Rowers receive Royal Humane Society awards

Three members of Cape Cornwall Gig Club have recently been presented with certificates by the Royal Humane Society for their actions in enabling a fellow crew member to survive after he collapsed during an outing


On Tuesday, 6 December 2022, a crew from Cape Cornwall Pilot Gig Club was rowing in their training boat ‘Longships’ in Mounts Bay off Penzance, Cornwall.

Towards the end of the outing, the rower at 2, David Sheppard, collapsed and fell backward off his seat into the bottom of the boat. He was lying on his back with his lower legs in a raised position on his seat. The rower sitting behind him at 1 (bow), Simon Dean, who happens to be a retired doctor, saw that the casualty was not breathing and he started CPR without delay. David was making gurgling, breathing sounds but Simon recognised this as agonal breathing and realised that immediate CPR was needed.

The crew’s cox, Blue Bell Hill, took control of the remaining crew and instructed them to row back to the harbour at best speed. She also alerted the emergency services by phone and arranged for them to meet the boat on the slipway. Her calm manner and coordinated actions were pivotal to the successful outcome.

Simon continued to deliver effective CPR for more than 10 minutes. This is an exhausting process that takes considerable effort. At no time in the gig boat was mouth to mouth given – the position of the casualty’s head, underneath a seat, excluded this. Early in this process the casualty had a grey pallor and some cyanosis (blue tinge to the lips) but as the CPR continued, Simon noticed that the colour was returning to the casualty’s face and his lips were becoming more pink. However, the casualty did not start normal breathing and remained unconscious throughout.

“My previous training taught me what to do – and I did it!” – Peter Trythall

On arrival at the harbour, the crew drove the boat straight into the slipway and the casualty was quickly taken from the boat and placed on a nearby pontoon. Another member of the crew, Peter Trythall, then took over the CPR so that Simon could deliver mouth to mouth.

The ambulance arrived a short time later and took over the care of the casualty. The ambulance crew applied their AED, which instructed them to deliver an immediate shock. The casualty’s circulation immediately returned and he started breathing. The ambulance crew then provided oxygen by mask, and he was prepared for transfer by road to the waiting air ambulance for onward journey to Treliske Hospital in Truro.

David was discharged three weeks later in time for New Year’s celebrations with his family and continues making a full recovery from his ordeal. The combined efforts of Simon, Blue Bell and indeed the whole crew in the gig that day gave him the chance to survive. In fact, David is keen to say that “rowing saved my life” because he survived the incident and his heart condition was subsequently diagnosed and treated.

“The crew kept calm and listened to my instructions – exactly what the coxswain needs in an emergency situation.” – Blue Bell Hill

Rowing is all about pulling together as a team and, in this case, the crew, working as a team, was able to save the life of the rower who suffered a cardiac arrest whilst in a gig boat at sea.

Following the incident, British Rowing’s Honorary Rowing Safety Adviser Stephen Worley nominated Simon, Blue Bell and Peter for Royal Humane Society awards. Stephen was delighted to visit Cape Cornwall Pilot Gig Club on 6 September 2023 to present these well-deserved awards in person. Simon Dean and Peter Trythall were awarded Resuscitation Certificates, and Blue Bell Hill was awarded a Certificate of Commendation.

Simon reflects, “It’s so important to know how and when to do basic resuscitation. It really can make all the difference, before a defibrillator is located and applied. And you don’t necessarily have to do mouth to mouth – just the chest compressions can be enough on their own.”

Since his recovery, Peter has also been checking AEDs in his local area to make sure they have been serviced and are working. His advice for other members of the rowing community is, “Don’t take it for granted that someone else is having them serviced and checked – find out yourself exactly what the arrangements are for AEDs in your area.” Rowing clubs can apply to the charity RALPHH for a grant towards the purchase of a defibrillator.

The January 2023 Honorary Rowing Safety Adviser’s Report contains details of what contributed to the successful resuscitation, which provide useful learning for everyone else in rowing.

Training in Basic Life Support

St John Ambulance provides free first aid awareness sessions. These can be delivered online or in person. Free online resources are also provided by the British Heart Foundation and the Resuscitation Council UK.

You can also watch videos about hands-only CPR training here and here. Hands-only CPR works; there is enough oxygen in the blood and muscles and other tissues to keep the casualty alive for at least 15 minutes, but it is important to ensure that the oxygenated blood is pumped to the brain.