Kayaking is a dangerous sport with very real repercussions. Due to this, as a member of the kayaking community we must try to prepare ourselves for the worst case scenario as well as know what the main risks are and how to spot these hazards.
I am a qualified canoe coach. In this text, I will be identifying and explaining how to solve six dangers: 1 danger on the lake, 2 dangers in the sea and 3 dangers on the river.
Lake Kayaking: “Safe” But Still Open To Danger
The main danger we could face on the lake is an incapacitated or stuck capsized paddler. In this scenario, it is always best for a senior, or better yet qualified, member of the club to take charge but in the event that you are the only paddler available some precautionary would be ideal. To spot such an occurrence, you would normally see a stuck paddler thrashing underwater so a capsized boat with either bubbles or waves emitting from it is always a strong signal. For an incapacitated paddler it can often be harder to spot. The main signs are a still boat that has been over for a bit with no sign of a paddler nearby.
Be aware that while attempting to spot a capsized incapacitated paddler it can often be mistaken for an abandoned boat. Another danger is attempting help when only a short amount of time has passed as the paddle could be setting up to attempt a roll. Unless you know that the paddler can roll, always wait for a count of 15 before helping.
An FSRT course is advised before helping an upside down or incapacitated paddler, but if that is not possible at the time the safest way to help the paddler is to reach and undo their deck and allow their buoyancy aid/PFD to bring them to the surface. If you yourself are capsized and cannot get up, remain calm and bang on the bottom of your boat to alert another paddler. To prevent such incidents from happening, repeat capsize drills with new paddlers before allowing them to paddle with a spray deck and always check that your helmet and buoyancy aid is secure and check that the spray deck’s tab is always central and on the outside.
Sea Kayaking: Dangers Lurking in The Depth
The two main dangers of the sea are:
- getting lost
- getting capsized away from shore
The sea can often be a dangerous place for kayaking with no landmarks and unimaginable depths along with riptides and weather changes. If you are planning to paddle on the sea, always stay in sight of the shore or go out with an experienced and trusted paddler. Groups of a minimum of 3 paddlers are always safest. If you get lost at sea it can often be a jarring and anxiety ridden experience. Due to this I would always recommend carrying at least a compass along with a general knowledge of the shore line and even better yet also a laminated map or waterproof GPS system with a long battery life along with a full water bottle.
If you get stranded out at sea, call the coastguard and failing this head in the general direction of the shore using the sun and time of day (or stars at bight) until the coastline is in sight. If you capsize while at sea, remain calm and attempt a self rescue if you are alone, or a peer rescue if you are in a group. I would recommend taking a pump or drainage device if alone or preforming a standard x-rescue if you are in a group. Before going out on sea always attempt a practice at a self rescue so you can remain calm if the worst occurs.
River Kayaking: Rapid Flow With Dangers in Tow
The three main dangers of river kayaking are:
- Being stuck in a stopper
- Being pinned underwater
The river can often be an unpredictable environment even for those who have paddled it before so before planning a river trip, always check the water level readings and forecast predictions and compare them to readily available online risk assessments. Often they will use a color coding to represent paddle-ability based on level readings. Never paddle on a black level. Only paddle on a red level if the group are all familiar with the river and competent paddlers. Always plan a get out point. In the event of a capsize, lay flat on your back with your feet pointed downstream so you head does not his any rocks and if it is a fast river let go of your boat. If there are drops and holes on the river, your boat can resurface after going down a feature and injure you if you are too close. If you are safe to do so, try and direct yourself into an eddy, if not await instruction from another paddler.
This will most likely be to grab a throw line or to hold onto either the front or back of their boats. When holding onto a boat, always keep your chest and feet facing upwards and towards the middle of the boar wrapped around it holding onto the handle. When grabbing onto a throw-line, face away from the thrower and hold under our armpit making sure to lie flat on your back. Before going on a river for the first time practice capsize drills even if you can competently roll.
If you are going on a bigger river you may encounter some grabby stoppers that you may not be able to pull out of. If this happens, attempt to roll out of it by capsizing, counting to 7, and then rolling up. Being upside down should push you out of most stoppers. If you cannot get out of the stopper or roll, you will have to bail in which case it would be the same procedure as any other capsize. If the stopper is particularly grabby (this is only on higher level rivers) an instructor or senior paddler will inform you before hand and tell you about the necessary procedures. Only kayakers with years of experience will ever experience such stoppers and even then it is very rare.
Finally, if you are trapped underwater remain calm. This should not happen if you adhere to river level guides and don’t paddle when the water is too high. It is very rare for an overhang or hollow rock face to be present on a river and if it is, a more experienced paddler will tell you. If you do get stuck under a ledge, calmly track you hands on the roof surface and attempt to either run yourself along it to the end of the ledge or pull yourself out of it. You will not be able to preform the later method if it is a fast flowing river. If you get trapped by roots or wires, calmly attempt to untangle yourself. Nearby rocks could be used to help if the item is breakable. If not, I would recommend carrying a multipurpose river knife within your pfd/ba if you often go on river trips for freeing yourself and general use.
Staying Safe Is Top Priority
In conclusion, kayaking is dangerous but that shouldn’t put you off it. Remember to reed up on the necessary risks of any sport but don’t let it stop you from taking part.