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Items for kayak safety.. and some you may not have thought about

Being prepared for your next water adventure and packing the right items for the uncertainty can be overwhelming. Ideally, what you bring along should reflect upon your paddle destination and the ability to understand and demonstrate proper usage.

In today’s blog we will explain to you some items which aid us during our travels – and might get you out of a sticky situation.

The PFD with safety items

The PFD: The ideal personal safety device. The ideal kayak PFD should fit well, and fit comfortably on the user. The arms and armpit area should have enough room to rotate without rubbing against your body. They should have a label within which reads USCG approved. Majority of recreational and sea kayakers use a type III, as these have the proper buoyancy and keeps one’s head above the water when floating. PFD’s with CO2 canisters are an option – however need manual operation to inflate the vest (kinda difficult to do this when not physically able to preform this task).

Here are a few ideas to keep inside your PFD while you paddle. 1)Whistle-one needs some form of signaling device when on open waters. It can be used to alert others of danger, or a means to get another’s attention. 2)Compass-great for getting directional guidance, especially when used in conjunction with a navigational chart. I had chosen one with a mirror attached, as I can then reflect the sun light if needed (only good during sunny days). 3)GPS-can be used to track your travels, offer navigation assistance, and positional data (really useful during rescues, or when one can not read a navigation chart). 4)VHF-your means to communicate to others while on the big waters, and get the rescue aid you, or others may need. 5)Light-this is a strobe light which can provide the ability for others to see you at night. 6)Personal Locator Beacon-when the worst-case scenario happens and you need help. When activated, it provides your GPS location to the search and rescue authorities, downside it is a one-way communication device (and they can’t talk to you). 7)Knife-sometimes you need to cut something, or someone free of a dangerous situation (think entrapment). 8)Grease pen-great for writing on laminated surfaces (like a chart), waterproof and never needs sharpening. 9)Nose plugs-for those who hate having water going up their nose when rolling. 10)Food and water-never know when you might need a little nourishment either for yourself, or others. (Not pictured – a laminated card with your name, blood type, allergies, and emergency contact information)

Navigation chart: Very useful item to plan your trip. One can see hazards, water depth, measure the distance, plan for alternate take outs, and verify your position using references – just to name a few. Laminate it, use the grease pencil to mark your trip,and tuck it under your shock cords.

Navigation chart

Paddle float: Used in conjunction with self-rescues, this aids the paddler to get back into the kayak. Place on the blade, inflate, secure and rescue yourself. They come as either inflatable (as pictured) or rigid. Store this in the same place on your kayak each time for quick access.

Paddle float

Bilge pump: Useful for getting large amounts of water out of your kayak, especially after a wet exit. Like the paddle float, store it on your kayak in the same location for easy access.

Bilge pump

Sponge: For getting those last drops of water out of the cockpit (or hatches), scooping up wet sand and dirt inside the cockpit, or cleaning off the deck/hull from water scum accumulation.

kayak sponge

Dry bag: Don’t want to get certain items wet…like clothes, electronics, or cookies? Place your items within, fold over the top a few times and secure the clips.

dry bag

Dry box: Totally waterproof and floats. Great place to keep your car keys, wallet, and phone safe and sound.

dry box

Dry bag with extra clothing: In the cooler months, I will bring along this bag in case I, or others get totally wet/cold and need something warm and dry to wear. It is packed with a fleece top, fleece lined/nylon running pants, wool socks, gloves, and a few pairs of hats -not shown is a microfiber towel. I leave the cotton at home.

dry bag with clothes

First Aid kit: One can put together a kit with simple items, band-aids, splints, bandages, electrical tape (waterproof tape), tweezers, ointments, CPR mask, gloves, or anything else which may come to mind. Never know when someone needs to stop a bleeder.

first aid kit

Stirrup Strap: Basically, a nylon webbing about an inch wide. Used in conjunction with or without a paddle/paddle float to aid the paddler to get back into the kayak after a wet exit. One end is placed on the far side of the paddle, slipped under the yak, and circled around the paddle shaft. The end with the loop dangles in the water, a foot slips into the loop. The paddler uses majority of their leg muscle strength to lift themselves into the cockpit.

stirrup strap

Tow Belt/rope: A device used to help assist an injured or tired paddler during the journey, get a kayak or the kayak and paddler out of a dangerous environment, or tow an empty kayak. The belt is fitted around the rescuer, and the clip on the other end is slipped under the deck line nearest the bow of the kayak being assisted. There is usually a quick release located on the rescuer’s waist to disconnect from the other kayak. Rope lengths vary in length, but are usually 50 feet – but can be daisy chained to make them shorter (as pictured).

