Back Attack

1 February 2011 By Rachael Dickens

Yacht crew by their very nature are stronger and fitter than most of their peers, who live their lives behind desks. But why in an industry made up of strong fit people do so many have back issues?

There is one predominate factor: injury. Awkward lifting, overloading and standing in odd positions for an extended period are three common causes of back issues – and these are all work related issues when you’re a yachtie.

But good advice is: don’t sacrifice your body for your boat owners’ boat. While this is hard to do as crewmembers are meant to be team players, if you can’t work the others have to work harder to take up your slack. This isn’t to say that every time you have a slight back ache, you book yourself into the nearest hotel for a few days R&R, but if you have a herniated disc or are in any of the various stages of muscle spasms in your spinal muscles, stop what you’re doing immediately. You are no good to anyone and you will be unable to work for longer unless you take time to heal.

This isn’t a case of throwing money at your pain; you only will heal when your body has time to heal. In extreme cases, the damage done to the back will stay with you for the rest of your life, hampering your active working life. Some yacht crew have to change careers because of an accident, such as lifting heavy boat equipment alone. It’s not worth being the strong guy in this situation – always ask for help, if possible!

In order to avoid serious back issues, you must avoid tasks that will cause serious back issues. Though you may be mid-charter during a busy season, relying on only five hours of sleep a night and are reeling from demanding guests and a 12-hour turnaround, if you are asked to move something heavy alone, while all of the other crew are busy, you should ask for help.

There is pressure on you to do this without questioning it. But if it is a case of your spinal health, wait until you can share the load.

If you do get hurt, seek help immediately from someone qualified, like a doctor or osteopath, and take their advice. Most of the medical staff around ports understand what a crewmember’s job entails and will give advice based on what your body needs within the constraints of your lifestyle.

Try to keep yourself as strong and supple as you can be. Yoga, Pilates, running, stretching and core-stability exercises all are accessible to crew living in limited space. There are various exercise routines available for free on YouTube to start you off. Do the best in your unique situation to keep your body working for you.

Rachael Dickens, BA BSc DO MROF, is the owner of English Osteopath, a team of osteopaths all qualified in the UK. With clinics in Antibes and Monaco, they have many years experience in treating crew and work alongside other local health specialists to ensure crew receive the best care. Contact Rachael and her team at