Boating is about getting away from it all, but if you don’t consider all of the things you are getting away from – like hospitals – you can wish you were back in civilization pretty quick.  In a post at Yachting, I wrote that “a safe boater fully understands and considers the hazards, and makes decisions about risk based on that understanding.”  That is an easy concept for things like fires, weather, and water temperatures. Don’t forget to consider the distance from shore as a hazard too. I’m not talking about fuel calculations and having enough reserve; I’m talking about the dangerous kind distance – the distance from definitive medical care.

Every mile from the dock is another four minutes (in a fast boat) from a hospital. In the middle of even a short run from Fort Lauderdale to Freeport for example, you are a good two or three hours – at least – from advanced medical care.  Distance can be dangerous if you’re not truly prepared for an unexpected problem; and it takes more than just having a first aid kit aboard to be truly prepared.

Thomas Bliss, director of the training firm Northwest Response, recommends at least moderately advanced first aid training for captains who ventures offshore. “The minimum should be the American Red Cross CPRO First Aid, CPR & AED training for the professional rescuer, or an equivalent,” says Bliss. “I have seen many injuries on vessels and most required direct pressure, more than just a Band-Aid.”

“For the professional rescuer” in the title may sound daunting, but it isn’t.   I’ve taken these courses and they do not assume prior medical training; they are just more advanced than basic first aid and CPR courses and include some advanced wound care and equipment use. Having packs of gauze and bandages in a kit and knowing how to use them effectively are two different things. Spending a few bucks and learning how to properly care for common medical problems from a professional every couple of years is a good idea. “Basic emergency medical response courses run from $80 to $110 depending on the course.”

When asked about what kind of gear to carry aboard, Bliss says “The best first responder kit you can afford and stow, and invest in an AED.” Automated External Defibrillators (AED’s) are a real expense ranging from $1200 to $3,000 dollars, but consider this: according to The American Heart Association, when a person experiences sudden cardiac arrest, every minute that passes without defibrillation – the chances for survival drop by 7-10%. After ten minutes, survival is unlikely.

I don’t care if you’re just a mile out of the inlet – If you don’t have a defibrillator aboard then you are not going to make that 10 minute window.  Buying an AED and learning how to use it is a game-changing risk based decision that all boaters should consider. You won’t catch me offshore without one aboard, that’s for sure.

Distance from medical care (not just the next fuel stop) is a hazard that is always out there but often unaccounted for when heading offshore.  An injury that is bad at home can turn critical if your trip to the E.R. is measured in hours instead of minutes. Spend some time now, and some money, and manage your on board medical risk.

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