Health afloat

On this page:   Emergency Treatment | Free Health Care -EHIC | Pregnancy

You don’t have to be a twenty something keep fit fanatic to go sailing. Most conditions can be accommodated; there are even yachts for charter that are converted for wheelchair users. Most charter yachts have all the running lines led back to the cockpit so many adjustments can be made without leaving your seat!

Many health problems on holiday are self inflicted – too much sun, too much alcohol and too little water! Occasionally, others appear by surprise, as they would back home – that’s life. The good news is that the medical facilities at your destination may be much better than you expect; governments are generally keen to look after their tourists and sometimes seem to provide much better for their visitors than for their citizens!

Don't forget your medication

Don’t forget your medication

Travel insurance is good, and in fact a condition of booking for most package holidays. But if you expect to need serious medical attention in a real hurry, it may only be useful for bringing your body home! And if your condition is that serious the cost of travel insurance may be prohibitive anyway. So better to try to stay healthy, get insured and plan for the worst, rather just than one of these.

So here are some thoughts on how health matters might influence your holiday planning. For dealing with health matters once you’re there, take a look at my Health Tips and don’t forget to take your Travel Insurance details and medication with you.

Emergency Treatment

If you suffer from a pre-existing condition, this may affect your choice of where to go but it’s also a good idea to get the crew prepared, just in case.

If you can live (ha ha) with it taking a couple of hours to get to hospital, there are sailing areas where you can stay within a few miles of a road connected landing point. Bear in mind a small yacht may only do about 5 knots (roughly 5mph), and you may then have several miles drive to the nearest medical facilities.

Ensure everyone knows the drill if you're taken ill. Here's the treatment if your arms and legs come off!

Ensure everyone knows the drill if you’re taken ill. Here’s the treatment if your arms and legs come off!

That may sounds a bit slow, (though I recently discovered my “local” ambulance station at home is now on the other side of the county, and I don’t live out in the sticks, I’m 30 miles from London)! So think about what can be done in the meantime.

Take someone with you (or train someone up) who can give you some first aid. And make sure those around you know what you’ve got – a condition that may be routine and manageable for you can be a bit scary for others if they’re not expecting it.

If you’re likely to need your medication, make sure the crew know where to find it. If you have to be hospitalised your medication should accompany you, as the medics will be keen to know what you take.  It’s also handy for the crew to know of any allergies so you’re not given anything that could make things worse rather than better.

Charter yachts almost always include a first aid kit on board but most of the regulations seem to specify the presence of a box but not what’s in it. Some kits are incredibly spartan and of course the contents usually come from the local pharmacy so are not always labelled in English.

Before you set sail, make sure you know not only where the box is but what it contains – the base staff will be able to help if you ask during check in. Ensure too that you are aware of any allergies that any of the crew have or you may not be thanked for your treatment!

Don’t bank on being airlifted – helicopters are thin on the ground, and even thinner in the air in many sailing areas. And unless you’re taking your own physician and trust him to wield a knife in rolling seas, if you’re not in reasonable health, I’d avoid trips taking you far from land.  But with sensible precautions like those above, there is no reason why most people can’t go sailing.

Free Health Care Overseas – EHIC

If you have a serious health condition (or have had in the past), or if you’re over 75 you may find Travel Insurance premiums are beyond affordability. The simple solution is to go somewhere where there are reciprocal health arrangements!

You don't want the doctor worrying about your wallet.  You want him worrying about you.

You don’t want the doctor worrying about your wallet. You want him worrying about you.

For most UK citizens this includes EC countries through the free European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), as well as Australia, New Zealand, Croatia, Barbados and the BVI’s. Countries that don’t offer reciprocal arrangements include Turkey & the US.

Ideally, you should have medical insurance through your travel insurance, as well as an EHIC (if travelling to an EHIC country).  Why?  Well firstly, insurance companies may not be keen on stumping up for something you could have got for free (check the small print).

And secondly the EHIC doesn’t  always get you completely free treatment.  You may have to pay for some things, though you may then also be able to get some of these payments refunded locally.  For anything else, you’d have to rely on…… your travel insurance.

For more on how to get an EHIC, the extent of cover, and reciprocal arrangements with non EU countries, I recommend the NHS Choices website. Note the EHIC is free if you apply yourself, which isn’t hard. There have been sites charging, essentially for making the application for you.


Good news – I don’t know of any charter company that prohibits pregnant women on their yachts, at any stage of the pregnancy (though see the comments above on how long it might take to get to the nearest hospital).  Airlines are another matter!

Star fish massages aren't compulsory for pregnant sailors

Star fish massages aren’t compulsory for pregnant sailors

Every airline seems to have slightly different rules but generally, up to 28 weeks there is no issue and they don’t need to be advised. Beyond 28 weeks most will require at least a letter from your doctor and a few will not allow you to fly.

Provided the doctor doesn’t indicate any complications, such as other health issues, most will let you fly until 35 or 36 weeks, unless you’re expecting a multiple birth in which case the limit is usually 32 weeks.

Remember that if you’re flying out, you’ll probably want to fly back.  So if the limit is 36 weeks and you’re planning a two week holiday, you need to fly out by week 34. And in case you were thinking of giving birth out there, some airlines won’t let you back until at least 7 days after the birth!

Beyond that, as a chap, I’m probably the last person to issue advice.  I once had a boss who concealed her pregnancy from her superiors until a month before she was due, left work the day before she gave birth and was back two days later! I’m sure she’d have taken being bounced around on a boat in her stride.  Whether that would be a great holiday for you is your call not mine.