Seizures At Sea: A Recollection

Seizures At Sea: A Recollection

Seizures At Sea: A Recollection


This is a simple sailor's recollection of a not to simple situation - how to deal with seizures at sea. Let it be known by all who read this recollection the name of the captain who saved Anthony's life: Mehmet Nazmi Nurel, of Cape Horn/Endorfina Sailing, the finest skipper I've ever sailed with. Most of all, I would like to thank the Bodrum emergency services for their professionalism and skill.


Our story is based on real events, what we experienced and for other seafarers to learn. We were 6 people on the boat, a Bavaria 42 Match, that had just set sail from Bodrum at the start of June 2017 for pleasure cruising up and down the Turkish coast. We had 1 highly experienced skipper, 2 competent sailors and 3 first-timers. We left the marina around midday after supplying the boat; we were in good spirits and under motor, we set a course to a small inlet about 3 hours away.

We were on our way to rendezvous with many other boats to celebrate the anniversary of the first Turkish sailor who sailed a wooden boat around the world in 1962. At about 3pm, we pulled up in the inlet, the wind was low and conditions perfect to come alongside a friend's yacht. We moored alongside, started cooking dinner and the crew was relaxing on the deck. It was approximately 5:30pm, the water was calm and I had just started cooking dinner.

On the deck was the skipper, his partner and my friend Anthony. I heard a few shouts from the galley below and thought I was being called to see something exciting from the other boats, or the fish, or fireworks, or somebody diving. I was not mentally prepared for what was about to happen next, but our captain was. Somehow. Anthony was sitting astern, just behind the helm on the port (left) side. He had just started his first seizure.

Anthony is in his late 30s and of average build. He had been feeling somewhat unwell during the day from motion sickness perhaps, and had not eaten anything all day. All colour had left his face, he was sitting against a rather uncomfortable railing with his feet on the floor and looking out the back of the boat. I was not present at the immediate onset of the first seizure, but our captain was. It is 5:30pm, the water is calm and we are moored alongside our neighbours' yacht.

Before The Seizure

The captain was sitting opposite Anthony at the helm, about 2 metres away. Immediately he saw Anthony. First he noticed the convulsions - the arms twitching, not waving violently, but convulsing. Then a lack of motor control and he slipped backwards, his eyes rolled back in his head and inhalation greatly stunted, like a heaving breath. In, in, in. Rapid, short breaths. The captain moved over to assist him, move him away from the water and prevent any further danger.

During The Seizure

I ran up from the galley and saw what was going on. I saw my friend Anthony convulsing and the the captain had moved to hold him so he did not hit his head or fall in the water. We immediately checked his airways, his eyes and in those first 60 seconds saw his hands clenched, twitching, convulsing and his neck twitching left and saliva coming from his mouth. He was having a seizure.

The captain instructed me to come over, take his shoulders and lay him on his back on the deck. We had to lift his full weight carefully laying his down as he was still convulsing. We administered first aid and did our best to stabilise him. These were terrifying, critical moments. Looking back on the events, it's only a few minutes later when we allowed ourselves to feel the fear, not the training.

The Crew's Behaviour

I asked my friends to keep an eye on the gas hob back in the galley within 1 minute. We were boiling water and pasta for dinner and this was a situational awareness thing - to make sure the captain and I had enough space as the worst thing is being crowded. And, not to have a galley fire! They did the best thing by being on standby and handling all the other little things outside the immediate vicinity of the seizure. A boat never stops running just because there is an emergency.

One person always needs to look out and Always Be Scanning for oncoming boats or a bigger emergency coming. One person must turn off the gas, keep an eye on the galley and be ready to bring water, bandages, the first aid kit, the radio, a pillow or fire extinguishers. The crew performed as a crew should be expected in such an emergency - with courage and cool heads.

Everybody else must Keep Calm, Keep Clear, Stay Alert, Do Not Interrupt or offer help until you are instructed. This is because conflicting instructions, any other secondary event or lack of access to what the captain needs only adds further danger.

After The First Seizure

The seizure lasted approximately 10-15 minutes. During this time, we laid Anthony down on the deck, brought a blanket, raised his legs, put a pillow under his head and tried to keep him conscious. He was dazed, twitching, gradually the convulsions slowed and his breathing stabilised. The captain was rubbing half a chopped onion under his nose during the seizure, I could only assume that the smell of the onion (what we had available on the boat in the absence of smelling salts or meds) would help to slow the seizure or improve breathing. Thank God for onions, but I wanted use that onion for the dinner I was cooking. Well, onions are expendable; Anthony was not.

The 2nd Seizure

Anthony stabilised after 30 minutes but was pretty out of it, hallucinating, foetal and shivering. We stayed with him, held his hand and kept him laying down. After an hour, just when we thought we were through the worst of it, the same symptoms presented and the 2nd seizure started. Anthony was lying down, the captain repeated the first aid procedure and we immediately decided to turn back to the marina which was 2.5 hours away by motor at 7 knots. Once Anthony had stabilised again, we started the motor, cast off and headed straight back to the nearest port.

Emergency Radio Procedure

Within 5 minutes when we were clear of the other boats moored and in a safe position, we issued an emergency call on the radio - Pan Pan. Channel 16 on the VHF radio to the Coast Guard and Turkish Radio. I encourage everyone reading this to learn the basic Pan Pan and Mayday procedures, as well as ask your local marina or sailing network for first aid courses.

Sea Ambulance Procedure

After approximately half an hour, the volunteer sea ambulance with 2 paramedic crew came alongside, instructed us to move into calmer waters in a little inlet nearby and we carried Anthony from the yacht to the sea ambulance - a fast speedboat with medical equipment and closed roof, about 50' long. Anthony was put into a stretcher, still out of it, and his vitals were checked (heart rate, blood pressure, etc.) and he was strapped in.

Some advice here - always make sure that your passports, wallets and insurance details are kept in a safe, easy to reach location on the boat (a ‘grab bag’). You might need them at any time!

In the hustle and bustle of everything, we had to make sure we had his passport details. I packed a change of clothes, my phone, our passports and went with a friend, at Anthony's side in the volunteer sea ambulance. Then the 3rd seizure started but the paramedics were there treating Anthony. The captain of the sea ambulance went full throttle back to Bodrum Marina and made radio contact with the emergency services.

They had an ambulance waiting at the dock side the marina who took us straight to the hospital. We arrived in the hospital around 8pm, saw the doctor and Anthony was seen to immediately, and treated. We were discharged 24 hours later. Everyone was shaken, but out of harms way.

Dedications & Acknowledgements

This Recollection - Seizures At Sea - is dedicated, with our heartfelt thanks, to the volunteers and medical services of Bodrum. Without their dedication, and the quick thinking of our captain, we may have made funeral arrangements abroad instead of keeping the crew ready to sail again. If you are reading this months or years later, please raise your glass or spare a thought for Captain Mehmet Nazmi Nurel of Endorfina Sailing. If you sail with him, you are in safe hands!

Before you set sail, please search online for "First aid at sea" and "Emergency radio procedure". You never know when this might happen to one of your crew and when you need to save a life.

Keep sailing, seafarers.