Maine Guide Lost Person Scenario

I recently took the Maine guide test for sea kayaking and did not pass the Lost Person Scenario. I have taken a prep course and studied many hours to pass but am still not on the right track. Apparently I wasn’t saying what the testers were looking for. I had some difficulty with criteria in the client safety talk as well as the process of going about the search for a lost person. The testers suggested i create practice scenarios to work with but i am not sure how to go about this.

I would like to ask anyone if they have any good lost person scenarios in the casco bay area or the penobscot bay area. I am also looking for information on how to work through them so that i can be on track for working through a lost person scenario as they would want for the maine guide test. Any help is greatly appreciated. thanks!

When I took my test

– Last Updated: May-23-08 9:44 AM EST –

which I had to take twice I didn't pass the lost person scenario the first time either. The Sea Kayak guides test has about a 50% pass rate and many don't pass it the first time. I'm assuming the lost person scenario you had involved you guiding a bunch of kayaks in Hurricane Sound just off Vinalhaven in 10--20 knot SE winds, fifty foot visibility and an ebbing tide. A lobster boat appears out of nowhere and the wake causes the fleet to scatter. When you recover and take notice there is one missing. Is that the scenario? If so, send me an e-mail and I'll tell you what to say to pass it. PS Where in central Maine do you live? I'm in the Bangor area, if you would like to have lunch, let me know and I'll go over the lost person scenario with you in person.

HOLD on there John
The point of the exam isn’t supposed to be to get the answers from someone else so that they can pass.

The point of it all is to have an understanding of how to go about finding a lost person on the water. Understanding currents, tides and which way the water is moving.

If you aren’t prepared after taking a class, then it must mean that you need more time on the water to practice.

I too failed the first time around on the test - the lost person scenario causes many people to stumble. My objection to the way the assessors approach it is that primarily they approach it the same way they would a lost hiker in the woods and the situation isn’t the same.

As to how to go about setting up a scenario to work through… pick a point on the chart, pick a date/time you lost someone and then figure out depending on the situation exactly where the swimmers would end up.

As for your safety briefing, every time you go on the water you should review the same things until it becomes second nature.

Good luck,


What is cause of …
… 50’ vis. ?? … missing yaker hasn’t a sounding devise (pan pan) ??

Maine Fog I presume

– Last Updated: May-22-08 6:25 PM EST –

Sounding device [oops]

And 50 ft is generous visibility compared to many fog banks that have caught us in Muscongous Bay.

I am getting the impression that you are awfully used to big boats rather than kayaks.

Fog in 10-20 kt. winds ?? …

– Last Updated: May-22-08 3:49 PM EST –

........ sounding devise = standard whisle as a min. , guide should be certain each has one secured to PFD ?? ......... the reason I ask about the sounding devise is the short time lapse between dispersion of fleet and regrouping , a conscious missing member should have been able to sound off (pan pan = distress) ........... get a sounding devise , it attracks attention when needed ........ yes it's true , I have 0 time in yak , much time in canoe and much time 17'-20' power boat .. 1000's of dark hours as well ..


yep fog in 10–20 knot wind
and I’ve been in it—what happens in the Gulf of Maine is that big banks of fog roll in from the open ocean given certain conditions in the summertime.

not a question of "getting the answers"
as you know the examiners use the socratic method of continually asking questions and the examinee has to continually give answers—a little bit like a law school class a la the “Paper Chase”.

And for each answer you give, the examiners will take away that part–for instance one of the first things is blow your whistle for the pre–arranged signal, then the examiners will say ok, you’ve done that, no return signal, now what? The best way to prepare for the lost person part of the exam is have someone play the part of the examiner and give the examinee a practice third degree.

After you role play that a few times, you will not only be more comfortable taking the exam, but if you are ever in a lost person scenario you will be able to recall what it is you should do(or figure it out) In other words there is no one correct answer, they just want to see if you can think through the process and the best way to do that is practice with somebody else. BTW they always give the scenario mentioned above, or some version of it.

The fog does not come in on little cat…
On the coast of Maine the fog can come in very fast. I’ve seen winds simply act to bring the fog quicker rather than disperse it as one might think.

On that sounding device

– Last Updated: May-22-08 6:47 PM EST –

I thought you meant something more complicated - sorry.

It gets hard to figure out exactly where sound is coming from in the really thick stuff once someone is out of sight distance. So I am not sure that would be something to rely on. And you cannot avoid being caught if you regularly spend time off of the Maine coast in the summer. We've clocked it taking no more than 25 minutes to make it from the fog bank being a on the horizon over a mile and a half away to 20 to 30 ft visibility.

