The Triton


Sea Sick: Washing hands is crucial onboard


Sea Sick: by Keith Murray

In the past, we have covered complex and dramatic lifesaving topics in this column. This month, I want to talk about something very basic that could also save a life and improve your health: hand washing.

Yes, hand washing. Do you know the proper way to wash your hands? Do you know how long you are supposed to wash your hands? Should you use soap or hand sanitizer?

Hand washing saves lives, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Proper technique can cut cold and flu risk, and prevent the spread of foodborne illnesses and other infections in close settings like yachts and hospitals.

For this article, I consulted a hand-washing specialist: Tracy Thomas, a registered nurse with more than 20 years of experience in the medical field. Tracy said washing our hands, even if they look clean, is the most important way to prevent the spread of illnesses and germs. We should always wash our hands after using the bathroom, coughing, sneezing, blowing our nose, handling money, petting an animal or changing a diaper.

And here is the most effective way to do it: First, lather your hands with soap and warm or hot-warm water, then rub your hands together vigorously for 20 seconds. After 20 seconds, rinse your hands thoroughly with water and fully dry them with paper towels. Using paper towels to also turn off the faucet and open the bathroom door will prevent germs on the handles from transferring onto your clean hands.

If using hand sanitizer, make sure it is an alcohol-based one – the alcohol is what kills the bacteria and viruses. Apply enough sanitizer to cover all surfaces of your hands. Then rub your hands together until they are completely dry.

According to the CDC, washing with soap removes germs from the hands. This helps prevent infections because:
People frequently touch their eyes, nose and mouth without even realizing it. Germs can enter the body through the eyes, nose and mouth, and make us sick.

Germs from unwashed hands can get into food and drinks while people prepare or consume them. Germs can multiply in some types of food or drinks, under certain conditions, and make people sick.

Germs from unwashed hands can be transferred to other objects, such as handrails, tabletops or toys, and then transferred to another person’s hands.

Removing germs through hand washing helps prevent diarrhea and respiratory infections, and may even help prevent skin and eye infections.

If you can train your crew in proper hand-washing techniques, you can help the crew and guests stay healthy.

Studies indicate that proper hand washing education:

  • Reduces the number of people who get sick with diarrhea by 31 percent.
  • Reduces diarrheal illness in people with weakened immune systems by 58 percent.
  • Reduces respiratory illnesses, such as colds, by 16-21 percent.

The CDC sited a study of 6,000 elementary school students encouraged to use an alcohol gel hand sanitizer in the classroom, resulting in a 19.8 percent decrease in absenteeism due to infection. With that said, why not teach your crew and guests the importance of proper hand washing – you have nothing to lose but onboard illness.

EMT Keith Murray provides onboard CPR, AED and first-aid training, as well as AED sales and service. His company can be found at Comments are welcome below.

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One thought on “Sea Sick: Washing hands is crucial onboard

  1. Debra

    Good article! I am disturbed at how difficult it is to get electronic-activated sink water running long enough in public places to wash your hands properly! 3 seconds of running water is not enough! I’ve seen this problem in hospitals and medical buildings! Also, if germs are on your hands, why is it so many people do not wash silverware, pots, etc. where your hands contact them? The handles are left covered with grease also….

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