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Join Date: Jul 2006
Location: Washington State
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Sorry to sound like I am about to go on a rant and rave, but this is a little pet-peave of mine and a common missconception among sailors.
First, let me throw in a point and observation: I have NEVER had to call the USCG for an emergency onboard. There you go, I set the stage. However, I think it should be stated on a sailboat you have to be INFINITELY more prepared and ready to hold your own for a longer period of time than if you were land based or on a motor vessel.
If you are moored off of Nassau, hell, jump in the dink. But for most of us, we are some hours (or many hours, at hull speed) to the nearest medical help. It is not as if you can run up to shore and you are at a hospital. You have no car there. You can call the USCG, but the time between the call and them actually ARRIVING can be considerable even if you are only a few miles away from their station (which is never the case, it seems).
Remember, you are on a sailboat. You can only go hull speed, even in an emergency. You cannot exactly call an ambulance service and tell them to meet you at this island near the beach since most of them would not have a clue what you are talking about (and many are unaccesible by motor vehicle). Air Evac (chopper, outside of USCG) has to have a place to land (you cannot land in mangroves). What I am trying to say is that everyone better be prepared for a long-haul to medical help. This is ESPECIALLY true if you sail with kids. I don't care if it is coastal... sailboats can be accident prone and you can go from fine to critical in one Jibe. Be prepared for trauma. That is another reason to make sure you can BOTH (Spouse, for example) single the boat in and out of the slip...not just sit behind the wheel and trim a sail as needed. And remember too, if there are only two of you, the boat cannot sail itself. One is hurt, the other is rendering aid, so who now is driving the boat? Calling the CGuard? Getting you closer to medical assistance? That's right, no one. Use your imagination for a moment and really think about all the steps that are required for you to get medical assistance. Just 20 miles offshore, you are WAYYYY out.
I said upfront that I am ultra conservative about this stuff, so please take the comments as such. I don't know that anyone sailing down a major US coastline will be waiting for 24 hours for an evac/medical assistance, but don't fool yourself into thinking you can dial 911 and you will have someone there within minutes... not to mention hour(s). Head trauma, cardiac, you have only minutes to stabilize. Cut a major artery. Minutes to stabilize. A band-aid and aspiring won't cut it.
If you approach even coastal cruising with the demeanor that "I am 24 hours from help and have to hold my own" you will stock accordingly and prep accordingly. You are not 24 hours, but get you mindset correct. Listen to Cruising Dad as he preaches the Boy Scout motto: BE PREPARED. Otherwise, you are no better than Ken Barnes (who everyone seems to feel showed very poor semanship).
Be responsible for yourself. It will save your life.