In Case of Emergency on Shell Key

A friend recently told a harrowing tale about a medical emergency on Shell Key.  The rumor making its way down the beach was that a man had experienced a cardiac arrest at the north end of the island.  Later, it was clarified that the man had attempted to ward off another vessel that was anchored nearby and drifted into his boat.  He was pinned between two 10-ton vessels that were banging against each other in the choppy waters.  The victim sustained life threatening injuries as his chest was crushed between the two vessels.

Need emergency help now? Call the Coast Guard:  VHF Radio Channel 16 or call 911 on your cell phone.

The man’s companions had called 911 on a cell phone but they were guests aboard his vessel and could not accurately describe their location.  Eventually, a Sheriff’s Office Marine Unit was dispatched to the scene.   Unfortunately, the man’s injuries were extensive and the marine police unit was not equipped to treat or transport him.  A coast guard helicopter was finally dispatched to the scene and the man was airlifted to Palms of Pasadena Hospital for treatment.

Although accounts of the accident differ, everyone seemed to agree that it took forever to get this man to safety. The man was lucky to have survived his ordeal.

The tale of confusion was a wake up call for anyone who may be unprepared for medical emergencies while boating in Tampa Bay.  If you are on the water or on Shell Key, you should be ready for emergencies by being prepared for minor injuries – and knowing how to describe your location and what to ask for if your situation is life threatening.

In case of emergency: below are some recommendations for dealing with medical emergencies while boating in south Pinellas County.

Know your location!

Use your phone or GPS device to get your exact latitude and longitude.  If you can’t find your coordinates, here are some general coordinates for Shell Key Preserve

  • North Public Use Area (Pass-a-Grille):  Latitude: 27.674787 | Longitude: -82.740226
  • South Public Use Area (Bunces Pass): Latitude: 27.652666 | Longitude: -82.742372

Call for help – or DIY?

Life or Death Emergency

  • VHF Radio Channel 16 – If you have an absolute life or death situation, call out to the Coast Guard using the words “Mayday, Mayday, Mayday, this is the vessel  [your boat’s name]  (or your name) — Then briefly describe your emergency  (fire/heart attack/sinking/man overboard etc…)  – followed by “Over“.    (never use ‘mayday’ unless you are in a dire situation.  You may receive fines or be prosecuted for misuse of this system)
  • Call 911 – You can also contact the Coast Guard using the 911 emergency number.  All the normal rules apply for the use of 911. Make sure to ask for a Coast Guard air lift if your are in immediate and dire medical need. Have your GPS coordinates ready.


    • Always make sure you have a well stocked first aid kit before you leave on your boat.
    • Call the non emergency number for Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office: 727-582-6200

Find a hospital near Shell Key: 

  • If you are able to drive your boat to get help, Palms of Pasadena Hospital is the best equipped and closest facility to Shell Key.  Kindred Bay Hospital may be a better choice if you are in Tampa Bay and need immediate help.

Palms of Pasadena Hospital

My motto?  Hope for the best but plan for the worst.  If you’re like me, you’ll have more fun knowing that you’re ready for what nature can throw at you.


Posted in All Topics, Boating & Navigation, Camping

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Article: In Case of Emergency on Shell Key

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