Notwithstanding the significant observations and new discoveries that have previously taken place in the field of maritime medicine, research in maritime medicine is rather new. As an example of early valuable observations that have benefitted seafarers for centuries, James Lind, in the mid eighteen century, discovered that the risk of malaria could be reduced to zero by anchoring the vessel a few nautical miles away from the shore. The same author conducted a clinical controlled study on scurvy documenting the preventive effect of lemon juice. These observations could be made in the absence of knowledge of the parasite, the transmitting vector, and vitamin C. Nevertheless, they led to preventive control. At that time, the control measures were limited to vessels under his influence (the British navy). The global naval and civil fleet remained for several decades ignorant or inactive on the prevention of these serious threats to seamen.
Today, we would still like to find and implement solutions to imminent threats. We would, however, also aim to understand their character and their mode of action, and to comprehend why a certain intervention is effective and whether and why it may be better than an alternative intervention. Most importantly, we would like to see an impact of our endeavors on the health and safety of seafarers. Therefore, we need to carefully describe our observations and to make them accessible to a large scientific public as well as to seafarers. We also need to meet other researchers, to present and discuss our achievements in scientific fora and to publish our research results in media accessed by colleagues who share our maritime interests and challenges. These communications and discussions always contain an element of further improvement. Decision makers in the maritime trades are particularly important key persons for scrutinizing and criticizing the outcome of research, which may eventually be modified according to further experience. The results of research should be presented to the end users in the maritime environment and applied according to their needs and perceptions, so that the ultimate outcome of research would be new and better practices that can be adopted by seafarers.
This chapter should not be regarded as a manual for research in maritime medicine. It rather intends to serve as an inspiration and encouragement to readers who should be able to look critically at research findings so that they can decide on their validity and relevance to current problems that they are trying to solve. Hopefully it may also encourage colleagues to eventually conduct or collaborate in maritime health and safety research.