tow belt

Contact tow: Aids a rescuer to maintain a closer connection to one who needs assistance (cockpit to cockpit). Can be used in conjunction with another rescuer who may be towing a second rescuer and victim. Or, used as a clip and get the person out of the danger area quickly. Typical length is less than 4 feet.

contact tow

Signal bag: Hand held flares, a mirror, and an air horn. Great tools to have on the water for both visual and audible signaling.

signal bag

Laser flare: When turned on, flashes S-O-S and has a visible range of about 3 miles at nighttime. Nice feature about these, they never burn your hands and stays lit until the batteries dies.

laser flare

Repair kit: Packed inside a water bottle are items to make simple temporary fixes to a kayak. Included is a 4 foot long semi-rigid twist tie, zip strips, a sheet of plastic, duct tape (wrapped around a marker), multi-tool, narrow shock cord (with fasteners), and a fiberglass repair kit.

repair kit

Bothy bag: These are great to use as a personal shelter from the elements. Once opened up, it creates a small dome-like tent. They protect you from the winds, rain, snow and the inside heats up rather quickly (especially great for a cold rain, or a mild case of hypothermia).

bothy bag

 

What items do you carry on your usual paddle trips? Are you prepared to rescue yourself, or others who may need your assistance? Take a class and learn how to use some of these items.

 

For the Paddler Within

Whether liked or not, weather will be a factor .

 

As paddlers, we must have a basic understanding of weather and weather patterns. Knowledge of simple weather predictions and forecasting will provide a safe and memorable paddle. Before heading out, it is always a good idea to obtain the local weather report – so there are no unexpected surprises. Where do you get this information? Local morning news, newspaper, internet, phone apps, and with some training, one can view nature’s signs. In today’s blog I will cover some basic cloud structures, weather patterns, and lore.

Let’s take a look at a weather map.

Here we see many different items which make up our weather. There are frontal systems, pressures, isobars and precipitation. I will explain what these mean, and how you can use these to your advantage.

Fronts – What exactly are fronts? These are boundaries between large air masses of different temperatures. These are represented on weather maps by colored lines – blue =cold, red=warm. A cold front is a high density air mass which moves towards and under a warm air mass. The warm air mass is pushed upward at a sharp angle causing moisture to condense rapidly. Heavy precipitation is often the end result. A warm front mass of air moves towards and passes over a dense cold air mass at a moderate angle, usually resulting in light perception.

Pressures – There are two different types, a high and low.

When forecasters say a low pressure area or storm is moving toward your region, this usually means cloudy weather and precipitation are on the way Low pressure systems have different intensities with some producing a gentle rain while others produce hurricane force winds and a massive deluge. The centers of all storms are areas of low air pressure. Air rises near low pressure areas. As air rises, it cools and often condenses into clouds and precipitation. If the low pressure area is the center of a Northern Hemisphere extratropical storm, a steady rain or snow can fall to the north of the warm front as warm moist air from the south rises up and over the cold air ahead of the warm front. Showers and thunderstorms often fire up ahead of the cold front in the warm, unstable air. Usually, showers and thunderstorms ahead of the cold front don’t last long as the precipitation is ahead of the warm front. Due to the counterclockwise circulation around low pressure areas in the Northern Hemisphere, cold air will likely be found to the north and west of low pressure areas while warm air is most often found to the south and east of low pressure areas. Often, you hear a weather forecaster say that an area of high pressure will dominate the weather. This usually means your region has several partly to mostly sunny days in store with little or no precipitation. Air tends to sink near high-pressure centers, which inhibits precipitation and cloud formation. This is why high-pressure systems tend to bring bright, sunny days with calm weather. Air flows clockwise around a high-pressure system in the northern hemisphere. As a result, regions to the east of a high-pressure center often have northerly winds bringing in relatively cold air while regions to the west have southerly winds bringing in relatively warm air. Sometimes, high-pressure systems stall over a particular region for long periods of time and bring several days of sunny, calm weather with little or no precipitation. High pressure systems usually form where the air converges aloft. As the air converges in the upper-levels of the atmosphere, it forms an area of higher pressure and is forced to sink. The sinking air spirals outward, clockwise in the Northern Hemisphere, counterclockwise south of the Equator.

Winds on the Great Lakes – On this map, the wind is measured with the use of barbs. A short barb is 5 knots, a long barb, 10 knots. If no barb and just a circle present, winds are calm. Wind barbs point in the direction “from” which the wind is blowing. On this particular map, the majority of wind is coming from a western direction at a speed of around 15 knots.

