We designed a prospective, randomised, single-blind trial to compare the relative efficacy of antero-lateral versus antero-posterior paddle positions for DC cardioversion of persistent atrial fibrillation. A total of 59 patients were randomised to cardioversion using standard gel pads placed either in the antero-lateral (AL) or antero-posterior (AP) positions. The first synchronised shock was given at 360 J; if this was unsuccessful, a second shock of 360 J was given in the alternative position. We compared cardioversion success rate and energy requirements with each strategy. With the first 360 J DC shock, a significantly greater proportion of patients were restored to sinus rhythm from the antero-lateral position (18/30) compared to the antero-posterior position (10/29) (P=0.048). For those patients remaining in atrial fibrillation, there was no difference in the proportions cardioverted from the antero-lateral position (4/19) compared to the antero-posterior position (5/12) with the second 360 J DC shock (P=0. 22). The total cardioversion success rate was 23/30 (77%) for antero-lateral followed by antero-posterior shocks compared to a success rate of 14/29 (48%) for antero-posterior followed by antero-lateral shocks, and this difference was significant (P=0.024). There was no significant difference in the mean energy delivered for patients randomised to an initial antero-lateral shock (504 J), compared to patients given an initial antero-posterior shock (583 J) (P=0.1). We conclude that the antero-lateral paddle position appears more effective for DC cardioversion of persistent atrial fibrillation.