Rescue practice (pt 1)

Over the last two weekends, my fiancée and I practiced our rescues. We made a lot of mistakes and found out a lot about our equipment.

This is only our second year with touring boats so I’m certainly open to criticism. I thought others may get some value out of what we experienced or possibly a good laugh.

A week ago we set out on our home lake to practice our rescues. We’d never practiced them since taking a class and since we’re doing some Lake Michigan trips this year being able to do quick rescues seemed important.

Our plan was to paddle a mile or two to warm-up then to come back near our pier to practice our rescues. There was a 10-15 mph east wind blowing so we talked a little about edging on the way out. My fiancée is still grappling with edging and I’m far from a master of the skill. As we were heading back she called out to ask me about her edging technique. She had her boat heeled over nicely but she was doing this by leaning her entire body to the point that her center of gravity was outside the boat.

I yelled out NO! But it was too late. We started our rescue practice earlier than we planned. Initially her skirt wouldn’t pop and she panicked (she’s a better than average swimmer and a former lifeguard). My initial reaction was to pop my skirt, I was planning on going in after her, and then it dawned on me that I wasn’t sure we could do a double rescue with two swimmers in the water and no one in the boats. I decided I’d only bail out after her if she couldn’t get her skirt free and I was coaching her to do this.

Practice on dry land then shallow
Sittin on the beach, practice wet exits, then practice pulling the loop on the skirt with her eyes closed, then not using the loop with one hand behind the back. Then go into shallow water. One person standing in the water and do ten wet exits each. If she panicked you need to get her confidence back up so it’s not a learned response everytime she goes over. You should also practice the same and getting back in within seconds in shallow water. If the water is too cold for your gear to spend an hour or so in the water practicing, you should not be out there at your skill level.

part 2
A bit of hindsight here from a former lifeguard and water safety instructor: Reach, throw, row, go. In lifesaving speak the rescuer gets in the water only as the last option.

She popped her skirt with her struggling efforts to get her head above water. Once she was free of her boat I had her hang on to my bow. She was talking kind of crazy so I suggested she straighten out her sunglasses. Her dollar store sunglasses had stayed on through all of this but were now askew – tilted a bit to the right and not centered on her nose. I was sure if she became fashion conscious it would indicate a calm enough demeanor to proceed with the T-rescue. It took two requests but she did adjust her glasses.

The T-rescue went well with one glitch, she was turned the wrong direction. We got her turned around and she got back in within ten minutes and we were back underway in about 15. She said she was warm enough to continue.

We headed back to the area of our pier for the planned part of our rescue practice. After the success of our unplanned rescue I was feeling pretty cocky. This was the opening day of fishing season in WI so we had a sizable gallery taking in the entertainment as they fished from the neighboring piers.

I capsized next. Initially I tried a cowboy self rescue but could not get up on my boat. We immediately went to a T-rescue because we were hoping keep our time in the water to a minimum because we were getting ready for Lake Michigan temperatures. The T went well until I was back in the cockpit but still in a prone position. At that point as best as we can tell Peggy lost her grip on my boat and we dumped both boats. One of the perks to living in our neighbor hood is the free entertainment we provide. Things did not go well from this point on and we wound up swimming our boats about 50 yards back to our pier.

Part 3
Yesterday we were back at it. Peggy decided not stretch her skirt over the cockpit, an idea I struggled with but finally endorsed. Her T-rescue went great. On my turn I again tried a self rescue first I had a no go on the cowboy, but this time I remembered to try my paddle float, still could not get up on my back deck. As a last ditch attempt I tried to get up on my boat by mounting at the cockpit as opposed to the back deck. It worked like magic; I got up on my first try. Using the paddle float as an outrigger and keeping my weight on that side of the boat I got in and turned over no problem.

Peggy was the swimmer on another T-rescue and we had her back in less than five minutes. Then I was the swimmer on a T. The biggest difference between my failed attempt the week before and this time was mounting at the cockpit. Peggy held on tighter and this time and we perfected our T. We took less than five minutes for me to get back in.

second what Seadart said
I’ll second what Seadart said - it is good to practice removing skirts on land with eyes closed, not using the loop, with one hand, etc. I do this type of thing at the start of any beginning kayak class I teach.

There is a rescue you could do if she is upside down and you are not without you leaving your boat - it is called the Hand of God. here is a short video on it (but doesn’t really provide details):

One that is good for practicing is also the Eskimo Rescue. Someone upside down and freaking out wouldn’t likely think to do this, but it is a way to get used to being upside down and then getting upright without having to pop a skirt or know how to roll.

There are some intricacies to both of these, so it may be good to research into these more (or take a class that covers these) before you jump out and try to do them.

It is good that you practice rescues. Kudos to you.