Isobars –These provide indication on the amount of wind to be expected.

 

Isobars are lines that connect points of equal atmospheric pressure on weather maps. Isobars are similar to height lines on a geographical map, and they are drawn so that they can never cross each other. Meteorologists use isobars on weather maps to depict atmospheric pressure changes over an area and to make predictions concerning wind flow. The term “isobar” originates from the Greek, isos (equal) and baros (weight). Wind is a direct consequence of air pressure differences. The greater the pressure contrast over an area, the shorter the distance between isobars on a weather map depicting the area. Wind blows from areas of high to low pressure. The greater the contrast in pressure difference between two areas, the faster the wind will blow, so closer isobars on a weather map predict higher velocity winds.

Precipitation – (non winter months will be described) range from light green to purple – describes the intensity of the precipitation; light green relates to light rain – purple relates to intense storms

Some basic weather predictions are from the clouds which are present. Each type of cloud pattern provides indication of future conditions in the hours or days ahead. I will mention a few simple examples.

Good clouds vs the Bad clouds

Let’s look at a perfectly clear day. Little to no clouds in the sky and sunny. This would indicate no change of conditions.  On a partly cloudy, or partly sunny day, the clouds present are loose, fluffy, cotton ball clouds, which would indicate fair weather. These are called, Cumulus.  These are formed usually under 10,000 feet , or low clouds. If these clouds bunch up, form firm edges with definite shapes, this would indicate heavy showers will soon arrive.

One of the higher clouds (over 20,000 feet) is called Cirrocumulus. They look like rippled sand or fish scales. They are nicknamed ‘Mackerel sky”, they are considered an omen of bad weather (usually rain).

A Cirrus cloud is a high, wispy white cloud composed of ice crystals – which indicate short term good weather – often called, “mares tails”. These commonly bring winds the following day.

Some towering clouds which swell up to 60,000 feet – one called a swelling Cumulus – These are flat bottomed which have a growing, cauliflower-like towers, they often form Mid-day and precede the next type of cloud which will be covered, the Cumulonimbus.

The Cumulonimbus are towering storm clouds, which bring rain, sleet, hail, thunder, lighting and tornadoes. The top of the cloud is usually anvil-shaped. One should really pay attention to these and seek shelter when needed.

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Fog – Fog can be considered a cloud at ground level. The processes forming it, however, are usually different from those that form clouds.  Like clouds, fog is made up of condensed water droplets which are the result of the air being cooled to the point (actually, the dew point) where it can no longer hold all of the water vapor it contains

 

Now, there are some dangers in which we should be aware- 

Thunderstorms. At no time should a paddlers be on the water during a storm. If a storm arrives suddenly, get off the water and seek shelter. Thunderstorms occur when large air masses rise quickly into the atmosphere, forming huge cumulonimbus clouds. Severe air currents inside the clouds cause water droplets and ice crystals to crash into one another, the friction between the particles creates static electricity within the cloud. Over time, opposite charges build between the top and bottom of the cloud, and the bottom of the cloud and the earth. When these opposing charges become intense, a gigantic spark occurs (lighting).

Winds – another potential danger to the paddlers. Winds is caused when air moves from an area of high pressure to one of low pressure. The greater the difference between the areas, the stronger the wind. Gentle breezes are usually dealt with, however, strong gusts and/or excessive winds may cause one to be pushed off course and into dangerous rocks or obstructions, and be exhausting to the paddlers. There are a few types of winds:

Head winds – these are winds coming directly at the paddlers – which equals resistance during a paddle

Tail winds – these are directly behind the paddlers, makes it easier to paddle.

Cross winds – these will come from either side and push one off course.

Fog– Usually is caused by warm air moving and cooling over water. This can disorientate the paddlers, obstruct recognition of coastal features, and placing the paddlers in harms way with larger vessels. Best to paddle close to shore , close to your paddle partner, turn on lights, and use either a fog horn, or a whistle to announce your location to other boaters – avoiding near misses. When paddling with a smaller group and seeking out a solo paddler, one can form a line. The basic principle with this: one paddler paddles near shore, the next in line paddles just far enough either to the left or right to the shoreline paddler to see them, the next in line continues this positioning. (much like walking hand in hand).

 

Forecast and Reports –

In order for a safe paddle, know what the forecast is for the venue. Obtain the local weather report by either TV, radio, or the paper. While on the water, tune into a 24 hour NOAA weather report on a VHF radio. Or, if you do not have one, listen to the weather station on the radio. There are smart phone apps in which may be helpful to plan the day. NOAA web page has information for digital graphic water conditions and advisories, which include water temp, wind speed and direction, and wave heights

 

Weather Lore:

A Logger was preparing for a fall town meeting and called the National Weather Service (NWS) to find out about the weather. He was told that the winter was going to be cold, so he included this in his report to the counsel. The logger began gathering fire wood.

