Home Cruise Safely What happens when there’s a medical emergency at sea?

How are urgent medical concerns handled at sea?

For most people, medical emergencies are a very rare occurrence. What’s more, many people rest assured knowing that, should such an event occur, they have access to medical care that will come to their aid. Whether it’s a matter of calling 911 or heading to your local emergency room, you usually have an obvious way to take urgent action for your own safety.

If you’re on a cruise, however, you might worry that you won’t have any resources in the event of an emergency. After all, what happens if someone breaks an arm or has a heart attack hours away from port? Here’s a quick guide to what you can expect if you need urgent medical care at sea:

On-board medical staff
Most cruise lines have doctors on board who are trained to handle most medical concerns that happen on a ship – and yes, this includes many emergency services. These doctors are perfectly capable of handling minor care like stitches or setting broken bones, and can also communicate with doctors on land in the event they need more information.

There are also generally a number of nurses included in a ship’s crew that can handle other simple illnesses. The most common issue on ships is food poisoning – the medical staff on hand is well-equipped to help passengers in the unlikely event they develop a serious case of norovirus.

May need to disembark
If you fall seriously ill or need extensive emergency medical care on your cruise, the medical staff may decide you need to disembark for medical care at the next port. In some cases, a helicopter may be flown in to quickly transport you to a hospital, but this is a last resort. Lifting out passengers is also done at the discretion of the Coast Guard, and it is under no obligation to do this. This means if weather conditions make flying a helicopter unsafe, or if the Coast Guard does not think your case is urgent enough, you may need to wait until the next port.

Once you’ve arrived, you’ll usually be taken to the nearest hospital. There you will receive whatever medical care the ship was not able to provide. Depending on your situation, you may need to arrange for emergency transport back home.

Tips for cruisers
While the odds of experiencing a medical emergency at sea are low, it’s best to be prepared. Reach out to your cruise line to ask what kind of medical care it has onboard, and if it has a policy for medical emergencies. If you have a particular medical issue you’re concerned about, let the cruise line know – it may be able to bring on specific provisions or equipment to suit your needs.

Even if you don’t have any specific health concerns, it’s always a good idea to get travel health insurance. These policies ensure you can afford medical care in different countries, and often include coverage if you need emergency transportation back home. Many forms of travel insurance will also reimburse your lost costs if you have to cancel a trip due to a medical emergency.

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