional supplies for chronic conditions.

Basic First Aid Skills

Knowing basic first aid skills can make a significant difference in an emergency situation. Here are some essential skills to learn before setting sail:

  • CPR: Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) is a life-saving technique used when someone’s heart stops beating. Take a CPR course to learn the proper technique and practice regularly to maintain your skills.
  • Heimlich maneuver: This technique is used to help someone who is choking. Learn how to perform the Heimlich maneuver on adults, children, and infants.
  • Wound care: Know how to clean and dress minor cuts, scrapes, and burns. This includes stopping bleeding, applying antiseptic, and bandaging the wound.
  • Splinting: Learn how to immobilize a broken bone or dislocated joint using a splint and bandages.
  • Recognizing signs of heat exhaustion and heatstroke: Be able to identify the symptoms of heat-related illnesses and know how to treat them, such as moving the person to a cooler area, applying cool compresses, and encouraging them to drink fluids.

Common Medical Emergencies

While it’s impossible to predict every medical emergency that may occur on a sailing trip, here are some common situations and how to handle them:

Cuts and Scrapes

  1. Clean the wound with soap and water or an antiseptic wipe.
  2. Apply antibiotic ointment to prevent infection.
  3. Cover the wound with a sterile bandage or gauze pad.
  4. Change the dressing daily or if it becomes wet or dirty.
  5. Watch for signs of infection, such as redness, swelling, or pus.

Sprains and Strains

  1. Rest the injured area and avoid putting weight on it.
  2. Apply ice to reduce swelling and numb pain. Use a cold pack or a bag of ice wrapped in a towel. Apply for 20 minutes at a time, several times a day.
  3. Compress the injury with an elastic bandage to minimize swelling. Be careful not to wrap it too tight, as this can cut off circulation.
  4. Elevate the injured area above the level of the heart to reduce swelling.
  5. Take over-the-counter pain relievers and anti-inflammatory medications as needed.


  1. Remove the person from the heat source and cool the burn by running it under cold water for at least 10 minutes. Alternatively, apply a cold, wet compress.
  2. Do not apply ice, as this can cause further damage to the skin.
  3. Gently clean the burn with soap and water, being careful not to break any blisters.
  4. Apply aloe vera gel or a burn ointment to soothe the skin.
  5. Cover the burn with a sterile, non-stick bandage or gauze pad.
  6. Seek medical attention for severe burns or if signs of infection develop.


  1. Encourage the person to cough if they can still breathe.
  2. If the person cannot breathe, perform the Heimlich maneuver. Stand behind the person, wrap your arms around their waist, and place a fist just above their navel. Grasp your fist with your other hand and perform quick, upward thrusts to dislodge the obstruction.
  3. If the person loses consciousness, begin CPR and call for emergency assistance.

Seeking Professional Help

In some cases, you may need to seek professional medical help for a medical emergency. This can be challenging when you’re out at sea, but there are resources available to assist you:

  • Marine radio: Use your VHF marine radio to call for help. Channel 16 is the international distress frequency, and you can use it to contact the Coast Guard or other nearby vessels.
  • Satellite phone: If you have a satellite phone on board, you can use it to call for emergency assistance from anywhere in the world.
  • Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB): This device sends a distress signal to search and rescue services, providing your location and identification information. Ensure your EPIRB is registered and properly maintained.

Preventing Medical Emergencies

While it’s essential to know how to handle medical emergencies, prevention is always the best approach. Here are some tips to help you minimize the risk of medical emergencies on your sailing trip:

  • Take a first aid course and regularly refresh your skills.
  • Keep your first aid kit well-stocked and up-to-date.
  • Maintain a clean and organized living space to reduce the risk of accidents.
  • Wear appropriate safety gear, such as life jackets and harnesses.
  • Stay hydrated and protect yourself from the sun.
  • Take precautions to prevent seasickness.
  • Be aware of your surroundings and practice good situational awareness.


Dealing with medical emergencies on a sailing trip can be challenging, but with proper preparation and knowledge, you can handle these situations with confidence. By understanding the risks, stocking a comprehensive first aid kit, learning essential first aid skills, and practicing prevention, you’ll be well-equipped to keep your family safe and healthy on your sailing adventures.