Part 4
What Didn’t Work and what Did

Peggy’s boat is a Prijon. I’d heard recently that there are issues with generic (even though sized correctly) spray decks fitting properly on Prijons. It literally takes both of us struggling to get her skirt stretched over the combing, that’s with me blocking the boats forward movement (even beached) with my legs straddling the boat. Our solution we’re going to check out getting a Prijon skirt and hoping that that mounts and releases easier.

The other equipment issue we had was my MTI PFD. The PFD rode up to where the shoulder straps were slack and the chest flotation was higher than my chin. I had my waste belt uncomfortably tight the first weekend and it floated high (this caused more problems than you’d think including causing me to swallow water and affecting my ability to breath while swimming, and once getting hooked under the cockpit combing when I’d otherwise successfully got back on my boat). On the second weekend I tightened up all my PFD belts until my breathing was affected. This was to no avail. My PFD still rose above my face in the water. Solution: I’m looking for a new PFD.

Some Other Failures (ours not the equipments’):

Peggy’s Prijon has a tow line. I overlooked this when were swimming the boats back to our pier the first time. It would have made swimming a lot easier. The best way to get back ON my boat is to come up over the cockpit. The back deck does not work for me or my boat not sure which one of us is creating this need, but it is fundamental to a successful re-entry for me. I totally forgot about using the paddle float on weekend one.

What Worked:

Peggy was wearing a MTI Maya PFD (designed for women), it worked fine. Our cold water gear was great. The first weekend we were in 60 degree (F) water for over thirty minutes and never felt chilled. We were wearing NRS Mystery hoods, NRS Farmer John/Janes, and Hydroskin long sleeve tops (Under Armor I think).

Our Biggest Take Away:

You need to practice rescues and if you don’t you’ll never know how your equipment or you will respond.

You both should be absolutely confident in your ability to quickly pop the skirt and wet exit.

This gives you confidence to NOT pop the skirt and wet exit immediately when you capsize. If you know a partner is nearby, hanging out upside-down and waiting for an “Eskimo rescue” is a lot less work than any exit and re-entry.

Being comfortable upside-down is also an important step in learning to roll.

For learning, wearing a diving mask helps. It’s a lot easier to relax when you can see clearly. Flip, hang out, enjoy the view, and when you’re ready use your partner’s bow to come up. Repeat as necessary until the wet exit becomes a deliberate choice instead of a panic reaction.

Hand of God
My experience with cold water is that is cuts down on the amount of time you can hold your breath.

I do think we’ll put this in our repitiore though but we’ll wait for warmer water to practice.

Breaking things down was appropriate
If she struggled with removing the skirt, practicing wet exit and re-entry without it to “get” the rest down was fine. Now she knows what part to work on separately (a la Seadart’s advice). Then when all the pieces work, put them together.

People’s bodies and boats vary a lot. I could barely get myself over the cockpit for paddle-float re-entry, as taught in class–and that was in calm water–but later when I tried it BEHIND the cockpit, I found that easy to do. Yet your account indicates exactly the opposite held for you.

I also found that trying to secure the paddle shaft under bungies was a waste of time–it was both easier and faster to just clamp it across and behind the rear coaming with my bare hand. Another advantage resulted from that method: No need to pull paddle out from under bungies.

Funny things happen when people go to practice their wet exits and PF re-entries. Much better for these, errr, amusements to happen in easy times with low risk than in real conditions, especially with the added psychological obstacle of never having tried it before!

When my husband and I first practiced our wet exit and PF re-entry after taking one class, we owned rec kayaks (Old Town Loon 138 and Castine). The Loon quickly flooded, since it had a gigantic cockpit and no bulkheads. It’s a good thing we practiced close to shore, because the boat was very, very low in the water. We somehow swam it to shore, slowly. I don’t remember how we did it, but between the 2 of us standing in shallow water using 2 pumps, we finally emptied the water.

When I see people paddling this popular model, I always wonder, “Have they ever flipped it and discovered what a nightmare it is to empty?”

So you’re doing the right thing by practicing rescues where screwing up has lower risk of harm.

Yeah, try a different skirt
Neoprene skirts get a little easier to put on and take off if you soak them first, but it sounds like that skirt might be too tight. I assume you are using proper technique to remove it, pulling the loop forward first, and only then up/off.

Finding a PFD that fits well, doesn’t get in the way or restrict movement, and meets federal requirements has been a problem for me. But as a guy, you should be able to find one that works. Longer torsos have more to choose from.

Yes, you need to practice rescues, BUT
they need to be practised properly, with correct technique, in order to be effective when needed.

But before even broaching that subject, it’s clear that you need to address your wife’s situation. Was her underwater panic limited to the stuck sprayskirt or is a more generalized issue? If the later, then that needs to be addressed first by incremental exercises aimed at getting her comfortable hanging out underwater and confident that she can exit the boat. (Note: being a strong swimmer and a former lifeguard is not proof against an initial tendency on the part of some people to panic when upside down inside a kayak). Obviously an important part of this is getting her a sprayskirt that is easily removable. The fact that you had to wrestle it on to the cockpit means that it should never have been used on the water in the first place.

