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Dealing with illness, injury and medical conditions at sea

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What is the issue?
At sea or in very remote locations you may be completely cut off from any medical assistance for extended periods. Should you have a critical medical situation it is down to the crew members to address the situation.

Why address this?
If they fail to attend to the situation or address the condition in a competent manner, life could be lost.

How to address this?
Invest in the UK Department of Transport's 'Ship Captain's Medical Guide, the 22nd Edition by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency. Intended primarily for use on ships where no doctor is carried, and where it is necessary for laymen to assess and treat injuries and to diagnose and treat ill health, it is essential for any seagoing yacht. The guide can also be recommended for use in other situations such as expeditions where professional medical advice is not readily available.

Ship Captain's Medical Guide 22nd edition
Photo: Courtesy of Maritime and Coastguard Agency

The book is currently available in its twenty-second edition that was first published 1998. I can say without a shadow of exaggeration that I would not be alive now had we not had the 21st edition of aboard our vessel in the depths of the Pacific. It enabled us to recognises a virile staphylococcus infection I acquired in my leg and assisted us in dealing with it in an area where we had zero radio communications and were three weeks sailing distance away from any medical assistance.


The 'Ship Captain's Medical Guide is an official publication of the British government specifically designed for vessels where no doctor is carried. This book directly corresponds to maritime regulations, so is inescapable if you hold a maritime first aid qualification. It is a solid compendium of common, and not so common, ailments and is of great use in myriad situations. In their own words... ''The guide is written in simple language and adopts a straightforward approach to the diagnosis and treatment of a wide range of diseases and injuries. Fully illustrated, the Ship Captain's Medical Guide guides seamen through a range of procedures, helps avert potential problems and deals with incidents of varying severity."

We found the procedures to be well documented and there are extensive diagrams, photographs, anatomical drawings, and a separate section on the medicines. Of course, you never want to have to address medical issues aboard. But with this guide, the average sailor has the requisite knowledge to have more than a fighting chance.


Being a vital publication for the preservation of life the UK Government makes it available for free download:

I suggest you download the PDF and have it on your phone and available for reference at all times. It also provides a preview of the information so you can see the value of having a hard copy of the book on the vessels bookshelf.

With thanks to:
Michael Harpur, Yacht Obsession.
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