sea kayaker safety article

OK, I finally got my hands on the issue of Sea Kayaker with the safety article that I promised to give details of about a week ago. Let me preface by saying that I’m a relative newbie kayaker, so I have no experience with most of the rescues or conditions the article describes, so I can’t comment. I am just sharing what I thought was an interesting read. It’s a long article but I’ll try to make it as concise as possible.

This article is about two kayak instructors, John and Mick, who set out to the Triangle of Georgia’s Tybee Island to practice their skills. Air temp was high 50’s, water low 60’. Wind between 25 and 35 knots. Mick had a wetsuit bottom and a semi-dry top. John had a full drysuit. They checked the weather forecast and knew what to expect. They carried flares, VHS radio, cell phone, water, food, extra clothing, emergency shelter, flask with hot water, 2 spare paddles, 2 hand and 1 foot pump, deck and hand compasses, and a chart.

Launching in 6 foot waves, they found that paddling at 10 degrees off of perpendicular to the waves was ideal for getting through big dumping surf. Mick had a spare paddle on his front deck, and going through the breakers drove one of the shafts into his chest so hard that if it weren’t for the pfd he’d have a hole there. John’s spare was on his aft deck, but notes that since that gets in the way of reentries and towing, he now keeps them on the front deck in a paddle holder.

They practiced T-rescues. They couldn’t paddle against the wind, but rode 4 to 6 foot following seas around a pier. The big waves hid the paddlers from each other half the time and they had to communicate in chunks whenever they rode the crests. Later, waves got to over 8 feet and John let a wave catch up to him, waiting for Mick to get closer. The first wave lifted his stern rapidly. As he slipped down the face, his bow plunged under a couple feet, stern still lifting. When the boat reached a 45 degree angle, he intentionally capsized to avoid being “pitchpoled”. He wet exited to give Mick a chance to rescue him, but Mick got hit at the same time so they had an all-in situation, 35 feet apart. They swam their kayaks together and executed a rescue.

While doing T-rescues, they found that waves kept refilling Mick’s boat after they emptied it. They used both their hand pumps together to speed up emptying the boat. The waves made raising the bow to empty a boat easy, but depressing the stern failed in those conditions. Too hard to control. Paddle leashes proved all-important. It was almost impossible to hold on to paddles during reentries. John recommends leashes with a quick-release on both ends, and having a knife accessible by either hand. They experienced some tangles. He also mentions the importance of having a full set of decklines, running the perimeter of the boat, and replaces his every few years to be sure he can count on them. He lost grip on Mick’s boat where a deck line was missing, losing valuable rescue time. He also suggest running many individual lines rather than continuous ones, so that if there is a deck line failure, it’s localized.

They did hand-of-god rescues, bow presentation rescues, and scoop rescues. They did dozens of rolls. John notes that it’s hard to time a roll in the churning water, but they both have solid rolling skills on both sides.

He notes a lightly loaded kayak handles better and accelerates quicker in big water.

Accessing a day hatch in big water was almost impossible.

Cowboy reentries failed in those conditions, as did paddle float reentries. The only solo self-rescue that was feasible was reentry and roll.

Practicing gear retrieval: Chasing a paddle in the water was not hard, it doesn’t move fast. The kayak by itself was flying off. With Mick in the water, John retrieved Mick’s kayak and found himself very far from Mick. Mick held up a paddle so John would be able to find him more easily. John did a contact tow using a paddle carabiner to connect his deck bungees to a deck line on Mick’s boat. Anything longer would have resulted in the towed boat rolling frequently while being towed and adding drag. A big wave dumped on him and both boats rolled over eachother getting tangled up with the paddle leash. John got a solid impact to his head, but luckily was wearing a helmet. He untangled and righted the boats and did a self-applied bow presentation bow rescue. Meanwhile, Mick was still floating out there and was getting cold. As he climbed back in, his carbon paddle got ripped from it’s leash by a wave and was gone. The cheap spare he had proved useless in the conditions, so he used John’s better spare. John’s dry bag inside the bailout pack on the back of his pfd ended up coming loose and floated off. It contained a multi purpose tool, a signaling mirror, and more survival items. His chart of the area released off his deck.

