First Aid Measures at Sea: Unconscious Victim

Sailing is a safer than most other sports. However, the distance to the coast and the immediate exposure to the elements is a potential hazard for serious accidents. In this article, I briefly outline measures required to stabilize an unconscious person.

Before I move to the actual article, I would like to repeat what I have written before: Sailing can be dangerous and it should be the duty of every responsible sailor to do sufficient and in-depth training in first aid. This should be done offline with a professional course. Talk to your sailing club, your doctor or a local sailing school where to get this training.

Unconscious, but breathing: Recovery Position

One of the first things you will learn in your first aid training is the so-called ďrecovery positionĒ. It is the starting point for many emergency treatments to unconscious people that are still breathing. This position aims to support the victimís respiration and to allow further treatments to be applied.

Check a personís consciousness by talking to him and ask for a response. If there is none, firmly rub your fist (the knuckles) over the chest where the ribs are (try this at yourself: it hurts really badly). If the person does not react, check whether he is breathing by leaning your cheek over the victimís nose.

If you feel the breath, move on to bring the person into the recovery position. If you do not feel any breath, read on below. Starting with the victim being on his back, check if he can breath freely (open the mouth, remove vomit). Stretch the legs into a straight position. Stretch one arm into a straight position along the body axis.

Move the other arm until the back of the hand touches the cheek. Pull up the leg on the other (far) side until the foot is aligned with the knee of the other leg. Pull the body towards you on the leg while keeping the victimís hand on the cheek. Straighten the leg and bring the other leg (same side as the angled arm) into an angle, too, so that the body is fixed on its side. Check the respiration and mind the tongue: it must not prevent breathing. Seek medical assistance as soon as possible.

Unconscious, not breathing: Resuscitation

If the victim has lost consciousness and you cannot detect any breathing, you have to start resuscitation measures. Check the pulse at the throat (you will practice this and all the following steps in any first aid course). If you cannot detect any pulse, you will also have to apply cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) immediately.

Turn the victim on the back and turn the head slightly backwards; open the airway to allow respiration by opening the mouth. Gently remove vomit. Block the nostrils with thumb and index finger, use you other hand to keep the mouth open. Seal the mouth with your lips and blow firmly air into the lungs. Check if the chest rises (it should). Hold the breath in the victimís lungs for about two seconds, then release it. Repeat this twice and check for the pulse again.

If you still cannot detect a pulse, start to compress the victimís chest: find the breastbone (and again, this needs practice you will only get at a thorough first-aid course). Place the heel of your palm of one hand over the other and link the fingers to form a unit from your hands. Move your chest over the victimís one, otherwise you will get too exhausted.

Compress the chest for about 4 to 5 centimeters at a frequency of about 100 compressions a minute. Count about 15 compressions, then repeat the breath resuscitation, including the check of a pulse. Start this cycle again and repeat it until you can detect a pulse. Then bring the victim into recovery position as described above.

To say it for the third time: This article is by no means meant to be a substitute for in-depth training. Please talk to your doctor, do a proper course, practice what you have learnt.

Finally, please mind the articles on that cover related topics: First Aid for unconscious victims; Causes of Seasickness and Treatment of Seasickness; Health and Safety Risks at Sea Part I and Part II; a Checklist for First Aid Kits; and an Introduction to Health and Safety for Cruising Sailors.

Further Reading

Back to "vacation"

Wikipedia on First Aid

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention - Travel Health Advice

Department of State's Travel advice - crucial information for your safety

DMOZ gives First Aid References