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Recognise signs of a medical emergency

You are at sea. Water everywhere and not a doctor in sight. There is a sudden medical crisis – someone has fallen worryingly ill. What you going to do? First, you have to identify the problem.


Urgent medical treatment may be required for a number of conditions. Signs and symptoms may manifest when a guest or crew member is far from a source of medical knowledge and expertise.  Here are the four most urgent conditions that will need to be considered as life-threatening and a checklist for each condition.


Although this condition can happen at any age it is prevalent between the ages of 10 to 30

  • Are there symptoms of pain or tenderness in the naval area moving towards the lower right of the abdomen over several hours?
  • Is the pain sharp and severe and worsens with movement?
  • Accompanying fever may be a sign of inflammation or infection.
  • Nausea, vomiting or loss of appetite are co-symptoms
  • Did the patient take any pain killers that might be masking the symptoms of appendicitis?

Heart Attack

  • Is the patient experiencing crushing pain or squeezing in the center of the chest of duration for more than a few minutes?
  • Is the pain spreading to the jaw, neck, shoulders, back of the arm, in particular, the left arm?
  • Is the patient experiencing nausea, palpitations and sweating, shortness of breath together with chest pain?
  • Is the patient over 50 and suffering persistent indigestion or heartburn that is not responsive to over the counter medication?

Anaphylactic shock

  • Has there been exposure in the previous two hours to a common allergen, such as insect sting, nuts, peanuts, seeds, eggs or shellfish? Allergies may exist even if no problems have been previously experienced.
  • Does the patient experience tingling in the mouth and/or throbbing ears?
  • Is the patient agitated or stressed?
  • Is there flushing of the skin or itchiness? Or hives on the skin or swellings of the eyes, lips or tongue?
  • Is the patient sneezing or showing respiratory problems such as wheezing, coughing or shortness of breath?
  • Is the patient vomiting, suffering abdominal cramps or diarrhea?


  • Does the patient experience numbness or weakness on side of the body – one arm, leg or side of the face?
  • Is the patient having speech problems?
  • Is there a sudden onset of vision problems, such as double vision or loss of vision in one eye?
  • Other symptoms include sudden onset of severe headache, dizziness, loss of coordination and balance, or falling with no apparent cause. In extreme circumstances, there may be frothing of the mouth.


The Skipper’s Medical Emergency Handbook

Available as an epub book, this manual is designed to assist all who go to sea – whether on a day excursion, a holiday cruise or an even longer trip. It will provide practical advice, boost confidence, solve problems and minimize danger for all on board.

Step-by-step instructions, explanatory illustrations and flow charts provide an at-a-glance reference on how to prevent, treat and care for the sick and injured at sea. And there is advice on pre-voyage preparations, establishing emergency procedures, first response and assessment of illnesses and injury, right through to offshore aftercare and recovery.






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