Looking at assisted rescues in the Covid era

Did a search this morning for information on assisted rescues in the Covid era and found this page from Western Australia. They do a progression from unassisted through various evaluations of safer forms of assisted rescues. They link to various other videos including the one I was looking for from Mike Gilbert:


The corona virus: One more motivator to master your braces and rolls.

You don’t need any special rescues because of COVID-19.

There’s are some really important points that people need to understand about COVID-19 and infectious disease spread in general.

  1. You have to receive an infectious dose of the virus. In the case of COVID-19, that’s somewhere between 1000 and 10,000 virus particles (based on the latest information I’ve seen).
  2. Receiving an infectious dose requires a combination of exposure and time. That’s why the vast majority of infections occur indoors, where people are in a room with someone who’s infected for an extended period (the best estimate for time required I’ve seen is 15 minutes or more).
  3. In an outdoor environment, receiving an infectious dose is much less likely, since the air around you changes constantly and the virus is dispersed; it’s not recirculated and concentrated as it is in a closed room. Windy conditions disburse the virus even further. One recent study looked at a series of outbreaks in China, over 7,000 cases, and as far as they could tell, two of them happened outside.

Let’s extrapolate this to normal assisted rescues:

  • They take place outdoors.
  • They’re most common in rough conditions, which usually means there will be significant wind. Even if the wind speed is low, the moving water (waves and swell) also moves the air above it, so there is constant air circulation.
  • Experienced rescuers can have a swimmer back in their boat in a minute or so, and their actual close contact time is even less. If pumping out the cockpit is necessary, the rescuer can slide down the deck lines to gain some distance.

Given all of these mitigating factors, there doesn’t seem to be much to be gained by attempting to use techniques that put the paddlers and their equipment at increased, immediate danger of injury or hypothermia. The first order of business is to get the paddler back in their boat and away from any immediate danger. Anything that compromises that goal for the sake of the highly unlikely possibly of contracting an infection from someone who may have the virus, seems more risky, rather than less so.

I think it’s a totally sensible article that offers “simple adjustments to reduce risks”. Wearing sunglasses, carrying a mini hand sanitizer in your PFD, making an effort to maintain 1.5m distancing, wearing a bandana that can be pulled over your face during close contact, turning your face away if forced to be close, using more caution when in groups from diverse locations, using online registration for events. All good thoughts and all easy. All 100% consistent with US CDC guidelines.

In my mind it shows awareness and consideration. I usually paddle alone but was recently on an all day paddle with a friend. We chose not to shake hands or hug and although I wanted to paddle his new Northstar Trillium and lend him my 6 degree bent shaft we just chose not to. CDC recommends against sharing objects. No big deal. It’s comforting to be around folks that have awareness and consideration.

I think that too many people in the US are looking for reasons to ignore subject matter experts & CDC guidelines. Maybe the attitude reflected in the article is one reason that Australia’s per capita death rate is only 1% of the death rate in the US.

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One area I differ with what @bnystrom said about rescues being lower risk is that coughing is an increased risk of transmission. If someone swallows a bit of water while flipping over, they could start coughing. if you are face to face supporting their boat, you could be a potential target of their cough.

We had a strokes and rescue day at the local lake on Sunday. It went well with 8 plus a leader (planned for ten total but there was one last minute drop). Maybe 30% were masked during unloading and loading (not me. I may be a bit lax but in open air and moving I tend towards what bnystorm has said. I am happy to mask in stores and when interacting with those working.). On water and paddling distancing is easy - just don’t hang onto others kayaks like we used to. Most of the rescues were self/unassisted. We did do a couple of T rescues. Didn’t try the paddle braced one - no interest and concern about breakage. We were supporting the boat being rescued from farther out than the norm. Still not 6’ but better and as noted generally a short time and in our case in training - no coughing, etc. I will say that my hands were not real happy with the extra stress through the deck lines. Conditions were air temp in the mid-80s, water probably near 80, breeze under 10 mph, light wind chop on top of moderate power boat wakes.

Distancing is not so easy with ww rescues. First of all, there is a high frequency when breaking in new paddlers. Swimming is an accepted part of the process. Reuniting paddlers, paddles, and boats in eddies requires proximity. In the past ten days I think I’ve helped on nine different swims and seen several more (top gauley, upper new, greenbrier, dries).

Duckie reentry and emptying kayaks often involves a modified t rescue, which means rafting up in close proximity for added stability with someone hanging onto your boat while you lift, drain or flip another boat, thereby making it easier for the swimmer to drain only a small remaining bit of h20 on-shore. One swimmer required medical attention (stitches) so there was additional exposure to other er patients and staff for that individual. Additionally, my shuttles pods have grown a bit (from the original three members) although we are good about wearing masks, rolling down windows, having new shuttlecomers ride in the back of the pick-up truck.

If you’re providing support/guidance/instruction to others than your risk and exposure greatly increases. We’ve been helping each other with roll practice as well. Lots of proximity with that. My best advice is just limit the number of people you paddle with and make sure they are proficient (won’t need assistance) if you are looking to eliminate exposure.