As with navigation and other boating courses, there are different grades of First Aid and medical courses that may come in useful depending on how adventurous your seafaring plans are.
Most people don’t stray too far from a place of safety on their yacht, sailing mostly in daylight hours along the coast and thereby only need an RYA Day Skipper or ASA Basic Coastal Cruising certificate. However, those with an ambition to cut loose and sail around Europe or across an ocean will need far more detailed yachting courses such as the IYT Yachtmaster Offshore.
The same applies with First Aid and medical certifications. The further you plan to go from a place of safety (and thereby rescue when your plans go pear shaped) the better qualified you need to be to prepare for eventualities.
Think of the grades of qualification as being of a similar idea to those taught to soldiers and medics in a war zone. Soldiers will be able to patch themselves up enough to get to a medic (the equivalent of Small Craft First Aid), where the medic will triage them to see whether they should get out of the hot zone while keeping them stable (Medical First Aid is the equivalent) and the US airborne paramedic will look after them while in the Blackhawk heading back to Camp Bastion (very roughly equivalent to Medical Care). This gets them to the doctor who has trained for many years in all sorts of injuries and might be the only person who can help you see your wife again…
First Aid is designed to keep someone stable while getting appropriate medical help. Small Craft First Aid is a system where you will learn how to tackle everything from minor burns and sprains to CPR, up to a few hours while a lifeboat or helicopter is despatched to get to you.
In European waters the emergency services will triage you to see what sort of help you need, and how best to get that help to you. What with the UK’s cuts to HM Coastguard helicopter rescue services, helicopters will often only be sent where the need for help is acute and urgent, such as where the patient is unable to breathe or is suffering heart problems or a head injury.
The MCA Medical First Aid course qualifies you to treat someone for illness or injury up to 150 miles from a ‘place of safety’. The further you go from shore, the longer you may have to wait for rescue or help. If you are 150 miles offshore then it could take 90 minutes to two hours to respond to even the most urgent request for help.
As a youngster my stepmother was an RAF rescue doctor and, based at RAF Brawdy in West Wales, often had to go by Sea King to locations in the Atlantic off the west coast of Ireland, refuelling in mid air to get to the casualty. The vessel may have been 150 miles from a fishing port on the west coast of Ireland (a ‘place of safety’) but the nearest rescue services may have been 300 or more miles away.
Even full blast, a helicopter can only travel at 150mph – add to that the time it takes to get one airborne from the airbase that could be another 150 miles off?
The MCA Medical First Aid qualification enables you to attempt to keep the patient stable for those hours. People with this qualification have succeeded in pretty vile conditions in keeping the patient stable while the emergency services have been brought to bear.
The MCA Medical Care qualification takes Medical First Aid to a different level. You will be able to get on the radio to a doctor and take instructions as to how best to stabilise the casualty and will be given basic medical training to follow those instructions, as well as administering medical care without support from a medical practitioner ashore.
Where the Medical First Aid qualification has a limit as to the distance offshore you can go, this qualification has no limits as to distance. In theory you could be on your own, half way across the Atlantic and have to administer that help for a few days or more as you get to the point where emergency services (or a doctor on a nearby ship) can get to you.
Many oceanic sailors go for this qualification in the same way they would undertake lessons in celestial navigation – you never know when you may need it, but will be very happy should you run into a situation where you do.
As with so many other sailing qualifications you frequently never end up using these. All First Aid and Medical Care qualifications are time limited – generally five years – so you should never be rusty in your skills. Again, only spend the £600 – £1200 on such advanced courses if you plan to go out of reach of medical support, but what price has saving a life?