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New year reminds yacht crew to give medical equipment a check up

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It’s that time of year again. Time to buy a new calendar, make New Year’s resolutions and go through your medical kit.

The first step to a complete emergency medical equipment check up is to gather all of your equipment in one place. Find all your first aid kits, oxygen and automated external defibrillators (AEDs). Don’t forget any small kits on the tender, in the galley and in the engine room.

I also suggest gathering as many crew members for this process, as it is a good learning experience.

After everything is assembled, check all kits for missing or expired items, opened packages or things that look out of place. If you are not sure what something is, ask. If nobody knows what it does, you may not need it.

Let’s start with the simple things such as medical exam gloves, eye protection (safety goggles) and a CPR mask. Gloves and masks have a shelf life and should be replaced annually. Gloves are inexpensive, about $6 for a box of 50, so when in doubt, throw them out. Does the CPR mask look cracked, dirty, discolored or melted? If so, replace it.

Next, look at each medication. Is it current? Is it organized? What is it used for? If anything is expired, order replacements and dispose of the old medication properly. Unsure what the medication is prescribed for? Check the manual or USB drive that came with your medical kit. If you can’t find them, call or e-mail me I will try to assist.

This is where having an organized medical kit and quality first aid training comes into play. It is important to understand what medications you have, how to use them, where they are located and when they expire.

Having at least one AED onboard is also essential. Without an AED, the chances of surviving sudden cardiac arrest outside of a hospital are small, less than 5 percent.

However, if the AED is applied quickly, the victim’s odds increase to about 70-90 percent. Many of the yachts I work with have two AEDs. One on the main ship and another on the tender. Often, the tender is where medical emergencies occur.

If you have an AED, inspect it. Most manufacturers recommend a monthly inspection. Use an AED inspection tag or a log to track inspections. (Download a copy here: SEASICK AED Inspection and SEASICK AED Inspection Checklist)

AEDs have two major parts that must be replaced periodically – the electrode pads and the battery. Most electrode pads have a two-year life and the expiration dates should be clearly marked. The battery, once installed in the unit, has a lifespan of two to five years.

Write the installation date on the battery or on a sticker on the back of the AED as a reminder. Don’t wait until the AED beeps a low-battery warning before you order a new one. Be proactive and have a back-up battery on hand.

Verify that you have a spare set of electrode pads as well as pediatric electrodes if you ever have children on board. Check to see if your AED has been updated to the new American Heart Association guidelines.

Check to see if your AED has been recalled or requires a software update. Several companies have issued recalls on their AEDs, so yours may require service. If you are unsure, check with the manufacturer or e-mail me the make, model and serial number and I will check for you.

Inspect your medical oxygen. Is the tank full? When was the last time the tank itself was inspected? Oxygen tanks generally require hydro testing every five years and should only be filled with “medical” oxygen, which is highly filtered. Turn it on to make sure the regulator and tank function properly.

What about the oxygen masks, nasal cannulas and tubing? Do you have both adult and pediatric masks? Are these in good condition? If they look old, worn or yellow, it’s time to replace these.

Practice and learn all about your oxygen equipment during drills. Ask one crew member to apply the mask to another crew member to see if they can work the equipment. (If you use oxygen for training purposes, be certain to have it refilled immediately.)

Be proactive. Asking questions is a good thing and being prepared for emergencies is the key to saving lives. Have a safe and happy new year.

Keith Murray, a former firefighter EMT, owns The CPR School, a first-aid training company. He provides onboard training for yacht captains and crew and sells and services AEDs. Contact him at 877-623-3277 or www.TheCPRSchool.com. Comments on this column are welcome at editorial@the-triton.com.

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