Most boats have a life preserver on board to rescue a crew member from drowning, but other emergencies—including sudden cardiac arrest (SCA)—can also happen while you’re out at sea, which is why it’s so important to have an automated external defibrillator (AED) on board.
In the United States alone, around 1,000 cardiac arrests occur every day, and around 90% of victims don’t survive. However, immediate chest compressions and timely defibrillation can often restore a normal rhythm and increase the victim’s chances of survival.
If you own a boat, are thinking of purchasing a boat, or love spending your summer afternoons on the water, understanding the features to look for in the best AED for a boat will help you to be prepared to save a life.
The Best AEDs for Boat
The following are currently among the best AEDs on the market for seafaring vessels.
HeartSine Samaritan PAD Series
The HeartSine Samaritan PAD series (HeartSine Samaritan PAD 350P, HeartSine Samaritan PAD 360P, and HeartSine Samaritan PAD 450P) includes three of the smallest, most lightweight, and most rugged automatic external defibrillators on the market—making these AEDs perfect for use on boats.
These defibrillators offer:
- MIL-STD 810F Method 514.5 Procedure 1 Category 4 and MIL-STD 810F Method 514.5 Procedure 1 Category 7 testing for vibration
- MIL-STD 810F Method 516.5, Procedure 1 (40G’s) for shock
- IP56 rating for water and dust
- Simple two-button operation (for semi-automatic models 350P and 450P)
- Simple one-button operation (for the fully-automatic model 360P)
- Easy-to-follow voice coaching with a metronome for chest compressions
- The HeartSine Samaritan PAD 450P offers real-time CPR feedback for complete confidence.
- The adult pad-pak and pediatric pad-pak (battery-and-pad packs) last a full four years from the date of manufacture.
- These AEDs come with an industry-leading 10-year warranty.
Philips HeartStart FRx
The Philips HeartStart FRx is another excellent AED for boats thanks to its flashing visual icons, durability, and cost-saving infant/child key. This defibrillator offers:
- IP55 rating for water and dust
- 4-foot drop resistance
- MIL-STD 810G, Fig. 5146E-1 random vibration resistance during operation
- MIL-STD 810G, Fig. 5146E-2, swept sine (helicopter) vibration resistance on standby mode
- Crush resistance up to 1100 lbs (500 kg)
- Cost-saving Infant/Child Key
- The batteries last for five years (not installed) or four years installed
- The pads last for two years
- This AED comes with an 8-year warranty
Features to Look for in an AED for Boats
Whether you choose one of the devices above or a different AED for your boat, the following qualities are absolutely essential.
Due to ambient exposure to saltwater in a boat or vessel, it’s important to choose a portable defibrillator that has at least an IP55 (ingress protection) rating for water and dust. After selecting the best, most rugged AED for your boat, it’s important to place the defibrillator in a waterproof AED carry bag or cabinet in a place that’s accessible but unlikely to fill with water. Defibrillators might be made to be water-resistant but they’re not made to be soaked!
Resistance to Shock and Vibration
Any device that’s kept in a motorboat needs to be able to cope with the constant vibrations of the engine and the movement of the boat itself. For an AED intended for use on a boat, look for a device with military-grade testing for vibration and shock. To further protect the device against vibration, consider keeping it in a padded case away from the engine room.
Long Battery Life
As a boat AED will be mostly for personal, non-commercial use, it makes sense to look for AED packages that offer a long battery life and/or battery and pad pack with a single expiration date. Batteries that last four or five years provide good value for money and ensure the device is always ready to deliver an electric shock if a crew member or passenger were to develop a fatal heart rhythm.
Ease of Use
In the best-case scenario, your boat will also have at least one passenger who has completed training in CPR and AED use before they come aboard. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, communities with volunteers trained in both CPR and AED use have double the survival rate for cardiac arrest compared to those with CPR training only. However, as untrained passengers will likely be present on your boat, it’s important to choose an automated external defibrillator (AED) that provides detailed step-by-step instructions for what to do when someone is experiencing cardiac arrest.
Visual CPR Instructions
Boats can be noisy, which is why automated external defibrillators for boats should ideally provide visual as well as verbal instructions. Some AEDs will even provide feedback on the depth and rate of chest compressions via sensors in the electrode pads, which is particularly helpful for users who have not been trained in CPR. According to the American Heart Association, high-quality CPR increases the survival rate of people experiencing cardiac arrest, which is why real-time feedback on CPR technique is such a valuable feature to have.
Adult and Child Pads
While cardiac arrest is more common in adults, children can go into cardiac arrest too. For that reason, it’s a good idea to have a set of child pads or an infant/child key to attenuate the electrical shock for a pediatric patient. An attenuated electric shock is advised for patients under 55 pounds (25 kilos) or under the age of eight. If you intend to take children out in the boat, it’s also a good idea to take a course that covers infant CPR, first aid, drowning, and bleeds.
Medical Prescriptions and Other Legal Aspects to Keep in Mind
As private (non-institutional) buyers, it’s important for boat owners to be aware that there are laws that come into play when purchasing an AED. For instance, every AED except the Philips HeartStart Onsite requires a doctor’s prescription (please note that HeartStart Onsite child pads require a medical prescription) and AED acquirers in many states are required to register their AED with the local emergency services. Finding out about the AED regulations in your state will help you ensure you comply with all relevant laws.
A Small Investment That Could Save Lives
As a boat owner, you never know when a person’s heart could develop a fatal rhythm and go into cardiac arrest while you’re out at sea. When and if it occurs, you only have minutes to act—by the time you can get back to land, it could be too late.
An automated external defibrillator is a small investment that could save somebody’s life, and having one of the best AEDs for boats on hand will allow you to go out on the water with full peace of mind.