swimmer assist issues/techniques

I am doing a kayak escort for the Escape from Alcatraz triathlon this weekend. Never done a swim escort before, so I thought I’d ask to see what sort of things I should consider/be ready for? What are the possible issues that may come up, and how should they be handled?

For example, one possible issue would be if a swimmer can not complete the swim and needs assistance. In giving assistance, I have the worry of them capsizing me. I have heard that having them hang on to the bow is a safe way to give them support while limiting the risk to me. What other ways are there?

What other issues like this may come up, and what are the ways to solve them?

There are supposed to be some 80 kayakers out there - maybe I will see some other p.netters out there. I will be in a battleship grey plastic Necky Looksha IV.

If you don’t know how dont go

– Last Updated: May-29-07 1:54 PM EST –

The best boats to use for swimmer assist are large sit on top kayaks that the swimmer can climb into without worries of tipping over the boat. You should know how to tow somebody on your stern without fear of capsize if you are going to paddle a sink . You should have a small piece of trailing line about 18 inches long of your stern to help a swimmer hang on. If you have never practiced helping a panicked swimmer it can be very challenging in real life. You can probably have them hang onto your bow, but if they are exhausted this does not work very well. Carry a spare life jacket that is easy to get into and keep it on your back deck. Throw it to them and see if they can put it on before you get too close or they make capsize you if they are panicky.

Hanging off

– Last Updated: May-29-07 1:55 PM EST –

The problem is, once they are hanging down off either end of your boat into the water, you are not going to be going much of anywhere unless maybe they help you. If they are already pooped when they get there that'd be tough. Or would you be just providing a holding point until something like a motor boat gets there to pick them up? In that case no problem - you should be able to take someone off your bow all day in a Looksha IV without compromising your own stability.

What will the standard be for communication among the helpers - a named band on a VHF radio, something like?

The better idea if you need to actually paddle with someone that is really done in is to brace while they swim up onto your deck, rear often favored. But if you are concerned about stability with someone hanging off your bow this may not be a manuver with which you are comfortable enough to try it within a week. Worth practicing if you want to do more of this though.

Or - carry something that you could throw to them and pull? Like a doughnut? Same question as the on-deck option - if you haven't done this before, trying it for the real thing in just a few days isn't a great idea.

maybe you need a rescure stirrup-serious
might help the swimmer…

all hypothetical

– Last Updated: May-29-07 4:16 PM EST –

This is all a very hypothetical question. They are looking for 80 kayakers, so I am sure they are expecting a variety of kayaker skill levels and have prepared appropriately (this is the 27th year for this race). I am guessing that they will likely mostly be using us to make a cordon around the swimmers to keep other boaters out (though I won't know for sure until they give us our instructions that morning).

In reality, I am sure that any swimmer rescues, after maybe some brief rest on the bow or stern of a kayak, would be taken to shore by power boat. I don't know how large the flotilla of power vessels will be, but likely large. So the fact that the kayaker would be immobilized when with a swimmer is probably not a big deal.

The responses are appreciated. But, no one has come out and said they have done these things before. I'd love to hear from those who have what sort of actual issues have come up in these types of things. Anyone?

I’ve Done It
I was surprised at the number of swimmers who took a break hanging on to my bow. I never had to give any direction to a hanger-on. They all grabbed the bow. There were plenty of other boats there to provide help if needed. Seems like I kept spare flotation handy just in case. It was a good experience and I plan on doing it again this year.

Real world is that rescuers are often volunteers with no experience. But your recommendation is a good one. Prepare yourself in case the organization running the event does not. Practice with someone hanging off the bow of your yak. Practice with someone exhibiting panic symptoms. If you’ve paddled that area before you probably have the ability.

bow push and stern carry
two most common swimmer aids

either have them grab the front and you paddle or have them crawl up on your back deck and get low.

long distance bow pushes suck. very tiring, stern carries are more effective, but then you have to deal with gettinga tired swimmer on there.

more than likely you will be acting as a chaperone to make the swimmers more visible

I have volunteered several years
Doing this with local kayakers. The difference is we are not rescuers, but merely there to aid tired swimmers and alert lifeguard and rescue personnel. I have had many folks grab my bow loop and take a breather and I cheer them on. But the event I have done this for is very well organized and also has “swim angels” in the water along with lifeguards and power boat folks.

The type of swimmer you will be dealing with in SF bay should be pretty fit to even consider this race. Watch out for sharks! Have fun and and don’t get sunburned.

Paddling near Alcatraz
Hopefully any kayaker in a SINK paddling in the strait there has taken a rescue class or practiced rescuing other kayakers and swimmers.

There are several swims a year here in San Diego.

Sit on Top kayaks are used pretty much exclusively.

If a swimmer is in trouble they want to get out of the water. Be prepared for irrational behavior. If they are just tired they can hang onto your boat. There is likely to be current, waves and winds where they will be swimming, you will need to be able to deal with that if they are hanging onto your boat. Be prepared for those who do not realize they have bit off more than they can chew until they are in trouble.

