The Official Magazine of the Bluewater Cruising Association

Emergency Evacuation Services While Cruising

Pamela Bendall

Precious Metal
46 Kristen, steel hull, cutter rigged sloop
October 17th, 2016

Planning for emergency evacuation services while you are cruising is an important addition to your safety preparations. Whether you’re planning to cruise offshore around the world, more locally around Vancouver Island and Alaska, or general vacation holidays, emergency evacuation coverage is essential these days. Prices of emergency evacuation are soaring, and evacuation logistics are becoming more and more challenging. As the Nautical Director for  SkyMed International, I am privy to the extreme financial, emotional and life-threatening hardships that people suddenly face when struck with a serious medical emergency. Not only should you add this as a priority on your safety list; but as well, you should be aware of the fine print. This week a family was charged $308,000 (US) while on vacation in Cabo San Lucas, because they didn’t have the proper coverage. Medical evacuations cost between $35,000 and $100,000 (US) upfront, and coordinating these funds during a medical emergency, so far away from home, in foreign institutions, can be extremely challenging.

Most people will never experience a serious medical emergency while travelling, or one that’s life threatening. The majority of our medical issues can be dealt with by local foreign doctors when we travel. That said, if you’re one of the unlucky ones, and don’t have protection, your emergency could be an emotional, logistical and financial nightmare. Whether it’s an accident, serious illness, or a medical complication that can’t be treated by foreign doctors, it’s a “show stopper” and can be fatal if not handled properly and expeditiously. The first 24 hours will often determine the outcome, and you’ll want emergency evacuation protection to handle the emergency as efficiently as possible. They’re called emergencies because we can’t plan for them; however, we can plan for the most seamless possible scenario.

Due diligence in choosing your emergency evacuation protection is important. The “fine print” is difficult to wade through in most policies because it’s difficult to think through all of the probabilities. This is not a time to be frugal and select the cheapest policy. Following are some considerations that you should pay attention to when you select your emergency evacuation coverage:

  • WHO decides whether you’re suitable for emergency evacuation? YOU should be able to decide, and/or your significant other in case you’re not capable. Most policies stipulate that the Hospital Administrator (who will want to keep you there for financial reasons) or the insurer (who will be reluctant to spend funds for evacuation) makes the decision, so be wary of this policy.
  • WHERE will they evacuate you to? You will want to go home. Most policies take you to “the closest place that can treat you.” You could easily end up in the United States and be faced with enormous US health care costs. Canadians are so fortunate to have excellent emergency care; however, you require an evacuation plan to repatriate you home.
  • WHO will be at your bedside? You will want your next of kin. Most policies don’t allow next of kin for a hospital stay of less than 7 days.
  • WHAT will you do with your boat, family, pets and other appendages while being treated? Your policy should look after these considerations whereas most only look after the patient.
  • WHAT are the other associated costs involved besides the emergency med-evac and who pays for these?

The above are the most important questions that need to be resolved prior to purchasing a medical evacuation plan. It is important that you have guarantees that you will be brought home, and you should be allowed to decide whether you want to be repatriated – as long as you’re stable enough to fly.

I was personally challenged with a medical emergency while sailing offshore (I was struck by lightning), which is why I understand the importance of evacuation coverage. Evacuation coverage is an important part of your safety planning, and just like the rest of your safety equipment – I hope it’s something you’ll never have to use!

Cover image attribution: CC BY SA 3.0 Unported


  1. Stan Homer says:

    Cruising folk should look into DAN insurance

  2. Bob Underwood says:

    Fear and uncertainty and doubt, packaged as useful information from a sales professional.

Leave A Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *