Medical Volunteer Opportunities Abroad
In the past, we operated from a sailing vessel; today, we deploy our teams via small open boats known as “pangas” or traditional Ngabe-Bugle indigenous dugout canoes known as “cayucos” to reach the target communities spread across 10,000+ miles of archipelago and coastal mountains. We can reach isolated rural jungle villages much more easily with these smaller crafts, as they can navigate shallower waters and up rivers.
2016 Fiberglass Panga 29’ long. 115hp Yamaha Outboard Motor
Capacity: 20 crew
Active Service: 2017 – Present
This is our ‘people mover’ panga. With its light but sturdy fiberglass deep-V hull, our panga, launched in 2017, can get our team to our target communities (and back safely) ahead of incoming weather or heavy swells. As well as conducting emergency transports, she has enough room for the patient and the transport crew.
The Floating Doctors Cayuco
2007 Traditional Dugout Canoe, 47’ long, hand-carved from a single bateotree, 75hp Yamaha Enduro Outboard Motor
Capacity: 25 Crew or 4,000lbs of cargo
Active Service: 2016-Present
“When all else fails, do what the locals have done for centuries.” The cayucos used by the Ngabe-Bugle people range in size from tiny mini-cayucos small enough for a 6-year-old to go to school to 70-foot monsters carved from gigantic jungle trees. A hardwood craft like this can land on beaches, carry a lot of passengers and cargo, and navigate heavy swells with ease. Their weight prevents them from reaching the speeds that pangas can, but their long, arrow-like bodies allow them to reach speeds of 10–14 knots and deliver large passenger loads at an affordable price.
S.V. Southern Wind (now retired from service)
1981 Custom Motorsailor. 76’ long, 115 tons.
Capacity: 20,000 lbs of material & up to 20 crew
Restored by Floating Doctors 2009-2010
Active service: 2010-2013 (Haiti Earthquake, Honduras, Haiti Cholera Epidemic, Panama) The Southern Wind was obtained from Dennis and Jeanette Dean in Palm Coast, Florida. After ten years of neglect, she had fallen into severe disrepair. After the 2010 earthquake, our initial founding crew totally rebuilt her over 13 months before setting sail for Haiti for our first mission. In 2013, she retired from service.
Thank you for carrying us over 6,000 miles, weathering hurricanes and lightning, and navigating poorly charted waters. Everything we are doing now is possible because she kept us safe. Because we have grown beyond our capacity for primary care in Panama, we are able to deploy from a central base on land and transport our teams throughout the region in smaller boats that can land on beaches and travel up shallow rivers.
It was very interesting to learn about the specific needs of a sailing ship that could provide specialist services like ophthalmological or abdominal surgery or cardiac procedures to underserved regions without requiring a massive hospital ship. We look forward to exploring this concept again in the future. With our current model in Panama, we will focus on creating highly mobile, permanent services that cover large areas in smaller boats.