How We Overcame a Medical Emergency While Sailing
How We Overcame a Medical Emergency While Sailing

Discover how to handle medical emergencies at sea with valuable insights and advice from a family who overcame a life-threatening situation while sailing.

How We Overcame a Medical Emergency While Sailing

Sailing the open seas with your family is an incredible experience, filled with adventure, freedom, and quality time spent together. However, as with any journey, there are challenges to be faced and obstacles to be overcome. One such challenge that many sailors may encounter is dealing with a medical emergency while at sea.

In this article, we will share our personal story of how we overcame a medical emergency while sailing, and provide valuable insights and advice for others who may find themselves in a similar situation. We hope that our experience can help you feel more prepared and confident in your ability to handle any medical emergencies that may arise during your sailing adventures.

The Incident: A Sudden Medical Emergency

Our family had been sailing for several months, exploring the beautiful islands and coastlines of the Caribbean. We were anchored in a secluded bay, enjoying the warm sun and crystal-clear waters, when our youngest daughter, Emily, suddenly began to complain of severe abdominal pain.

At first, we thought it might be a simple case of indigestion or a stomach bug, but as the pain worsened and Emily became increasingly pale and weak, we knew that something more serious was happening. With no medical professionals nearby and limited resources on board, we were faced with the daunting task of managing a potentially life-threatening situation at sea.

Assessing the Situation and Taking Action

When faced with a medical emergency, it’s crucial to remain calm and focused, and to quickly assess the situation. Here’s how we approached the situation:

1. Gather Information

We began by asking Emily a series of questions to better understand her symptoms and gather as much information as possible. We asked about the location and intensity of the pain, any accompanying symptoms (such as nausea, vomiting, or fever), and any recent changes in her diet or activities.

2. Consult Medical Resources

We consulted our onboard medical guide, which provided valuable information on various medical conditions and their symptoms. Based on Emily’s symptoms and the information in the guide, we suspected that she might be suffering from appendicitis, a potentially life-threatening condition that requires immediate medical attention.

3. Contact Medical Professionals

We used our satellite phone to contact a telemedicine service, which connected us with a doctor who specialized in emergency medicine. After describing Emily’s symptoms and our concerns, the doctor agreed that appendicitis was a likely possibility and advised us to seek immediate medical attention.

4. Make a Plan

With the doctor’s advice in mind, we quickly developed a plan to get Emily the medical help she needed. We contacted the nearest coast guard station, explained the situation, and requested assistance in reaching the nearest hospital. They dispatched a rescue boat to our location, which arrived within a few hours to transport Emily and one of us to the hospital.

Dealing with a medical emergency is challenging enough, but when you’re in a foreign country, it can be even more daunting. Here are some tips for navigating the medical system in a foreign country:

1. Research Local Healthcare Facilities

Before setting sail, it’s a good idea to research the healthcare facilities in the areas you plan to visit. Make a list of hospitals, clinics, and emergency services, along with their contact information, and keep it readily accessible on your boat.

2. Carry Medical Insurance

Ensure that your family has adequate medical insurance coverage that includes international travel. This can help cover the costs of medical treatment and transportation in the event of an emergency.

3. Learn Basic Medical Terminology

Familiarize yourself with basic medical terminology in the local language of the countries you’ll be visiting. This can help you communicate more effectively with healthcare providers and better understand any instructions or information they provide.

4. Be Prepared for Cultural Differences

Be aware that medical practices and standards may differ from what you’re accustomed to in your home country. Be patient, open-minded, and respectful of these differences, and don’t be afraid to ask questions or seek clarification if you’re unsure about something.

Lessons Learned and Tips for Other Sailors

Our experience with Emily’s medical emergency taught us several valuable lessons and reinforced the importance of being prepared for any situation while sailing. Here are some tips for other sailors to help you be better prepared for medical emergencies at sea:

1. Carry a Comprehensive Medical Kit

Ensure that your boat is equipped with a comprehensive medical kit that includes a variety of medications, bandages, and medical supplies. Regularly check the expiration dates of medications and replace them as needed.

2. Invest in a Satellite Phone

A satellite phone can be a lifesaver in an emergency, allowing you to contact medical professionals, emergency services, or other sailors for assistance. Make sure you know how to use your satellite phone and keep it charged and readily accessible.

3. Take a First Aid Course

Before setting sail, consider taking a first aid course that covers basic medical procedures and emergency care. This knowledge can be invaluable in an emergency situation and can help you feel more confident in your ability to handle medical issues at sea.

4. Develop an Emergency Plan

Create an emergency plan that outlines the steps you’ll take in various emergency situations, including medical emergencies. Review this plan regularly with your family and make any necessary updates or adjustments.


While we hope that you never have to face a medical emergency while sailing, being prepared and knowing how to handle such situations can make all the difference. By sharing our experience and the lessons we learned, we hope to help other sailors feel more confident and prepared for any medical challenges they may encounter during their adventures.

Remember, the key to overcoming any challenge at sea is to stay calm, focused, and resourceful. With the right knowledge, tools, and mindset, you can navigate any obstacle and continue to enjoy the incredible freedom and fulfillment that comes from sailing with your family.