What I learned @ this yr's Canoecopia

Leon Somme and Shawna Franklin (Guide Service/school Body Boat Blade International) put on one of the better seminars.

The subject was defining a new standard of Sea Kayak rescues.

The way they did a T rescue was a definite variation on the old theme.

They stressed doing the T in a (Rescuer’s) back friendly way.

Every aspect of getting the swimmers boat on the deck and raising it to drain were done in a way that prevents back injury.

The controversial suggestions made on Leon’s part involved bilge pumps and paddle floats.

Leon’s take:

You don’t need them . . .

(paddle float) in dynamic seas if your goal is to get the swimmer back in the boat ASAP do you really have time to inflate the paddle float? Leon thinks there has to be a quicker way to get back in the boat.

(bilge pump) in dynamic seas are you going to pull back your spray skirt and occupy both hands pumping your boat out? Leon doesn’t think so.

I’m posting this here because I thought it was interesting and speaking with him after the seminar I thought it made sense. I’m curious what others think.

Was he talking about
no need for float or pump just when someone is there to do an assisted rescue or did he consider them useless even when paddling solo?

If his comment was only in the context of assisted rescue did they have any new insights on solo reentry?

Only got to meet them briefly (Leon assisted in one class I took) at a Sweetwater symposium. But even in that short time I was impressed.


Don’t dismiss them too easily
I recognize Somme as an pre-eminent sea kayaker, and didn’t see his presentation, so have no context, but I’ve personally found ample use for both paddle floats and bilge pumps.

I’ve successfully practiced paddle-float self-rescues in breaking three-footers, and cannot think of a better way for a novice-to-intermediate solo paddler to get back in his boat. In bigger conditions, a float indeed becomes less helpful, and a paddler without a good roll perhaps shouldn’t be out alone in such conditions. That said, I regard a paddle float as a strictly solo rescue aid, and to be used mainly in cases where no partner can help.

As for the bilge pump, how else is one to completely empty a sea kayak after a capsize in big conditions? In waves above, say, four feet, it becomes difficult to completely drain a filled boat. Lurching around in the surf while the paddler is helped back in, the boat is bound to take on more water than a sponge can handle. But steadied by a partner, a paddler can use a bilge pump to finish emptying his own boat.

There are certainly cases where these rescue aids become difficult or even worthless, but I believe there are more situations where they are helpful.



I think there may be some background to the discussion we aren’t getting here. It sounds like we have an apple to oranges comparison. If there is more than one person there, and at least one of the people whether rescuer or rescue knows how to T, then the paddle float should not be used.

I agree with the prior comments about a pump still being useful - for example if you get someone back in (or they solo back in) without getting all the water out and then paddle out from the dangerous area, the pump can then be used to finish the draining.

I carry both a pump and paddle float in all of my boats. Not about to change that.

Side note - a review of their recent safety DVD was done on the California Kayaker Magazine blog at http://calkayakermag.blogspot.com/2011/12/body-boat-blade-sea-kayak-rescues-video.html

I would doubt that someone with his
Experience would completely believe that. A paddle float and bilge pump can have their use during an emergency situation. I carry them both mostly when paddling with others. Kayaking is too dynamic to not have as many resources as possible available when needed. I am very comfortable with my abilities to roll but not with a dislocated shoulder. I am very comfortable with using a foot pump for water removal but not if it became disabled.

By his rationale he wouldn’t even cary a pump. Hell, I just think it’s convenient to pump out my fully loaded boat at the campsite if needed instead of wrestling it to dump.

Pop your skirt on a surf landing and ultimately your cockpit will be half full of water. I suppose I could spend 20 minutes sponging the water out. There are other uses for a pump than rescues.

Last night . . .
I watched their whole rescue video.

I think it is implied that if you don’t have the solo rescue skills I’m listing below you shouldn’t be alone in dynamic or rough water situations. Leon also implied that the people he was addressing are probably not dumping their boat in flatwater.

Regardless, what Leon was stressing is that rescues should be performed with celerity. In Leon’s opinion that rules out stirrups and floats, oh yeah and it mandates religious practicing of rescues.

All of their solo re-entries were:

#1 combat roll (ok a solo rescue not a re-entry)



re-enter and roll

I should have made it clearer that Shawna did not side entirely with Leon.

And Leon made it clear these were personal idiosynchrosies.

In the video eschewing the pump and float aren’t mentioned, yet neither are either them demonstrated with the exception of Leon pumping out a double yak in a flat water demonstration.

I don’t recall seeing anyone pumping in any of the dynamic or rough water rescue scenes.

