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Boating First Aid Primer


This article looks at the three most common types of injury that occur on sailboats. It also covers the most common injuries on other types of boats. Injury statistics are from the US Coast Guard. It then looks at treating each injury and what you will need on board your boat to do so.

On sailboats and boats in general, lacerations are the most frequent injury. Lacerations should be treated with clean gauze for pressure, roller bandages or elastic bandages in the next stage and then a wound closure device. You should also have rubber gloves to provide a barrier between aid giver and victim’s blood.

Second on the sailboat injury list is head injuries. Sailboats do have booms which during an uncontrolled gybe can damage the head. Head wounds can be to the scalp, skull or brain. If a person suffers a head wound is not conscious they should be evacuated immediately. Sterile gauze type dressing should be used to control bleeding. You may clean the wound if it is to the scalp, but not if to the skull. Improper cleaning of a skull injury can lead to a brain infection.

Third is hypothermia. Hypothermia can occur if a person spends time sailing in wet or cold weather. Heat can be lost via conduction between a hot body and a wet deck. Convective heat loss can occur via wind chill. The third way to lose heat is via radiation. For instance, not wearing a hat can cause heat loss to radiate out of the head area. Evaporative heat loss occurs when perspiration occurs.

The other type of hypothermia is immersive, ie falling in the water. Both types are preventable. Heat loss hypothermia via dressing properly. For instance wear a hat, use clothing that is breathable to cut down on perspiration and wear wind proof clothes so the wind doesn’t cut down your heat. Avoid immersive hypothermia via good seamanship, such as one hand for the ship, one for the sea. Consider wearing a safety harness and a PFD.

Should hypothermia occur, some simple steps can lead to rewarming. Replace wet clothes with dry. Give the person a hat to wear. Get them out of the wind. Then provide them with insulation such as a sleeping bag, give them hydration and slowly warm them. Applying too much heat too fast can lead to shock or burns.

Second on the power boat injury list is broken bones. They say speed kills and in this case speed breaks bones. If there’s any reason to believe a bone is broken it should be splinted. When splinting immobilize the area above and below the suspected break. You’ll need items such as blankets, triangle bandages etc. to make a splint. You may want to consider carrying a SAM splint onboard. This is ready made versatile splint.

Third on the power boat list is contusions, essentially a bruise. Here is a case that can be treated with RICE, aka rest, ice and elevation. When icing use a schedule of 20-40 minutes every 2/4 hours for 48 hours. Elevate the contusion above the level of the heart.

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This entry was posted on Monday, November 24th, 2003 at 6:24 pm and is filed under Rowing Reporter. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

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