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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

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….

Planning a Kayak Trip

Planning a overnight kayak trip, what sources are available, and how to pack

 

Like most trips, whether by air or by land, most people have a destination in mind. Getting there is part of the journey. There is always some sort of planning, and ensuring you have the right items packed along – as well as a few extra things you really don’t need. Planning a kayak trip is very similar in ways – although some of your resources may be a bit unique. Today, I will talk about how to plan an overnight/multiple day kayaking trip, and just how to use the resources available to you.

 

Resources (water/charts/weather)

Before heading to a destination for a put-in location (the place one launches a kayak) – it would be best to see if it is indeed possible to launch from your “ideal” spot. One way to do this is to research your planned trip – use the web, ask fellow paddlers, or read some books about various destinations. More than likely, there has been someone who has done the trip you really want to do. “Scouting” a launch and landing spot is ideal and if you live close enough, much of this can be done while on land. For times where the water’s edge can not be observed by land (either because of elevation, vegetation, private property, etc…) using wither Bing or Google maps may assist you. Many times, one can zoom in and actually see where there may be obstructions in the water, rapids, or sometimes how low the water may actually become. One can also map out the distance along the route (Bing maps has this option if you right click on the map). If heading along the coastal waterways (Great Lakes or Oceans), and need an actual chart – a few pages to get you started are https://www.oceangrafix.com/search/map and https://www.charts.noaa.gov/ChartCatalog/MapSelect.html The second location allows one to download the image in PDF format which can be then laminated and placed on the front deck for use. This is assuming one can read a nautical chart, and understand what the symbols mean (that will be a future blog).

Great, you have got some information for the planned trip, and know the distance, the launches and landings, some possible hazards in the water, and also have talked to a few fellow paddlers who have first hand experience about this trip. That is one step out of the way, on to additional planning.

Understanding the type of water conditions will be an item in which you really need to be concerned about. Both large bodies of water (Great Lakes and oceans), and moving water (rivers/creeks) have their own dynamic responses to the environment – and are ever changing. These changes can happen hourly, or within days. Paddling in water in which is above your comfort level is dangerous, especially if you are not mentally or physically ready for what lays ahead.  I will provide some information where you may obtain certain water conditions (both rivers and open water locations).

For the river kayaker – American Whitewater  provides a quick viewing summary for the level of the water (Red – low water, Green – running water, and Blue – high water), as well as normal classification type (Class ! being the lowest on the rapids scale). Click on your state, and view the rivers – this is an alphabetical listing of most, if not all the rivers in each state.

American Whitewater water level

Another site which is helpful is  a site from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Once selecting your state and the desired river, a graph will load, displaying the past and current water levels (and one may see how it compares to flood stage).

NOAA charts

For open water (Great Lakes will be described here) I like to glance at the NOAA page to see trends, current, and what they have predicted – although I have found the accuracy not the greatest (about 75% accurate). It does have many options in which one may view (winds, waves, current, surface temps) – as well as place the data in an animated state.

NOAA Great Lakes

 

I really like the following site for data – as I first became aware and used this for about two years now, and have found the predictions (for about 6 days out) to be at least 90% accurate, and for the actual hour of paddle to be 98% accurate. Although it doesn’t have the data for the currents, like NOAA – the information WindFinder  provides has exactly what I need, and I CAN trust it, completely! When going to the main page, just type in a city – once there, click on forecast for detailed information (one can save the location as a favorite, and quickly navigate next time)

Windfinder

Great, now you have a destination, planned out the route, and know what the weather and water action will be like. Ensuring you have the right kayak for the right trip is yet another essential key component for a safe trip (please review my blog  http://tinyurl.com/yy4gng6v to ensure you have the right yak for the right water).  I will be referring to packing a sea kayak, and some items to bring along for an extended trip in the following paragraphs.

 

Packing yaks

When planning on what to pack – think about if you really need it, or will use it during your trip. There are essential items in which you will need, depending on your route, location, time of year, water temp/air temp, and length of trip. Kayak tripping is much like ultra-light backpacking – keep it light and well balanced. Since there are numerous items on the market, the intention of this blog is not to inform you which item is better than the other – but please do your own research around either kayak or backpacking specific items. Don’t under pack safety equipment or rescue items – and have them easily accessible. Food and water filtration devices are wonderful to have along and will provide you the energy and nutrients needed throughout your journey. Cooking items can be a challenge, as there are various items and systems out there to choose. If attempting to safe room and weight, dehydrated meals might be a good option – just as long as one has access to water. Clothing should be lightweight, yet warm – synthetic is a way better option than cotton. Sleeping gear should include your tent, sleeping pad/mattress, and sleeping bag. Dry bags are key items to place all your items into – to ensure these do not get wet. The bags serve a dual role: storage (both inside the yak and in the tent) and transportation of the items (from yak to camp site)

Packing that Yak.

Packing the items in the yak does take time and some prep work. I like to lay out everything next to my yak at home on the grass and divide it all in two fairly equal weight groups, so the yak is balanced. For the items which I know I will not need until I get to the actual campsite, and I will tend to pack these items first into the ‘nose’ of both the bow and stern. For safety related items, I will place these into the day hatch, and let my fellow paddlers know what is in there (usually the first aid kit, repair kit, flares, smoke, etc….) I tend not to place anything on my deck, except for my spare paddle, compass, chart, and camelback water bag, as I reserve this space for preforming kayak assisted rescues.

Once I preform a dry run packing the items in the yak a few times and figure out what works, I will then place all these items in dedicated IKEA-like bags, and place them in the car. When I get to the launch spot, I will bring the yak down to the water’s edge, then bring all the bags, packing the hatches with the dedicated bags. When arriving to the campsite, it is just a reverse process. When possible, I try not to drag (or carry) a loaded yak up onto the shoreline (unless the landing spot is really not an ideal unloading zone because of terrain, waves, or winds). If I must, I will aid the assistance from someone else to help carry each other’s yak up onto solid ground.

Yes, there is a bit of research and planning for overnight trips with a kayak. When done correctly, and time and time again – you learn what works, and what doesn’t. Even with the best packing, sometimes Mother Nature places a damper on the actual camping experience. Although this reduces the fun factor, it allows one to make a mental note of that ‘one item’ which may have all the difference for next time. I was on a multi-day paddle trip years ago and our group decided it would be best to each carry a Duraflame log over to the island (and these are not a lightweight item). I fortunately had space, and agreed to carry one. It was actually nice to have these items a few days later, as the evening rains made most of the tree branches difficult to light on fire for our evening camp fire. I have adapted this notion to a smaller fire starter, as well as reduced the weight – it is still nice to have the ability for a  camp fire, even with a light rain. It makes all the difference… as hopefully these tips did too..

 

For the Paddler Within……