Regarding the review in Calif. Kayaker
I think their criticism is on target.

This is not the video you want buy to learn rescues.

This video is more appropriate for intermediate and up paddlers (at minimum people who’ve taken a rescue class).

One thing the C K review misses is that they say something about the need to watch it more than once.

Personally I wouldn’t get a how-to-video that wasn’t re-watchable. You will need to practice your rescues then re-watch the vid. Big deal that’s where a video trumps a lecture.

My goal this year is to practice my rescues (solo and assisted) so that I can get them done with some of the quickness you see demonstrated in this video. If the greatest threat we face is hypothermia, then the smartest thing we can do is get back into our boats as quickly as possible following a spill.

One criticism I’d make of the video is that they don’t talk at all about protecting your back from injury in the T rescue. The technique they use demonstrates a back healthy way to do the T, but they don’t verbally articulate what exactly they’re doing. Picking up the healthy back tips was a payoff for going to their seminar.

I think the message that Leon
was putting forth is that the paddlefloat for the most part is less effective on dynamic water. And if you are alone, a re-enter and roll is always going to be better. And yes the take-away is that if you can’t roll, should you be out on dynamic water alone? Risk Assessment?..

Pumping out the other person
How about running into somebody who is able to get back into a boat and has no pump and you would like to help them?

I can’t see owning an upscale boat with all the bells and whistles, learning rescues and practicing regularly and not having a pump and paddle float on board. If I never need my paddle float, great! It’s like having a tool kit in the car.

Paddle float and bilge pump
Paddle float - has uses outside of a rescue. You can use it to put on paddle ends to help stabilize and sick paddler who is being towed - even holding someone up they can slouch over and capsize the boat. I had that happen in a practice where someone was being a particularly convincing unconscious victim. You can put it on lightly to help make a wet re-enter and roll more likely successful on the first try. You can sit on it on the beach, inflate it to help be visible in case of a capsize… I’m being 2-faced here because my paddle float needs replacement (it leaks), but it’s no trouble to stuff it behind the back band and it just might help.

Bilge pump, in challenged seas - yeah, you need to be able to paddle with some water in your boat. Especially in messy stuff, where there is not going to be time to be neat. But the bilge pump can be used to help reduce the water level in someone else’s boat, especially if there is a third person to help stabilize them, enough to prevent a subsequent capsize. When things get irretrievable, it is often not the first capsize that took it over the edge but the second or third, when everyone is getting too tired to manage recovery well.

This is one reason my bilge pump stays on the deck, as annoying as it is. I haven’t much needed it for myself, but it has come in quite handy for others. If I am securely snugged into the skirt I’d rather not add to the risk of the situation by pulling it.

There you go …
That’s the context that was missing from the first post.

Sounds like Somme is saying that the float and pump are perhaps overrated and too much relied upon, especially by beginners and intermediate paddlers, who may believe that tucking these behind the seat like magic talismans immunizes them from disaster.

I agree that anyone who uses these or other rescue aids should routinely go out and USE them in more and more dynamic water, to learn how far you can (or cannot) expect them to help you. Same goes for all rescue techniques.

Also, if the new lower back-strain T-rescue they are advocating involves drawing the capsized kayak over the rescuer’s foredeck in an upright position, then dumping, righting, and returning to the water, I have to agree with that too.

I’ve always found that part of a T-rescue the most cumbersome and likely to bash a hand, etc., so when our local instructors recently started teaching the upright technique and my club adopted it, I gave myself a dope slap for not thinking of it sooner. I highly recommend SK paddlers give it a try, even those who AREN’T old and stiff like me!

“Shawna did not side entirely with Leon …”

What, an opinionated paddler who doesn’t completely agree with their spouse? Whoever heard of such a thing?! :slight_smile:



It isn’t really ground breaking stuff
I haven’t used a paddle float or bilge pump in several years. I carry them just in case, but in every ‘just in case’ situation I have found myself in I haven’t used them.

‘Lower back friendly’ rescue variations have been around for a while. When people see them they have an ‘a-ha’ moment because they are so obvious you would think everyone would be doing them by now.

try this variation…
Flip the capsized kayak deck up (if it was deck down in the water), pull about 2ft of it on your foredeck, rotate it so the seam of the kayak slides across your deck (water will drain out making the kayak lighter), pull it up a bit more to drain more water out (making it even lighter), then roll the kayak completely over and edge your kayak to get more of the water out (I usually don’t rotate the kayak all the way over because most of the water is already out), and flip the kayak over (deck up) as you are sliding it back into the water (so it slides down the seam and hull).

