James Stevens answers your questions of seamanship - this month, does a head injury onboard warrant issuing a Mayday


Dave and Mary have a Beneteau 32 and have 
invited friends Simon 
and Emma for a day sail.

It’s a perfect day for a 
trip up the coast to windward to a favourite anchorage and an easy downwind sail 
home in the sunshine.

Dave and Mary are quite experienced. They have completed the RYA shore-based and practical courses to Coastal Skipper. Simon has done a little sailing and Emma has never been on board a yacht before.

In the afternoon the wind has freshened to about 18 knots, quite breezy but not a problem for the downwind leg.

When they set off after lunch Dave sets a full main and 
a poled out headsail. There is no preventer and the wind is exactly aft.

Simon is keen to try helming so Dave points out a prominent landmark for him to aim for and they set off.

All four of them are in the cockpit, Simon helming, Dave and Mary sitting at the forward end of the cockpit and Emma is next to the mainsheet track on the opposite side from the mainsheet.

While they are all chatting, Simon takes 
his eye off the course and there is a bang as the main boom gybes.

The mainsheet strikes Emma hard and hits her head against the primary winch. Dave regains control of the boat. All eyes are on Emma who is dazed 
but conscious.

Continues below…

Do I set off – or not?

James Stevens answers your questions of seamanship - this month, with increasing headwinds forecast is it best to leave now…

As they are wondering what to do she becomes less responsive to their questions. They lie her down because it looks as if she might lose consciousness.

Simon thinks that if she rests she’ll be fine until they get back and then he can drive her to see a doctor.

Dave thinks it would be worth making a Pan Pan call to get the advice of a doctor. Mary feels extremely uneasy and thinks a Mayday call is needed immediately.

What would you do if you found yourself 
in this situation?


It is difficult for a yacht crew to establish the severity of a head injury but it’s a bad sign if the casualty is deteriorating or losing consciousness, so it’s definitely a Mayday.

James Stevens

James Stevens, author of the Yachtmaster Handbook, spent 10 of his 23 years at the RYA as Training Manager and Yachtmaster Chief Examiner

Emma needs to be taken off the boat for immediate medical attention.

A Pan Pan call would give the same outcome, and The Coastguard will probably send a helicopter.

Dave or Mary must still skipper the yacht and the other should operate the VHF 

Suddenly they are going to feel short- handed with Simon looking after Emma, 
sails to drop and the yacht prepared for 
a helicopter overhead.

The helicopter pilot will give instructions over the radio giving a course to steer while a hi-line is lowered.

It’s quite a difficult, noisy operation if you have never seen it before, especially if you are also dealing with a critically ill casualty.

If this situation sends a shiver down your spine, make every effort to avoid a crash gybe.

Rig a preventer on a run and don’t allow anyone to sit in what instructors call ‘Death Alley’ – in the path of the mainsheet.

It’s worth taking an RYA first aid course to learn when an injury warrants a Mayday call and what happens during a hi-line transfer.