Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Risks Compounded

This chapter contains a lot of the mistakes that are commonly found in the accident accounts in other chapters of this book as well as in articles that continue to appear in magazines like "Sea Kayaker." In this story,we have inexperienced paddlers, paddler not wearing a PFD, underdressed for water and air temperatures, failure to get a weather forecast, paddling with unfamiliar equipment, paddling in conditions beyond the skill levels of the paddlers, etc. What caught my attention in this story was the description of the difficulties that the two men had with self-rescue as related to the kayaks that they were using.

While Matt Broze does not specifically identify the manufacturer of the two single kayaks, I'm pretty sure that these were Pacific Water Sports Sea Otters. Pacific Water Sports was a store and a kayak company owned by Lee Moyer in Seattle back in the 1980's and 90's. The kayak was a little over 16-feet long and about 25" wide making it quite stable. The main problem with the two kayaks in the story was that the flotation or buoyancy in the boats was not reliable enough, especially in the bow. The Sea Otter had only one bulkhead behind the seat. The bow required a flotation bag to maintain its buoyancy. Since this group had been camping, the bow was being used for storage of camping gear that was stored in dry bags. Bob had one float bag in the bow, as well, but it was not tied in or secured to the kayak. When Bob and Robert capsized, the items in the bow that were providing flotation easily floated out of the cockpit. Some of the items were retrieved and replaced, others were blown away by the wind and lost. When the rear hatch on Bob's boat was accidentally dislodged during his attempt to re-enter the kayak, the boat quickly lost most of its buoyancy and Bob was forced to hang on to a large drybag as flotation since the kayak had only about 18" of the stern that remained above water.

Most sea kayaks today have bulkheads in both the bow and stern which addresses some of the problems that Bob and Robert had when they capsized and found themselves trying to clean up what we sometimes refer to as a "yard sale" (loose gear floating all over and blowing away). Unfortunately, I see many "recreational kayaks" that still do not have adequate flotation in the bow and in many cases have hatch covers that would easily get knocked off in a capsize. Despite the fact that both men were able to self-rescue and climb back on to the boats, the lack of buoyancy created major problems and might easily have led to fatalities had Robert not been so fit and if emergency responders had not been able to get to Bob as quickly as they did. It seems to me that many paddlers don't give much thought to the issues of flotation and buoyancy until after they find themselves in trouble with a very heavy, swamped boat full of water.

What means of flotation do you have in your kayak?
Is the amount of buoyancy adequate for someone of your size?
Have you ever tried swamping your kayak to see?
Have you ever tried paddling a swamped kayak?
How easily do your rubber hatch covers come off if you put your elbow in the middle and lean on them as you are re-entering your kayak from the water?
How secure are your bulkheads and do you back up your hatches with any additional flotation?
Do you feel that it's better to use flotation bags or bulkheads to provide buoyancy for your kayak?
Do you consider some kayaks to be inappropriate for use in certain conditions or is it OK to use any kayak anywhere as long as it floats?

What do you think?

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