Burns: Do you know how to treat them?


Fires on board any vessel can be the most dangerous types of incidents. A fire can trap those on board in cabins and confined spaces.

Burns: Do you know how to treat them?

Evacuating a burning vessel can leave crew stranded in the middle of the ocean. Fires on vessels can and too often are deadly. But for those who survive a fire there may be serious injuries, from smoke inhalation but also from burns.

Today, we are going to look at burns specifically!

A fire isn’t the only way someone may be burned on a vessel, although it is the most common. Here are some other ways:

  • Explosions
  • Electrical accidents
  • Hot surfaces (Thermal)
  • Welding tools
  • Friction
  • Cold
  • Radiation
  • Chemical

While prevention is key, sometimes accidents just happen. So, it’s important to be prepared and to know what to do.

Understanding burns

The first step is to assess the dimension of the burn to determine what approach should be taken. All burns are assessed according to the AREA and DEPTH involved.

The greater the area of tissue burn, the greater the chance of the patient to suffer shock due to loss of tissue fluid (plasma) and develop infection later on.

As a general rule, if the burned area is bigger than 8 cm in diameter or affects the face, eyes, genitalia or goes around a joint it is considered a major burn.

The DEPTH of a burn is assessed as being SUPERFICIAL (involving the outer layers of the skin) or DEEP (all areas of the skin are affected).

So, based on the area and depth of a burn we can classify it in Major or Minor Burns:

Major Burns (3rd and 4th degree burns)

These are deep, involving all layers of the skin. They are larger than a 20 cent coin in diameter or involve hands, feet, face, genitalia or a major joint. The skin may appear charred or have brown, black or white patches.

They are a medical emergency and require immediate medical assistance, so you need to dial 000 and ask for Ambulance immediately.

Burns: Do you know how to treat them?

If the accidents involves a person’s clothing has caught on fire, direct them to stop, drop and roll as this is the best way to extinguish fire, before you can help them.

Until the medical help arrives, here are the steps you can take to assist the burned person:

  1. Remove the person from further damage. In the case of electric shock, ALWAYS switch off the power source first
  2. Make sure the person in breathing
  3. If possible, remove constricting rings, belts, etc as swelling will occur quickly
  4. Cover the burn with gauze or non-adhesive dressing
  5. Elevate the burned area if possible
  6. Monitor the person for signs of shock (like fainting or dizziness, pale skin, weak pulse, shallow breathing, etc)

Minor Burns (1st and 2nd degree burns)

These affect the outer layers of the skin in a small area. The skin may be red and painful, and there can be mild swelling.

Although they are not as serious as higher-degree burns, they can hurt quite a bit and can leave a scar if not properly treated. To treat a minor or first-degree burns at home, follow these steps:

  1. Remove tight items, jewellery or clothes from the burned area, unless they are stuck to the burn
  2. Place the burn under cool running water for 20 minutes. This is the Golden First Aid Tip for Minor Burns.
  3. Do not use ice
  4. Do not break blisters
  5. Do not apply ointment, creams or oil to the burned area as they may cause infections
  6. Apply a proper burn aid product like an hydrogel. Burnaid 25g tube of hydrogel (firstaidkitsaustralia.com.au)
  7. Cover the burn loosely with a bandage. Bandaging keeps air off the area, reduces pain and protects blistered skin.

Part of being prepared for an emergency is to have the right items to address it. Not only do you need to ensure you have a First Aid Kit that is suitable for your vessel, ensuring your crew and you know how to administer and deal with First Aid should be a priority.

As always, if you have any questions, please feel free to contact our office to discuss.

Shorlink’s Recommendation

Primary recommendation is to check your First Aid Kit today. Make sure your medical supplies are in accordance with the appropriate scale relative to your operations.

Secondly ensure all items are in date by checking the expiry dates.


Do you know that you are required to have a Medical Log onboard?

Shorlink has a Medical Stores Log and has recently developed a new Medical Log which records dispensing of all medical supplies to enable tracking.

It also ensures medical supplies are always kept up to date.  Click Here to order today with free postage. Note our new Medical Log will be available shortly.