Last Updated on August 8, 2023
Health emergencies can be pretty scary on land, but can you imagine how things can get if you’re out in the open sea?
When faced with emergencies at sea, it is crucial to maintain a calm and confident demeanor. It is important to avoid jumping to conclusions or making hasty decisions without careful consideration, as this may exacerbate the situation.
Being in the maritime industry usually means difficult, strenuous, and potentially hazardous working conditions. Every year, there are reports of people injured, permanently disabled, or even killed during their time on platforms or ships at sea. The good news is that most of the time, these problems can be avoided or lessened if you know how to provide first aid and medical care right after an accident.
The maritime crew must complete basic safety training, including CPR training. However, all crew members must understand and be familiar with the primary initial responses for some of the most common types and forms of maritime injuries.
The ability to efficiently tackle emergencies is possible through practical drills and continuous training onboard vessels. But the only concern here is that even with sufficient training, many people still end up experiencing panic attacks, preventing them from thinking straight about what they should do during an emergency.
For seafarers, the first and most important thing they should do is be aware of the different kinds of emergencies that may occur onboard a ship. Doing so will help you understand the actual scenario much better. It will also result in taking corrective actions to save property, environment, and life.
Here is a quick instruction guide on how to prepare and deal with different health emergencies at sea:
Electrocution Onboard a Vessel
Heavy equipment, electronics, and ship electrical systems operate in wet environments, making electrocution accidents some of the most constant and common issues regarding maritime safety. Victims are often found not breathing and unconscious and might still be near the circuit that resulted in the injury.
Here are the steps to take if you suspect or witness an electrocution incident:
- Turn off the source of electricity first before you touch the injured victim. If it’s impossible to switch off the electricity right at its head, you can use a non-conducting cardboard, plastic, or wood tool to separate the machinery or wires from yourself and the victim.
- Start CPR immediately if the victim has no pulse or is not breathing.
- Call for emergency medical assistance immediately if the victim has difficulty breathing, irregular heartbeat, seizures, or severe burns.
- Apply antibacterial cream or gel on the burned areas and bandage them with sterile gauze.
- Ensure the person stays warm and observe the victim closely until the professional medical care provider arrives.
Broken or Fractured Bones
Fractured or broken bones are among the most common personal injuries at sea. Complications of such injuries may result in loss of earning potential or even long-term or permanent disability, mainly if the onboard treatment was wrong or insufficient.
Do the following if a crewmate sustains broken or fractured bones:
- Stop the bleeding if needed by applying pressure.
- Use a splint to immobilize the break but don’t try realigning the bones yet.
- Apply ice packs to lessen the pain and swelling.
- Treat for shock. Lay down the person flat, keep them warm, and ensure their legs are elevated if possible.
- The doctor at the ship may set and treat simple fractures, but on-shore emergency treatment is necessary for complex fractures and crush injuries.
Brain Injury and Head Trauma
Unsecured gear, lines, and moving cranes can break under pressure or swing wildly, resulting in severe head trauma.
Incorrectly maintaining equipment and being unable to follow the maritime safe guidelines and information can all contribute to these debilitating, serious, and sometimes life-threatening injuries.
The following first aid responses should be provided if any of the shipmates suffers from a severe blow or injury to the head:
- If there are no signs of visible fractures to the skull, apply pressure with a gauze bandage or clean cloth to stop the bleeding.
- If the victim is wearing a damaged hard hat or helmet, just let it stay in place except when performing CPR or treating heavy bleeding.
- Start CPR if the victim is not breathing or doesn’t have a pulse.
- Ensure the person stays still, lying down with the shoulders and head gently elevated.
- Used rolled sheets or towels during transport to protect the neck and head from movement.
- Concussion often comes with symptoms such as headaches, nausea, and confusion. A ship’s doctor often treats the problem with rest, observation, and thorough medical examination.