Horses for courses
Leon isn’t the only highly regarded coach to not use/carry a pump and paddle float as I know others who do not. Learning to paddle a boat with a fair bit of water in it is SOP for them. I also think it well to remember their focus tends to be on “consequential” water and groups of paddlers with either a trained leader and/or all with a fairly high skill set. What they have found to work best in their “world” may not be the best advice for the bulk of sea kayakers who paddle in a different “world”.

Seems to me you often find people who do not follow the standard wisdom of a sport at the higher levels of the sport. That does not mean the average weekend warrior should abandon the standard wisdom.

Another way of looking at this
If those at the top of our sport have abandoned two pieces of “crucial” safety gear, how crucial can they be?

Think about what the pump is for? Getting water out of the boat? Shouldn’t the t-rescue do that?

Paddlefloat? If you are alone and can’t rescue your boat, should you have been out, risk assessment fail.

Risk Assessment
After giving RA talks you should realize that “Risk” is a probabilistic event, with some outcomes more likely than not.

Our purpose when coaching folks on risk assessment is to teach them to manage risk to acceptable levels - this is what Shawna’s and Leon’s Bull’s Eye System is all about.

If it were not, any doomsday scenario we run as instructors is pointless - since any person with decent imagination can come up with scenarios that could happen on the water, choosing not to paddle is the only 100% way to prevent them from coming true.

So, this short introduction out of the way, let’s consider -

  • a person without solid, unaided self rescue skills sees forecast of 75F water, 80F air, sub 5kt on shore, ripples on the water forecast. That person can self rescue with paddle float - since they took ACA Intro/SK1 and practiced it. Should they go paddling alone?
  • a paddler dislocated his shoulder - not a likely event for the venue or conditions. After the assisted reentry the boat is full of water. Not a problem - contact tow is possible. Is the contact tow effective and efficient? - probably not, tower has to move too much weight. Emptying of the boat is not likely to minimize the amount of water, since it was empty before reentry. Spending 5min with a pump and putting the sprayskirt on will make the recovery more efficient and quicker.

    Just saying…

crucial vs handy or as a backup
I could definitely get by without a pump but it’s very easy to carry out of the way and does make some situations easier so I bring it. I find the paddle float less useful so I still may bring as a backup of sorts but often forget since it’s not important to me.

If something has little value but not zero value then it could still be worth bringing as long as the cost/hassle factor of bringing it isn’t big. Redundancy isn’t generally bad unless you are so littered with gear it gets in your way (day hatch full and deck piled high).

And as stated these things do have more value if other skills are weaker. While it’s valid to say you should improve your skills that doesn’t happen overnight so having helpful gear can be good.

Alternative (gear and technique)
I didn’t see the lecture, but haven’t all of us tried the paddle float/bilge pump thing and had the same, “this can’t be the best method,” thought at some point?

Sea sock/automatic bilge pump have always been a better solution than a hand pump. It’s best if you can keep the maximum amount of water from entering the boat. I once considered buying puffins many years ago since they had a solid plastic cockpit (they called it a sea sock, but it was really a heavy sub-compartment) that did just this. The boat itself was, unfortunately, kind of a water plow rather than a kayak and weighed in over 70lbs, IIRC, so it had it’s issues. Still, the idea of keeping water out has merit.

Ever tried to use a hand pump in rough seas, or worse, clapotis (standing/rebound waves)? You feel like you are dancing the rumba trying to keep the boat upright with your hips at the same time you are trying to dig a hole. It isn’t easy, nor fun. I’ve seen boats equipped with automatic bailing systems where you get in, seal up, and by the time you finish the spray skirt, the boat is mostly dry.

Wonderful concept, but such systems in a salt water environment may be prone to failure unless really well protected, well maintained, and which have an alternative power source (such as a solar panel on deck - I’ve seen this, too). I’ve seen foot operated pumps, though I’ve never used one and never liked the ones I did see, but something that allows one to keep hands on the paddle is always preferred.

Of all assisted rescue methods, I prefer the t-rescue for the efficient way in which it drains water, and most of my comments above are directed toward solo rescue. I think we all admit that existing methods leave something to be desired and feel at least a little uncomfortable with the knowledge that there are conditions out there in which paddling skills are exceeded and the existing self-rescues are not likely to provide a repeatable and safe re-entry, especially since conditions will not have changed from those that caused the capsize in the first place.

So, can a manual bailing system be integrated into boat design? Probably, but, as with the puffin, design the required design compromises may not produce a satisfactory product. Can (rarely, if ever used) automated systems be integrated at a reasonable cost and reliability.

Good discussion topic.