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….

Cosmetic scratches making your boat look old?

how to fix the minor scratches in your fiberglass kayak

For those of us who have fiberglass yaks understand how beautiful they can be when they are shiny and new. Keeping them that way, can be a bit of a strain, especially if you really want to paddle frequently. I personally will have minor scratches which will appear wherever I have attached my back up paddles, Camelback, or other items I frequently place on my deck. Mainly this happens near my backup paddle, as I take them out of my paddle britches. Every once in a while, I will have to do a little maintenance and give that yak some TLC.

Today, I will show you a step-by-step process for getting rid of those minor scratches and making your yak better than before. There will be a few items one will have to obtain in order to make this happen, and I will suggest a few other items which speed up the process.

 

Step 1: Wash your kayak with either a dedicated marine soap, or car wash soap. Using a microfiber towel and a little elbow grease will really ensure you get it fully clean. Rinse with lean water, and let it air dry. A shaded place and a fairly warm day is ideal for this kind of work.

Step 2: After the yak is dry, assemble your items and ensure you have plenty on hand, as you may go through your fair share. Water will be your friend as you go through this nerve-wracking process. This process involves using sand paper on the fiberglass. But, not the traditional type of sandpaper one would use on wood products. This is wet-dry sand paper, and it is normally found near the automotive section, near the filler compounds and body work

.Depending on the depth of the scratch a variation of grit may have to be used. For scratches which have depth – and can be felt when one runs their fingernail across the scratch. It should feel much like feeling the edge of a dime I would consider this a minor scratch, and use the 400 or 600 grit paper. If it feels like an edge of a quarter, use 100 or 200 grit paper. For cracks and deeper gouges, this article will be of little use – as this is a more involved process. I had used the 400 grit for this project.

Word to the wise, work on small areas when sanding, only do an area of about one-foot square before moving on to the next area. I learned this mistake a few years ago and it took me a long time to complete the task at hand.

Step 3: Spray down the sandpaper with copious amounts of water, and/or spray the area you are going to work on. Begin to use small circles on the scratched area, and continue to spray.

When you do this correctly, the color of the fiberglass will ‘bleed’ – THIS IS NORMAL. Don’t panic!!! Just keep spraying some water on the area to get rid of the fine particles, and also give the sandpaper a good spritz from time to time, and rotate the area of paper you are using.

Step 4: Once you have roughed up the area with sand paper, the area will look hazy and dull. Rinse the area with water thoroughly. This will look very similar to the picture below.

Step 5: Grab an application cloth, or one can use the applicator which comes with most wax containers. I have two choices in which I may use, a rubbing compound, or a polishing compound. The Rubbing compound has more grit than the polishing compound. If one decides to use both on this project, use the rubbing then the polishing. Since there are micro fragments of fiberglass and other particles of material being removed with these two products, unsure you have a dedicated application cloth for each item.

Step 6: Once you have decided to use one compound over the other ( I went for the polishing one in this case). Apply this compound much like one would polish the car. I always think of that scene in which Mr. Miyagi states, “Wax on, wax off”. One may see a bit of the color bleed through onto the cloth during this process. It does a ‘soft sanding’ on the fiberglass.

Step 7: There might be a slight sheen to the area after this has been dried off – but you aren’t completed just yet. Time for application of wax (car wax works just fine). Same application process as the previous method – just be certain you are using a clean application cloth.

Step 8: So, it is pretty shiny after the application of the wax and the use of a towel. But why not up the game a bit more and put a real gloss on the deck? For the final process, I break out the electric buffer/polisher and a pad (once again use one specific for the wax). I may apply a fine layer of wax over the entire kayak a few times and then buff it out once I have completely done with the smaller areas.

Step 9: Stand back and enjoy the work which was completed. I usually have to do this process a few times a year, but really don’t mind. It gives me a closer perspective of problem areas, and I tend to check the deck lines and cords, and tighten up screws if needed. One thing which will make this process easier (which is clearly not what I did) is to remove the deck lines and cords – or replace them during this time. Otherwise, one will have to constantly move the lines and cords out of the way from the wax and the electric buffer.

This section of area took nearly 30 minutes to completely make look fairly new again. The time to complete a whole yak is a case by case situation – but shouldn’t take more than 3 hours when done correctly. There is nothing like paddling around with a show stopper finish on your kayak, and making heads turn. Have pride in your yak and make it last for years to come.

 

 

For the Padder Within…

Getting rescued by the USCG (training)

USCG rescues

Last week, I covered how to use a VHF and what steps it takes to call for help. This week will be a continuation of the process, and what it actually looks like from a kayaker’s perspective.