Alright Jonsprag1 , fog …
… in 10-20 kt. S.W. winds (surface winds)… tide is ebb (minor factor ??) … no sound signal return (yaker may be unconscious ?? , may be out of hearing range because of wind noises ?? , other ??) … does lost yaker have compass (or GPS) and chart card , course briefing ?? … will yaker be abandoned in interest of remaining group ?? … come on , don’t leave me hanging , seriously , will guide be able to do anything to locate yaker (time limit dragnet ??) … how far to shore ?? … does lost yaker have any means of self navigation ??

Let’s not leave this to one guy
Instead of bugging Jon for something specific, how about a thread on what assumptions folks would make and how they’d set their priorities to solve the problem?

It is really quite interesting.

I can imagine !!
… Labrador and Gulf currents meet , Grand Banks and all that … I am a trained navigator (air/water) , have loggged numerous hours in heavy fog , low vis. … some cat fog too !!

I believe you Celia …
… very good reasons to be highly prepaired during pre-flight for you … challenging I’m sure , 1/2 the fun though , huh ?? … personally haven’t much experience on open waters in canoe , some but not lots , plenty in powered boat though , I understand and respect water and weather …

I’m OK either way , just …
… want to find lost yaker , have questions about yakers self survival now , concerned for group safty now and the missing yaker !!

maine guide test
i made it out to be the “big” thing and in truth it’s just what you do on the water. there were 32 folks in my class…3 passed and 2 of us were surprised at the 3rd guy.

for the oral, you’re stuck in a room with 3 crusty senior guides and they grill you pretty good and they’ll do what they can to weed out anyone they think might be lacking. they do an admirable job of it considering the constraint of there being no on water practical.

if you wanna pass i won’t give you any answers, it’s all stuff you get through time in the saddle but i will say that…

assume nothing.

state the steps you have taken and the gear you all have or have immediate access to PRIOR to just be-bopping along on your oral journey.

have a plan. communicate that plan to your group.

know the forecast.

know the tide/current.

be conservative in your crossings and trip planning…the best way to find anyone is to not lose them in the first damn place.

search an expanding grid. (there…an answer)

know your personal speed.

common sense rules.

NEVER separate the group. (fine, 2 answers)

my lost paddler scenario was in casco bay in diamond passage…(which is like asking me to go from my bedroom to my bathroom i know it so well) …they had a group of 8 (1 guide mind you) in the MIDDLE of the passage, in fog and i was told i lost track of 1 of the 7 when the ferry passed by close and it took me 5 minutes (!) to get the capsized paddler back in his boat and do a head count.

so silly, right? so i just kept telling them all the things i saw wrong with their scenario…in truth they give you these situations that you would never reasonably put yourself or your group in unless you were a bit of a bonehead and then from this bonehead situation they expect a sudden transformation into super rational guide guy.

my advice? paddle more. paddle with senior folks…pick their brains…on the water.

and from the shameless plug division…maine island kayak is doing a version of rmg / bcu 4* training in june i think? 2 or 3 days.

good luck.

well all right since you insist
The scenario they usually give is the one stated above–and like I said there is no one correct answer, what they are looking for is an ability to think through the problems presented. Like someone below says you are stuck in a room with either 2 (as in my case) or 3 people, usually a combination of senior guides and/or marine wardens–I had both. The responses below were the ones I gave on my second test and according to the examiners they were fine—if someone reading this gave different answers and still passed, that’ ok and if someone else thinks the answers are unrealistic and impractical, that’s ok too–the “lost person scenario” itself is somewhat out of touch with reality.

  1. The first thing you should do after the lobster boat passes you and scatters your group is to a quick 360, call the group togather and make sure everybody is ok. If you discover a boat missing then immmediately blow three blasts on your whistle/horn and listen for the two whistle blasts in return(this is the prearanged signal that you told them about in your safety lecture at the start of the trip) The testors will tell you there is no response to the whistle

  2. Next thing is to broadcast a mayday on your vhf radio, identify yourself, your location and the nature of the emergancy—make it a mayday, not a pan pan because you may have paddlers immersed in 50–60 degree water(w/o wetsuits in the scenario)—vhf will be picked up by CG, the boat that almost ran you over, and anyother boats in the area. The testors will tell you that no one answers.

  3. Take the remaining boats and people to the nearest safe land—in the Hurricane sound scenario that would be Hurricane Island Outward Bound School and make sure they have food, water, a way to start a fire if the island is uninhabited, and a cell phone–you should also call your base on a cell phone(if they haven’t answered the vhf) and tell them what happened and what you have done. On the way to Hurricane Island you should keep blowing the signal on the horn/whistle every 30 seconds or so.

