All crews attending the Florida Sea Base, regardless of which campus (Sea Base, Brinton Center, Bahamas or USVI) and regardless of which specific adventure (except Scuba Certification and Scuba Adventure), engage in fishing at some point.  Each crew must have at least one adult leader certified in Wilderness First Aid.  My question to each of you WFA certified adult leaders is, were you taught how to remove a fish hook, or first aid for an eel bite, or man-of-war sting?  If not, I think you have homework to do, and maybe I can help.  I’ll start including information on some of these aquatics injuries to help our adult leaders, captains and staff members be better prepared.


Let’s start with marine envenomation (stings).  There are no critters out there that will intentionally swim up and sting you.  Stings generally happen by carelessness on the part of the diver/snorkeler.  Stings can come from fire coral, stone/rock fish, lion fish, jelly fish, man-o-war, etc.  These stings can range from a very sharp burning sensation that is not life threatening, to major envenomation that can cause anaphylaxis, necrosis and death.

Fortunately, with thousands of dives under my weight belt, I have never suffered a truly major sting.  I accidentally rubbed against a small piece of fire coral while teaching the Divemaster Academy this past winter.  This photo was taken about 10 days after contact.


In the summer of 2000 I had an encounter with a small man-o-war.  The scars stayed with me for over 6 months.

Click image to enlarge.

Click image to enlarge.

Here’s a participant who encountered some moon jellies that are common in Keys waters in August

Click image to enlarge.

Click image to enlarge. Photo by Capt. Dennis Wyatt.

He was a real trooper and did not miss any dives.

In the past, the recommended first aid for minor marine stings, like those shown above, was to rinse the area with sea water (NOT fresh water), remove any remaining tentacles and flush the area with vinegar.  Urine was reported as an acceptable substitute if vinegar was not available, but that is a wives tale.

Regardless, the current recommended treatment is:

Flush area with large amounts of sea water (NOT fresh water)
Remove tentacles with forceps
Shave area w/ shave cream & safety razor (do NOT use menthol or perfumed shave cream)
Immerse the area in hot water or 30 – 90 minutes (as hot as can be tolerated)
Apply hydrocortisone lotion or cream
Monitor for allergic reaction or infection
Apply warm packs for pain control

Remember, more potent stings, or patients who are allergic, can result in anaphylactic shock which can be life threatening.  Adult leaders and boat captains should stock the items needed to treat marine envenomations in their first aid kit.

Safety razor
Non-menthol shave cream or soap to make lather
Hydrocortisone lotion or cream
Warm packs

Based on personal experience, I HIGHLY recommend a product called Wipe Away Pain®.  This product has proven to be very effective at reducing the pain after the initial first aid has been rendered.  This product can be found online and is sometimes carried in the Florida Sea Base Ship’s Store.

Capt. Steve Willis
FSB Program Director – RETIRED
Aboard S/V Escape


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