A little background to this training: A few years ago, I had organized a joint training mission involving a local paddle club and the USCG. Our training proceeded with a pre-brief with members of the Coast Guard and the paddle club members who would be on-water.  Safety was our main concern during the day, and we had a code word which would be used, if the Coast Guard were truly needed elsewhere. During the planning – it was understood we would not use flares, no PLB, or actual electronic rescue devices (for concerns of citizens believing this was truly an emergency) and would transmit the Mayday call via VHF channel 72.  All four kayakers were ACA level 3, and higher coastal instructors – had numerous safety/rescue devices, PFD’s, clothing suitable for immersion, sea kayaks, and skill sets appropriate for the conditions/environment.

The four paddlers launched from an alternative site because of time constraints and proceeded to head out past the pier head. Moments into the paddle, we realized this would not be a flat water and smooth training experience, however would add to the realism of a rescue. Conditions were: waves 2 ½ to 3 footers, nice rollers from time to time, winds constant around 15 mph from the ESE, Air temp around 75, water temp mid 60’s. We paddled about a mile away from the pier head, and just within viewing for the folks on Neshotah beach. We weighed out the options to either conduct the training away from the beach and attempt to maintain our position, or face additional broaching waves and winds which may have increased the safety factor.  We chose to conduct a safe affair. Our scenario involved one kayaker getting ‘injured’, losing consciousness and fracturing her arm as a power boat ran into her and ejecting her from her yak.

During the post-briefing of all the members involved, here are a few interesting noteworthy topics we encountered and will be perfecting.

  • While one VHF is worth the weight of gold during any paddle adventure, two or more is best. I could transmit the Mayday, however could not receive CG replies. Luckily, we had three VHF radios with us. I could not imagine just how any paddler could signal what kind of emergency they may have without communication.
  • As mentioned, our ‘victim’ had been hit by a power boat, knocked unconscious, and ejected from her yak. The decision to keep her in the water and maintain an open airway was a personal choice – for the fear of C-spine injury and further injury, we did not attempt a H.O.G (Hand of God) rescue, or place her on the decks of the two other kayaks. The kayaker who rescued the swimmer, had to store his paddle, and hold onto the shoulder straps of the PFD of the swimmer. Her face was away from the oncoming waves. It was somewhat unbalanced for the rescuer to maintain center balance of his yak, as broaching waves and winds continued. The third yak clipped on a tow rope to get the swimmer’s yak out of the way. Even if we did do a H.O.G. rescue on the swimmer, the CG would have to once again remove the injured kayaker from the kayak (as they manually hoisted her onto the CG vessel). There was an option for the CG to use a dive team and stokes littler to extract an unconscious swimmer.
  • Once CG boat arrived, swimmer had to be passed off to the crew, and lifted out of the water. Additional information of accident was provided, and swimmers known medical history provided (which was unknown) – although this would be normally known for a professional outfitter group paddle, or if your friends who you paddle with normally share that kind of information. Might be best if we all carry some sort of ICE (In Case of Emergency), brief medical history, and meds somewhere on our person/inside a pocket of the PFD.
  • Ideally, the rescuer and swimmer stay together and await the CG rescue boat. If additional kayakers are in group, CG desires the rest to stay out of the immediate area of swimmer and rescuer.
  • With conditions present, would it have been wiser for a second person to stabilize the rescuer by rafting up? What would the situation be had it only been two paddlers, one being a swimmer, and the rescuer still had to make a VHF call, maintain contact with the unconscious swimmer, and stay upright? In flat water with no conditions – I would expect there is a totally different response and outcome.
  • As noted, there was no use of flares, PLB (personal locator beacon), or other electrical devices. We did use a laser flare, paddles and hand signals to dictate our location. Although we did not have orange smoke to mark our position – this may have been a great option for a daytime rescue. Air horns and whistles would have been impossible to hear, since we couldn’t even hear the sirens of the Coast Guard boat. Once again, thinking how this could be accomplished with a solo rescuer.
  • Towing an empty yak (from the rescued kayaker) with an extended rope can be problematic with conditions. Although this worked well, the empty kayak had a mind of its own – Careful attention and adjustments were made to the length of rope once passing the pier head and conditions decreased.

