Rescue Situation - Your Input?

Sorry this is long, but i’d like paddlers input.

3 paddlers leave a protected beach for a 10 km round trip paddle along a great lakes shoreline.

Water temp 70 deg F. Wave height varying between 3 - 4.5 ft. Wave period 5 seconds. Waves are breaking 20 ft or less off shore.

Paddlers are “playing” near shore when a wave knocks over paddler 1. Paddler rolls up only to be knocked down by a second larger wave which sweeps him into a messy shoreline of slippery clay structures standing 4-5 ft tall. Paddler wet exits and is standing on slippery clay forms with boat and paddle. Paddler signals he is ok. Breaking waves are washing in every 5 seconds making re launch very difficult.

Paddlers 2 and 3 are just outside break. Paddler 2 has a short 15ft towline on a quick release belt, and a second longer towline in a day hatch. Paddler 3 has a 45ft throw bag.

What do paddlers 2 and 3 do to assist paddler 1 on shore??

pls be constructive, as i’m trying to learn from this situation.


– Last Updated: Sep-16-13 7:47 PM EST –

Waves are 3 - 4.5 ft is that also the breaking surf size or is breaking surf bigger or smaller?

This may not be what you want to hear but the main step involves avoiding the problem. Before playing near any surf shore you want to study the surf for a while. In the ocean there are bigger sets at times. At 5 second intervals I suspect the surf was more consistent but I can't be sure. If after studying, the surf is bigger than some can launch or land through then don't get remotely close to the surf. If it was just some odd big waves then the person on shore should be able to wait for a lull and launch then. Could be a seal launch given clay structures.

Another possible option is to swim out. If the surf only starts to break 20 feet from shore you may be able to have an outside paddler throw a line and tow an empty boat out. The person could hopefully swim out. In a pinch you can take off your PFD (maybe clip to boat) so you can swim through or under a wave. If a bit iffy for the tow (likely good but not 100% sure) you could have the other paddler tow the first paddler out while they tow the victim's boat out.

In general if you play near surf you should have been practicing swimming in surf with gear on to know you ability in this situation.

If another paddler is much more skilled then he may be able to land and aid the first in entering boat and giving a push off.

If able to walk a bit along the shore you may find a spot very close that is easier for a launch.

probably nothing
So long as the wet exited paddler is Ok, the best result may be for he/she to resolve this on their own. That short period and presumably not much space between the break and these slippery clay-like structures may not make this a great place for the rescue paddlers to be.

The wet exited paddler could swim their boat out, take it closer to shore so they could drain and re-enter, re-enter and roll and then paddle the flooded boat out, etc.

The only option I can think of that may help would be that 45 foot throw rope. Keep the rescuers outside the break and throw the line to inside and then try to tow out. But, throwing a throw bag while seated in a kayak is nearly impossible to get aim or distance (you should try it to see). This option is better should the wet exited person decide to swim out without their boat. Or the throw bag could be sent in (thrown in) to the wet exited paddler (in bag form, not with rope strung out) and the wet exited paddler could then attach it to their boat and swim out and pull the boat out (or push boat out past break and then swim after it).

I can’t picture it at all.
Consider your surroundings, your fellow paddlers, everyone’s realistic capabilities, and all of your options and related risks. I can’t get a handle on any of that from your post, so developing some of these things might lead to more specific thoughts and suggestions.

There’s rarely one single right thing to do. Even just different participants = different appropriate actions. But I really can’t even picture the situation yet. Why do the two in the water consider the one on shore stranded? What is it that makes you think it makes sense to assist him in relaunching? Why don’t the other two land and go from there? Is everyone pushing their personal limits? Is anyone pushing their personal limits? Does someone feel completely in control here? Does someone feel completely on the edge? Can you surf through the 20 feet freely, or do you have to be careful to not get slammed into something? Is there someone capable of making a very strong progression against the wind and waves that could have some kind of effectiveness towing, or are the would-be towers struggling to cover distance against the wind and waves even without towing? How close to a guarantee can we get that the person towing doesn’t get washed back through the surf zone towards shore? Is he standing on a ledge with his kayak where he needs to launch as a wave is hitting, where he will drop 4-5 feet straight down through the air if he doesn’t time it right? Or is he close to water level with dissipated whitewater waves washing up?

more info

breaking waves varied from 3 - 4.5 ft. You are correct, in that every 4th set was the larger 4.5 footers.

2 great responses so far, hope to see more.

Will post our “outcome” and my lessons learned after i see if any more responses.

cheers all.

Just Encouraging words …
Paddler has decided to swim and beach himself.

Are these powerful dumping waves or just annoying 5 second dumpers?

Five second swells are usually not very powerful YMMV.

Paddler should get himself back in the boat … wait for a lull and go for it, paddle like hell when he is floating on a wash in, tuck on the front deck when the closeout hits with his paddle extended like a lance parallel to his boat … pull himself through the dumper and put in four or five hard strokes voila …on the outside. Boaters outside can watch the waves and yell encouragement when to get ready … when to go.

He could also try to swim it out and re-enter and pump out any water. Rescuers could do an assist to climb back in if they want to. I would encourage the "paddler save thyself ethic " if you want to play in surf.

