rough weather rescue training clip

nice clip from tony j. here…

In the original post on Qajaq USA…
…the following claim was made:

: I think this example of a rescue went well.

I don’t think so, but let’s open this up for discussion.

Not having been there, it’s difficult to judge, but this doesn’t seem to have gone well other than the fact that everyone was OK in the end.

Simply allowing a boat and paddler to be carried to shore is not what I think of as a “rescue”, though in some circumstances it may be the best alternative. In this case, both would-be rescuers put themselves is serious jeopardy by allowing everything, including themselves, to drift into the shore break. I’ve been in that situation myself during what we considered to be a botched rescue and the one takeaway from it is to avoid rescues in a surf zone like the plague. At no point did the “rescuers” seem to have any control over the situation whatsoever.

If the option was available, the better approach would have been to tow the boat and paddler away from the shore break, or at least stabilize their position by having one paddler put the empty boat on a long tow and paddle into the waves while the other paddler got the victim back into the boat. That could be completed in a minute or two, at least to the point that the paddlers would be able to move to deeper, calmer water where they could pump out any remaining water in the rescued paddler’s boat.

I’m glad that everyone was OK and hopefully some lessons were learned from it.

Is someone trolling???
Surf zone rescues are no big deal if you’re comfy in the surf zone to begin with. Deploying a rope in the surf is what should be avoided.

IMO, the best option was exercised. Getting to deep water would have taken much more effort. Exhausted rescuers are a bad thing. The outflow could have been utilized to help get both swimmer and boat to deeper water, but would have required getting past the “man/boat eater” bobbing in the surf between the rescue and the strong outflow current. Tethering to a swamped boat that will most likely go turtle makes a great sea anchor, but is hard to get anywhere and can get hard to be free of. Letting the wind & surf do the work looked to be the most expedient & safeest option; the surf was not that big so not much of a “danger” and was a sure thing as well as getting all together on shore.


I think they did the right thing
From what I could see, there were breaking waves a long way out, so they would be dealing with a longer stretch of breaking waves trying to paddle beyond them. They seem much closer to shore than to open water. But we don’t have the clearest picture of what’s going on out there. It sounds like they’re still in the wind creating the conditions, so at best, you’re going out to bigger, fairly steep, whitecapped waves.

The best chance of injury in such a scenario would be trying to manhandle the other kayak and manage a re-entry among breaking waves. If it’s safer to get the swimmer and the kayak beyond the breakers, that’s fine. But I can’t see that as the case here. It’s demonstrated that there was no issue getting them separately to shore.

There was no victim in this video. Just a temporary swimmer. When I paddle out with people to play in rough water, I try to make it clear that what you see in the video here is an expectation, not an emergency. I think this attitude leads to more relaxed, thoughtful, less-frantic handling of situations, as you see in the video. People get injured in out-of-control moments. These waves are causing out-of-control moments. No, the paddlers don’t appear out of control. But there are moments when the breaking wave is hitting them that they have to then react to what the wave does to them. That’s the out-of-control moment. If you’ve ever been boat on boat in breaking waves, you quickly realize that it should be done out of necessity.

First priority of a rescuer needs to be doing only what you’re capable of doing in order to handle the situation. They all seemed quite comfortable, nobody attempted any re-entry procedures beyond their skill level, or representing undue hazard to both boat and paddler, and there was no 2nd or 3rd swimmer added to the situation. I think that’s great.

"Surf zone rescues are no big deal …’

– Last Updated: Jan-11-13 1:35 PM EST –

...if you're comfy in the surf zone to begin with."

One may want to read John Lull's book on sea kayak rescues for an alternative opinion on whether surf zone rescues are "no big deal".

Personally I'll go with Mr. Lull's take on the subject. He has a bit more creds than the sum total of most of us here on pnet.

One mistake (plus new video) …
I saw at the beginning, when the swimmer got separated with the boat was that he was downwind from the boat. A wave swept the boat over his head and he could not catch it any more from upwind and lost it.

You don’t want to stay downwind in waves - the boat can hurt you. Also, hold the boat by the safety lines in a way that won’t twist your wrist or snap fingers if the boat flips unexpectedly, and quickly move to one end so that you can control the boat by the carry handle at one end.

There seemed to be a “gale force” wind, so paddling against it with boat and swimmer in-tow probably was not an option (one can barely maintain position in 40+ mph winds alone, and towing would be hard due to the waves too).

The “beach break” was somewhat nasty in the distance, but where they landed there was hardly an issue - nice smooth sand patch with 2-feet foamies that were not even dumping, just spilling on shore. So, getting out there was probably the safest and fastest option.

Lastly, there seemed to be a current going into sea at the near side of the screen. I thought that the party could have used that counter-current to their advantage if beaching was not an option. It almost looked like there was an eddy there, where the photographer was standing. But of course, I can’t see what’s actually there, so there might have been some hazards…

As for paddling and getting out of the “beach break”, see this video -;):

One may want to…
…Please keep others statements in context or at the least if you quote, quote the entire statement.