 

Another aspect of a rescue is working with a helicopter crew. A couple of years ago at the East Coast Paddle Festival (Charleston, SC), I had also taken part in a similar training exercise. This one was involving a USCG rescue helicopter, and talking to the crew as they were trying to “find” us. We communicated with them via VHF, and vectored (help guide them into our position) the helicopter to our exact location. When they were close enough for visual confirmation, we used a various assortment of visual ques to pinpoint our location.

Both aspects of training provide knowledge only gained from actually conducting this practice. As a kayaker, one should always seek knowledge about what could happen – and how to effectively take actions in the worse case situations. Hopefully you will never have to enact any of these rescues as a real world emergencies. But, understanding this process may make it a bit easier.

 

*** Personal note:  A BIG thanks to all who made this training special *****

For the Paddler Within…

How to make that all important call

Using a VHF radio (or otherwise called a marine radio) can be a lifesaving device for when you really need help on the water. Understanding how to use it and who to call may just save your life.

VHF Hand held radio

What exactly is a VHF radio?

It is a communication device for boaters. It is a means in which boaters can communicate with harbors, locks, bridges, marinas, other boaters and summoning rescue services.  For seagoing vessels, these radios are permanently mounted, for kayakers – these are handheld devices. There are several makes and models available to the public, finding one which works best for you is a personal decision. Many Marine hand held models are waterproof – and some actually will float.  Besides making calls, many of the models will have a weather channels, providing pretty accurate condition reports.Mainly used by kayakers who hit the open waters (Great Lakes/Oceans or any water monitored by water rescue services) – this should be an essential piece of equipment before heading out.

How do I use it?

Since each model is slightly different from the next – the basic functions are quite similar. It is always best to fully charge your VHF before heading out to the next paddle destination. As well as recharging it after you have returned. The battery life varies, but based on personal experiences can last for at least a week (unit turned on, moderate use during a 6-hour paddle day, and then turned off when not used). If possible, bring the charging base, or extra batteries to ensure you have enough juice for the trip. There is normally a knob to twist the unit on/off, and there is usually a ‘chirp’ heard as it powers on. There are numerous channels to use if you wish to communicate with others in your kayak group (once you pre-arrange this channel with each other during the pre-launch brief). Majority of regions within the US have specific channels which can be used freely by civilians – and others which are either commercial use, or predetermined agencies. Follow this link for channels in your area. Once a channel has been established for communications, bring the speaker towards your mouth and push and hold the transmit button, clearly and calmly send your message, release once done. Much like using a walkie-talkie.

Emergency channels

Channel 16 is the channel to use if needing to make an emergency distress call. Normally, this channel should be monitored while on the water – as there may be important messages by the Coast Guard, or other boaters who need assistance. Traffic (communications) on this frequency has top priority, and should never be used as a ‘party line’.

Channel 9 is used mainly for ship to ship and ship to coast communications.

Range

There is limited range on all VHF radios – and depending on many factors (transmitter power, topographical features, and your antenna height. VFH’s are basically a line of sight communication device – if there is any kind of interference between the two, the signal may not be heard. This may mean one may need to move to higher ground, or move out from a secluded cove to be able to transmit/receive.

How to communicate

VHF mayday sticker

If needing to transmit on channel 16, there are a few simple procedures to ensure you have proper procedures – and using proper lingo terms for the situation. Each one of these is repeated three times – to get the attention of other boaters.

Pan-Pan: This is a call in which a vessel is declaring an urgent situation which is not an immediate threat to either the vessel or the people on board. Examples of this, in which you may hear is: lost of navigational equipment, mechanical issues, need a tow, or any other non-life threatening emergencies.

Sécurité: This is an informational broadcast message (usually a USCG message to boaters), with additional information provided on another channel, which will be provided by the issuing department. An example of this could be a dense fog advisory, and vessels will alert others as they leave or enter a narrow channel or harbor. Or this could also be used to alert other vessels of large floating debris at a specific location.

Mayday: This is for serious events which suggests a potential loss of life, or a life-threatening situation.  This will initiate immediate response by the Coast Guard and other agencies. Falsely reporting a Mayday, or using this channel as a open “chat channel” is strictly forbidden – and yes, they can triangulate your location if you abuse this channel.

 

Hopefully, there will never be a situation in which you will need to activate a Mayday call. Best advice I can provide to you is, practice making this call at home (without turning on the VHF) with another person. Print out the blue USCG form above and laminate it and bring it with you. Work with the nearest USCG station on your radio calls, or find groups who train with the USCG during joint missions. In one of the upcoming blogs, I will show a video how I had worked with a local USCG as we called in a Mayday and a “rescue” during a training mission.

 

For the Paddler Within….