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When Medical Help is Far Away


Preparing for prompt, reliable treatment of illnesses and injuries aboard yachts destined for remote regions.


By Curtis Edwards MD It’s winter. The rain pours down,


forcing you to stare out the window and contemplate spending time profitably, while anticipating the next cruising season – the BIG cast-off next summer. As a surgeon and medical instructor,


I am frequently asked questions concerning medical preparations cruisers should make (just) prior to casting off on an extended voyage. Ironically, many cruisers procrastinate making these medical preparations for offshore passages and extended Pacific Northwest cruising, but they rarely fall


short of preparing for the (unlikely) failure of the vessel’s third GPS unit. As a captain and a physician, I struggle to understand why anyone spends dwindling prep-time applying varnish or dithering over a new dinette table (purchased for three thousand dollars). A more pressing concern should be preparing for prompt, reliable treatment of illnesses and injuries aboard any yacht destined for remote regions. Fact: a USCG helicopter has a reach


of about three hundred miles, and a threat to life and limb must exist for


launch to occur, i.e. an emergency is declared. Fact: the USCG will ground air rescue if weather deteriorates below minimums or the vessel is beyond range of the rescue helicopter. You are on your own until help arrives. Fact: many emergencies are prevented by early adequate medical treatment, or pre-empted entirely by timely pre- cruise planning. A few tips: 1. Complete a comprehensive


physical examination, well prior to cast-off date. Crew over age 50 and any smoker should consider a treadmill test. Over 50 crew should consider completing a screening colonoscopy. Females should complete a mammogram and Pap smear. 2. Carry an abbreviated medical


record listing current medications, allergy list and medical problem(s) list for every crew person aboard the vessel. This facilitates the exchange of reliable information via radio or in a foreign emergency room. 3. Designate an on-board medical


officer (MO). He or she will obtain current advanced first aid certification. The MO is charged with maintaining the medical kit. Should the captain also


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