Seizures and paddling

A good friend was recently diagnosed with seizures. He’s a 20 yr veteran paddler and he’s looking for advice from fellow paddlers who have similar experiences with seizures and outdoor adventure activities.

Thank you, Olas

Safety 1st
I would never go out alone. I would also make sure that my paddle mates have an emergency plan in place in case I do have a seizure on the water (and are also trained in standard rescue and 1st aid procedures). Your friend doesn’t have to stop living…he/she just has to be better prepared. Hope this helps! Good luck and have a blast!

I am no medical professional
but I have had experience paddling with folks prone to siezures.

In the first case the individual had a Grand Mal siezure while canoeing in a semi-wilderness situation in Canada. Two of the trip advisors knew of his situation, but none of the other participants. When it happened it was a shock to all of us, but at least his boating partner (also out of the loop) had Lifesaving Training and was able to deal with the situation in the water.

The other situation was as a guide on the Youghiogheny River. A customer with no previous history suffered a GM early into the trip. We were able to evac him fairly easily.

Congratulations to your friend for continuing to paddle, and I am glad that you are aware of the condition.

My suggestions are:

  1. Let everyone in the group know of the situation. Back in 1969 there was a stigma (wrongly) attached to the condition. Everyone on that trip was wrongly put at risk. A siezure is more easily dealt with when the group all know the facts.

  2. Always wear a PFD. The 1969 situation was when we were wearing cheesy, loose-fitting 3-slab foam jackets with clip closures. They rode up easily, and would not support an unconscious person very well. If it had not been for a 17 year old young lady with Red Cross training…

  3. Dress for immersion or carry spare dry clothing. Plan on getting wet sooner or later.

  4. Carry a means of starting a fire quickly. Road flares, fire bricks etc should be in the kit.

  5. First aid kits are mandatory. Suffering a siezure & capsizing may lead to scalp wounds. Dressings suitable for such wounds are a necessity.

  6. Bone up on the latest First Aid treatment for siezures. Make sure everyone on the trip knows what to do.


    I aint no doctor.

What about type of PFD?
I am sure this isn’t anyone’s favorite idea in WW, but for those who do know what about the idea of this guy using the type of PFD that’ll turn someone up and support their head?

I’d say it in a minute for flatwater, just don’t know about this environment.

A few more

– Last Updated: Jan-21-08 12:58 PM EST –

People with a seizure disorder frequently have some sort signal before having a seizure. Could be a strange taste, a flash of light, a ringing in the ears. Encourage your friend to recognize it and get to a safe place. Encourage him/her to stick to his med regimen and have his levels checked as recommended by his doctor. It takes time to get a medication plan that controls seizures so maybe holding off on paddling until that happens. Lastly, it is much better to seek treatment from a neurologist vs a general practicioner. Seizures are often a symptom of another disease and that should be investigated.


He should never paddle alone and always wear safety vest. One that will support his head above water in case he falls overboard.

Whom ever goes with him should know CPR and what to do in a situation such as could happen.

Dosen’t mean death sentence.JUST CAUTION

Probably shouldn’t be posting, but
I have this visual of a person with a grand mal seizure falling into the water. Does this person have enough body control to keep his face out of the water, and not to suck in water and drown? Sounds really risky to me. But then I’m overcautious anyway.


PFD types
Type IIIs only tend to turn an unconscious person face-up. Typw Vs have more flotation over teh chest and have a collar, and might be more appropriate in this situation.


What kind of seizures?
What kind of paddling?

Even a type III will make it easier for
others to spot you and take action.

We lost a skilled paddler some decades ago because, on a virtually flat river, he was not wearing a PFD and had a seizure. (He may, or may not, have been taking his medication.) His buddies did not spot him in time.

I ain’t no doctor either, but

– Last Updated: Jan-21-08 7:40 PM EST –

I think Chuck is right. I base this on my dog's behavior (he's gone to doggie heaven now). He had a brain tumor and had grand mal seizures (less frequently after he got on meds, but even then still occasionally). You could always tell when one was about to happen, because he would start doing this strange thing with his mouth, sort of smacking his lips over and over... like there was some kind of strange taste in his mouth. This would go on for 2-5 minutes, then hello GRAND MAL!

My point is: I suspect people may indeed have a clue right before it's going to happen. If he has had more than one, he may know what the signs are that a seizure is imminent and may be able to alert the group.

