by Paula Huber
From my 40 years’ experience as a cold water scuba diving instructor, cold water scuba diver and zodiac hard hull dive boat operator I have learned many lessons about safety in and on the water. These lessons are transferable to kayaking.
Be mentally and physically prepared for your paddle day. We all have stressors in our lives. A day on the water should challenge and refresh us not create anxiety, tension, and frustration that may put our safety and that of others at risk. If that little voice inside of you says don’t do it then don’t. There is always another time to paddle. You and your paddle companions should respect each other and be able to openly and freely discuss the day’s paddle without fear of ostracism. In a group situation all members’ abilities, mental and physical, need to be respected. A safe compromise can always be achieved before leaving shore. Have a plan B. Mentally rehearse worst case scenarios and how you intend to react to them. Plan B can also include spending the day ashore to savour your surroundings. Maintain your equipment. Do a last minute check of your kayak and its equipment before entering it and leaving shore.
KNOW THE ENVIRONMENT
Educate yourself to not only perform paddle skills but also to respect and understand the cold water environment. In our paddle environment high winds will often subside or decrease substantially at 12 noon or early evening. Listen to marine weather reports and plan your paddle accordingly. For instance, paddle into the wind outbound and with the wind inbound. A shore day can turn out to be very enjoyable, what’s the rush? Dress for the water temperature and conditions. Water conducts heat 25 times faster from our bodies than does air. Practice re-entry into your kayak to reduce submersion time in the water.
Remember, a leak in your dry suit will allow it to fill with water to rapidly chill you and impair your mobility to get back into your kayak. A wet suit will ALWAYS provide thermal protection upon submersion in cold water and you will retain your mobility to facilitate re-entry into your kayak. Synthetics are great, but wool will keep you warm even when wet. Your body heat will dry it from the inside out. Consider wool clothing for both hot and cold paddle conditions.
ALWAYS KNOW WHERE YOU ARE
Learn to use navigation aids such as compass, GPS, navigation/topographic charts. Always take and know how to use back up navigation devices. Practice your skills on each paddle and carry spare batteries if relying on electronics.
This is separate from trip gear. It is for emergency use. Even on short day trips I carry extra clothing, food, water in case I get stranded somewhere. Contents can be put into a dry bag and stored inside the cockpit just past the foot pedals if there is room. This is what I carry in my panic pack- wool socks, toque, mitts/gloves, neck warmer, foil blanket/bivy sack, large plastic garbage bag/small tarp, matches/ lighter, dryer fluff to start fire with, metal cook pot/mug, spoon, rain/warm outer jacket, wool pants, top, wool sweater, dry food for one to two days. And lastly, remember Murphy’s Law – If anything can go wrong it will.