  4. After you drop your party off in a safe place, you have to set up a search yourself. This is where you have to really analyze the situation. If the missing boat did not capsize, it will be effected more by the Southeast 10–20 knot breeze then by the ebbing tide—pushing it in a northwesterly direction–this direction will force them into one of the many islands that form and dot the northern part of Hurricane sound, so they will probably hit land on their own. Also their survival time in the boat is much much longer than in the water so it isn’t as urgent to locate them. Therefore you should assume they are capsized and in the water.

  5. If they are in the water, then the ebb tide is taking them in a southeasterly direction out towards the open sea–next stop Nova Scotia. The only course of action you can take is to paddle like hell down to the mouth of Hurricane sound where there are one or two small islands on the west side and Green Island on the east. (I can’t remember the names but you will have a chart in the exam) and set up a search pattern–you should be blowing your horn/whistle as you paddle to your search area.

  6. The search pattern I used when I passed the test was a parallel line pattern—paddle from one side of the sound towards the other(towards Green Island), how far you make your line would depend on how far across Hurricane Sound you were when the incident occured. If you had just started the crossing then a quarter mile or so would be adequate—use your watch, or gps if you have one to gauge the distance. If you were in the middle or towards the other side of the sound make the legs longer. at the end of each leg, paddle at a 90 degree angle to the limit of visibilty and reverse the process until you reach the side you started from, keep repeating the process and gradually work your way in a northwest direction. Don’t stop until releived by the Coast Guard, Marine Patrol or some appropriate party, or until you find the missing people, or until you are too exhausted to continue.

  7. If you find them, get them back in their boat, assuming they are still with it, by any of the rescue methods you have practiced in Guides Class or elsewhere—T-Rescue, Reenter and Pump being the two most common. If they are not with their boat, stay with them and keep trying to get assistance via the VHF, flares, horn/Whistle ect. Once you get them to land render appropiate first aid—probably for hypothermia.

  8. The search pattern can vary with the specific scenario—is some cases an expanding search pattern would be better, in others a retrace of your route would be appropriate.

  9. two comments on the test and the people who take it. Some people, both here on p–net and elsewhere seem to think that the above mentioned information should be kept private and not divulged to anybody—My feeling is that having the knowledge indicated above will make all of us better paddlers, even if we aren’t registered guides. Also, there are a number of commerical guide courses that will give you the same information as indicated above, so it is hardly a secret.

  10. One final observation—although the written and oral exam for a guides license is difficult, the process is woefully deficient in one respect. It does NOT require a practical demonstration of physical skills. The applicant certifies that he/she has a least three years of ocean paddling experience. Many people are less than truthful about this. When I took the test I had 4 years of sea kayaking experience and 20 of general paddling. I knew and had practiced all the resecue techniques, including self rescues. I could roll a kayak. Believe it or not there are some guides who have little or no experience paddling on the ocean prior to the exam and have a hard time doing a paddle float self rescue in calm water, let alone a roll. If you fall into that catagory, do yourself and your clients a favor and develop your physical skills before you undertake an actual guiding job.

you could argue
that BEFORE you even get to your step 1 above, you have explained to the testers that you’ve explained to the group…

where you’re going, you’ve shown them on a chart your route.

you’ve explained the importance of staying together.

you’ve explained to the group what to do IF you do become separated and that they blow on their whistle with repeated, regular blasts (say 3 blasts with a breath between…wait 30 seconds, repeat) and that they stay where they are if it’s safe…if not or they just can’t wait any longer, that you’ve given them a “safety” heading…which direction to head to the nearest bit of land.

you’ve explained to the group what to do in the event of a capsize. that the job of the group then is to stay together, stay safe and not risk further mayhem.

communicate to the sr’s that you’ve communicated with the group…that you’re thinking ahead to contingencies and that you’ve explained them to the group…cause what will happen is that you won’t have TOLD the Sr’s you’ve communicated something or demonstrated something and then sure enough they’ll put you in a spot where that becomes apparent.

Oral exams

– Last Updated: May-23-08 2:58 PM EST –

(with trepidation since it's Friday...)

NY State has used an oral exam format for their higher level promotion tests. It has some real similarities to what has been said about the Maine Guide exam. The panel is two to three people and it can be a pretty varied and conflicting bunch.

As above, they try to remove your solutions one by one. In my first one I had an assessor at a conference who wouldn't stop disrupting a presentation. Everything I suggested was knocked out as a failure until the only thing I had left was to call the police and have the person forcibly removed. I continued to stay calm, admitted that was all I had left and they went on to the next question on policy.

In another exam, someone was told they had to cut their unit's budget. Instead of the expected answers about how they would look for cost savings, they argued back that there was no way anyone should cut their budget because their work was too vital. It got to where the candidate had pounded the table and had the panel members looking for the exit door.

They are two very different approaches, but in both cases the panel saw someone who kept thinking. Both of us passed without contest.