Sea Sick: If someone is impaled, don’t pull out the object

Feb 26, 2020 by Keith Murray

Sea Sick: by Keith Murray

Many of you reading this column  who are over the age of 50 may remember the 1969 Jerry Lewis movie “Hook, Line and Sinker” in which he gets impaled by a large marlin. In the movie, he appears fine and is seen talking, even walking with the large fish protruding from his body.

For those of you not old enough to remember this, you should recall Steve Irwin, the Crocodile Hunter. Irwin was killed when a stingray barb entered his heart. They were filming a large, 8-foot-wide stingray in chest deep water. It is presumed that the stingray mistook Irwin’s shadow for a tiger shark and struck out in self-defense.

So what should be done when someone has something stuck in their body? Whether the object is a knife or a large fish, it must be left in. Removing the impaling object often makes the injury worse. Removing it improperly can cause more damage and bleeding. Think of a saw blade touching an artery or an organ. The impaling object often works like a cork, holding the victim’s blood inside.

Remember, your own safety must always be your primary consideration. Sharp objects such as knives, fishhooks, gaffs or nails are not only capable of causing an injury to the rescuer, but are also contaminated with the patient’s blood. You never want to touch another person’s blood. Always wear your personal protective equipment (gloves and safety glasses). 

Do not move the patient unless necessary. If emergency medical services are not available or the patient must be moved, the impaling object must first be secured to prevent more damage. Cut clothing carefully away from the wound without moving the object. 

If possible, shorten the object. On the news, you may see someone fall on an 8-foot piece of rebar, and the rebar goes to the hospital with the patient – but as a much shorter piece. Longer objects move more and movement causes damage. But don’t make the object too short because you need some room to stabilize it; give yourself a few inches to work with.

Secure the object to prevent movement and stabilize it with bulky dressings. Try to anchor it with bandages or strips of cloth to keep it from moving. Often you must be creative and use what you have on hand. Keep the victim from moving or touching the object or the wound.

What if someone gets something stuck in their eye? If the object has impaled the eye, do not remove it. Do not apply pressure. If available, a paper or styrofoam cup with a hole in the bottom can often slide over the impaling  object to secure it in place. Or roll up gauze and tape it in place. Cover the injured eye without putting any pressure on the eye or the object.

Also – and this is critical – cover the good eye with a bulky dressing. The eyes track together, and covering the good eye will reduce eye movement for both eyes. 

As with any medical emergency at sea, it must be determined quickly whether the injury will require immediate emergency medical care from a doctor or hospital. When in doubt, get the victim to help as soon as possible. If the wound is minor, it may still be prudent to seek medical attention once the yacht has reached shore. Have a medical professional examine the wound for infection and make sure all shots are current.

To learn more about bleeding, first aid and other medical emergencies, take a CPR, AED and first-aid class. Ideally, crew should attend a refresher class at least every two years. Often classes can be conducted on board a yacht or at a business location. Shipboard classes are helpful because they allow the crew to develop plans, review first-aid supplies, and talk about medical emergencies as they relate specifically to their yacht, passengers and ports of call.

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.