Doug and I were boating in the Bahamas for two months as you may have gathered from previous newsletters. It was a wonderful experience and we enjoyed life on the water in the Abacos during April and most of May. With our laptop on board, we were able to send and answer emails, make phone calls, send newsletters and look after our website.
But, like all holidays, it had to end so we headed to Florida, cleared customs in Lake Worth and headed north on the ICW (Intracoastal Waterway).
On the morning of May 24th, the unexpected happened–right out of the blue with no warning whatsoever. We were all on the bridge about to enjoy breakfast, while taking in the sights, as Doug followed the course we’d set out on the chart plotter.
Just as I was ready for my first mouthful of cereal, I felt faint, then hot, then had some tightness in my chest.
A quick VHF call to Coast Guard with a medical emergency and minutes later, paramedics were on the bridge and confirmed I was having a heart attack. Within the hour, I was on the operating table undergoing angioplasty (two stents) for 100% blockage. I am on the mend and the cardiac surgeons in Florida said I should expect a full recovery–just have to go through cardiac rehab.
Now you know, why you haven’t received a newsletter for a few weeks.
Other than being an extremely frightening experience for all of us, everything went like clockwork and very quickly–Coast Guard, Sea Tow, Ambulance, Paramedics, Hospital, Doctors, everyone. I was lucky.
But, when we explained what happened to boating friends, most said they wouldn’t have known what to do or hadn’t thought about it. They hadn’t discussed any emergency procedures.
We all hope it won’t happen, but we should all be prepared for the minor incidents like broken bones or sun burns, or cuts as well as the major incidents that could happen to us or a fellow boater.
What if something happens to your partner at the wheel? Could you take over the helm, get help and dock the boat? What if something happened to your First Mate? Could you look after him/her while calling for help, finding a dock and docking? Would you know how to use the VHF and who to call?
There are so many “What ifs”, it would be frightening if I listed them all. But if you only have to deal with one life threatening incident, knowing what to do is so important. I encourage all First Mates to learn how to use the VHF radio–it is your lifeline. As neat as cell phones are, you can dial 911 but you need a physical address that you probably won’t be able to provide. You can call *16 and reach a marine operator who will transfer you to Coast Guard.
You can reach Coast Guard on VHF 16–24/7
On the other hand, you can reach Coast Guard on channel 16 on your VHF 24/7. They will co-ordinate with land emergency services for you, as they did for us in Florida. Just answer their questions and follow their instructions. As well, other boaters monitor 16 and may be closer so may be able to assist ahead of Coast Guard or other water emergency service.
In our case, Coast Guard was 20 miles away but worked with Sea Tow who heard our call, was close by and offered to help. It was amazing how fast it all came together. When we pulled into the dock, the Sea Tow boat and the ambulance were waiting and the paramedics were on the boat in seconds.
I also encourage First Mates to take driving lessons; so that you can take over the helm, drive and dock the boat in emergencies. It will not only give you confidence, but also peace of mind knowing that you know — and it could also save a life.
Establish Emergency Procedures
It is a good idea for all Captains and First Mates to establish emergency procedures and review them with everyone on board. You never know, if you will have to deal with a medical emergency, man overboard situation, mechanical failure, or a minor or major accident, whether it is your boat or another boat you happen to be near.
The important thing is to have emergency procedures and review them with all on board–just in case. Like the Boy Scout motto, it pays to “Be Prepared“.