Make sure you're prepared before you set
"Rules are for the obedience of fools and the guidance of wise
men."— David Ogelvie
You've stopped for a snack on a trip down the coast. You're a
confident paddler and you're on your own. The wind is offshore and
has raised a moderate sea. You contemplate the wisdom of electing
not to take a VHF radio or flares, but then discard the thought
just as quickly. Shore is only a half hour paddle away, you still
feel strong and you have expert self-rescue skills, what could
possibly necessitate flares and rescue? Something catches your
attention out of the corner of your eye. It is your paddle! It has
slid from the deck unnoticed onto the windward side of the boat and
your kayak is rapidly being blown away from it. Your first instinct
is to lift your rudder and hand paddle like hell to try to close
the gap. But your efforts are in vain; the gap continues to grow.
The paddle is gone.
This kayaker is now in deep trouble, relying on the favor of the
gods to avoid being another statistic. There is a poor chance that
a passing runabout will notice his plight—a slimmer chance
that he will be found alive by a search team when it becomes
apparent that he is overdue.
Good sea kayakers don't leave themselves open to such potential.
It appears that "covering the bases" is one of those common sense
practices that's not so common. In fact, the Kiwi Association of
Sea Kayakers (KASK) is considering offering a certificate of
competence for recreational kayakers.
One of the fundamentals of adventures, big and small, is that
they are undertaken responsibly. Being prepared, being self-reliant
and having sound risk management skills are important attributes to
Risk management is neither a paper trail, nor a complex process
based on bureaucratic jargon. Rather it is a mental exercise and
state of awareness. It is primarily concerned with identifying
things that could go wrong, figuring out how nasty the consequences
could be and doing something to prevent them.
Identifying hazards: A good imagination and use of the "What
If?" model can be invaluable to being well prepared for any
eventuality. This involves thinking through the potential problems
that could occur on a trip and ensuring you can deal with them.
Let's take the incident above. The "what if?" is losing your
paddle, and with it your propulsion, steering, and means of
Once the risks are known, and the consequences weighed, you can
either accept them or do something about them (manage them).
Managing the risk above consists of either reducing it, avoiding it
or planning for it. Avoiding the risk is easy. Don't go paddling,
or don't go paddling on windy days. We can reduce the risk several
ways by how we operate. By stowing the paddle under a bungy during
breaks rather than leaving it idle on the spray deck, putting it on
the downwind side of the boat, or by having a tether from paddle to
boat. But what if you were to have it blown from your hands by a
squall, or the shaft was to break in a particularly violent brace?
Well, we could plan for the loss by carrying a spare split paddle,
accessible from the cockpit, or paddling with others who have a
In this way, by running various possible, if somewhat improbable
scenarios through your head, you can feel assured that you have
covered the potential problems that could beset you on your trip.
Remember it is the improbable that will catch you, the freak
squall, the faulty equipment, the one in a thousand wave that
catches you with your guard down.
What would you do if you suddenly found yourself in the water
next to your boat, paddle busted? A temporary nuisance if you are
paddling with others, or a grave situation when on your own in a
lumpy sea. This raises an important point. Each trip is comprised
of a unique set of circumstances, as ever changing as energy levels
and weather whims; an interaction of people, environment and
equipment. Each trip has its own inherent risks and hazards that
need to be identified and dealt with.