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To Your Health: "Stop the Bleed" - An Efficient Response to Deadly Bleeding

By Christopher Leopardi, DO, and Ann Backus, MS, Harvard Chan Education and Research Center


Cuts, lacerations, and amputations are occupational risks for commercial lobstermen. Like countless other dangers at sea, the risk can be reduced through knowledge, training, and preparation.



The “Stop the Bleed” campaign is an initiative aimed at enabling individuals without a medical background to act quickly and effectively in bleeding emergencies. Fishermen who understand the principles of bleeding control can save lives and help ensure a proper and quick response to crew members in trouble.


The Stop the Bleed campaign originated within the military, emergency medicine, and trauma surgery communities. Having someone nearby with practical experience proved critical for immediate control of bleeding in life-threatening situations.

When a person loses a large volume of blood rapidly, the body goes into hypovolemic shock. Hypovolemic shock means your heart can’t provide your body with the blood (and oxygen) it needs to function. In response, the brain and heart become the top priority for receiving blood.

The first steps in bleeding control are to:


  1. evaluate the trauma;

  2. add direct pressure to the wound; and

  3. when direct pressure alone is insufficient, apply a tourniquet to stop the bleeding. Write the time the tourniquet was applied on the tourniquet. At this point, the injured person can be safely transported by first responders to the nearest medical facility.

An inexpensive tourniquet that can be applied with one hand

is an important piece of equipment to have on board.


Historically, tourniquet use had fallen out of favor due to concerns about potential complications such as tissue damage and limb loss. Advancements in medical knowledge and field experience have led to a reevaluation of its usefulness, particularly in the context of traumatic injuries where rapid bleeding control is critical for survival.


Properly applied tourniquets can effectively halt severe bleeding without causing significant harm. As a result, safety and medical professionals now recommend that responders such as fishermen use tourniquets to stop bleeding. Inexpensive, commercially-available tourniquets designed for quick and effective bleeding control are essential components of every emergency medical kit onboard fishing vessels. They provide a crucial response to severe hemorrhage at sea.

Commercially available tourniquets are easy to apply with one hand, even in high-stress situations. A properly applied tourniquet requires the application of a good amount of pressure, which can be difficult to do the first time. The Stop the Bleed tourniquets feature mechanisms that allow rapid tightening around the affected limb.

If a tourniquet is not available, items such as a line, a belt, clothing, etc. can be effective substitutes. Occasional practice sessions on correctly applying tourniquets can enhance crew preparedness and foster the familiarity and confidence needed when responding to bleeding incidents.


It is possible that a crew member could be taking a daily blood thinner medication. Knowing whether the injured person is taking a blood thinner could be valuable information with respect to controlling bleeding.

Having on board a sealed envelope from each crew member that lists medical status and prescription drugs could facilitate the hand-off to U.S. Coast Guard or other first responders in the event of an emergency. Another option would be a Medic-Alert bracelet. There are now inexpensive, colorful silicon “blood thinner” bracelets (and others for penicillin allergy, diabetes, prescription drugs, etc.).


Fishermen must be self-sufficient at sea and are often their own first responders in emergencies. The time for adding tourniquets to your First Aid Kit is now. You could be the next one to save the life of one of your crew members or be the first with a tourniquet to respond to a nearby vessel.



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