Overcoming dangerous situations when you go for a paddle

So, we are all stoked on the fun of going for a paddle. Sometimes we are in a group, sometimes solo. We paddle far, fast and enjoy the freedom of our amazing craft, be it OC1, Surf-Ski or Kayak. That said, there is occasionally a time where a paddle goes awry and we have to deal with a bad situation. Equipment failure. Crashing in the surf or rocks. Getting hurt. Who knows....but I thought it would be good to address some of the situations I have found myself in here and there, and share what I have found that kept me and others safe. In no way am I an authority on all of this, and of course I invite everyone to contribute their knowledge so I can learn and be more safe too. Enjoy!

When something bad happens...(i.e. a huli, crash, malfunction)

  • Breathe. Assess the situation: body check. equipment check.
  • Get out of danger. - is there boat traffic, waves, rocks, a current. Find a point of reference and make sure you are not drifting into a dangerous area.
  • Re-assess the situation - core temp check if you are in the water. Adrenaline makes us forget this early on, then bammo, we start getting stiff, and breathing becomes labored.
  • Assess the environment - are there boats or other paddlers nearby that can assist? Beach-able areas? Is there equipment you brought that might be useful? Sometimes alerting a nearby boat to keep eyes on you is helpful until you give the ok. Better safe than sorry.
  • Create a plan for various scenarios of what can go wrong including worst case. What can sink? Is anything attached to it that can get taken down too? Including you.

Don't let a possible 'solution' put additional people, vessels at risk. What might seem like a good idea, having a second canoe come nearby, or used as support can quickly become a bigger problem should something go wrong. Next thing you know the additional working vessel is also at risk. If you are in an assisting role, be cognizant of your well-being in the current environment. Some vessels (canoes, surfskis) are very difficult to maneuver in close proximity (versus SUPs, Paddelboards and Kayaks which may maneuver a little easier). Sometimes better to have another swimmer in the water while someone watches your boat. Sometimes not. Again, assess the situation. And Know Your Limits. (i.e. If you can't swim, best not to jump in and help:).

Stay calm and in the present.

  • Don't worry about your poor board/kayak/canoe and what it will cost to repair it. You will have plenty of time to worry about that later.
  • Don't get angry about what caused the situation (another paddler, poor equipment, rogue wave). There will be plenty of time to Monday morning quarterback that too. What counts now is putting yourself in a better, safer situation with each and every action.

Situations that can come up when we paddle oc1, surf-ski, SUP, prone or a kayak:

  • broken rudder cable, rudder failure, rudder falling off.
  • cracked ama, cracked iako, cracked canoe.
  • canoe unrigs.
  • losing a paddle.
  • breaking a paddle.
  • fin on SUP falls off.
  • caught in fishing line, sea weed, floating debris.
  • you fall off and are unable to get back on craft.

Each of these has different responses we can take to deal with them. And there are countless other situations not listed that can, and may happen. Think about each one and how you might react in that situation. Ask another paddler how they would or have reacted. (Please read my article about items to bring on a paddle)

Just like ocean waves and river currents, every situation is dynamic and changing. Each solution will be different as well, and require you to think and adapt on the fly. The more calm we are, the better we can assess.

None of the above is meant to scare a person from paddling. Far from it! If we are prepared, we can enjoy paddling more. Just wanted to share things that have helped me be safe when the waters remind us who is really in charge. See you on the water!
What are some crazy things that have happened to you on a paddle? And what are some tips you have to overcome those situations? Please share your story in the comments below.

Cali Paddler Team Writer Clarke Graves

Team Writer Clarke Graves - If there is water, he will paddle it (regardless of craft). Clarke is a surfer turned paddler who grew up in San Diego but has traveled every corner of California enjoying its beauty and appeal. He has had the privilege of racing SUP, OC6, OC2, OC1, Prone and can't wait to hop into a dragon boat and surf-ski for an extended length of time.

One of Clarke's goals is to paddle as much shoreline in California as he can, with as many paddling friends who are willing to join him. If you have an idea for Clarke to write about or any questions, send it our way and we will pass it along!

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  • Cindy - July 13, 2017

    Recommendation: Before departing the beach on a foreign kayak or other vessel, check for tethering ropes and remove them. Experience (lived to tell): A friend and I had just shoved off the beach on a double kayak (owned by a friend), me on the front seat. Just as we thought we were past the breakers, an approx. 8’ rogue wave appeared outside. We tried to paddle fast enough to beat it before it broke….but it was a lost cause. As the kayak rode up the face, I made the split-second decision to bail out in the stall, tossing my paddle to the left as I dove to the right, intending to exit the back of the wave. NO big deal, right? Wrong: Neither of us had noticed a tethering rope that was tied from bow to stern….and didn’t notice it until after we were back on the beach. My right leg went right between the kayak and the rope – making me the drag on the kayak – and took me for a washing machine ride I’ll never forget, resulting in a serious dent in my thigh, along with a nasty rope burn. After being dragged for several tumbles with this tourniquet on my leg, although remaining as calm as possible in this confusion, my time without needing to take a breath was about to run out; I was certain to drown. My head began to wrap around that reality, when suddenly, the rope broke. Fortunately, I was wearing a life vest and popped right to the surface. Am thankful every day for being here to share that story, and for the water sense to at least remain calm during that harrowing experience.

  • Dana Murray - December 16, 2015

    You are right on Clark. When planning a trip to Catalina on a kayak i researched to find out what were the greatest dangers. The number one killer of people in kayaks is hypothermia. When taking to a lot of other people their number 1 fear is seems to be sharks. I couldn’t find anyone that was killed by a shark on a kayak but i was able to find some one that was killed by a swan on a kayak. It sounds like you have a good handle on the real dangers in the water.

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