- Brain injury symptoms need emergency medical attention. These might include slurred speech, weakness in a leg or arm, passing out, unequal sizes of pupils, and seizures.
Heatstroke and Heat Exhaustion
Maritime work can be physically demanding, not to mention that it also takes place in different types of weather conditions. Heat exhaustion or heat-related syndrome is among the most challenging issues to identify early on.
Some symptoms include rapid heartbeat, nausea, cramps, dizziness, and goosebumps. As the body’s core temperature increases to risky levels, heat exhaustion can turn into heatstroke, unfortunately, a life-threatening condition.
The following are the first aid responses for heat exhaustion:
- Start by moving the person out of the sun and into an air-conditioned or shaded area.
- Let the victim lie down and keep their legs elevated.
- Remove heavy or tight clothing.
- Give lots of cool beverages without caffeine or alcohol or cool water.
- Wrap ice packs or apply wet cloths to spots where the blood runs near the surface, such as the forehead, chest, wrists, and back of the neck.
- If one hour has passed and symptoms didn’t improve, or if there are signs of heatstroke such as seizures, confusion, seizures, or a higher than 104F internal temperature, contact emergency medical assistance.
Back or Neck Injuries
Neck and back injuries can occur on a vessel due to falling, getting hit by dropping items, swinging gear, or being crushed because of moving cargo. Serious spinal injuries can be very life-threatening, so follow the steps below in case of a severe back or neck injury.
- Radio or call for medical help right away.
- Don’t move the victim until necessary.
- Don’t remove the helmet yet if the victim is wearing one. Just raise the facemask to check the person’s breathing.
- Perform CPR if the person is not breathing, but avoid tipping the head back as usual.
- Move the person flat with the neck and head secured by rolled sheets or towels to avoid unnecessary movement. Use a team to help the spine stay aligned when shifting to a stretcher or backboard.
- Use a team to roll the victim onto the side only if they are vomiting or choking. Have two persons or more help in keeping the neck and head aligned with the spine.
- Treat for shock and cover the victim with blankets until the medical transport arrives.
Emergency Situation Guide
Both ship crew and officers must be thoroughly familiar with the training manual on the ship’s Life Saving Appliances and Fire Training Manual.
Abandon Ship Signal
For an Abandon Ship signal, go to the muster station and carry all the warm clothing, water, and ration you can—act based on the Muster Lists of the vessel.
Everyone should leave the engine room right away during a CO2 alarm.
When an engineer’s call occurs, all ship engineers must gather in the engine control room.
Engine Room Flooding
Call the chief engineer immediately during an engine room flooding and raise a general alarm. Take immediate action to prevent more seawater from entering the engine room. Establish emergency bilging from the engine room as per orders of the chief engineer.
If a fire alarm occurs, Officer on Watch should be informed immediately. It’s also essential to check whether the notice is true or false, and findings should be reported.
If there is a fire, the Fire or General alarm should be raised as soon as possible. The fire should be stopped, but muster based on the Fire Muster List if it’s impossible.
During a general alarm, go to the muster station with an immersion suit, life jacket and act based on the Muster Lists of the vessel. Act according to the emergency that the in-charge officer has explained.
Man Overboard Signal
For a Man Overboard Signal, go to the deck immediately and try to look for the crew member that fell into the water. Inform the deck and throw a lifebuoy.
Cargo Hold Flooding
Inform the Master immediately during cargo hold flooding. Take all the necessary precautions to contain the flood to that particular hold and raise the general alarm.
In the event of any pollution or oil spill, always take immediate action based on the “Shipboard Oil Pollution Prevention Plan” of the vessel. Onboard SOPEP Equipment and Emergency Plan (SOPEP) in deck stores must be used during an oil spill.
Always call for help by activating the Emergency Call or via phone for other emergencies. No matter the situation, it’s essential to ensure that the Officer on Watch, Chief Engineer, and Master are always informed and aware of the problem.