Patient & Visitor InformationContact Us
  • Articles and Tips

  • Sailing Injuries

  • Sailing Injuries

    Andrew Nathanson, MD, emergency physician at Rhode Island Hospital and The Miriam Hospital, and Glenn Hebel, MD, director of emergency medicine at Newport Hospital, comment on the hazards of sailing.

    If you’re sailing this summer, you may want to look up, down and all around to avoid some common injuries—falling down open hatches or being hit in the head by the boom, emergency physicians say. Other common injuries include: tripping over ropes, winches and cleats; and being swept overboard.

    “There is very little information available on sailing injuries,” says Andrew Nathanson, MD, an emergency physician who is conducting a worldwide study on sailing injuries through the Rhode Island Hospital Injury Prevention Center. “But we do know that most injuries on sailboats can be prevented with a little caution. You just have to be aware of your surroundings.”

    Being Swept Overboard

    One of the top reasons for fatal injuries is being swept overboard—which happened recently to 32-year-old Dutch crewman Hans Horrevoets, who died during the Volvo Ocean Race. He was not wearing a life vest or a safety harness in open seas.

    While most recreational sailors do not go into open waters, they should still wear a personal flotation device. “If you wear a life jacket, your chances of survival are nearly doubled,” says Nathanson, who is also an emergency physician at The Miriam Hospital, and an assistant professor of emergency medicine at Brown Medical School, both in Providence, RI.

    Avoid the Boom

    The second leading cause of death on sailboats is the boom, he says. “When the boom swings across the deck and whacks someone in the head, that person can die from a severe head injury,” Nathanson says.

    This type of injury often occurs because people don’t have expertise in sailing, he says. “It has a lot to do with understanding the wind and knowing how to sail. If you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time, you are likely to get hit by the boom.”

    Keep Fingers Out of Harm's Way

    Glenn Hebel, MD, director of emergency medicine at Newport Hospital, says his department sees 20 to 30 sailing-related injuries each year in Newport, RI, one of the prime sailing destinations on the East Coast.

    “The most common sailing incidents that send people to our emergency department are finger and hand injuries,” Hebel says, “resulting from accidents with winches and cleats. Some of them can be severe.”

    Among the most serious sailing-related situations Newport Hospital sees are patients with head injuries caused by a sailboat’s boom, cold water exposures, hypothermia and near-drowning from falling overboard.

    According to preliminary results from Nathanson’s study, the most common injury is to the hand, followed by the head. Those injuries are most often cuts and contusions. The top reasons: being hit by an object; and trips and falls.

    Setting Sail?Tips on how to prepare for your voyage

    Other topics:

    | More travel advice