Friday, February 25, 2011

Does Technology Make Kayaking Safer?

James Castrission and Justin Jones took the following items on their trip across the Tasman Sea:
  • 2 EPIRB's
  • 2 satellite phones
  • 1 laptop
  • 1 VHF radio
  • 2 handheld GPS units
  • 1 Daestra TracPlus locater beacon
  • 1 electric water desalinator
  • solar panels to recharge and power the above
Andrew McAuley took the following items on his trip across the Tasman:
  • 1 EPIRB
  • 2 satellite phones
  • 3 handheld GPS units
  • 1 Fastwave GPS tracking beacon
  • 1 VHF radio
  • solar panels to recharge and power the above
Twenty years ago, when I started kayaking, GPS was a military technology that cost thousands of dollars, assuming you could find a unit in the first place. Cell/satellite phones were likewise very rare and were bulky and heavy. There were no PLB's. EPIRB's were something that were carried on larger sea-going vessels. VHF radios were available, but you had to get a license to use one. Mostly, kayakers had to depend on their knowledge, skills, and navigation ability with a paper map and compass. If anything went wrong on a trip, you were most likely going to have to handle it on your own. On the positive side, we didn't have to depend much on electronic or battery-powered technology that has a tendency to fail in a marine environment, and focused instead on those skills that would hopefully keep us out of trouble in the first place.

Here's the $64,000 question: Is kayaking safer now with all the available tracking, navigation, and communication technologies? Or do paddlers rely too heavily on these items and put themselves into more risky situations figuring that the technology will save them when the you-know-what hits the fan?


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