P.S. good for you to read, quote & name drop, I’ll be out paddling in the surf thank you very much.

All the best,

If the surf insn’t too big (and in this video it didn’t appear too big in that specific location) I’d be inclined to have person and boat drift to shore with only minor outside help (i.e. no ropes but maybe some carefully done contact tows). But if bigger surf my biggest fear of landing is whether the group could launch after the fact. So if at all possible I would tend toward towing further off shore to give more options.

back deck rescue
Another option would be to get the swimmer on the back deck and paddle in on the back of a wave most of the way in then swim or move away from the beach and reunite the paddler with their boat.

Back deck rescues can be very effective and are way better than toggle towing someone. The only time they are no good is if a very large person is being rescued by a small person in a low volume boat. Toggle towing someone through waves is incredibly tough and much riskier. I’ve done it a couple of times in surf and it’s a lot of work even without the wind.

This is am important topic that deserves more attention. Most people practice rescues under calm conditions which is only part of the answer.

sure wish I had an easy way to practice in real conditions. We rarely have more than 15kt winds and those days often happen while I’m at work or I can’t find others to join. In addition to the mechanical aspects of how rough water can change things there is also the mental state that can cause one to do stupid things they wouldn’t do when it’s calm. It’s nice being able to paddle all year around but it would be nice to have rough water without a major trip.

adding stress to calm water practice
-T-rescue practice while having 1-2 people tow the rescuer’s boat at max effort. This makes T-rescuing 5x harder and teaches the swimmer and rescuer to never let go of your gear.

-During a tow drill, have the towed person capsize and lose hold of their boat. Then fake a shoulder injury perform a scoop rescue for bonus points.

-Turn back deck rescues into a relay race, between two teams.

help but…
you never real feel like your in trouble – you can always stop, smile and say oh darn, let’s try again. My ideal would be conditions at the roughest I’ve ever tried or a bit more with say two very good instructors and just one other able student. The instructors can serve as a bit of a safety net while the two students work at it. I never them see them do this in larger classes because such rough conditions tend to scatter the students all over.

west coast instructors
Here’s some west coast advanced instructors that are very good at putting students up to a challenge.

Rogue Wave Adventures, WA- run by friends and paddling partners of mine. They teach in just the way you described. They do rescue in surf, gale force conditions and serious currents.

Body Boat Blade,WA- These guys are geniuses at teaching and coming up with situations.

Liquid Fusion, CA - I had instruction from them at Lumpy Waters this past October and he was very good at setting up some chaos.

i think
these guys did a nice job. It was propably MUCH rougher further out . The breakers at that sand bar wasnt that big. I think they did well and let the elements work for them.

Trolling? No…

– Last Updated: Jan-12-13 12:35 PM EST –

...just trying to start a thoughtful conversation and solicit some opinions.

I have to take issue with your remark about rescues in the surf zone. I'm quite comfortable in surf, as are the people I typically paddle with, but that didn't prevent 3 of us from getting pitchpoled by an aberrant 10' breaker while attempting a rescue close to shore, also during a training session(most waves at the time were rollers closer to 4-5'). None of us was seriously injured, but it was enough to teach me that rescues in breaking surf are dangerous due to the unpredictable conditions and should be avoided if at all possible.

I won't argue that letting the boat and paddler drift into shore wasn't the best option; given the conditions, it was the wise choice.

It appears, however, that the rescuers did a less than stellar job of protecting themselves, particularly the guy on the left. He was spending so much time watching the empty boat that he got whacked from behind. Based on the stills, it looks like the other rescuer got "Maytagged" too. Perhaps it was unavoidable, but it does raise questions, since the #1 tenet of rescues is: "Don't create more victims"

I would argue that the rescuer that went to the swimmer should have kept a safe distance away once he determined that he was OK and was going to swim into shore. The risk of the swimmer being injured by the pitching boat is too great in breaking waves.

It appeared that there was a section of relative calm just outside the shore break where a rescue could have been attempted, provided that their position was stabilized with tow. However, but there's not enough footage to be able to tell if that calmer area was consistent or if it's just a temporary lull, in which case it wouldn't have been an option.

I agree that it does look considerably rougher farther out and that getting there would have been difficult or impossible, anyway.

Floating objects
in the water, including what was probably a huge tree stump or perhaps an entire tree seem to be a real concern here. There is a rather large floating object in the foreground and this makes the possibility of using lines to rescue the swimmer a bit more problematic. I don’t know if this was the only object in the water or not, but it certainly had me wondering what other obstacles may have been present. Since the waves were breaking both on and off shore, I don’t think going further out would have improved conditions much. There did seem to be calm water on the back side of the sandbar where they landed.