Another thought about the meds. As Chuck suggested, he may want to get his med regimen established before paddling. We noticed that with our dog (on meds) IF he ever had a seizure, he was most likely to have it right before a pill was due (like the last one was running out of his system?) or right after a med was taken (maybe not enough time to get into his system?). We had to dose him every six hours and it always seemed like it was past the fifth hour that he would seize, or within 30 minutes AFTER taking a pill. Just offering what little I know in case this helps.

I have a similar problem
I am diabetic and on a pump. Whenever I go out I have to make sure I have what I call my “Emergency ration of sugar” in case my blood sugar get to low. I also tell those in the group (if I have not met them before) about my condition and to tell me if I begin to act weird or drunk like.

Not generally a problem but have had some low spells from the extra exercise and had to have some juice and stop for a while.

Ice9, all in our group act wierd or

– Last Updated: Jan-21-08 11:57 PM EST –

drunk like, so we'd to really need to be paying special attention to you to notice when you started acting even more wierd or drunk like. You've paddle with bruce and CD1, so you know what I'm talking about.

Seriously, when we do finally paddle together, just give me a reminder so I can be a little more vigilant.

I was
hoping someone would pick up on that phrase

Hand of God
A type IV PFD and if he/she paddles a kayak, paddle with friends that practice the “Hand of God Rescue” regularly.

Any qualified trip leader should be good at this, but any paddler should have this skill under their belt and practice it from time to time.

Cake Mate
I carry that in my ditch bag or first aid kit all the time on the off chance that I get a diabetic in my group with an issue.

Much better than drowning someone with juice or choking them with a sugar candy.

I like to be made aware of conditions well ahead of a problem but I will concede, Everyone has to die but not everyone chooses to live.

Sometimes there is simply nothing to be done.

This guy should sit watching whitewater for a while and paddle some EASY class II before attempting anything hairy. I know that some people have “triggers” for grand mal and in a big rapid, the motion, the sound and the flashing of the water and paddle might trigger a seizure (some frequencies of emergency lights drive me nuts!). It’s probably pretty unlikely, but he needs to know that he isn’t MORE LIKELY to seize in these conditions.

you carry a kit too.

some of us were paddeling with a person on a pump…didn’t have the needle double taped and it got pulled out somehow. We were only a small way from a place to get out and onto shore. (maybe a mile)(it was a very long mile) Then we sent a runner to hitch back to the vehicles.

The person had left their kit in …never bothered to let us know of the decision to leave it because it was only a 10 mile paddle and nothing ever happens

we sat and kept very quiet…all of us

carry your kit too please, when using a pump

Best Wishes


The infussion set for a pump
will always sweat off no matter what you do. I also race a Hobie cat and in july and Aug they are very hard to keep on. I have triple taped my and it does not help. I have found that is I put it in my arm just below my sleeve it stays on better. I do not sweat as much on the part of my body that is exposed to the air. Body heat under you shirt is a killer on the sticky stuff.

I have tried carring all manor of things to bring my blood sugar back up. The best thing for me are the ind. cans of juice. They do not need to be kept cold and are fast acting. I put them in my tramp bag on the hobie or the deck bag of the kayak. They do not break if you sit on them and do not need an opener.

Ofcourse beer or wine is the best of both worlds but is not recomended at all . . . Dang it.


This is a sugar free zone.

If he was “recently” diagnosed with
a seizure condition, then the first step is to work with his neurologist to find medications that reduce seizure frequency to small numbers approaching zero, WHILE not impairing him with drowsiness, ataxia, etc. Some of the new medications may achieve this. Depending on the cause of the seizures, it is possible that he will not be dealing with them his whole life. It used to be that neurologists were reluctant to take a person off medication, but now, depending on the cause and the results of treatment, people may after some years be allowed to try tapering off the medications.

I have an analagous problem with heart fibrillation. Fortunately I go many weeks without fibrillating, but then I will have a few days when fibrillation causes weakness and faintness. Of course I am on medications, but they are not totally effective. I can “feel” when a period of fibrillation is coming on, and in those periods I avoid paddling. Also, because of fibrillation and old age (65), I have scaled down the difficulty of paddling to class 2-3.

So a lot of the advice given is very good, but the first task is to try to get seizures under control with medication.