surf ski safety

-- Last Updated: Dec-20-06 7:26 PM EST --

Storm paddling in my Romany has always been fun. While it can be very challenging, I felt that my education (BCU, for point of reference), skill set, experience, and fitness level, left me a rather large margin for safety. In terms of the 3 Concentric Circles of Safety, my friends and I seemed to have little problem staying mainly in the first circle, and spending only breif moments in the second.

Now, is it just me, or is storm paddling in a surf ski a very (if not entirely) different animal?

The margin between the first concentric circle of safety and the third is nill. To me, that second cirlce is looking just a we bit anorexic. Am I missing something here; is there an entire chapter in the BCU handbook regarding surf ski self rescues and group rescues?

One reason I paddle a Romany is the "rescue-ability" designed into the boat, from its outstanding response to bracing strokes to its rollability to its sloped rear bulkhead and deck lines. I've never heard Bob Toogood or Greg Barton talk about rescue enhacing designs to their surf skis. "Safety in numbers" does not carry the smae weight in a group of surf skis as it can in a group of sea kayakers.

Somebody please show me the light.

Less is More

there’s lots of safety discussion
go to the yahoo surfski group site and just start going through the archives. there’s a lot of safety information. a lot of it is philosophically different from anything bcu-like (thank heavens), but it’s there. also check out, the south african site.


surfski safety
The skill set invovled with ski paddling is paddling and bracing so you minimize capsizes. This is somewhat different from sea kayak as braces are more dynamic and do not involve thigh support from coming or contact with boat. It is a keep moving type of thing with each stroke supplying a hi brace if needed and lo brace while surfing down wave.

The other skill is the remount after capsize which is something that is to be expected in surf ski (at least for me not every outing but it is no surprise when it happens) and if you cannot get back on your ski in the conditions you are in then you have made a mistake. If paddling with others they can help you get back on boat if you can’t but the menatlity is different in skis being more of a loner thing with you going fast. There are many stories of people in skis being groups losing track of others, one involves Burton and Chalupsky when a rudder cable snaped.

Other issues: leash so you don’t loose boat as there are no deck lines and boat will not fill with water and is prone to blow away. And signaling device in case you need to be rescued.


Remount and go. OK, that’s not necessarily as easy as it sounds, but it comes with practice. And differences in ease of remounting are something that I and others notice about skis (Mako Mill can be a bitch for us wide-assed types, V10 is easier, etc.).

I see ski safety as basically three issues:

  1. Don’t lose the boat.
  2. Don’t paddle in conditions in which you can’t remount.
  3. Have a plan for getting back to shore if you blow (1) and/or (2).

thanks, Andrew
I do browse the ski sites about as often as I browse PNet. Even though I don’t paddle my skis as often as I used to, I’m still part of the local Whatcom Paddlers scene. Just not satisfied with what I’ve seen so far, but I guess it is indeed the nature of the beast.

My point exactly
You both are confirming what I agree to be the state of rescue knowledge regarding surf skis at this point in time. Pretty thin. I guess its just the nature of the beast, at thios point in time any way, and surf skis are simply much more vulnerable in conditions and a lot less forgiving, and thats the way its going to be for the forseeable future.

And as they say, “if you’re ‘bracing’, then you’re not ‘racing’”.


If surf skis are so thin on rescues than why were they even invented. Origanilly skis were invented for life guards to get in and out of surf with to rescue people. The beauty of a ski vs a convetional racing kayak is that if you tip over, you just get back on, instead of the boat being full of water, just the footwell is. Life gaurd spec skis are still built and used. check out a ski dealer on the west coast, they have some pictures from spec ski life guard races. It is not that skis are less safe, it is just a completley different mindset. I paddle both sea kayaks and skis so I know both worlds pretty well. In skis you are stable when you are moving, your best brace is the forward stroke as wing paddles have such aggresive grip on the water. You have a leash to keep the boat near you so you can remount. You dress for immeresion when appropraite.

check out a great south african site. or the yahoo group.

happy holidays,


Not sure where you’re getting that
Surfskis are just different animals than closed-deck sea kayaks. Doesn’t mean that people who paddle them aren’t thinking about safety, but the sea kayak rescue issues that arise from the fact that a closed-deck sea kayak is far easier to mess around in than it is to recover from a capsize don’t come up. Generally with a ski, the ability to paddle the thing and the ability to recover from a capsize progress at about the same pace. Other than that, the fact that you can’t roll a ski (unless you put straps or a seatbelt on it) is one of several reasons to keep skis out of big surf, but in open water isn’t a big deal.

