We all have something in common… we’re not as young as we used to be! There was time when I really felt that few physical activities presented an obstacle and when I’d eagerly trade my comfort for adventure and excitement. Hiking the Australian outback, fishing far from shore in a center console, sleeping in a tent with the kids and forgetting the air mattress, I’ve been there. But now that I’m fully grown up, I’m more aware that my health and safety deserve more attention even though I still like adventure and excitement.
If you boat or fish as I do, you no doubt also like adventure and excitement. As a kid, I would fish all day in my 13’ Boston Whaler. If the water was choppy, I’d sit on the floor with my legs tucked under the bench seat so I wouldn’t get tossed out of the boat while jumping the chop. I never thought, what if I bump my head or get a hook stuck in my face, or have some other medical emergency. Over time, boats got bigger, destinations farther away, but through it all, “where’s the closest hospital” hasn’t been a key concern for me.
So how does safe boating change as you age? A lot of the basics remain the same. Check the weather forecast, go over the pre-departure check list on your boat, make sure you have floatation devices, flares, a first aid kit and communications, pack refreshments and brief your friends on how, when and if they should help. That list gets you off to a pretty good start. But now I’ve added “think about where the nearest doctor will be, how I’ll get there and how long it will take”. I’m not being paranoid and honestly, I’m not aware of any imminent danger but I’m mature enough and I’ve seen enough to know that unexpected things happen.
I recently had a conversation with my friend, Ted Sussan. Ted is a successful attorney who has spent a good number of winters in Exuma and the Abaco’s Marsh Harbor on his 46’ Nordhavn yacht. In a straight line, Marsh Harbor is about 200 miles off the coast of Palm Beach and Palm Beach International Airport. Exuma is closer to 300 miles away. In either case, in a plane it’s going to take a few hours to get to Florida and a hospital even if the weather and daylight cooperate. Ted recounted some stories that made him think it was time to winter closer to 911 services and a world-class hospital. Here are a few of his stories…
“One of our Marsh Harbor friends with a previous heart condition became ill. He thought the symptoms were consistent with those of a heart attack and he wanted an emergency room. His symptoms began at dinner and the airport in Marsh Harbor provides daylight operations only. He was stuck on his boat until morning adding anxiety to his symptoms when he was finally transported to a Miami hospital. He survived.”
“In an incident in the Exumas, a woman broke her ankle while getting off her boat. The marina staff decided to put her into their 22’ RIB powered by twin Yamahas and transport her to the airport on Staniel Cay, a few miles distant so that she could be flown to Nassau and then on to Miami. The staff were as gentle and caring as possible with her. The last thing I remember as the boat pulled away were the anguished screams that were in synch with the pounding boat. It wasn’t her best day.”
So, there’s something to be said for good medical care within easy reach. A simple fall and fracture or appendicitis can turn into a disaster if medical care is hours or days away even under the best of weather. When you give thought to your surroundings, think about access to help. Be it a towing service, Coast Guard or a hospital, when you need someone you’ll want them within easy reach. You should also be thinking about your first aid supplies requiring more than band aids and antiseptic. If you’re far from medical facilities, you should be thinking of yourself as a “first responder”. Be it a broken bone, appendicitis or a heart attack, the better prepared you are, the better your chances of a good outcome. These are some serious issues to consider, and remember… “we’re not as young as we used to be”.