Catch Me If You Can – Crew and medical check-ups

3 February 2011 By Ken Prudhoe

It used to be said that a sailor had a girl in every port. This cliché reflected the traditional stereotype of the man at sea. The modern-day yachties, men and women, are more likely to have a doctor in every port! The itinerant lifestyle of yachting is not easily compatible with continuity of care by one doctor, who is familiar with the individual and his or her medical history.

Fortunately, one happy aspect of modern-day yachting is the relative ease of long-haul flights home – crew from Oz and New Zealand are able to get home at least once a year from the Med and the Caribbean in order to visit their doctors. Some, on the other hand, prefer not to spend their holidays in dentists’ and doctors’ offices. There is no doubt that regular medical or dental check-ups can be squeezed out or missed completely if an exciting trip or adventure comes down the pipeline.

An annual dental check to keep teeth in good condition and to avoid toothaches at sea always is encouraged. Obviously, it is better to visit the same dentist for each check up; however, it is best to go to a dentist, any dentist, and not miss a visit. Some countries gain a reputation for cheap, but high quality dentistry and this could be one perk of the itinerant lifestyle. If you are unfortunate and get toothache, lose a filling or break a tooth while at sea, a good quality on-board medical kit should contain a dental first aid kit with dental anaesthetic, dental cement or temporary filler to help out.

Wellness medical check-ups, including pap smears and gynae checks, are more complex and continuity of care with the same physician is ideal – second best is for the patient to keep a file of all correspondence and results. This is even more important when individuals have actually developed some symptoms of underlying illness, but are obliged to move on. Efficient telecommunications mean that doctors have patients with medical problems who can be advised whilst on the move and can make better use of local facilities when next in a port. It is worth making sure you have enough stock of any medication for the next part of the voyage and a few weeks more. Also, there are professional counselors who continue to support their yachting patients to good effect whilst at sea.

The yachting population is generally positive and healthy. Most likely, crew rarely would consult physicians if they were living ashore, but there are lifestyle patterns to be encouraged that will promote continuing good health. These include the predictable appeal of regular exercise, a sensible diet, not smoking and moderate alcohol consumption. Most boats have someone who can check blood pressure and urine once in a while; this person will have taken a Medical Care Onboard Ship Course (Ship Captain’s Medical Course). S/he can make some sense of unexpected symptoms of illness. Radiomedical advice is increasingly supported by gadgetry to provide real time information to the 24/7 backup service and also can be loaded with modules for in-house crew refresher training.

Crew patients are drawn from all over the world but with good hand-held records and easy telecommunications combined with some on-board self help and medical support the short-comings of folk who never get home to be looked after can be overcome.

Doctors Ken and Rosemary Prudhoe are based at Club de Mar, Palma de Mallorca. Ken is the MCA approved doctor in Spain and undertakes ENG1 certification for seafarers. They are ex-British GPs providing a medical service to the yachting population and Rosemary has a particular interest in women’s medicine. Most months they also teach their MCA approved medical courses on Medical First Aid and Medical Care Onboard Ship (Ship Captain’s). Visit for more information.