Safety gear

There’s been a bunch of “have you needed X” questions lately. Thought I’d answer them all.

Of all the safety gear I carry, I’ve needed some of it, and used most of it at one time or another over the last 30 years of paddling. Enough time on the water will do that.

Helmet - Need it every time I paddle WW or play in surf, rock gardens, or tidal races in my sea kayak. Wished I had been wearing one this past summer in a surf capsize.

PFD - Needed it a few times, always have it on nowadays, so it’s no issue.

Towline - I tow someone about once a year on average. Once towed a guy 2 1/2 miles in a 20 knot wind after he got exhausted, and towed a woman about a half mile in a gale once after I tried to talk her out of paddling at the launch – she said it was her “right” to paddle anywhere she wanted anytime she wanted. I happened by about 3 hours later, found her sitting on a sandbar unable to continue, and towed her back to the launch. I towed a zodiac that was out of fuel once, too.

Spare paddle - Needed one twice. Broke my primary in surf once, and another time I lost my primary in a pitchpole, and needed the spare to retrieve my primary, and then surf in to shore to assess injuries and boat damage.

VHF - Never “needed” it, but use it all the time to communicate with other paddlers, larger vessels, and twice to call the coast guard for non-emergency stuff. Weather channels get used a lot, too.

Bilge Pump/bailer - Duh…all paddlers need one at one time or another. I even once rescued a fire dept rescue boat with my bilge pump — long, funny story.

River knife - Needed it once, in the rescuing the fire dept situation above.

Whistles & horns - Use 'em all the time in groups, and when paddling into a marina or anchorage area in fog to announce my presence.

Flares - always have 'em in salt water, but luckily have not needed them.

Compass/chart/gps - I don’t leave shore without them if there’s a chance of fog, or I’m paddling somewhere new.

Drysuit - I need it whenever the water temp is lower than 60 F IMO. I’ve swam in a wetsuit several times in cold water (Including waterskiing), and it sucks. Swimming in a drysuit is much easier on your system, and I think they’re more comfortable to paddle in than wetsuits are.

If you spend enough time on the water in a variety of conditions, you’ll either need or find almost all of this stuff and more handy at one time or another.

what’s the story?
You intrigued me with the fire rescue story, so feel like writing it up? Actually, I think is looking for stories written as articles which they can post with the weekly, so maybe you should write it for that.

fuel to the fire
Cell phones?

Spray skirts?

For longer trips we might ask:

emergency blanket?



No one should mandate to anyone else what is good, common sense to pack (and I don’t think you’re doing that, BTW). But most of us paddle boats with enough storage capacity to take this stuff along. You’ll never miss it until you need it.

I carry more than what I listed
by a longshot. I was just mentioning the most obvious ones. On big crossings or long paddles, I’m sometimes overprepared, which is just fine with me.

…and I suspected as such; more of a quick list for others. Good post and timely also.

Here it is
Since you asked:

The day started off as a routine after work paddle at a local lake. The winds were blowing 25-30 knots away from the launch, gusting to 35, and right at the town beach at the other end of the lake, so my buddies Ken and Mike and I figured we could surf a little there, and get a great workout in the wind.

Nobody else was out on the lake when we launched. We did one lap around, and as we passed the ramp, we saw two very obese (This is relevant, folks) women launching an aluminum skiff with a very small motor on it. We didn’t give it any thought at first. They passed us on their way downwind, and their boat was very noticeably overloaded, and had almost no freeboard at the stern. We minded our own business, and paddled some more. We rode some small waves at the beach, and paddled back to the launch. Ken and Mike were done for the day, but I needed more than the 5 miles we had paddled, so I said I’d paddle some more, and see them next week.

As I paddled away, I heard sirens approaching the ramp. Then I saw the fire dept launch their boat (also overloaded), and head towards the beach. I looked down that way, and saw the skiff capsized off the beach, and a fire rescue truck on the beach. I paddled down there to see. Good thing I did.

The fire department boat had fouled their prop in the skiff’s anchor line (Which for some unknown reason was attached to the STERN of the skiff, and apparently caused the capsize), and they were taking waves over the transom. One guy was trying to bail with his bare hands, and the captain was yelling at everyone in the boat. If I recall, there were 5 firefighters and rescue gear in a boat that shouldn’t have more than 4 people in it. So how were they going to rescue two 300 plus pound people if the boat was already overloaded?

