As a certified USCG instructor, many of the courses I teach require students to be certified in CPR, first aid and AED. Of course, the majority of these courses are for students working in the commercial boating industry, such as fishing guides and tour boat captains.
However, as a certified CPR, first aid and AED instructor with the National Safety Council and a boater, I feel very strongly that the state of Florida should require every vessel operator to certify in basic CPR and first aid in the event of an on the water emergency.
I feel so passionate on this topic that at some point during each Nautical Knowledge 101 boating education class, I make it a point to discuss why it’s so critical that someone onboard be trained. Remember, the question is not if a medical emergency will occur — it’s when.
During these discussions I ask open-ended questions. For example, what happens if you are out on the water and a guest or loved one goes into cardiac arrest or has a medical emergency that requires immediate first aid? Are you ready for that? Many of my students just blurt out, “That’s what they make cell phones for,” or, “I can get on my VHF radio and call for help.”
Unfortunately, cell phone service is not always available. Most recreational boaters don’t have a VHF radio onboard, or, if they do, many don’t know how to use it or what channel to call on for help. Even if you can call for help, it can be a long time coming on the water. Someone having a heart attack needs help in minutes, not an hour or more.
It also doesn’t help that the federal requirement for recreational boats to carry a VHF radio is broken (in my opinion). Regrettably, most recreational vessels less than 65.6 feet are not required to carry a VHF marine radio. Really? You can’t make this stuff up. So, what should a responsible captain know about the crew they are taking out on the water?
First and foremost, it’s imperative that the captain be aware of any medical issues his guests may have. Collecting this data should be accomplished prior to your visitors showing up at the dock, so you can be prepared while out on the water or so you can make a decision beforehand not to take them out.
The type of things to know: Are any guests on blood thinners? Do they have any heart conditions? Are they diabetic? Do they have peanut or seafood allergies? Do they use an inhaler for asthma? Do they get seasick?
As the vessel operator it’s your responsibility to know the answers to these questions. I know, I know: Asking this information skirts the gray area of medical confidentiality. But having an idea of what emergencies may pop up while out on the water just might save a person’s life.
What basic first aid areas should you be competent in? The answer to that question is ambiguous at best. Better questions: What do you do if a guest on blood thinners gets a laceration? How do you treat a person that is having a stroke? How do you treat a person who is having a heart attack or has gone into cardiac arrest?
How do you treat heat exhaustion? What if a passenger breaks an arm, has a seizure, goes into shock, has an asthma attack or has an allergic reaction and requires the use of an EpiPen?
Do you know the legal limitations you are afforded under the Florida Good Samaritan Act? Can you administer medications to a passenger onboard? For example, can you physically put an aspirin in a person’s mouth if they’re having a heart attack, or must you hand them the aspirin to prevent liability issues?
If you don’t know the answers to the above questions, you need some training.
At the conclusion of each Nautical Knowledge 101 class, I reiterate the importance of having basic first aid and CPR training. There is no ambulance that will rush to your location to help in the event of an emergency. Coast Guard Stations Fort Myers Beach and Sector St. Petersburg are nowhere close by, and any help could be hours away.
And what if it’s just you and your significant other or friend out there on the water? Are you ready to save a life? Are they? Can anyone but the captain navigate the boat to safety?
If you answered “no” to the above questions, it’s time to invest about $100 and get yourself qualified in basic first aid and CPR or some boat training. It just may save your life or the life of a guest onboard.