Storm Paddling

– Last Updated: Dec-20-06 7:25 PM EST –

For many years a small craft advisory was like ringing the dinner bell and saying "come and get it" for many of us on the Great Lakes and now the Puget Sound. 8 to 10 ft breaking seas, 30 to 45 mph winds, with gust to 60, just blowing the tops of the waves off into a "liquid smoke" across the water. Good fun in the Romany, Anas, (or insert preferred West Greenland/British type sea kayak). Hardly anyone would get knocked over except for the odd circumstance, in which an eskimo roll put you right back into the good times.

On the odd occurance of a swim, hook up quick-release rescue biner from rescuer's pfd to deckline or grab loop of swimmer's kayak and paddle it back to him (assuming for the sake of illustration that he became seperated from his kayak). Not too difficult to pull off a quick T rescue ( well under a minute, actually), and you're back at it. Rescuer's Romany is super stable while in static rescue position, swimmer's Romany is easily and quickly emptied (with decklines and sloped rear bulkhead, it emptys as fast as you can lift the bow and spin it completely over). Rafting the boats together is easy and very secure if anyone needs to be tended to.

The 3 Concentric Circles of Safety idea (not my idea, but I certainly subscribe to it) is (paraphrasing) that the 1st Circle consists of general stability, bracing, and general boat control to keep one self safely upright. Paddler enters the 2nd Circle by capsizing. Now what? A simple eskimo roll is the quickest way to get back into the 1st circle of safety. The longer one remains "not upright in the kayak" the more chance for things to go wrong, i.e., don't dawdle in Circle 2, take care of business, get your booty back into Circle 1.

Other options while in the second circle of safety are self rescues (paddle float, re-enter and roll, etc.) or assisted rescue by someone within the paddling group (T rescue, etc). Swimmer gets back in boat, then he is back in the 1st circle, where paddlers want to be.

If the paddler and the paddling group fail to rescue the swimmer, and need outside assistance (Coast Guard, etc) then the situation has moved into the 3rd Circle: extraneous help. While it is better to be in the 3rd circle than be drown, its genearlly not the place to be. Paddlers want to be self reliant (as a whole) for the most part, whenever posible.

Storm paddling in a surf ski is enticing because o the "down wind" run that is a favorite around here. its the best time to catch some terrific rides and yes, my Findeisen X is going to catch surf and ride it a lot easier than my Romany.

The points I was trying to make, and please forgive me for not spending more time formulating my post, is:

1. The 1st Circle is obviously much larger for me when I am paddling my Romany Vs. my surf ski since the Romany is infinitely more stable in much worse conditions.

2. I am not going to want to stop my ski, take my hands off the paddle to reach over and grab a swimmers surf ski (which has no decklines) and try to fiddle fart around with it in great stormy conditions. Rafting skis (again, with no decklines) in stormy seas is not very secure, to say the least. And if the ski gets away from the swimmer, the rescuer cannot easily hook up to it for a tow, and putting the swimmer on the back of a ski will make it too slow to catch a wind blown ski. And at many points along this example are opportunities to turn a "one victim" scenario into a "two victim" scenario.

Therefore, surf skis have a much smaller 1st Circle and very limted options in the 2nd Circle, so much so that it can be very close to the 3rd Circle of calling for outside help.
Therfore, stating the obvious, skis are not very forgiving in storm paddling scenarios, because they are not designed with a lot of safety and rescue capabilites in mind (nature of the beast). And my question is "are there any techniques that will help get you back from the 2nd Circle of safety into the 1st.

I wouldn’t take a ski out in those conditions, because I don’t have enough big water time to do it safely. Well, maybe I would if I knew the bailout option was viable- I paddled in a hurricane once off the Carolina coast, because I knew I could make it back to shore (I wasn’t far out, and I did the swimming part first to test it). I was once told that your most important safety tool is your head, and I subscribe to that. But, if you have the skills, I think a ski is probably safer in those kind of conditions, since there is no risk of filling the boat with water. Wearing a drysuit would also make me more likely to push it, since I would have more time in the water to blow my first couple of remounts.

A good boat is fun in PNW storm conditions- I had a Mariner 2 when I lived out there, and I had some stupid fun paddles with it!

