Handling Emergencies at Sea: First Aid Training for Yacht Owners and Crew

Anyone who spends enough time living and breathing the yachting life has heard their share of haunting tales. From severe injuries to tragic losses at sea, so many of the tales might have had happier endings if the individuals involved had acted differently. Whether shocking true stories or longstanding urban legends passed down from one generation to the next, they serve as poignant reminders of how dangerous this pastime can be. Luckily, with the advanced nature of modern equipment and the availability of comprehensive training, we find ourselves in a much stronger position than ever before. As responsible ocean-goers, it is our duty to make the best of every piece of available equipment, technology, and knowledge in our pursuit of maximum onboard safety.

At Isabella Yachts Phuket, we take safety and training very seriously and have gathered a collection of equipment, tips, and concepts to bear in mind and employ before, during, and after a medical emergency at sea.

Control what you can; prepare for what you can’t

The only thing we can truly be in control of when it comes to any excursion onto open waters is our level of preparedness and knowledge. When engines fail, we learn how to fix them on the fly and maintain them well to prevent further issues. Sailors study knots and rigging and how to make adjustments and resourceful repairs. Yet how many seafaring folks can say they are fully prepared for any medical emergency at sea? 

There is a vast gulf of knowledge between individuals who have taken a brief first-aid course and those who have studied the subject and prepared themselves as much as possible for any contingency. In that gulf might lie the difference between life and death, and it is the responsibility of every yacht owner to gain as much experience and knowledge as they can. Emergencies can often spiral out of control because no calm, experienced, assertive leaders emerge to take control and instruct others how to act.

Emergency equipment and tools

There are many advanced first aid kits on the market, and no vessel should leave the shore without at least a rudimentary version, but preferably an advanced one. Traditional household first aid kits are unsuitable, so you must visit a store specialising in sailing equipment and tools. If the available kits do not meet your exacting standards or are missing some items, be prepared to put together your bespoke first-aid kit with all the things you need, including:

  • Antiseptic solutions and creams
  • Adhesive bandages 
  • Waterproof tape
  • Disposable applicators
  • Gauze pads and sterile compresses
  • Short splints and cold packs
  • Tweezers
  • Defibrillator (for larger vessels)


Every yacht, especially fishing ones, must be equipped with a sturdy, quality tool that can quickly and cleanly cut through all hooks carried on the vessel. Similar to bolt cutters in appearance and nature, they should be stored in a specific location made known to all on board at the safety briefing. Other useful tools to carry include:

  • Pliers (standard and needle-nose)
  • Scissors
  • Sharp knife
  • Flashlight (wearable on the head if possible)

Safety briefings and protocols for yachting trips

Even short pleasure cruises require a safety briefing before casting off. In an emergency, it is too late to begin instructing people on how to behave and act and expect logical responses. People can react very strangely to unexpected, dangerous situations, and it is essential to prepare them beforehand and drill them according to your instructions if the worst happens. Things to discuss include:

  • Operating communication systems 
  • Safety equipment
  • Additional life jackets (individuals should already be wearing life jackets once aboard the vessel) 
  • Fire extinguishers
  • First aid kits
  • Life rafts
  • Flares

If individuals are assigned specific roles in an emergency, speak to them individually and thoroughly review the processes. For extended trips, drills may be required; we will discuss those in more detail shortly. Either way, make your expectations clear and make sure everyone is confident about their required actions in an emergency. 

Regular real-world safety drills

For shorter trips, you can spare your passengers the experience of a real-world safety drill, although it is worth running through it with them in detail. However, the same is not valid for any professional crew, and they must be drilled regularly to stay fresh and ready to act decisively and expediently at a moment’s notice. Protocols to practice include:

  • Man-overboard
  • Fire safety and fighting 
  • Abandoning ship 
  • First aid response 

There is no substitute for practice when it comes to being prepared for any given situation, so have a fixed schedule of drills and top-up courses for yourself and your crew. 

First aid/medical training

All crew members should undergo a bare minimum of basic first aid training, and at least one must be trained in more advanced emergency medical responses. All must have a working knowledge of CPR resuscitation, dealing with open wounds, breaks, and dislocations. Understanding how to treat less dangerous issues like seasickness and mild dehydration is also necessary. 

Avoiding accidents

The best way to deal with accidents is to do everything possible to ensure they don’t happen in the first place. A combination of training sessions, drills, and comprehensive briefings is an excellent way to keep people on their toes and in the best position to avoid making mistakes. Most injuries at sea occur because of a lack of experience, knowledge, and preparation.

When accidents happen

Try as we might, none of us can ever entirely remove the risk of accidents and mishaps from a live yachting scenario. There are too many elements to control, some of which, like the weather and sea conditions, are uncontrollable. If an incident occurs, the first thing to do is remain calm. Regular drilling will help control your thoughts and actions when accidents happen, giving you a sense of pre-determined purpose and responsibility. The wild card in any yachting scenario is any passengers aboard and how they react to the sight of blood or other emergencies. Hopefully, you can mitigate any outlandish responses through your detailed briefing and keep panic to a minimum with a commanding demeanour and confident, decisive actions. 


The subject, and therefore the nature of this article, is serious, and it does not pull any punches when it comes to safety and first aid and medical equipment on board any vessel. However, it is important to remember that, although accidents do happen, they are usually relatively uncommon and can be reduced even further with careful planning, training, and a comprehensive safety briefing attended by all souls on board. The key to experiencing emergencies on board is to do everything possible to mitigate them and lessen their impact beforehand and know precisely how to respond calmly and assertively when they do.

Contact us

Hopefully, this article has not scared you away from the glorious activity of yachting and exploring the wonder of the great wide oceans. For less-experienced seafarers, we offer options for fully-staffed charters, including fully-trained first aid responders who will take charge and handle any emergency. Please get in touch with the team today to learn more about Isabella Yachts Phuket and our products and services. We are standing by to speak with you and love nothing more than discussing all aspects of yacht chartering and our magnificent range of vessels. 

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