One firefighter was standing in the boat, trying to right the skiff with a gaff. He nearly capsized the fire boat twice that I saw. I pulled up alongside, and offerred my bilge pump. One firefighter grabbed it and started pumping just as the captain told me that they didn’t need my help. I asked him just how was he going to get the anchor line off his propeller himself in an overloaded boat that’s taking on water? No answer. So, I pulled behind them, and cut the anchor line off their prop with my river knife, and remarked to the captain that only a fool goes out in conditions without being prepared for what can happen, and for what they need to do. He didn’t appreciate it, but the firefighters on the beach were obviously amused, even though they couldn’t hear our conversation. They were pointing at us and laughing.

At this point, I left them to finish their salvage operation, as the women were on shore by now. They swam in under their own power – all that extra weight must have kept them warm, because it was drysuit season, and I don’t think I could have swam that far in just street clothes. In fact, I know I couldn’t have. It was at least 150 yards, and the water was about 50 degrees.

But where this gets really funny is when I saw Ken and Mike the next wednesday for an evening paddle. They said the part I didn’t see was the best. The fire boat wouldn’t start, and one firefighter ran up to them in a panic and asked if they had a boat that could be used. Mike offerred his kayak, which he was unloading, but he was the only one who appreciated the humor in stating the obvious. The fire boat finally started, but ran really bad, and the captain yelled “everybody in, let’s go!”. Ken and Mike said it was like watching the Keystone Cops do a marine rescue.

Then, they watched the part I was involved in with binoculars. They said they both laughed all the way home after seeing the firemen so excited to be on a rescue, and then have everything go wrong through bad judgement and an obvious lack of training. When an “idiot yahoo kayaker” knows better and is better equipped than the “pros”, it’s a sad day…

Woman on sandbar
Wayne, I think you’re nicer than I am. I would have been sorely tempted to wave and keep paddling. I wouldn’t want to interfere with her “right” to either gain experience from her poor judgement or stew in her own obstinance.

Wish I had been there

– Last Updated: Dec-04-07 2:28 PM EST –

I would gladly have backed away and watched them struggle.

Actions speak louder than words. I will help anyone without being asked but when asked to I will also leave and be a spectator to the clamity. Being asked to return would have been a better reward.

and yes I could and would have watched his sorry ass drown.

When I go paddling I take a 25' bow rope and nothing else. On the waters I paddle most know I don't even take a PFD. I'm going for an enjoyable paddle. I'm not going out as a safety/rescue boat or ambulance but I will respond to every emergency.

This could open a can of worms because we paddle different waters and different conditions but that's my 2 cents worth.

It’s a choice
Actually, the thought did cross my mind, but the other firemen in the boat didn’t deserve to suffer because of the commander’s lack of awareness of the gravity of his situation. And quite honestly, I thought they’d appreciate the help.

Contrary to what you said, I think it really doesn’t matter what water you paddle sometimes. The lake down the street from my house is a real hoot to paddle in northwest winds over 40 knots, but rescues would be tough. I’ve seen conditions in lakes rival those of the ocean, and ocean conditions in tidal rips and races that are basically whitewater without so many rocks. Sometimes, you don’t know until you’re there. I carry the gear to save my butt first and foremost, but it’s also there if others need it and I’m capable of assisting in a positive way. But, that’s just me. I know people who are better prepared, and a lot who don’t take many precautions at all, even in rough water paddling. It’s a personal choice.

But to be totally honest, I’m more likely to ignore people I’m not paddling with, and go about my business. It’s just those certain few situations that catch me at just the right moment that I get involved in, or when I’m asked to help. That one caught me at the right moment.

good work
I feel the same way.

But that one line of yours ("this is relevant, folks) still has me laughing.

The other paddling

– Last Updated: Dec-04-07 4:01 PM EST –

We agree Wayne. You have to paddle the rivers here to understand my reluctance to safety issues as I'm sure they would change if I paddled in your world.

It sounds like the FD needs to get better organized for water rescues. Hopefully they learned something but leaders sometimes have trouble going beyond their limited knowledge.

Been thinking about a "Dumbasses on the water" thread which would account for most issues. Maybe when it gets colder or I get in a wild mood...I'll run it up the flag pole.

Have fun, be safe and enjoy the water.

Paddlin' on

I carry way too much for 2 reasons
1 I am kind of light, and unless I get a 16 foot sea kayak that is listed as a ‘play’ boat, the extra weight moves me into the middle range of the recommended weight for the kayak.

2 I have been caught out without enough gear for myself (it sucks). I have also happened upon some pretty hapless groups that needed every bit of extra gear I carry and then some. Rescuing people is fun and a good way to keep the skills sharp. Plus nothing gets the respect of old salts more than lending a helping hand.