Passage Prep- First Aid

It’s alive!!!! While Dr. Frankenstein was elated to see signs of life from the pieces of dead bodies he sewed together, we just want to stay alive — preferably without any sewing of body parts.

Rapid assistance for life’s oopsies and whoopsies is something most of us take for granted. Dialing 911 is always one of the first steps in an emergency situation, even in more advanced first aid classes. That is because emergency services are never more than about 30 minutes away in most places and rarely more than 24 hours away even in backpacking areas. But, Wild Rumpus will, at times, be a week away from any reliable organized assistance. So, at least three of our six crew needs better than average first aid skills, and one helluva first aid kit!

The Problem

Bumps, nicks, scrapes, minor burns, ingrown nails, toothaches, sprained ankles, back pain, headaches, minor kitchen accidents, and the dreaded diarrhea are all normal human events. And, in normal life, they are virtually meaningless. A bump likely requires no attention, but if it does, you go to the appropriate doctor or urgent care. A scrape is flushed and gets a bandaid unless it gets infected, in which case –go to the doctor. Diarrhea usually requires no more than a quick visit to the pharmacy. You get the point — stuff happens, and society has in place (in most places anyway) a system for dealing with these common issues.

Wild Rumpus and its crew will be traveling about 6000 miles. At times, we will be 800 miles from the nearest land, which is about 4 days from the nearest land-based assistance with no realistic hope of other assistance by sea or air. Cheery!!

A Two Part Solution

Step One — Prevention

We cannot eliminate risk, but we can do our best to minimize it. There are several standard sailboat injuries when we let ourselves get a bit too comfortable. While sailing on the Bay, the most common injuries I’ve seen are friction burns, a few finger jams, and the occasional turned ankle. Although I haven’t seen one in the sailing context, I have some anxiety about the possibility of a ring getting caught in a line, which can cause a degloving– so I remind people to remove rings all the time (and I now wear a silicone wedding band). While on a Caribbean charter, stubbed toes were pretty common as well.

The two most likely sources of potential injuries for sailors on a passage are, in my view, alcohol and the galley (kitchen). Alcohol dulls our senses, including situational awareness and balance, both of which are essential on a boat. A simple fall downstairs can break a bone that we may not be able to set properly. Also, the galley is the source of most injuries in the home, which is aggravated on a boat. The galley provides ample opportunity for cuts of varying severity (infection is a very real risk for us), and burns.


On Wild Rumpus we will have top-notch alcohol in quantities enough to rub the edges of sea shanties to a Frank-Sinatra-sipping-Jack-Daniels-and-serenading-his-next-one-night-stand smoothness. But, the shanties will remain rough and the crew sober during the passage.

Despite the booze inventory, the vast majority will only be consumed after landfall and the boat is secure. During the passage’s legs, very little alcohol will be consumed while underway and none for the watchstander or the on-call watchstander.

When eligible to drink with a meal, it will be a measured drink to enjoy the taste and not enough to cause impairment. This may seem a bit draconian, but we need all crew available for emergencies. And, we don’t want an inebriated crew to become an emergency.

The Galley

Cooking-related injuries can be pretty gnarly stuff. Significant cuts and burns are always possible in any kitchen. When that kitchen bounces around on waves, injuries become far more likely. We will pre-prepare a lot of our meals and freeze them. This will help us avoid a lot of knife work in anything but relatively calm weather. We can either use the microwave to warm those meals or submerge them in large pot half full of boiling water. This, of course, raises the specter of the other big injuries– burns. To mitigate some of this risk, on Wild Rumpus the galley watch person (i.e., whoever’s turn it is to cook and clean) will always wear loose-fitting pants, slip-resistant shoes, and an apron. Shoes and loose-fitting pants help keep hot liquids off of the skin. Aprons provide another layer of easily removable cloth between the cook and the hot liquid trying to scald them. These items are required in professional kitchens for safety reasons and we will accept and adopt the collective wisdom of chefs all around the world.

Step Two — Training

Basic first aid is, I think, something everybody should know. But I am always surprised to learn that most people don’t really know any first aid beyond putting pressure on a cut and applying a bandaid. Personally, I’ve stayed current on first aid and CPR certifications almost continuously since 1986. But my first aid knowledge (post-boot camp) hasn’t focused on providing aid to serious injuries without subsequent rapid medical attention being available. So, just staying up-to-date is not sufficient. And, of course, there is always the possibility that I am the one who needs the assistance.

