Most of the time, boating injuries are minor concerns, like a small cut on the hand or too much sun exposure. But even these seemingly trivial injuries can become big problems if they aren’t cared for appropriately. Here are three essential first aid topics to know about.
Cuts and Punctures
First, stop the bleeding. Small injuries will often stop bleeding quickly on their own, but sometimes it’s necessary to apply external pressure. Your best bet is to apply firm downward pressure with a clean cloth or bandage until the bleeding stops. If the bleeding isn’t easily stopped, or if there is substantial blood loss, continue to hold pressure, and seek urgent medical assistance via VHF and cellphone as well as making plans for shore-based care.
Dilution is the solution! It’s very important to try to irrigate small wounds once the bleeding has been stopped. This helps to clear out bacteria and debris, lowering the risk of infection and allowing for better healing. Don’t use ocean or lake water, as this can introduce new bacteria into the wound. Ideally, run clean, fresh water over the wound for at least 60 seconds to flush it out. Try to rinse out foreign material whenever possible.
Clean the right way. While soap can help clean the area around a wound, it’s not a good idea to start putting soap inside the wound, as this can irritate or damage the tissue and delay healing. For these same reasons, hydrogen peroxide and other abrasive cleaners are not recommended.
Apply a clean bandage to the wound. Optionally, and if available, a thin layer of antibiotic ointment or petroleum jelly can help keep the wound moist and protect it from the environment
For any large wound, deep wound, heavily bleeding wound, wound associated with ongoing neurological issues like numbness, tingling, or loss of ability to perform movements, in addition to any wound that makes you uncomfortable, safe is always better than sorry. Ask for help and head to shore!
Living in Florida, we’re constantly exposed to the sun, and the effects of its rays can be far more dangerous than an uncomfortable burn. In sunny, hot conditions, heat stroke can develop. This is a life-threatening emergency.
Major symptoms of heat stroke include: rapid and shallow breathing, a quick and thready (weak) pulse, nausea and vomiting, hot and dry skin, and most concerning, changes in state of consciousness. If you think you or someone else on the boat may be experiencing heat stroke, you need to take this very seriously. While seeking urgent medical care, get the affected person into the shade, have them remove excess clothing, and cool them with ice packs, wet towels on the head and neck and the application of cool water.
Heat stroke is a life-threatening consequence of dehydration and overheating in the sun, but remember that any excessive sun exposure carries a variety of risks, including increased risk of skin cancer.
To prevent the risk of sun problems, sunscreen is a start, and it’s definitely worth investing in breathable long-sleeved shirts and fishing gaiters in addition to gloves, sunglasses that block 100% of UVA and UVB, and a protective hat. Make sure to stay hydrated with cool liquids but don’t forget that alcohol will actually dehydrate you! Finally, whenever possible, avoid direct sun exposure during the middle of the day.
The First Aid Kit
A first aid kit can be purchased or created from individual components. What’s best for you will be determined by how far from assistance your boating will take you, as well as any medical conditions of the individual boaters. Stow the kit where it won’t get wet, salty, or destroyed by humidity. Ideally, purchase a waterproof kit. I highly recommend checking the kit at least once a year to ensure you’re not working with faulty or expired supplies.
Finally, familiarize yourself with your general plan in case of emergency. How would you contact the Coast Guard? Is your VHF radio working, and do you know how to use it? Will you have cell signal?