I’ve done this as well
and had a blast (though not the Alcatraz). I got to participate in both the main events and practice swims (where there are fewer kayakers and support vessels) as well. We had some swimmers need to be removed entirely from the water but we had a strong lifeguard presence (including myself) and this was not a problem. The recommendation above to practice this with a friend ahead of time is dead on. Really, practice having someone in a panic hanging off your boat, rolling you over etc. I’m guessing you can easily scramble back onto your boat and the SOTs really do simplify matters here.

Swimmers will (as someone else said) take rests and stop for a breath, not say a word, and then be off again. Also, I had more than a few bump into and several swim entirely under my boat (I can’t swim so straight either so I understood) but it was a little eerie the first time. We were always told to knock our hull if we saw a swimmer going way off course and if they really headed out go and get them. One of the hard parts for me was staying in my assigned location during the current while not knocking into anyone. Paddling with swimmers all around you is a little unnerving and no one wants to be the moron who gives some triathlete a lump on the head. Once I was stationed at the crux of the large U-turn the course made so there was a lot of crowding and confusion in that area. My understanding from talking to the other yakkers was that it was a little better on the straightaways.

Practice a little and bring some extra flotation and I think you’ll have a good time. We used guard tubes which are long and can be hung off your trunk making pulling folks along a little easier. It’s pretty awkward hauling some one in that way but it works. By the way, I would imagine ya’ll will have some sort of meeting ahead of time to organize,etc and many of your questions answered then. Have fun and enjoy watching the swim. It’s a great experience!

Maine Portland event
I have been asked to accompany a swimmer, so this discussion is very helpful. I have been informed that if the swimmer touches my kayak, he is disqualified. I will have little time to practice with him because he is returning from Europe (wedding in Poland!) two days before the event. There will be 175 swimmers and they all start the race at the same time. In such a mob, how do the swimmer and the kayaker meet and stay toegther?

Done several triathlons
For the events I’ve done there have always been powerboats with rescue/EMS folks on board as backup. The kayaks are there as a temporary resting spot, and because the powerboats can’t safely manuever in among the swimmers.

Each kayaker has been given a flag, whistle, and rescue tube – the things that look like a foam 4x4. We were told to have the swimmers hang on that if we weren’t comfortable having them on our boat. You could use a spare PFD the same way – just put it on a short tether. The racers got the same instructions at the start of the swim.

Most swimmers who stop just want a breather and then go on their way. if someone wants to stop, we signal for one of the powerboats and slowly pull the swimmer out of the main course to make the transfer.

more info from the kayak organizer
Here is some more info I got from the person organizing the fleet of kayaks:

"if a swimmer needs your assistance just paddle over to him and let him hang on to your kayak. While he does that just hold your paddle straight up in the air and a powerboat will come over and remove the swimmer from the water. "

If someone’s hanging on the tip of your bow, they have less leverage to pull you sideways than if they are along the side.

A swimmer in mild distress will be able to wave and/or shout, will be able to see you, and will probably respond to verbal commands. A swimmer in serious distress will be upright in the water with their head back, arms in the water sculling for support, and will be gasping for air. They can’t wave or call out, they won’t see or hear you, and they won’t respond to a rescue device until they feel it make contact with them.

Much clearer now
So your biggest challenge will be to stay within sight of things and out of the swimming kinda lanes if it is a real windy day.

One concern remaining - if you are feeling unsure now about the effect of a swimmer hanging off your bow, it isn’t likely to be any more comfortable by this weekend especially if you have moderate conditions. You could be risking problems not from the weight of the swimmer, but from your own reaction to how that feels.

It would be good for you to find someone to hang off your boat and get comfortable with that before the event.

in the RI swim from Newport to Jamestown
the swimmer has to hit the water-with everyone else- THEN find their paddler and touch them (iirc) to start their swim…

panicked swimmer
If a swimmer is in a panic there’s a good chance they will try to climb onto your kayak. I wouldn’t go near enough for them to touch your kayak until you can talk them down and let them know that they’re safe. A VHF radio is a big help in these swims, especially with that number of boats and swimmers.


Outfit Ends With 12" of Rope W/Loops

– Last Updated: May-30-07 8:12 AM EST –

12" rope with vinyl tubing covering the loop on the end for handhold. These are more comfortable for someone swimming to grab and hold to. With out these, the swimmer does not have to reach up to grab the toggle or handle near the top of the deck. It's harder for him/her and the sudden weight transfer on your kayak can tip you. With the loop, s/he can grab near the water line and hang on. If you have to tow, it's also much easier for the swimmer to hang onto that then the top of your deck. If you tip and have to roll, the rope loop doesn't interfere with your rolling.

A piece of looped rope is the only "safety outfitting" on my surf kayaks and I have found it very useful to tow a swimmer through the break zone.