The Shocking Truth: Sudden Cardiac Arrest at Sea

Sudden Cardiac arrest is the world’s biggest killer. Every year, it claims the lives of three million people worldwide and 140,000 in the UK alone, more than breast, prostate and lung cancer combined. Obesity, smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, high blood pressure and a cholesterol heavy diet can all be contributing factors, but a healthy lifestyle doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re free from risk.

Sudden Cardiac Arrest can strike anyone, anywhere at any time – even the fittest and active. In recent years there have been many high-profile cases among sports people: Fabrice Marumba the Premiership footballer who collapsed on the pitch during a televised match; Marc-Vivien Foé of Manchester City and Cameroon; Phil O’Donnell of Motherwell; the golfer Bernard Gallacher, Ice-hockey players Rich Peverley and Jiří Fischer and the tragic deaths of rugby star Danny Jones and Belgian footballer Gregory Mertens who both died within the space of a month.

Heart attacks (myocardial infarction) and Sudden Cardiac Arrests are both heart-related problems, but they are very different. A heart attack is a plumbing problem whereas a Sudden Cardiac Arrest is electrical – a disruption in the heart’s rhythm which interrupts the pumping of the blood. Sometimes a heart attack (which may not be fatal) can trigger a Sudden Cardiac Arrest. The victim will then collapse and become unresponsive, stop breathing, and have no detectable pulse. Many people have no idea that they have an abnormal heart rhythm until they’re hit by a cardiac arrest. Even regular screening isn’t guaranteed to identify a problem as symptoms aren’t always present and heart conditions can develop at any time.

The probability of Sudden Cardiac Arrest is also increased significantly by factors like gender and age. Men are at greater risk than women and fall victim earlier in life – generally over the age of 45. It’s estimated that over 25% of officers on ships from OECD countries are over 50 years old and well over 50% are over 40. There are other considerations that come with conditions on board ship too. Cardiac infarction and electric shocks after the failure of technical equipment are major issues but drowning, hypothermia and trauma to the chest caused by impacts or falls are also potential contributors. Studies have suggested that ischemic heart diseases are the most common causes of death on board merchant vessels and, in 2005, German ships were reporting an average of five cardiac arrest cases every year.

The treatment of Sudden cardiac arrest depends on a chain of survival:

  1. Immediate recognition of cardiac arrest and activation of the emergency response system
    2. Early CPR with an emphasis on chest compression
    3. Rapid defibrillation
    4. Effective advanced life support
    5. Integrated postcardiac arrest care

The ‘rapid defibrillation’ is a life-saving electric shock that restores the heart’s rhythm to normal, and it’s this link in the chain that can prove problematic. A quick response makes all the difference and if a victim is shocked within sixty seconds, their chance of survival can be as high as 90%. Within five minutes, there’s still a 70% chance but after this, it drops by 10% every minute.

Sir Ranulph Fiennes who suffered a Sudden Cardiac Arrest while waiting on the tarmac at Bristol airport said: ‘I was extremely lucky that a mobile defibrillator unit and the expert assistance of the Blue Watch of the Bristol Airport Fire Station were immediately on the scene.’ Fiennes, along with other famous names like Bernard Gallacher and Steven Gerrard, has been prominent campaigners to get defibrillators stationed in out-of-hospital settings and there’s certainly been a raising of public awareness about the issue in recent years. The units available on the market are increasingly simple to use, even without any medical training, and rely on voice prompts and visual cues to provide treatment. Despite the panic, some people may feel in an emergency situation, an Automatic External Defibrillator (AED) cannot be used to shock if the patient isn’t suffering from a cardiac arrest and it’s practically impossible to make a mistake. Because of this, more and more people have access to AEDs in schools, sports venues, tourist locations and workplaces – and they’re saving lives.

However, if your workplace is aboard a vessel out at sea, hours away from a hospital or medevac, and a crew member suffers a Sudden cardiac arrest, their chances of survival are practically zero. Unless there is a defibrillator in the medical chest. All companies have a legal duty of care to their employees and in a situation where their staff do not have access to medical help and a defibrillator is the only chance of survival then surely all companies would see it as their duty to protect their employees by ensuring that they all have access to one.

Germany was the first country to recognize that having a defibrillator onboard is the only treatment for Sudden Cardiac Arrest and they were the first flag state to introduce legislation that legally requires seagoing merchant vessels to carry AEDs. This was way back in 2012 and the rest of the world has been very slow to follow suit. The Maritime and Coastguard Agency recommends that passenger vessels should undertake a risk assessment and, in February of this year, the Queensland State Government in Australia made it law that all dive operators must carry AEDs after ten tourists died from sudden cardiac arrest over a period of just six months.

When your vessel is properly fitted with medical equipment and your crew are appropriately trained you should be ready to react to almost any medical emergency. More and more passenger vessels are taking responsibility to prepare for the unfortunate event of a Sudden Cardiac Arrest by fitting their vessels with AED’s as standard equipment but for some reason, merchant vessels – with all their increased risks – are being neglected when it comes to sudden cardiac arrest. After six years, Germany remains the only country to take positive, preventative action to try and safeguard the lives of their merchant crews.

Superyachts: Lifeboat – check, Lifejackets – check, Defibrillator – ??

