Here in North America we are now entering our winter season. The waters are colder and the wind chill factor is our nemesis. This is a perfect time to be looking for ways to be more efficient in your capsize recovery and rescue skills. Exposure to the elements is the number one cause of death in sea kayaking, therefore, minimizing the exposure time for the kayaker in the water is essential if they are not dressed properly for immersion.
As a kayaker and an instructor I am always looking for more efficient ways of performing already known skills. As I train other kayakers, guides and instructors I tell them to ask why skills are done in the particular way they are being taught. I get very upset when I hear "that is the way I learned it" as a rationale for teaching a skill in a particular manner. While one can learn from aping another I don't believe a thinking kayaker is being developed. I am not suggesting the method being taught is wrong or inefficient but if the rationales are not known then adjusting to different situations and equipment may be difficult.
Since reducing immersion time is a primary goal here are some questions we can examine that will help us achieve our goal. How can you cut time off your skills? Where is time traditionally lost during recoveries? Should you be using different equipment(aside from clothing) for different conditions or seasons?
How can you cut time off of your skills?
The first and obvious recommendation is practicing your skills. I ask my students to practice their capsize recoveries for the next 25 times they go out paddling. Not only will their speed increase they will also find out if their clothing is appropriate for the conditions they are paddling in.
Over the years I have gathered a number of shortcuts to help expedite recovery techniques. I call these helpful hints "Quicktips." Please visit the "Quicktips" page for variations and techniques that could make you more efficient.
Where is time traditionally lost during recoveries?
If it is an assisted recovery the time it takes the assister to get to you and your kayak. This is where good maneuvering skills are needed.
Where to paddle to on the capsized kayak can make a difference. I train my students to go the the bow first. Once you get a hold of the kayak then getting around the kayak is simple if you use both kayaks to your advantage (see "Walking a kayak".) The reason I suggest the bow is due to the prevalence of rear bulkheads. If you do a bow lift (on an overturned kayak) the majority of water will drain out of the cockpit if the rear bulkhead is there. Lift the stern of a kayak for draining purposes necessitates doing a TX drain which prolongs the swimmers time in the water. Another reason for avoiding the stern for draining purposes is due to rudders. A rudder can be a mini guillotine in rough conditions.
Another time waster in assisted recoveries is trying to get all of the water drained out of the cockpit. If some residual water is left in the cockpit it will not affect the stability. Your concern is the stability of the kayak. Use the knuckle test to see. Put your finger into the water in the cockpit with the fingertip touching the bottom of the kayak. If the water is below the first knuckle it will usually not affect your stability. That kind of water I usually consider sponge water.
In solo recoveries some time is wasted in looking for and trying to grab equipment. I keep my recovery equipment stored the same way so I can get right to it. I make it a point to wet exit from the cockpit on the same side that I store my equipment so it is next to me when I am in the water. It is also stored in such a way that it deploys quickly from the bungee cords.
Should you be using different equipment(aside from clothing) for different conditions or seasons?
If you are concerned about immersion time then using an inflatable paddle float will take longer than using a foam float. I also heard of an incident where the air temperature was so cold that the paddler could not make an adequate seal around the inflation valve with his lips so the inflation time was even longer. Foam paddle floats seem to be more prevalent in colder environments and winter paddling conditions.
It is obvious that paddling attire should change for the environment. However, can you perform your recoveries when you are dressed for very cold conditions? Many of us practice when it is warmer. Your practice sessions should be done during all seasons with the clothing appropriate for the conditions. In case a practice session gets difficult make sure you have a partner near by when practicing. Cold or frozen hands makes recoveries very difficult if not impossible.
These are just a few thoughts and suggestions for your consideration. I am sure there are many other ideas for increasing your efficiency. I challenge you to ask yourself "why do I perform my skills in this manner?" Also, can you find new ways to improve your efficiency?
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