Monday, October 23, 2017

When There’s No Doctor Aboard

August 1, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

no doc aboard

Boat owners are a happy lot — just ask any of the estimated 13 million skippers in the U.S.! However, according to Dr. Michael Jacobs, our fun in the sun pastime involves some health risks.

A longtime sailor and co-author of Marine Medicine, Dr. Jacobs identifies seasickness and sunburn as two of the most common offshore medical emergencies. Seasickness, a motion-induced malady, can lay low “the most hardened of sailors,” says Dr. Jacobs. A person’s natural sense of balance, controlled mainly by the eyes and inner ears, is upset by being on a boat. The boat need not actually be underway to trigger symptoms including queasiness, dehydration, exhaustion, and/or nausea. The motion caused by current and wind is enough to affect balance.

Portrait Of Young Male Doctor Holding Inflatable Tube

Though you may feel quite ill, don’t go below and curl up in a bunk while experiencing seasickness — this will make it worse. Stay on deck (a cool, shady spot is best) and focus on seemingly fixed images such as the horizon, clouds, or nearby land.

The time to take over-the-counter or prescription anti-seasickness remedies was before symptoms arose, but what’s effective differs from boater to boater. “You’ll have to try a number out to see what works best for you,” advises Dr. Jacobs, who cautions that most have potential side effects.

Try wearing acupressure bands to block nausea and nibble on whatever may keep queasiness at bay. Remedies to try while in the throes of seasickness include ginger products such as candy, soda, snaps, or tea. Slowly sip a cool drink to avoid dehydration.

A sunburn’s aftermath is easy to spot, as you look like a cooked lobster. Don’t be fooled by folks who claim to never get sunburned — everyone is susceptible. Besides that cooked look, symptoms include feeling hot and itchy, with skin that’s painful to the touch.

As exposure to the sun’s radiation can lead to skin cancer, the best remedy is preventing sunburn. Dr. Jacobs notes that the sun poses a double whammy at sea, as boaters are subject to direct rays as well as ones bounced off the water and wide expanses of white fiberglass. He recommends covering up with sun-resistant clothing (long pants and shirts), wearing sunglasses and a hat with a wide brim, and applying sun block. The sun block should be applied 30 minutes before leaving home and then reapplied throughout the day. Cover sensitive areas like ears, nose, and head.

Sunburn left unheeded can escalate into sunstroke, wherein the body becomes so hot, it cannot control the heat. Take the person’s temperature:  if it’s approaching 105 degrees or he or she seems delirious, there’s no time to lose. Call for immediate medical attention and either await help on the water or get to the nearest dock.

heatstroke concept. young woman getting sunlight.To avoid sunstroke, know the side effects of medications you take — some make you phototoxic or photoallergic, so extra precautions are required. When in doubt, postpone your plans until you speak with your doctor or pharmacist.

Hot sun and its resulting sweat can cause dehydration, as the body loses more water than is consumed. Feelings of lightheadedness are a sign of distress, as is a deep yellow-colored urine. On an average summer’s day, drink lots of additional water with a bit of salt mixed in (the hot sun might call for a cold beer, but alcohol and sun are a deadly mix, advises Dr. Jacobs, as you lose control very quickly).

Heat cramps are painful involuntary muscle spasms usually accompanied by mild dehydration. Drinking water is fine, but an electrolyte-based sports drink may lessen symptoms more quickly. Avoid caffeinated drinks.

Bruises, sprains, and strains are often the consequences of heavy weather boating. If it’s rough, sit where directed and don’t move around. If your body feels like a punching bag, Dr. Jacob advocates that you follow the acronym RICES: rest, ice, compression, elevation, and stabilization.

As no advice can substitute for appropriate medical intervention, seek attention as soon as possible.

By William C. Winslow

The author is the Division 5 – Staff Officer Public Affairs, First District Southern Region, for the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, the all-volunteer, non-military arm of the Coast Guard, teaching boating safety education and conducting search and rescue operations. Visit to join the Auxiliary or for class information.





is Division 5 – Staff Officer Public Affairs, First District Southern Region, U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, and a freelance writer for marine publications. His work has appeared in Sailing, Wooden Boat, and Good Old Boat; he is also the author of Cat Boat Tales.

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