John used his cell to call a local outfitter he had filed a float plan with. She had more detailed knowledge than the chart could have provided. They ended up south of their put-in point and had to trudge back a ways pulling their boats. Friends had been leaving worried messages on his cell, but he couldn’t hear it, and had no opportunity to answer anyway. He notes he should have told them he wouldn’t be able to answer his phone. A stranger on the beach had seen them early on and called the coast guard, thinking they were in trouble. The coast guard mounted a search and rescue involving a helicopter and a boat. They never found them in the rough conditions, even though they were close to a populated beach. John notes that you can’t expect to be rescued, and you should have the skills and equipment to be self-sufficient. Also have your own gear, do not rely on your partner’s gear, and have it on your body.

Finally he notes to know the limitations of your paddling partners and how they react under stress, and to learn by pushing just a little beyond your comfort zone.

Sorry for this long post. I hope some of it was interesting or useful to you, and will make your next outing safer.

Interesting what issue of sea kayaker
magazine was this article in?

Making "The Next Outtng Safer…"
don’t go out in those conditions! :slight_smile:

It’s an amusing read and those guys deserve credit for doing it.

When you have six foot plus waves, most long boaters should stay on shore. Combined with 25 knot plus winds which complicate everything else, 99% of folks of whatever watersport should stay on shore or find a more protected spot.

I can don’t care how many go out together and what skill level they think are at… Essentially, when something goes goofy, you are on your own out there in those conditions.


What can be learned
is the real point of the article. I have paddled with John Martin on several occasions. he is a BCU level 3 coach and an excellent rough water paddler. The point of the article is that these are two well trained compentent paddlers out to sharpen their skills in difficult conditions. Its one thing to do rescues/towing in flat calm and quite another to do them in challenging conditions.

Second, notice that their decisions when things started to go wrong took into account the conditions, their current status, knowledge of where the conditions were going to take them (all thought out before they hit the water).

In the end to me this is an example of two paddlers sharpening their shills in challenging conditions, having filed a float plan so other would know where they were, well equipped and well trained to handle the conditions, when things started to go wrong they didn’t panic they made solid decisions and recognized that gear is replaceable lifes are not. Granted these are not conditions that beginners or even immediate paddlers would want to take on.

However as one progresses in experience and skill level you discover how truly sea worthy a kayak is in the hands of an experienced paddler, and being out in challenging conditions makes the melding of body, boat, and blade a reality.

The most recent edition NM

Totally Agree With You
I am big advocate of folks going out in the surfzone in progressively challenging conditions to learn about what they can handle. That’s why I say they deserve a lot of credit

I should further explain, when I say “amusing” it is because I am visualizing some of the stuff described and learning some of it the “hard way” from playing (surviving) those similar conditions.

I don’t agree with (or am scratching my head about) some their observations (as presented) but these are subjective stuff. Folks should evolve how to equip, handle equipment, etc, etc, based on solid testing and experience of their own in progressive conditions.

What I do know is that when you get out in those conditions, partner rescues become increasingly difficult and that there is a dramatic increase in the chances of the rescuer getting hurt in the process. (I was wincing just picturing the two boats tethered together, rolling over each other, tangled leashes, heads getting banged, etc.)

I totally agree with the observation that going out in those conditions, one have better be prepared to be “self-sufficient”. If there is even a hint of a thought a partner allows one to go out when one normally wouldn’t alone, then don’t do it.


I liked the pratical lessons
even though I wouldn’t dream of being out in those conditions on purpose, I liked John’s common sense observations about making sure you deck rigging is in good condition, and not all one continuous cord, about the spare paddle shaft turning into a potential spear on your front deck, about relying more on local outfitters when in unknown areas, to give you details only locals would know. These are good points no matter what type of water you’re in. Even the thing about the cheapo spare paddle being fairly useless is a good thing to keep in mind when buying gear.

The paddle leash keeps coming up (also in other articles) as a really crucial item. A kayaker in the gulf off the coast of Texas capsized in rough conditions, wet exited (even though he was a proficient roller, in the panic of the moment he forgot to roll), and managed to grab his paddle, thinking he thereby had his boat. But his paddle leash broke under the conditions, and he lost his boat and had to swim ashore. He stressed the importance of having a sturdy paddle leash.

should have notified the Coast Guard
The article mentions that the Coast Guard sent a helicopter and a boat to help these guys because they thought they were in trouble.

I am not saying you shouldn’t go out and push your skills. Or that they were irresponsible given their skill level. They did cost the Coast Guard a bit of money and put other lives in danger.

The biggest learning point is notify people of what you are doing.