Be well,


when I first
moved out here, they chuckled at my drysuit on a ski (in stormy December seas). Now, one by one, they are showing up in drysuits. I heart Gore Tex, and the relief zipper is priceless!


Still not quite buying it
Certainly there comes a point, as wind gets stronger and surf gets bigger, where a shorter boat has advantages over a longer boat and a boat that can be rolled has advantages over a boat that can’t. But it’s somewhere up in gale force territory or serious surf, not SCA. 20-30 knots and 8-10 feet is prime conditions for skis to do what they’re designed for, which is to surf like hell downwind in open water. I don’t disagree with everything you’re saying, but I think you’re failing to recognize that a goodly chunk of sea kayak safety stuff has to do with working around the fact that a closed cockpit creates re-entry issues that open-decked boats don’t have. Rolling has advantages over being out of the boat, but getting back into the boat quickly and under your own power has advantages over needing a partner’s help. And don’t overestimate the challenges of surfski stability or assume that a ski paddler is more likely to capsize in conditions than a paddler in a Romany or whatever. Every paddler/boat combination has its limits, but the limits have more to do with the paddler than the boat.

Shit, man,
I’m trying to get off this thing, I gotta go pop the question to my sweetheart in less than an hour! Yeah, the take my hand in marraige thing. :slight_smile:

Quickly, I agree and don’t think I am overestimation the stability curves, but I disagree when it comes to same paddler, different boat stability issues. At a certain point, anyone has to be somewhat more stable in a Romany than a typical surf ski.

Thanks for your input, I’ll check in later, (probably not tonight), gotta go.

Break a leg!
And congratulations!

I will say that having quite a bit of time in skis before I’d ever messed around with a closed-deck boat, I don’t yet really feel as comfortable in my Elaho as I do in the V10. But that’s not the usual path, and I’m getting close to being ready to take the Elaho into surf that I’d avoid in the V10. Mostly the reason that I keep coming back to this is the sense that you’re underestimating the degree to which your thinking is being driven by what you’re used to and comfortable with. Skis are just different, not inherently safer or less safe.

Squirt me and you sound a lot a like, I have no doubt I would be on this board or paddling right before something like that, hope all is well.

I misunderstood his first post really, as it seemed to me that he thought skis where inherently less safe. But as others have said it is the paddler that makes a boat safe. I also should have made myself more clear in my points about surfskis origins as that they arent a surf play boat by anymeans, a romany or calypso or waht have you is certianly better for that, but as far as windy “big” conditions they sure do go downwind nice :wink:

Sounds to me like a …
helicopter ride is in the making if you run out of judgement. That is, if one just happens to be flying by.

Augustus Dogmaticus


Getting hitched
Will you, Pintail, take me, Romany to be my paddling partner for life?

Will you roll over for me and edge on command with quickness & stealth?

Will you cherish my skeg and polish my glass and paddle in storms that are plain kick ass?

Will you strap me down with care and always be willing to share, the 303 in the bottle on the shelf?

Will you paddle me when I am sick, not spend all my wealth, turn on a dime, and maintain my health?

Will you feed me and need me, from morning till night, and paddle a bit faster when I am getting out of sight.

If you can say yes, to all of this… and rouse my butterflys with a passionate kiss… I promise to you, with nary a miss, I’ll paddle the straight line and never dis.

I will cherish your rack, and watch your back, I will polish your deck and lube your hatches. I will examine your skirt, as a bit of a flirt and keep your lines tight with all my might. I will repair you with patches and batten down hatches and protect you from all peril.

We have, we do, we will they said… So be it say the gods of Puget Sound Waters… Let no storm seperate these Valley kayaks from this day forward.

My the winds, waves and currents be managed, becaused paddling with a partner is always advantaged.

Best of luck.

Or if
you’re just plain getting wornout after a couple hours and starting to feal like, even though a person may be in superb physical condition, one more dump and maybe your cold and tired enough that you may not be able to remount…hey, have you be browsing other paddling sites?..

Very nicely done!

– Last Updated: Dec-21-06 1:24 PM EST –

I may have to invite you to the ceremony to read that!

She said yes, we toasted with champagne, had a bunch of bed paddlin', then she had to make Deviled Eggs for a party tonite so I got to play on the internet in the kitchen and taste test Deviled Eggs all nite and hear how beautiful the ring was! I should have done this a long time ago. (come to think of it, though, I've already gained some weight and spent a lot of money. Hmmmm.)

Thanks for the props guys.