National Fisherman

Is it medevac time?

From U.S. Coast Guard reports

Many trips go by without serious incident. However, when an event calls for professional medical attention, it may be in the skipper's hands to request a medical evacuation.

On a foggy July morning, the crew of a Maine-based 87-foot offshore lobster boat was preparing to set traps some 160 miles northeast of Massachusetts' Cape Cod.

Looking aft, the skipper noticed a crewman slowly making his way toward the hatch at the bottom of the house; he looked like he was in pain. The skipper checked the radar and the horizon for traffic; there was none, so he made his way down the ladder.

He found the crewman lying on deck in the companionway, wincing in pain. The crewman explained that a cable or line had fallen across his neck and that he heard a crack. The pain was getting worse, and the crewman said his toes were going numb. The skipper knew it could be a back or neck injury. By 10 a.m. he had contacted the Canadian Joint Rescue Coordination Center in Halifax, Nova Scotia, via Inmarsat and requested an offshore medevac. Halifax immediately contacted the U.S. Coast Guard.

The skipper directed a deckhand to apply ice to the crewman's neck and advised Halifax that he was heading toward shore and was about a 24-hour steam from the nearest port. By 10:15 the Coast Guard established communications with the fishing vessel.

The Coast Guard contacted a flight surgeon because of the risks associated with hoisting. The Coast Guard began to relay questions about the crewman's condition, symptoms, and pain medications aboard the vessel.

At 11:10 the Coast Guard informed the skipper that a helicopter would be sent for the medevac. At 12:10 an HH-60 helicopter and an HU-25/Falcon jet were en route to the fishing vessel.

The skipper called the Coast Guard at 12:15 to give an updated position. The fishing vessel and rescue team continued to close the gap and to communicate every 30 minutes, discussing the vessel's position, the crewman's condition, on-scene weather and how the medevac would proceed.

The helicopter arrived at 1:55. By 2 p.m. the rescue swimmer and litter were on deck. Fifteen minutes later the crewman and swimmer were hoisted off the boat, and the helicopter was en route to Boston. The crewman arrived at the hospital at 3:35, in stable condition.

Lessons learned

The crewman in this case was very fortunate to have an experienced skipper. Within minutes of the accident the skipper had made a request for a medevac, curtailed his fishing operation, headed toward port and started to treat the crewman's injury.

Here are a few pointers on how to prepare for a medevac:
• Instructions from the pilot may include the desired course and speed if the ship is underway, the rescue equipment to be used, whether they will send an air crew to your vessel, and what part of the vessel they will hoist to.
• Anyone on deck should wear a life jacket and high-visibility clothing.
• Lower and/or stow booms, rigging, flagstaffs, and antennas not required for communication; secure loose gear, hatches, and the like in the hoisting area.
• Switch off the radar once the helicopter is overhead.
• Allow the hoist wire to ground in the water or on deck before grabbing it. It can have a strong static charge.
• Do not secure or tie-off the hoist wire to the vessel.
• Do not shine a searchlight toward a helicopter at night; the pilots wear night vision goggles.
Keep your first aid and CPR skills current, and fish safe!

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