At least four of the Wild Rumpus Crew now have more extensive first aid training than average. One is a Wilderness First Responder, meaning that he is trained through the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) to provide medical care in situations of delayed medical response and unreliable communication with doctors. It is the training designed for professional backwoods guides, search and rescue teams, and park rangers.

Additionally, three more (including me) took the NOLS Wilderness First Aid class, which is somewhat more advanced than Red Cross First Aid, and designed for situations where medical assistance is not immediately available. The course is not nearly as advanced as Wilderness First Responder, but is a good boost to basic knowledge and takes us one step closer to self-sufficiency on the sea. I am still keeping my eyes open for a more advanced class or one specifically designed for offshore passages.

Safety at sea looms large when one will be at sea for 6000 nautical miles with days away from any possible help. We will continue to prepare and build our first aid kit (including an AED) and knowledge. Eventually, we’ll have a detailed post here about the first aid kit, so if that is of interest, stay tuned.

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12 thoughts on “Passage Prep- First Aid

  1. Jill

    When is this big day? Wow… I have anxiety thinking about it! Be safe and have an incredible adventure!!

      1. CW

        The first aid kit may need to be almost as big as the life raft kit! Sounds like it’d be good to have an EMT and an Eagle Scout on your passage… but on 2nd thought, they may be more likely to stray from the temporary “Prohibition” protocol on those long stretches at sea. 😉

  2. Karl

    Who all will be making the voyage? Will you have satellite communication ability to update the trip in real time? It would be very interesting to us landlubbers.

    1. The current crew consists of: Eric and Stacey, who are a couple that lives on Angel Island set to retire and then live on the boat as our captains for a year or two; Bernard and Dinna, a couple I met sailing on the Bay and with whom we’ve become close; and me. We anticipate one professional captain that specializes in offshore passages as well. We should have SOME communication ability, though less 5G and more 4800 baud a la 1996.

  3. For my first long passage as skipper I took a first aid course, and I over prepared with medical supplies thanks to a GF at the time who worked in a hospital. Most got moved ashore when I sold the boat 5 years later. Decades later some of it finally got moved ‘out’ a year or two ago.
    I agree re booze on passage. I found, however, things fall apart, when you least expect them. Even on anchor. Middle of the night with a boat load of kids and bikes all over the deck, and me bare arsed naked in the dinghy trying to reset the anchor in a crowded anchorage. More comic than dangerous. It taught me tidiness. and sobriety. One loses ones taste for serious drinking when there are people, and the boat, depending upon you.
    Burns are easily come by – reaching over the espresso machine gave me a burn that got infected really quickly and I needed antibiotics for it and laid me up for a week.
    Stubbed toes? Man I think I learned about hurting my feet in my first sailing dinghy – I put shoes on as soon as I get up, I’m so clumsy.
    Suggest you get a yoghurt maker, one of the thermos type ones. you can make yog with powdered milk. If you have a freezer, keep the culture for next time.Yoghurt sorts out a lot of stomach upsets like indigestion. You can, in a pinch, dress a burn with yoghurt and honey.

    The other thing I recall from that particular passage (Fremantle to Sydney) was the decision around life rafts.I was worried about stray containers. It was a choice between a raft and a thing called ‘float pac’. They were using them to put in military helicopters to stop them from expensively sinking. Bags made from life raft material tied into the floors and inflated with dive tanks. I recall reading a report that said that a large percentage of folks who WERE KNOWN to have got into life rafts were never seen again. My crew and I voted for float pac. Down at 40 -50 Lat you could go just around and around. As it was we never saw another vessel, other than the ‘ghost ship’ that was sitting High and unloaded on a fine day on about Lat 53. No radio response, No sign of life. Just sitting there with curtains of weed.

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  5. Marcus Reichert

    I work as an RN in a busy Seattle Emergency Department. When I went on passage from the Galapagos to the Marquesas Islands, I brought along hospital scrubs. Just the pants. They were the best! Dried quick, cool in the sun (color dependent…) and easy on and off. I repeated this on multiple deliveries since and have never been disappointed in their performance.
    Enjoy reading your blog while I plan for my next trip!

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