If I did not think the paddlers were capable of a rescue in these conditions (and I doubt this was the case). This option goes away if the swimmer is showing signs of hypothermia (and I know that much of Superior can be quite cold and this could have been a factor in their choices), or if, as in the case, the boat gets away from the paddler. If the group lacked the skills (and I don’t think they did, since it was a coaches clinic) to perform the rescue in the surf, they made a very bad judgement in going out in these conditions.

My major issue is the paddler losing control of his boat once he exited. This would have been easily avoided with a tether from paddle to boat. Since this is mostly open water and there were few obstructions, it seems a reasonable choice. The video in the earlier article on the Norway rescue shows the cameraman using exactly this setup and it works well in open water. If there is an entanglement risk, the boat and paddle become entangled, not the paddler.

I also don’t like the idea of leaving floating objects in the surf, because I’ve seen knees needing repair from such incidents. I don’t think it is reasonable to choice to leave the boat floating out of control on confused water. Attaching a line to the boat and hauling it in after the swimmer was out of the water, would be a better solution since you have some control of the boat while the swimmer makes a recovery.

I would probably have opted for a T-rescue to recover the boat and an I-rescue to get him back in. 3 boats rafted together makes a wonderfully stable platform and should have been quite doable in those conditions. Sadly, once he allowed the boat to get away, this became a rather unattractive option.


I’ve had a kayak ripped out of my hands.
Playing in a spot where the current took me one way, the wind and waves the boat the opposite direction. The boat took off rather quickly, and although I managed to grab it one or two times,even the smallish breaking waves we were playing in were strong enough to pull the boat out of my grasp. I didn’t have a chance to grab an end toggle, which probably would have been the best thing to hold onto, the deck lines proved problematic. Luckily my paddling cohorts were able to help out, getting me and the boat back to the beach.

This is why
when sea kayaking, I use a tether from paddle to boat. If I hold onto the paddle, I have the ability to anchor the boat and keep it, if not completely under control, at least within reach to recover it quickly.

In areas where there is moving water and potential obstructions/strainers I don’t use a tether. The benefit is that I can, at any time I can release the paddle and swim (though I’ve yet to be in a situation where this would be necessary).

And yes, wind, waves, and currents can make it very difficult to impossible to retrieve an errant boat. Even if fellow paddlers can recover the boat, towing it back to the swimmer is a tedious and rather risky proposition. It is better to have some way to ensure they don’t become separated as they did in the video.


I had a good view of this rescue…
…since I was the paddler that retrieved the swimmer and created the video. I saw a link to this discussion on Facebook and read through the comments/opinions. A few comments/thoughts:

  1. Location - This rescue took place on Lake Superior at the mouth of the Michipicoten River. This is the location for the outfitter Naturally Superior Adventures and their lodge - Rock Island Lodge is directly behind the folks taking the video. The capsize/swim took place in the outgoing flow of the river and as several people have noted in this discussion, the shore we landed on (eventually) is a point and creates an eddy. Contact with both the boat and swimmer happened in the eddy although Nick and I paddled with the current (really the only way to progress against the on-shore winds) to reach the boat/swimmer.

  2. Conditions - Wind direction was mostly on-shore but also long- shore (blowing away from the camera). Winds were a steady 35-40 knots with 45 knot gusts. The rescue happened entirely within the lee of the reef break - which was another 100 yards further out to sea from where I made contact with Sam. On the outside, waves measured 3-4 meters but it was measurably smaller where we were operating.

  3. Paddlers - Nick (white Xcite) is a BCU Coach L5 Sea based on Anglesey, Wales and operates Kayak Essentials. Sam (swimmer who graciously encouraged posting this so other’s could learn) has successfully solo circumnavigated a small island known as Ireland.

  4. Decisions
  • All paddlers and most coaches at the Gales Storm Gathering decided to sit out this surf session. That includes some of the West Coast coaches mentioned in this thread. The three of us went out together in what was as controlled of a environment as these conditions allowed.

  • The rescue happened as we were finishing up the hour-long session surfing the reef break and waves you see in the distance.

  • I made the decision to not bring the boat to the paddler for an assisted re-entry as I didn’t want to introduce a rope into the equation and didn’t have my contact tow with me.

  • I chose a toggle-tow and reverse paddling so I could keep my eye on both the swimmer and any incoming waves. Keeping one eye to the see was the reason I chose for not putting Sam on the back deck and paddling towards shore although it would have been a bit faster. In all, the rescue took about 2min.

  1. The boat and paddler would have eventually made it to shore on their own - it was cold and towing the swimmer to shore lessened exposure.

  2. The shore break gave a little excitement - we both could have used a little more caution. That said, a bit of bracing and leaning into the wave kept boats and paddlers upright. A bit adventure, but no “maytags” or windowshade.

    Thanks for all the discussion. If there’s any questions…I’ll check this thread or message me. Best - Ryan