The logger called back a couple of weeks later to make sure that his camp was prepared and was told that it looked like it was going to be a harder winter than usual. He passed the word to his people to gather more wood.

A couple of weeks later, he was finalizing his winter plans and called the NWS again, and was told that it was going to be terrible. When he asked why they thought that, the man told him, “We’re not exactly sure, but the local logging camp is gathering wood like crazy!”

The moral of the story? Don’t depend solely on somebody else to make your preparations! We have a few signs that can help you determine what the weather will be, and here they are:

 

Here are some sayings which may hold some truth:

When morning fog clears quickly away, expect a sunny day.

A sun-shiny shower, won’t last half an hour

Mackerel sky and mares tails make tall ships carry low sails.  (certain clouds are often followed by high winds) As mentioned in explanation of types of clouds.

Christmas day on the balcony means Easter in the embers

Squirrels tail fluffy, winter will be blustery

Onion’s skin very thin, mild winter coming in. onions skin thick and tough, coming winter cold and rough.

Red Skies and Rainbows

You’ve probably heard the old sailors’ poem of “red skies at night, sailors delight; red skies in morning, sailors take warning.” This is actually a good indicator of what’s coming. If the sunset is beautifully pink, the sun is shining on dust particles being pushed by a high-pressure system, which brings warm, dry air. If the sunrise is red, a low-pressure system is often pushing moisture toward you. Not always accurate but something to pay attention to.

Rainbows follow the same pattern: if you see one in the eastern sky in the morning, there’s a good chance that you’re going to get rain. The rainbow is caused by the sun reflecting off of moisture and most storms in the northern hemisphere move east to west.

Squirrels and Birds

Are the squirrels having knock-down drag-outs in your yard over the dwindling supply of nuts? Are the birds attacking your feeders like they haven’t eaten in weeks? If so, there’s a good chance that a substantial storm is on the way. This is another great way to read nature’s signs to predict weather. Similarly, if you notice that birds are migrating early, you should follow their lead and be ready to bunk in early for winter too. Winter is coming early.

In the shorter term, if birds are flying high, you’re probably going to have a good couple of days. When the pressure drops, indicating an upcoming storm, it hurts birds’ ears and they fly lower to alleviate that. Animals sense changes in barometric pressure well in advance of weather events so pay attention.

Look to the Moon: If the moon has a circle (halo) around it, this is almost a sure sign that there’s inclement weather heading your way in the next 3 days or so.The closer the ring is to the moon, the sooner participation will occur.  If it’s clear and bright, you may also be getting some moisture because a low-pressure system has moved in and cleared the dust from the air.

If the moon has an orange hue or pale, there’s dust in the air so you’re probably going to see some good weather the next day.

Watch Your Cat Take a Bath

Cats typically lick their paws and swipe their eyes but they usually leave their ears alone. They’re finicky like that. However, cats’ ears are particularly sensitive to changes in pressure so if he’s swiping his ears, there’s a good chance that bad weather is imminent in the next couple of days.

Herd Animals Unite

Animals such as cows, deer and horses are pretty good at telling you bad weather is coming if you just pay attention. Cows in particular are good at predicting drought; you’ll notice a drop in fertility rate if the next year is going to be tough. In the short term, watch for herd animals to group together, typically facing the same direction. If you see that, a storm is likely near, they also tend to lay down just before a rain. .

Also, horses and cows have ears that are sensitive, similar to a cat. If you notice them trying to scratch an ear with a hoof more often than usual, the pressure may be changing and bring a change in weather with it.

Good Fishing, Bad Storm

If you have an absolutely spectacular fishing day, where your line gets hit every time it hits the water, you may want to plan your fish bake for inside instead of out. Fish are great at sensing changes in pressure and will feed heavily before a storm so that they can go deep to weather it out.

Watch Your Campfire for Rain

If the smoke from your fire rises without any significant swirls, you’re probably in for good weather the next day. If the smoke blows back down or escapes in swirls, there’s low pressure in effect, which means bad weather is imminent.

Get to know your local environment; when you do, you’ll start noticing patterns in the local animals and plants that are linked to the weather. Being able to read nature’s signs to predict weather can be an invaluable skill that may very well save your life, or at least your paddle trip!  Remember, you aren’t going to melt if you get a little rain on ya, no matter how sweet you think you are. Enjoy!

For the Paddler Within….