Just last weekend I was happy to read the post trip report from our local paddling club (SBKA) going out for a capsize recovery practice day. I understand one of the motivations was a result of a difficult capsize recovery experienced by one of the participants a few weeks earlier. The conditions for the day turned out to be very nice and it sounded like a lot of different techniques were practiced. I know that SBKA is not alone in their practice sessions. I have read a number of similar reports from other clubs from around the country.
As a kayak instructor I have done and/or demonstrated capsize recoveries over 2,000 times in the last seventeen years of teaching kayaking. As a result of that experience I wanted to share a few ideas and thoughts for you to consider when practicing recoveries. I am a strong believer to have specific goals for your actions. While random practicing is beneficial I am convinced focused energy towards your goals yields greater results.
Here are some questions that can help us develop some goals. (Take some time to consider these questions and write down the answers before reading my responses.)
1-What is the number one cause of death in sea kayaking and what steps can we take to prevent it?
2-Which recovery methods work with almost all kayaks and in a variety of conditions?
3-How do I get someone into a kayak if they cannot do it on their own?
4-How do I repair the hull of a kayak on open water?
5-Where should I store my recovery equipment?
6-When should I pump out the water and when should I drain the water?
7-How do I get a paddler in the water to shore if they lost their kayak?
8-What do I do if my partner capsizes and fails to wet exit their kayak?
9-Can you perform an assisted recovery or a solo recovery in less than one minute on a regular basis and in a variety of conditions?
Advice I give to all of my kayaking students:
The next twenty five times you go out for a paddle practice a capsize recovery technique during the paddle. Start practicing them at the end of the paddle right near shore. Then start practicing them at different times throughout the paddle. It will increase your skill level and confidence. It will also tell you if you clothing is appropriate for the conditions in which you paddle.
Have some "Bread and Butter" recoveries that you can do in your sleep and ones that will work in most of the conditions and kayaks you will find yourself. Mine are: re-enter and pump (assisted), T-recovery (assisted) and a paddle float recovery (solo). The fourth on my list is my roll (solo.) (So far my roll has served me well. However, now that I have written it down for all of cyberspace to read I will probably never have a successful roll again.) These four are my primary recovery methods. Once you perfect your primary ones, develop the largest bag of tricks you can draw upon so you have alternatives when you get thrown that inevitable curve ball.
1-What is the number one cause of death in sea kayaking and what steps can we take to prevent it? Exposure to the elements is the number one cause of death in sea kayaking which is caused by dressing improperly (NOT dressed for immersion) and/or the inability to get back into your kayak (unable to perform a recovery.) Therefore, dress for immersion and learn to do recoveries quickly, efficiently and reliably.
2-Which recovery methods work with almost all kayaks and in a variety of conditions? For an assisted recovery I rely on the re-enter and pump. It will work with any kayak, BUT, you better have your pump with you and make sure it works. Keep it clean and test each time you go out. I recommend a paddle float recovery as a versatile solo recovery method. However, you can't do it if you don't have the float with you or if your float is not functioning.
3-How do I get someone into a kayak if they cannot do it on their own? If you are the only one there to help then a stirrup method or a scoop rescue will be your best options. If there are more folks use they can help pull the person up onto the kayak. (See utilizing the group)
4-How do I repair the hull of a kayak on open water? You can have the paddler from the damaged kayak sitting on you foredeck with the damaged kayak in the X position (damaged kayak overturned across your cockpit between you and the other paddler.) The damaged kayak will keep you both from capsizing and you can then work on the damaged hull (if you have an accessible repair kit.)
5-Where should I store my recovery equipment? Everyone has their favorite location. I follow these guidelines: I can get to them and return them to their storage location in rough conditions, I can get to them easily and deploy them quickly after a capsize or while in my cockpit, they are not in my way, they will not wash of in the surf zone. My answer to these guidelines has my paddle float and pump on my front deck bungees. I have a reliable method of securing both that have yet to be washed off in surf (I live in Southern California, surf is a way of life here.)
6-When should I pump out the water and when should I drain the water? If you have the luxury of "non-exposure" then you can take the time to drain the water. If you do not have a pump then draining is almost a necessity (therefore, always have a pump to increase your options.) I will pump out the water if I need to get the swimmer out of the water ASAP. If I couldn't drain the water (kayak too heavy or too big) then I would pump.
7-How do I get a paddler in the water to shore if they lost their kayak? Practice the swimmer assist techniques BEFORE you need them. Push the swimmer towards shore while they hold the bow of your kayak while in the water on their back in front of your kayak. You can also have them lie over the back deck of your kayak.
8-What do I do if my partner capsizes and fails to wet exit their kayak? The hand up (Hand of God) technique is your best option before you pull them out of the kayak. You basically roll their kayak upright while they are still in the kayak.
9-Can you perform an assisted recovery or a solo recovery in less than one minute on a regular basis and in a variety of conditions? I can. Wouldn't you like to have your paddling partner be able to assist you into your kayak in one minute? Wouldn't it be nice if you had a paddling partner who was able to get themselves into their own boat in a minute? Well, if you both keep practicing toward specific goals you may get there. I also suggest that you practice your skills in different kayaks.
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