He could wade out to the just past the dumpers push the boat and then climb on the back deck and doggy paddle like a paddle board

couple other thoughts
Big rule of rescues is don’t add to victim list. So in the VERY rare occasions when a tow rope may help for such a situation be very sure a towed boat doesn’t pull in another boat. Be very sure a rescuers boat nor victim’s boat hits anyone. Be very sure you don;t end up with everyone stuck on shore in a remote place – you need someone to go back for a proper rescue. Always where a helmet in such surf or even much smaller surf if rocks. Practice in surf where the consequences are low; then when remote leave a big margin of error compared to your proven abilities. Do watch and warn others (especially newbies) when you see a hazard area such as you described.

Check out punching through
Here is a link with some helpful advice … check out the punching through pics .

Don’t Deploy Rope in Impact Zone
Unless it’s a matter of saving a drowning person, don’t try to use a rope in the impact zone - Mother Nature will win your arms, shoulders will not … it’s almost impossible to control a boat, sitting in a kayak, from the outside, that is getting worked in a wave. The rope more often than not becomes a safety issue.

So, to explain a little further…

I have paddled and self rescued, relaunched in these conditions solo previously. However, i am not experienced in rescue situations involving other paddlers. As almost all here have now responded,the paddler trying to relaunch into difficult conditions likely didnt need any rescue. None of the 3 paddlers was in a panic. The other two paddlers are more experienced than i am. However, sitting outside the break zone, watching a fellow paddler struggling to some extent encouraged me to try to think of ways to help him out of the situation.

We did not think it wise to enter the break zone to get close enough to tow the boat out and have the paddler swim out lest two of us end up out of our boats.

I did try to throw my throw bag in, (thinking if i towed his boat out he might swim out with 3rd paddlers assistance) however as stated in one response, that proved very difficult with any accuracy, and even if i got it to him, it has no carabiners on the ends for attachment to his deck lines.

Its difficult to describe the shoreline, but basically there was very little “beach” area to relaunch from. One possibility was a small area, (as one response noted) 30 feet down shore that the paddler might have made it to and seal launch more easily. Problem being that his launch would have to be parallel to the shore due to such a small sliver of beach under clay cliffs.

I’m doubtful that towing either boat or paddler out in the breaking waves would have been a real possibility, but i havent practised this so cant say for sure.

some vids - help to learn from others
Neptune’s Rangers out on the left coast have had some incidents, which they caught on film and posted. Good for helping other learn from their mistakes.

(note - I was at both of these, and was the victim of one of them)

Here is one at a place called Devil’s Slide.

Sergey’s situation (talked about at the end) sounds somewhat similar to what you had - person by themselves in chest deep water figuring out how to get past the break (he re-entered and rolled and then paddled the flooded boat out to be drained by us).

And here is one off the Monterey Peninsula - where I was the swimmer.

In this case, I swam out and left the boat behind and then we dealt with how to get me back with the boat.

great responses
thanks to all for all the great information. This forum always has great guidance.

In the end, (12-15 mins aprox) the paddler out of boat managed to get some water out of his boat, get back in and paddle it out thru the break, where we assisted while he pumped out and we finished our paddle and discussed what had happened.

Things i’ve learned from this…

conditions were larger than the weather radio predicted and none of us had helmets on.

Rescues in a breaking wave zone are very limited. A paddler should be capable of self rescue in those conditions if he chooses to be in there in the first place.

Despite having paddled numerous times with other paddlers i didnt have a solid sense of what their capabilities were (other than knowing they are more experienced than me) and we didnt discuss a plan of action before going into those conditions. (they may have assumed i had more experience in knowing how to handle that situation)

I need to do more practise in breaking wave relaunch after seeing how tiring a relaunch by an experienced paddler was.

thank you all
Thanks to all who responded here. The amount of knowledge always amazes me. Peter i follow most of the neptune rangers online info. I have read those posts you linked to before and will reread them again!

I’m also going to send a link of this page to my two paddling companions so they can have a read and we can discuss things again.

Sorry to be long winded, but i am working on improving my skill level and this kind of thing really helps.

cheers all.

clay structures?
I’m not sure I understand what you mean by clay structures, but if your friend was on shore and ok, then I don’t think this is a “rescue” scenario, per se.

That’s not to say that launching into breaking surf doesn’t present it’s own set of challenges, but they are largely ones that must be handled by the individual. The one exception, which may or may not have worked in your situation, is to have another paddler land and give the person having trouble an “assisted” launch. This involves keeping their boat pointed out to sea when the water comes up the beach and then giving them a good solid push when their boat begins to float. This can help the launching paddler obtain enough momentum to clear the first set of breakers. Also, a more experienced surf paddler can often help a less experienced paddler determine the best launch timing. Of course, this all assumes that the assisting paddler can solo launch afterwards!

Regardless, there was really nothing you could do from off the beach – trying to tow someone through the surf zone would be both risky and largely futile.

It sounds like you are absorbing the right lessons, though. A good rule of thumb is don’t play in the surf zone near a beach that you aren’t confident you can get off of. Helmets are also a good idea for surf zone play. Buy a comfortable one and get used to wearing it.