When paddling in rough water one of the greatest issues is COMMUNICATION.
the need to pass information back and forth while paddling
establishing clear protocols for decision making and goal setting before and after hitting the water.
Everyone in the group must understand the role they play, other paddlers’ abilities and expectations. By recognizing levels of skill, fitness and comfort zones a lot of grief can be avoided.
Who is to lead, what route, escape routes identified, rescue and towing techniques to be used, all need to be discussed and clearly understood by everyone.
Leadership doesn’t always mean taking the lead at the front of the pack. However, it does mean fostering a clear and transparent exchange of information within the group and acting decisively when a quick decision is needed.
As a leader remember all group paddlers are equally entitled to feeling safe and having fun while on the water.
Kayak & Gear
Seemingly minor equipment failures can become epic catastrophes in the wrong conditions. Things can get very quickly out of control in rough waters.
Equipment failure in rough seas can have a devastating effect, so it is important that you choose quality gear and that you regularly maintain it.
Whenever and wherever you paddle, always turn up with your boat and gear in full working order.
The aim is ‘not to avoid all risk all the time’, but to clearly identify potential dangers and then manage them accordingly. There is always a risk in sea kayaking, the goal should be to minimize it. It can be a fine balancing act. If you avoid every risk it can be a very tedious and unsatisfying paddle for all. You need to understand and accurately estimate the level of risk and weigh that danger and possible consequences against the rewards of proceeding. Some key considerations are weather, sea conditions, air and water temperatures, paddler confidence, levels of fitness and paddler skill levels.
Do not become good getting out of perilous situations, rather learn to avoid them in the first place.
There is sometimes a huge difference between perceived risk and actual risk.
The question you ask yourself is “is it worth the risk”.
‘What is your Plan B option?’
Make a note of other landing spots along your proposed route that are suitable exit points.
Wind is the single biggest factor when paddling. It constantly teaches us humility. An unwillingness to accept conditions and adapt to them most often gets you into trouble. For multi-day trips, schedule in extra days in case of bad weather.
Most bad decisions stem from having no other viable options. Always have an Escape Plan.
Always use a Float Plan. It will give authorities a good idea of your intended route and a huge advantage to search and rescue teams who can organize a more focused search pattern should you fail to arrive at your destination.
Rough water rescues
Any rescue technique that keeps a paddler in their boat is vastly superior to one that involves a wet exit.
Becoming separated from your boat is a distinct and scary possibility. In addition seas can become so rough that performing an assisted rescue is impossible. Keep a death grip of your boat and your paddle securely leashed to your boat. In rough conditions your boat could be less than 1mm from your finger tips yet lost for good! In extreme conditions you may see a fellow paddler nearby but it does not mean you can lend any meaningful assistance.
Never paddle in conditions you have not practised in.
Assisted Re-entry Rescues
In rough conditions assisted rescues can be terrifically hard on gear and positively hazardous to fingers, hands and feet. Just about any body part can be easily pinched or crushed between two boats. Boats will rise and fall with waves and can crash together alarmingly. Perform assisted rescues quickly, style does not count. Re-entries can expend a lot of energy, particularly when a sudden burst of power is required. If you want your paddling ability to include heavy conditions and to assist others who are in trouble then you should maintain an appropriate level of paddle fitness.
This rescue is an all round strong technique. It is quick, dependable and can be performed in most heavy conditions. It has the advantage of emptying water from the cockpit before the paddler re-enters. It should be one of the cornerstones of any kayakers primary rescue techniques.
Assisted Side by Side
This is one of the quickest methods to get a paddler back into their boat. A rescuer stabilizes the other paddler’s boat by strongly committing their weight to it and establishing a very firm grip of the coaming or deck lines using both hands. The rescuer should drape themselves over the swimmers boat to position their armpit over the raised centre line of the other boat.
A sling creates a step-up into the kayak cockpit. As for other rescue techniques this method should be practiced often so it is fast to deploy and reliable. Any rescue technique that requires fiddling with knots or complicated set-ups will not work in rough seas.
Face Up Re-entry
This method is potentially dangerous in rough conditions because the swimmer is positioned between two boats.
This rescue is exceedingly difficult in rough conditions. It may however be the only option for a totally exhausted swimmer or someone otherwise incapable of re-entering their boat.
Paddle Float Rescue
This is a time consuming weak technique and is completely inappropriate in rough conditions.
Part contents of this discussion paper has been taken from ‘Sea Kayaking Rough Waters’ by Alex Matthews.The book is available from the club library.