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Medical Emergencies At Sea By MSOS

Many things may go wrong at sea, including medical problems with one’s own body. The risk of this happening inconveniently increases both when conditions are at their worst, and also when the crewman has ‘medical baggage’ such as heart disease, diabetes, epilepsy etc.

Increased risk from all sources of hazard may lead to increased injury or illness, which is unwelcome on a voyage. Injury or illness causes transformation of the crewman from asset to liability, requiring medical care and possible evacuation.

Avoiding hazards and minimising risk by using control measures increases the likelihood of a successful voyage, and most importantly, keeps everyone healthy and happy.

Risk assessment” means looking at all aspects of the expedition with a critical eye and identifying those hazards that may result in injury or illness if things go wrong. Once the high-risk tasks or activities are identified, “control measures” can be used to reduce the risk of injury.

It may be possible (knowing and recognising the hazards present) to calculate an ‘accurate’ risk of accident, but risk is not black and white; it does not give a definite answer as to whether an accident will occur or not. Only hindsight does that.

Hazards do not exist in isolation from each other. The more hazards present at any one time, the greater the risk of accident. If all conditions line up and converge at one point in time, an accident will happen. This is the ‘Swiss cheese’ model of accident causation, or, to put it more formally, the ‘cumulative act effect’. As an example, if crew members are tired, don’t know how to sail the boat properly (such as how to reef and when to do so), the weather is worsening and it’s getting dark, the risk of accident is increasing. The situation must be recognised, and ‘control measures’ instigated. In this instance, the STOP strategy should be employed, so ‘Stop, Think, Observe, Plan’.

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Golden rules of accident prevention

  • Establish a culture of safety, and reasonable sensible control measures within the crew;
  • Always operate within your limits, particularly when responsible for others;
  • Know how to use, and regularly maintain your equipment;
  • Consume adequate food and fluids;
  • Get some sleep whenever you can;
  • Avoid alcohol and drugs at sea, particularly when alone;
  • Obtain knowledge and experience of where you are going;
  • Keep fit;
  • Communicate



 By: Dr S Briggs – MSOS 

Contact Amanda: (+34) 674 707 796