First Aid for Boating Adventures
Summer has arrived and school holidays are here. With the warmer weather and warmer water, many families will be heading out in their boat to their favourite fishing or snorkelling spot. No matter how careful you are on your recreational boating adventures, injuries can happen. Having a well-equipped First Aid kit, and being prepared to treat injuries, are essential for a safe day out. What are some of the injuries that boaties need to be prepared for?
Fishing and Snorkelling Injuries
Fishing hook wounds
Getting a fishing hook embedded in a hand or foot is a relatively common injury according to the British Journal of Sports Medicine. Because of their irregular shape, hooks should only be removed if they have not penetrated deeply and it is certain that there are no tendons or joints involved in the injury. Never attempt to remove a fishing hook from an eye.
Only if it is safe to do so, remove the hook. Then clean and cover the wound to help prevent infection. If it is unsafe to remove the hook, seek prompt medical attention.
Coral cuts and scrapes
According to the Divers Alert Network, coral cuts and scrapes are perhaps the most common injury experienced by divers and snorkelers in the tropics. Coral injuries can get infected very easily and take a long time to heal. Clean and cover coral wounds promptly.
Injuries from marine life
Many marine animals use toxins for catching prey or for defence and their venom may also be life-threatening to humans. Envenomation can occur through a bite, sting or puncture wound so the best thing is to prevent injury by leaving all marine life well alone. Fortunately, with care, the risk of injury from marine life is low.
The Royal Life Saving Society, in its Swimming and Lifesaving manual, recommend the following emergency care for envenomation. In all cases, watch for shock, monitor breathing and circulation, and be prepared to administer cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).
Blue-ringed octopus bite and cone shell sting
Treat as for snakebite with pressure immobilisation. Apply a firm bandage over the bitten area then bandage the entire limb. Apply a rigid splint and keep still. Seek medical aid urgently.
Scorpion fish and stonefish spines
Place the affected area in water that is as hot as can be tolerated. Seek medical assistance immediately.
Do not remove the barb. Apply water that is as hot as can be tolerated over the stung area. Be careful not to burn as the affected area may be numb from the venom. Seek medical aid urgently.
Jellyfish and bluebottle stings (NON-TROPICAL)
Using tweezers, gently remove any tentacles adhering to the skin or rinse off with sea water. In the case of non-tropical bluebottles, apply hot water over the stung area. For non-tropical jellyfish stings, apply cold packs or wrapped ice. Seek medical aid in severe cases, if pain is not relieved, or if the stung area is large.
Box jellyfish and Irukandji stings
In northern Australian waters always wear protective clothing such as a wet suit or lycra stinger suit during ‘stinger season’ (October to March). If stung, seek medical aid urgently.
Flood the affected area with copious quantities of vinegar for at least 30 seconds. If vinegar is not available, rinse well with sea water, gently detaching the tentacles with tweezers. Apply ice packs to assist in pain relief.
Shark bite and serious bleeding
The number of fatal shark attacks in Australia in 2020 has been worrying for many swimmers and snorkellers.
There is much you can do to minimise your risk of a dangerous shark encounter, however, and the Queensland Government’s Shark Smart site (https://www.daf.qld.gov.au/sharksmart) has good advice. This includes staying out of the water at dusk and dawn and keeping fish waste and food scraps away from where people swim.
While the risk of an unprovoked shark attack is small, it is sensible to be prepared to treat serious bleeding. The Australian Resuscitation Council (ARC) recommends firm pressure on or around the wound as the most effective way to stop bleeding. Elevating the bleeding part and restricting movement will also help to control bleeding. Only as a last resort for life-threatening limb bleeding, the ARC recommends using an arterial tourniquet. A tourniquet is applied to the limb above the bleeding point when arterial bleeding is not able to be controlled by direct pressure.
Ready to Respond
To make sure you are ready to respond to injuries when out boating:
• Get First Aid training and stay up to date
• Make sure you have downloaded the Rescue Swag or St John’s First Aid app to your phone. They work anywhere and will give you immediate advice in any emergency, saving vital minutes and keeping you calm.
• Know your emergency service numbers and how to use your radio
• Have the basic safety gear that is required by local law
• If you swim or snorkel, take hot water (a vacuum flask will stay hot for a day trip), icepacks (instant cold packs or freezer bricks from the esky) and vinegar in the tropics
• Take a well-equipped first aid kit such as Rescue Swag’s Adventurer.
Adventurer First Aid Kit for Boating Adventures
Like all the Rescue Swag First Aid kits, the durable Adventurer is water and dust-proof so its contents stay clean and dry.
The three modules inside – for minor injuries, major injuries and snake bites and burns - ensure you have easy access to what you need, when you need it.
For example, the minor injuries module with cleansing wipes, splinter probes and band aids would be your go to for most coral cuts and scrapes. The snake bite module has a compression bandage suitable for pressure immobilisation in the case of octopus bites or cone shell stings.
The Adventurer’s outer cover also converts to a sling or splint which is useful for immobilising a bitten or stung limb. When moored, we use the cover’s straps to attach the Adventurer kit to our bimini where it is plainly visible and easily accessible.
Stop the Bleed
The Adventurer comes with everything that you need in a standard recreational boating First Aid kit. Because we love swimming and snorkelling on our boating adventures, we add additional wound dressings and a tourniquet. Rescue Swag stock the Rescue Bandage TQ, a lightweight and compact inflatable tourniquet that conforms to ARC guidelines.
This article is for information only and is not meant to take the place of skilled medical advice and care. Whether you go fishing, snorkelling on the reef, or just enjoy a day on the water, take care and enjoy safe summer boating.
Amanda Freeman is an ecologist and writer who enjoys boating, snorkelling and diving on the Great Barrier Reef near her home in far north Queensland. She is also a qualified snorkelling instructor. She can be found at www.naturenorth.com.au