Improvised First Aid Afloat

Posted by at 08:10AM - Comments: (5)

David Liscio
David Liscio

The guiding rule to survival is to use what's available and improvise. If you need to stabilize the patient's neck, a baseball cap can serve as a cervical collar.

If you reach for the onboard first-aid kit and find out there isnít one, donít panic during an emergency. Some out-of-the-box thinking will help put the needed medical tools in your hands.

The guiding rule to survival is to use whatís available and improvise.

  • Battens make ideal arm and leg splints.
  • A rolled magazine can become both a splint and temporary cast, particularly when fastened snuggly with duct tape.
  • Popsicle sticks make good finger splints.
  • A towel cut into a triangular shape is a sling.
  • Rolled towels can substitute for the foam blocks used to secure a patientís head to a long spine board before transfer to a stretcher and ambulance.
  • A belt is a tourniquet, as is a cloth sail tie or piece of webbing, both far better than twine or thin-diameter line that might cut into the skin when tightened. Be careful not to stop blood circulation completely or for longer than necessary.
  • An eye injury can be covered and protected with a paper cup. Duct tape can be used to keep the cup in place.
  • A baseball cap, the top material collapsed against the inside of the front insignia panel, can serve as a rudimentary cervical collar when tucked upside down beneath the chin. It can be fastened with duct tape or tied with a piece of fabric.
  • A sail, especially a clean one, provides a warm and comfortable wrap for patients suffering from hypothermia.
  • Aluminum foil works wonders when trying to keep a patient warm. It also can be used as a bandage cover.
  • Clear plastic wrap can cover a sucking chest wound. Tape it on three sides.
  • A clear plastic bag can shroud an injured hand or foot.
  • Fresh water sterilized by boiling can be used to flush wounds.
  • A turkey baster makes a wonderful syringe for irrigating a laceration.
  • Bunk sheets can be folded into compress bandages.
  • Napkins can be cut into small wound dressings similar to gauze pads.
  • A plastic credit card can be used to brush off a beeís stinger or nettles.
  • For sailors with emergency medical experience, a cockpit winch and a length of webbing can be carefully implemented as a mechanical traction device for femur fractures.
  • Sanitary napkins like Kotex make for absorbent wound dressings, while tampons can be used on nosebleeds or injuries with minor blood flow.
  • Tea bags will sop up blood in a mouth injury.
  • Fresh oranges can provide vitamin C. No glucose on board? Orange juice and sugar packets can assist in case of a diabetic reaction.
  • And last, but not least, rum can be both painkiller and anesthetic.

ó David Liscio, a Practical Sailor contributor, is a Massachusetts Emergency Medical Responder and certified Emergency Medical Technician. He is the author of two novels, Deadly Fare and Blood Sons, available on Amazon.†

Comments (5)

Medical theory and guidance has changed on tourniquets. You tighten the tourniquet until ALL bleeding stops. And usage for true arterial bleeding is widely accepted for situations of less than 2 hours. Add a tourniquet to the first aid kit - it is less likely to accidentally loosen or inflict additional tissue damage. May 2010 issue for details

Posted by: Tankersteve | July 19, 2018 2:50 PM    Report this comment

Medical guidance has changed based on lessons learned from Iraq and Afghanistan. Tourniquets are found to be very effective and useful for controlling arterial bleeding, especially when use is less than 2 hours (reasonable for evacuation for coastal sailing). When utilized, they are tightened to stop all bleeding, contrary to the article. Finally, add a commercial tourniquet to the first aid kit. They are much less likely to damage tissue or loosen.

For reference, check article from May 2010. I can't provide a link, as it gets identified as spam.

Posted by: Tankersteve | July 19, 2018 2:48 PM    Report this comment

In the event of bleeding from an extremity, it is best to elevate the bleeding area as high as possible above the heart. If it's venous, the bleeding will stop immediately. If it arterial, the bleeding will continue and needs firm finger pressure over the bleeding spot. A tourniquet can frequently cause more harm then good and should only be used if the above fails.

Posted by: Rweinc | July 19, 2018 11:24 AM    Report this comment

Two suggestions. First, find an ER physician or nurse and ask them to prepare a comprehensive ER emergency medical bag. Second, have a SAT phone handy and phone numbers of services that can provide medical assistance by phone. Navy and commerical vessels world wide use these services. They do save lives.

Most places visited by blue water sailors have very limited medical facilities. So its a agood idea to maintain a record of nearby facilities and airports to get back to the US or other nations with advanced medical care when needed. Could save a life. Even yours !

Posted by: Piberman | July 19, 2018 10:11 AM    Report this comment

Thanks for this. Incredibly useful!

Posted by: Lakota44 | July 19, 2018 9:22 AM    Report this comment

New to Practical Sailor?
Register for Free!

Already Registered?
Log In