Superyachts do almost everything to ensure the vessel and those on-board are prepared to react in an emergency, they provide extensive safety training and stock state of the art electronics, lifejackets, lifeboats, and much, much more! It seems like superyachts are prepared for anything but there is one piece of safety equipment which is overlooked by the majority of superyacht managers. The Defibrillator.











When you look at this daunting fact in detail you start to question why. Considering Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA) is the world’s biggest killer and can occur at a moment’s notice affecting anybody of any fitness level and age, you would assume the only known treatment method would be on all vessels. Especially when you are so far from medical help.

Time is of the Essence –  and you NEED a defibrillator

It is common sense that the further out to sea you go, the greater the risk should you encounter some form of emergency. If this emergency is somebody suffering from an SCA, time is of the essence and you need to be able to react immediately by starting the chain of survival. Defibrillation is the only way to cure SCA and if defibrillation doesn’t occur within the first 3-5 minutes you can be looking at permanent brain damage. For every minute that goes by, the victim’s chances of survival drop by 10%.


The Chain of Survival for Sudden Cardiac Arrest Victims. 1. Early Call to Emergency Services, 2. Early CPR, 3. Early Defibrillator, 4. Early Advanced Care


So when SCA strikes on your yacht and you do not have a defibrillator what will you do? Will you call for a medevac? Emergency services will do their best but the chance of them reaching you within 10 minutes, even if you are docked, is highly unlikely. This puts your survival rates at almost 0%.

If there is a fatality due to SCA, what words could you possibly find to console the victim’s family, fellow crew members and friends, when you had no equipment to help – because you didn’t have the time, the budget or the knowledge?


Here are some of the misconceptions which we regularly hear about why people choose not to stock AED’s onboard superyachts.

  1. AEDs won’t work onboard vessels due to the motion – This is not true with the Lifeforce AED as our AED is military tested for the marine environment.
  2. AED’s are too expensive – They’re relatively affordable compared to the other costs associated with running a boat, plus it takes the worry out of the health and safety procedures you have.
  3. You need training to use an AED – Training is recommended so people feel comfortable with the device but it isn’t essential. Our Lifeforce AED is the simplest on the market and provides verbal instruction for how to use so even somebody without training could use it.
  4. When should you use an AED and what if it’s used when it shouldn’t be? – In the case of somebody collapsing and you cannot find a pulse you should immediately initiate defibrillation, for added peace of mind the AED will automatically analyse the patient’s vital signs and it will ONLY deliver a shock if required.

With over 17.3 million deaths per year, SCA is the world’s biggest killer and this needs to change. The way we can prevent this amount of deaths is by ensuring that all of the places where we spend our time are all protected with the correct equipment to help victims survive.

If you are interested in finding out more about our GL Type Approved Marine Lifeforce AED (Automatic External Defibrillator) contact one of our knowledgeable staff who can help you find the best AED package for your yacht and answer any questions you may have.


All at Sea: Mental health issues on board ship

There are over 52,000 commercial vessels operating out at sea, often for months at a time. The work requires mental toughness – the hours are long and physically demanding with split shifts and military-precision routine. The economic struggles faced by the maritime industry have also meant the reduction of crew numbers and an increase in work hours. All these factors contribute to physical and mental fatigue.

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Ensuring compliance with potable water testing regulations on ships: a complete guide

Regulations surrounding potable water on ships

In August 2013, the Maritime Labour Convention’s (MLC) started to enforce their regulations (MLC 2006), aimed at maintaining high-quality drinking water onboard ships, to protect crew from waterborne health risks.

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Drug & Alcohol Screening: Isn’t it time that the ‘Drunken Sailor’ was confined to the past?

The concept of the ‘drunken sailor’ has been around almost as long as shipping itself. Long periods spent at sea can take their toll on seafarers and alcohol has long been a way to relieve the stresses and anxiety felt when separated from the outside world for weeks at a time. Folk songs and sea shanties aside, alcohol or drugs have been a contributing factor in some of the worst shipping catastrophes of the last 50 years, so much so that all vessels must now have a Drug and Alcohol policy onboard which sets out controlled and banned substances, as well as times and limitations for the consumption of alcohol. Drug and Alcohol screening play a large part in many shipping operator’s policies, yet the process isn’t set in stone for all vessels.

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Marine Healthcare: Top 3 Killers at Sea & How Telemedicine Systems Can Save Lives

Seafaring has long been one of the most dangerous occupations in the world. It’s not just the heavy machinery and difficult working conditions that contribute to fatality statistics, mariners are more at risk of certain illnesses and diseases which can be difficult to diagnose and treat with the limited resources found on a ship.

Here, we look at the Top 3 Killers at Sea and how telemedicine systems can help to save lives and make seafaring a safer occupation.

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Telemedicine Q & A with Charlie Whyman

Seafarers are the lifeblood of the shipping industry and are critical to its future sustainability. That said, are we doing enough to ensure the welfare of those at sea? Furthermore, could major improvements to crew welfare save the shipping industry millions of dollars per year?

The latest marine technology that’s just hit the market is turning inferior seafarer healthcare on its head. Called telemedicine, this groundbreaking technology is making SERIOUS waves in the maritime industry.

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Seafarer ‘left to die’ with gunshot wound on vessel

Gunshot wounds, severed limbs, broken bones, tropical diseases, allergic reactions and sudden cardiac arrest: just some of the emergencies experienced at sea according to results released in a recent seafarers’ survey carried out by maritime professionals’ trade union Nautilus International and global maritime technology innovator Martek Marine.

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