Medically Prepared for the Big Voyage - SailNet Community

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Old 05-23-1999
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William Mahaffy is on a distinguished road
Medically Prepared for the Big Voyage

How can one get medical training in preparation for a long voyage, such as a circumnavigation?

C. Cloud

Bill Mahaffy responds:

I think the best medical training would be to take an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT-basic) course. These are usually available in your local area and you can check with your local fire department regarding schedule and prices.

Depending on how the schedule is arranged, these courses can take up to several months to complete. However, they are quite comprehensive and you will spend time in both an emergency department (don't expect it to be like "ER") and some time riding as an observer on an ambulance.

These are experiences that can not be duplicated in a classroom and will give you the confidence to do whatever needs to be done in an emergency situation. These courses are not only valuable for treating the (hopefully) rare on-board injury, but you will find that those basic medical skills are in demand in a variety of popular, though isolated, cruising destinations.

But even the EMT course will not give you exposure to some of the advanced skills needed by the voyaging sailor. Medication injections, intravenous fluid administration, suturing and catheter placement are necessary skills to possess before undertaking a circumnavigation. I have found several training seminars on the East Coast that offer a comprehensive medical education for the maritime environment.

The Ocean Institute of the Maine Maritime Academy offers one of the most extensive courses. The academy offers two courses: Ships Medicine and Advanced Ships Medicine. The courses run 5 and 6 days respectively and offer an extensive medical curriculum. These courses are also approved by the U.S. Coast Guard and are required for certain groups in the commercial and industrial maritime community. They follow the outline of the STCW (Standards of Training and Certified Watchkeeping). Tuition for Ships Medicine is $915 (room and board $425) and Advanced Ships Medicine $1,100 (room and board $510). You can contact them at: Maine Maritime Academy, The Ocean Institute, Castine, ME 04420, tel: (207) 326-2211, e-mail:, website: Go to the Ocean Institute section. This is the most extensive medical training I have found outside of medical school.

Another similar resource is the Maritime Institute of Technology and Graduate Studies located just outside of Baltimore, Maryland. They offer an advanced course that runs for four weeks after which you will be certified as an EMT-basic as well as in many of the advanced techniques mentioned above. The cost is roughly $2,900 not including housing. Contact them at (410) 859-5700 for more information.

A less extensive but well-rounded single-day course is offered at various times of the year at a variety of locations through the School of Seamanship of Ocean Navigator magazine. Their next course is on May 15 in Woods Hole and costs $375. The instructor is Dr. Dan Carlin of Around Alone fame.

Finally, SailNet expects to be offering a series of 1 to 2-hour seminars in Atlantic City for the Sail Expo Boat Show early next year. These seminars will start with the basics of anatomy/physiology and go through basic emergency care for a variety of injuries. Many of the topics in the FIRST AID section will be covered. There will also be workshops offered for hands-on experience with suturing, splinting, I-Vs and bladder catheters.

I will update the resources for maritime medical training as I locate them, as I'm sure I have missed some on the West Coast.

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