Friday, June 11, 2010

Fallback Plans

As we delve into rescues it is important to understand the concept of a fall back plan. It is the simple concept of 'if this doesn't work, I will do this', which is a significantly more successful plan than 'if this doesn't work, what will I do?'

For example, for some reason you end up unexpectedly upside down in your kayak. Your first instinct should be to roll. The reasons it should be your first are as follows:

It's the fastest - The quickest method that gets you back into your kayak and paddling is the preferred method, because it limits the amount of time you are in a position of vulnerability. There are very few positions in life as vulnerable as upside down in a kayak. The sooner we get out of that position, the better.

It keeps you connected to your kayak - In a bad situation there is nothing worse than getting separated from your kayak or your paddle or both. That makes a bad situation worse.

So, the roll is our first choice. But what if it doesn't work? How about the rodeo, or scramble re-entry? This is a method where you climb onto the back deck of your kayak and scramble forward until you can get your bottom in the seat. This is good because:

It is relatively quick. It limits the amount of time you are in the water.

But it's bad because it isn't that easy to do. I have good balance, and I don't think I have ever successfully scrambled into the cockpit. I generally lose it transitioning into the cockpit because I have to take my feet out of the water - where they are stabilizing the kayak - and put them in the cockpit. Though I haven't tried one in my current kayak.

So, what if it doesn't work?

I like the paddle float reentry. While it does require a piece of gear, and it would be nice to be able to get back in without needing anything, It also is not the fastest method, but it is a very stable, reliable way to get in the cockpit of your kayak.

So I have a series of fall back plans, Roll, rodeo, paddle float. And I have used this progression. Paddling two winters ago, before I got my drysuit, I was alone on a lake working on skills. It was very quiet. The weather was overcast, and cold, 40ยบ. The water was flat and about the same temperature. There was literally not another soul on the lake. I decided to practice some low brace turns, and before I knew it I was upside down in very cold water. Not to worry, I set up my roll, and went nowhere. I set up an extended sweep roll, and still went nowhere. Finally I wet exited my boat. The water, as I mentioned was very cold. My drytop and pants trapped some water inside, so once the initial shock was over, I started to warm up. But my brain said 'get out of this water, it is too cold' and I so I tried a rodeo reentry. I got about three quarters of the way into the cockpit and lost my balance, and was back in the water. I slowed myself down, realized I had plenty of time, reached for the paddle float on the bow of my kayak, and started the process of the slow, but tried and true paddle float reentry. I was back in my boat and paddling within about 2 minutes.

Now the part of this that most people don't realize is that normally when you need to call on self rescue, it will be unexpected, and in lousy conditions. Unless, like me, you were trying something that can roll your boat, most people end up in the water, in bad weather when water is rough and they are tired. If you are tired you are exponentially more likely to end up in a bad situation. Fatigue effects balance, judgement and skills. So why do we practice our self rescues on beautiful days? Well, because it's safe. But really we should learn our rescues when the weather is good, but then when opportunity presents itself we should practice these skills in less than ideal conditions. When there is a bit of a wave, or a bit of wind, that is a good time to practice your fall backs. Provided you leave a big enough safety margin. Someone paddling with you to help you out if you get in trouble. Always a safety margin, but always pushing your limits. That is how we grow as paddlers.

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