signal contact

well hello paddlers…im hard of hearing…i do a lot of paddling with my club…when i do i let them know im hard of hearing and to let them know i cant hear whistles or bell ringing…so evry now then i look around see if anyone trying to get my attention…do any of you paddlers have good suggection for me and other who might have hearing loss or hard of hearing

Only stay in the middle and…
keep your head on a swivel…

I was diving and taking shark pics with a buddy with the same problem. On the way back to the boat I was following him when a large shark got between us. I was franticly banging my tank to warn him and then realized he couldn’t hear me. Talk about feeling helpless. It worked out though.

Signal mirrors?
It is along the lines of what I was thinking about in another thread - a signal that might be visible but wasn’t dependent on being heard. You could suggest they use that, at least you’d have a chance of seeing the flash in daylight.

But I don’t know for sure if that’d work.

My Son Is Also
My oldest son is also hard of hearing. He does not wear his hearing aids while on the water. So, we have basic hand signals worked out and an alert signal which is simply slapping the water with a paddle. He can hear a paddle slap about as well as a normal hearing person can hear a shout.


The problem with
visual stuff is that you have to be looking at it in order to see it. Maybe a waterproof remote with a buzzer? Some of the walkie talkies have a vibrate function.

(Beware, sick mind ahead. If you are easily offended, do not continue, do not scroll down.)

Or a shock collar.

(I told you not to look.)

Different whistles…and other ideas
Many folks (me included) have gaps in their hearing frequency spectrum. That is how hearing aids work, they boost the frequencies in those gaps. I’ve found that I can hear really high pitch whistles much better than lower pitched.

You might try different pitched whistles. I did and found that I can hear those big orange survival whistles, and Sonic Fox (really high pitched) whistles well.

Maybe a two tone whistle which actually covers several harmonics.

Try several, you might find one that works and making your own tuned whistle isn’t rocket science.

Also, most cell phones have vibrators, assuming you have coverage. FRS/GMRS and some Ham radio walkie talkies have vibrators.

A camera flash will get folks attention too.

Small air horns have enough amplitude they can be ‘felt’ sometimes.

I watched a surf video tutorial and
they had a series of hand (arm) signals that they used with each other.

Why not just come up with a few basic ones that everyone could use.

When we are running white water I am usually the guinea pig and have a few hand signals to inform the others of the conditions



Two-Way Radios
There’s a Vibrate feature on some 2-way radios like the Motorola T9500XLR for instance. You could attach one to your PFD (because all safe paddlers wear a PFD), and have a paddle buddy carry the other. When your buddy needs to get your attention, he/she pushes the button and the radio vibrates, and visa-versa.

Where’s sanjay?
Wasn’t he hearing impaired? He always had a lot of great information on - anything - but I haven’t seen a post from him in a long while. He could have provided the best suggestions.

hear without signal…whislte
oohh that sound shockly from collar dont get wet either haha…well thanks for all the inputs and ideas…might be good idea to mount a mirror on cap/helmet like bikers do when out riding

signal contact
well im here if wonder where i left off…good know there paddlers that concern and like helping out other paddlers,glad to be back in conversation and offering any tips that i can give and get from other paddlers…

well im off now paddling down stream…merry merry gentley down streamm…well you guys know rest of the words…leaves it up to paddlers to fillin

may the currents be with you…

Well, Mark searched me out,
and “hear” I am. Sorry it took me a couple of days to respond. It’s true, I’ve had to curtail my internet activities in the last couple of years because life’s gotten busier (though in a good way–my clinic for deaf people has expanded nicely).

Yes, I’m completely deaf when on the water, and pretty deaf even with hearing aids in. I’ve definitely had problems with group communication at times, and it’s probably partly because of my hearing loss that I tend to paddle alone.

I think it’s really good to think about the pluses and minuses of visual versus auditory signalling. On Martha’s Vineyard in the nineteenth century, when 1/4 of the population of several towns was deaf, and everyone signed, the communication preference on the water was visual. The reason for this was that talking and yelling may be fine for quiet conditions, but visual signals can be more reliable in wind and waves.

I can recall several Sea Kayaker disaster accounts where people were surprised in an emergency situation to be unable to hear one another.

It’s true that visual signals require visual contact, and this can be a major downside. It’s also true they don’t work well at night (which may be the reason that spoken languages overtook sign languages in human evolution, where sign likely came first). But maintaining visual contact with your paddling partners is really a pretty good idea, and it might be considered foolish to paddle at night dependent on spoken communication, which is so easily disrupted by being separated by a couple of hundred feet.

So, my conclusion is that all paddlers should consider using visual communication preferentially when possible. It prepares one for those times when voices can’t be heard. It forces one to plan ahead and think through options as a group before getting on the water. And it reinforces the need to keep an eye on one another when we paddle in a group.

Since ASL is the fourth most used language in the country, it also makes perfect sense for it to be the tool of choice for visual communication. (Even more so, given that it has nautical roots–it’s a creole that includes French Sign Language and Martha’s Vineyard Sign Language, used by the fishermen of the island.) I’ve had good luck with a few paddling partners willing to learn a handful of useful signs. Since it’s a real language, it has numerous advantages over artificial signalling systems, and it’s fun and useful in contexts other than kayaking.

Other forms of visual communication, such as signal mirrors, semaphores, and paddle signals also work fine, though they are more limited than ASL signs.

I’ve found most people to be really wonderful when I explain that I won’t be able to hear them. I ask them to respond to my yes/no questions rather than giving me full sentences, to let me lead the conversation (or the group), and to not mind me if I just ignore them while they chat with each other. Being deaf on the water means I can find paddling aroung Logan Airport peaceful and pleasant (though the boat does vibrate when a plane goes by). Once I was paddling under a low freight train bridge and didn’t notice that there was a train passing just a paddle-length above my head!


1 Like

Good advice for anybody

– Last Updated: Jun-27-07 1:56 PM EST –

"Swivel head."

This is good advice for anybody.

Auditory communication only works at short distances.

Many paddlers keep their heads fixed forward. It might be better for all paddlers to get in the habit of looking around.

I try to make a habit of continously scanning around.

It's also a good idea to keep at least one of the party in close view when paddling in groups.

maybe a flare across the bow

signal corps
There exist universally recognized signals for paddlers. A paddle is used as the signalling device and these are published by the ACA and AWA

in fold-outs. Search

You could add a few of your own and get safely downriver. The lead boat in your group should know and use them.


Thanks Sanjay
I knew you’d have some good info. I am very intrigued by the historical background of Martha’s Vinyard having 1/4 of its population deaf in the 1800s. There must be an interesting story behind that.