How to Be Prepared for Medical Emergencies at Sea

by DAN Boater
sailing into approaching storm clouds at sunset
sailing into approaching storm clouds at sunset
A good medical emergency plan outlines what to do when your first-aid kit isn’t enough

For many, the opportunity to explore the world by boat marks the culmination of years spent dreaming and planning. Whether your itinerary includes North America's Great Loop or you are setting sail to exotic foreign lands, you have planned your provisions and packed everything from clothing to playing cards. However, while most travelers remember to bring first aid supplies along, it is all too common to neglect contingency planning for serious medical emergencies.

The High Cost of International Medical Care

Health insurance offers the peace of mind of knowing that if you have an accident or serious illness, a portion of your hospital bills will be paid. Unfortunately, in most cases, when you leave home to see the world, your coverage doesn't go with you. For example, Medicare does not pay for any treatment received outside of the United States. In an emergency situation, you could be responsible for the full cost of your care.

When you are at sea, the issue becomes even more complex. You could find yourself hours away from appropriate medical facilities, which means that you have to arrange and pay for emergency transportation. Some boaters purchase travel insurance, which covers some of these expenses. However, these policies can be quite costly, and benefits are typically limited.

3 Services You May Need for Handling Emergencies at Sea

Comprehensive planning of your boating trip includes careful attention to three services you hope you'll never need: medical evacuation, medical repatriation and search and rescue. Though the terms are often used interchangeably, they refer to three distinct crisis situations.

Medical Evacuation

Part of the excitement of your trip is exploring exotic destinations. In some cases, you'll find yourself far away from high-quality medical professionals. When you are looking for adventure, lack of civilization is a good thing. When you have a medical emergency, it can be quite frightening. Knowing who to call and what to expect from a medical evacuation specialist means you can stay clear-headed in an emergency, which makes it much easier to deal with a sudden illness or accident.

Medical Repatriation

If your health insurance doesn't cover international care, getting home is a priority. However, depending on your condition, standard travel options may not be possible. Medical repatriation services return you to your home country if you are stable enough to travel using available resources, which means you won't have to add the stress of a foreign country and unpaid medical bills to the medical issues you are already experiencing.

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Search and Rescue

Nothing is more terrifying than knowing a loved one is lost at sea. There are heroes that perform search and rescue operations in all sorts of conditions, risking their own lives to bring cruisers and sailors home safely. Some of these services come at no cost to the person who needs assistance but, outside the United States, families could find themselves responsible for some or all of the costs. Prepare for the unthinkable by including search and rescue expense coverage in your overall emergency plan. Such coverage reimburses you for the expenses incurred during a search and rescue operation.

Key Takeaway

Make sure that every moment of your boating trip is memorable for the sights you see, the destinations you explore, and the people you meet - not the medical emergency that drained your finances. When planning a trip that's more than 50 miles from home, be sure to include medical evacuation and repatriation and search and rescue services in your contingency plans.

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