Burns are very painful injuries. Severe burns can cause enormous damage to the body and inflict terrible pain and suffering with serious long-term consequences. Prompt first aid for burns is vital.

Burns are classified according to depth. A first degree burn is superficial and results in localized inflammation. There will be pain, swelling and redness. However, the integrity of the skin will not be impaired.

A second degree burn is deeper, penetrating below the outer layers of the skin. In addition to pain, swelling and redness, there will be evident blistering.

A third degree burn is the most serious, penetrating all layers of the skin. The skin is destroyed and the underlying nerves, blood vessels and tissue are damaged. Often there is little pain associated with a 3rd degree burn because the nerves have been severely damaged.

In addition to depth, the total area of the burn is also important. Because the skin is the body's first line of defense, any burn opens up the body to the risk of serious infection. If more than 20% of the body is burned, a substantial amount of body fluid can be lost, resulting in shock.

Here are some essential steps in giving first aid for burns:

  1. Critical burns require medical treatment – if you cannot return to dock quickly, call for help (VHF 16 MAYDAY) 
  2. Wash your hands
  3. Put on a pair of hypoallergenic disposable gloves.
  4. Stop the burning – pour cool, clean water over the burned area for 5-10 minutes to stop tissue damage
  5. Remove items from the burned area – a watch or jewelry that may restrict swelling that may develop.
  6. Apply a gel-type dressing – there are several brands of this product which is a dressing soaked with a water-based, water-soluble gel, designed to draw the heat out of a burn while relieving pain, cooling the skin and protecting against infection. It dissipates heat and slows the damage being caused. These can be found at specialty suppliers and/or pharmacies. Some come with a small amount of anesthetic as well.
  7. Apply a sterile dressing.
  8. DO NOT pop blisters – they are the body's way of protecting the damaged skin beneath – breaking them opens the wound up to infection. Protect them with a sterile dressing.
  9. If fingers or toes have been burned, insert non-stick gauze pads between them to prevent them from sticking together.
  10. Monitor the victim for signs of shock while returning to dock or awaiting help.


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