Sailing and Snakebite: How to Identify and Treat Venomous Bites
Sailing and Snakebite: How to Identify and Treat Venomous Bites

Being prepared for a medical emergency while sailing is crucial. Learn how to identify and treat venomous snakebites with this comprehensive guide.

Sailing and Snakebite: How to Identify and Treat Venomous Bites

As you embark on your sailing adventure with your family, exploring the world and leaving the rat race behind, it’s essential to be prepared for any situation that may arise. One such situation that you may encounter, especially when exploring remote islands and coastal regions, is the risk of snakebites. In this comprehensive guide, we will discuss how to identify venomous snakebites, the appropriate first aid measures, and the steps to take in case of a medical emergency.

Table of Contents

Introduction to Venomous Snakes

There are approximately 3,000 species of snakes in the world, and around 600 of them are venomous. While not all venomous snakes pose a significant threat to humans, some can deliver a potentially fatal bite. The severity of a snakebite depends on various factors, including the species of snake, the amount of venom injected, and the location of the bite.

Some of the most venomous snakes that you may encounter during your sailing adventures include:

  • Sea snakes: Found in the warm waters of the Indian and Pacific Oceans, sea snakes are highly venomous and can be dangerous to humans. However, they are generally not aggressive and will only bite if provoked or threatened.
  • Vipers: This family of venomous snakes includes species such as the rattlesnake, cottonmouth, and copperhead. Vipers are found in various regions worldwide, including North and South America, Europe, Asia, and Africa.
  • Cobras: These venomous snakes are native to Africa and Asia and are known for their distinctive hood and potent venom. Some species, such as the king cobra, can deliver enough venom in a single bite to kill an adult human.
  • Mambas: The black mamba, native to Africa, is one of the most venomous and feared snakes in the world. Its bite can be fatal if not treated promptly.

Identifying a Venomous Snakebite

It’s crucial to know how to identify a venomous snakebite to take appropriate action and seek medical help if necessary. Here are some signs and symptoms to look for:

  1. Bite marks: Venomous snakebites typically leave two puncture wounds from the snake’s fangs. However, this is not always the case, as some venomous snakes have smaller fangs that may not leave visible puncture marks.

  2. Pain and swelling: A venomous snakebite will often cause immediate pain and swelling at the bite site. The pain may be severe and can spread to other parts of the body.

  3. Discoloration: The skin around the bite site may become discolored, turning red, blue, or black due to tissue damage caused by the venom.

  4. Nausea and vomiting: Victims of venomous snakebites may experience nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea as the venom affects their body.

  5. Difficulty breathing: Some venomous snakebites can cause difficulty breathing, chest pain, and a rapid or weak pulse.

  6. Neurological symptoms: Venomous snakebites can cause various neurological symptoms, including blurred vision, dizziness, headache, and even seizures or paralysis in severe cases.

  7. Bleeding: Some venomous snakebites can cause bleeding from the bite site or other areas, such as the gums or nose.

First Aid for Snakebites

If you or a family member is bitten by a snake, it’s essential to remain calm and take the following first aid steps:

  1. Keep the victim still: Encourage the person who has been bitten to remain as still as possible. This helps to slow the spread of venom through the body.

  2. Immobilize the affected limb: If the bite is on an arm or leg, immobilize the limb using a splint or a sling. Keep the limb at or slightly below heart level to reduce the spread of venom.

  3. Remove tight clothing and jewelry: Remove any tight clothing or jewelry near the bite site, as swelling may occur.

  4. Clean the wound: Gently clean the bite site with soap and water, but do not flush the wound with water.

  5. Do not apply ice or a tourniquet: Contrary to popular belief, applying ice or a tourniquet to a snakebite can cause more harm than good. These methods can restrict blood flow and potentially worsen the effects of the venom.

  6. Do not attempt to suck out the venom: This can introduce bacteria into the wound and increase the risk of infection.

  7. Do not try to capture the snake: While it may be helpful to identify the snake species for treatment purposes, attempting to capture the snake can put you at risk for another bite. Instead, try to remember the snake’s appearance or take a photo from a safe distance.

When to Seek Medical Help

It’s crucial to seek medical help as soon as possible after a venomous snakebite. Even if the bite does not initially seem severe, symptoms can worsen rapidly, and delayed treatment can result in severe complications or even death.

If you are in a remote location or at sea, contact the nearest medical facility or coast guard for advice on how to proceed. They may be able to provide guidance on administering antivenom or other treatments until you can reach a medical facility.

Preventing Snakebites

While it’s essential to know how to identify and treat venomous snakebites, prevention is always the best strategy. Here are some tips to help you avoid snakebites during your sailing adventures:

  1. Be cautious in snake habitats: When exploring coastal regions or islands, be aware of your surroundings and watch for snakes, especially in areas with tall grass, rocks, or underbrush.

  2. Wear protective clothing: When exploring areas where snakes may be present, wear long pants, closed-toe shoes, and thick socks to protect your legs and feet from bites.

  3. Use a flashlight at night: Snakes are more active at night, so use a flashlight to illuminate your path and avoid accidentally stepping on a snake.

  4. Avoid provoking snakes: If you encounter a snake, give it plenty of space and do not attempt to handle or provoke it. Most snakes will not bite unless they feel threatened.


As you embark on your sailing journey with your family, it’s essential to be prepared for any situation, including the risk of snakebites. By knowing how to identify venomous snakebites, administering appropriate first aid, and taking steps to prevent bites, you can help ensure the safety and well-being of your family as you explore the world together.