As for the rescues themselves, the fact that your best time for a t-rescue was nearly five minutes suggests to me either a flaw in technique or a significant physical limitation. If you’re both in reasonably good shape, a t-rescue should never take more than a minute or two.

Sorry if I seem to be ragging on you, but it really sounds like the best remedy in the short term is not just more practice, but rather, getting in touch with a good coach who can make sure you’re on the right track.

Give her your bow …
You should also practice bumping her boat next to the cockpit with your bow, she can reach up and pull her head out of the water very quickly. You need to know how to brace. It gives people a lot of confidence once they learn how other kayakers can get them help extremely quickly.

It might pay to take a rescue class from trained instructors with a lot of experience. You can learn how to do things the wrong way teaching your self. Experienced kayakers can teach you what you don’t know quickly.

Five minutes to get back in
That’s a start, but that’s a long time. It was a long time ago, but my first summer of sea kayaking (with a real sea kayak), I practiced PF re-entries to the point where I could be sitting in the boat, skirted down, and PF removed from paddle in something like 30 seconds. I didn’t bother pumping out water because not that much got in. Also, the PF does not have to be 100% inflated (or 100% deflated afterward).

Without having practiced it any time recently, I doubt I could match that now.

The reason for not having practiced it recently: Rolling. If you have any interest at all in learning how, go for it. It is much, much faster and there is no need to pump, no fussing with devices, less body immersed, no risk of losing hold of the kayak.

I’m not saying don’t practice several methods of recovery, just that rolling is one that’s worth learning because it is so fast and does not require extra equipment OR paddling partners.

next time I’ll try my stop watch
This time I was aporoximating times.

All I can say for sure is that all the steps were completed with alacrity and no wasted motions.

One thing I think I’ll change though is I think I’ll get a foam paddle float to save on inflation time.

We have taken a class (at Rutabaga)and have a lot more lessons planned. All input is appreciated (this where learning starts).

I know sometimes new boaters don’t find rescues a sexy subject but I have to say nothing has affected our confidence like practicing rescues on our own.

Who knew?

Fussing with the float
The inflatable kind of float does not have to be stuffed 100% full of air, just enough that it holds onto the blade and won’t come off. Blow in some air to give it substance, then put the blade in and inflate till you can’t pull it off. They come with a strap to secure to the shaft, which I didn’t bother using because it wasn’t necessary and slowed things down on both ends of the procedure.

Likewise, when you’re ready to paddle again, deflate it enough to quickly remove it. You don’t have to get it flat-deflated. Probably better not to if it’s likely you’ll need to deploy it again…less air to blow in the second time.

float, rescue
I stow my paddle float partially inflated behind my backband. It’s easier to handle than if it were empty, saves a bit of time inflating, and displaces a bit of water in the cockpit if I don’t use it.

It helps to get your legs up and think about pulling yourself ACROSS onto your boat, not UP onto your boat.

For an assisted rescue: If the swimmer is having trouble climbing onto their own back deck, one option is to have them come across the rescuer’s back deck, which should be lower in the water.

Rolling = freedom to experiment
I remember the times when I could not yet roll and that I was reluctant to experiment because I would end-up in the water and the associated wasted time or scraped shin bones against the cockpit from exits/re-entries -;(

Get a roll and you will further master your edging and braces and balance much faster, because you will not be afraid to go over the stability limit of your boats or to enter moving water that puts your skills to the test.

Also, try to practice your rescues in waves and wind. Get to a sandy beach with on-shore wind and some small breaking waves and practice there. You may be surprised at how things work out: gear disappearing, you being blown fast away if you are too slow, keeping balance in waves etc. Unfortunately, most rescues are needed when you are outside of your comfort zone, so practice on flat water is a start but quite inadequate in a real situation that would have you capsize in the first place…

yes, time yourself
It’s a good reality check.

I recognize that I don’t have the benefit of actually seeing what happened, but if you really did the rescue efficiently and it took nearly five minutes, then I stand by my conclusion that something is wrong technique-wise. As a point of reference, I think it’s a reasonable expectation that sea kayakers of “intermediate” skills should be able to execute a t-rescue within 30 seconds, particularly on flat water. A good coach should be able to get you there quickly.

As for bow rescues, hand of god, rolling – that’s all good stuff, but irrelevant to your wife unless she’s comfortable underwater and with wet exiting. I would highly recommend not even introducing new concepts until you’ve established comfort underwater first.

The reason . . .
I mentioned getting a foam float is there is no inflation time, and no fine motor skills required with closing or opening valves (possibly a life or death difference in extremely cold water).

I can’t take credit for this idea, I got it from Wayne Horodowich.

Why not tell your wife to forget…
the edging and enjoy paddling the kayak going from point A to point B. Edging would be the last thing that I would be playing around with.

jack L