Monday, August 9, 2010

Float Plan

Now that you have paddling skills and basic navigation skills, it's time to implement a float plan, and it doesn't need to be complicated. It can be as simple as this:

My weekly paddle is on a lake. A very controlled environment. If I am going alone I tell someone where I am going, and when I will be back. I check the weather. I check myself - am I feeling okay? does anything hurt? I check my kayak. I check my gear, a paddle float, and bilge pump are on the deck where they belong. I have a PFD on. Sunscreen, hat, water, whistle. The actual plan can be simple too. I am going to paddle this coast for one hour, cross to the other side, and paddle back. What are the conditions of the water - the sea state?

Plan - Paddler - Weather- Water - Gear

It's five simple pieces of information. But the plan doesn't end once you hit the water. Once on the water you have to be constantly evaluating what is happening around you. Is the weather changing, is the sea state changing. Is my state changing? If one of those pieces is changing for the worse my next question is this: Does it warrant getting off the water? Does this have the potential to be dangerous? If the answer is 'maybe', then I monitor the situation to see how it is developing. If it is 'yes', then the most important question is, where can I get off the water? This should be in the back of your head whenever you are paddling.

There is a great expression, I would rather be on the land wishing I was on the water, then on the water wishing I was on the land.

Most people don't realize that where water meets land isn't always a gently sloping sand beach. You need correct conditions and interplay between land and sea to be able to get off the water and to safety. As you are paddling you should always be looking and thinking about where you can get off the water. As you pass a good beach note the time. If a condition should change, maybe someone in your group is getting sea sick, it's two o'clock, and at one forty eight you passed a good take out. You now know how far behind you in minutes there is a beach that can be used as a point of safety.

A simple plan is a good thing to have, and those factors should always be in the back of your head. But for multiday trips your float plan is going to be more complicated.

Start with a proposed route on a chart. Plotting it in pencil, and then figuring out the distance and the compass headings - as seen in a previous post. I may not follow the compass heading exactly, but it is a good reference to have. I also need to know where the days paddle plans for me to get off the water. It may be a harbor, or a known point that is a good take out. But I am not getting on the water unless I have a pretty good idea where I can get off. I may rely on 'local knowledge' or 'local beta'. A paddler I spoke with before the trip told me there was a good beach at a certain point. He had been there himself, he was a reliable source. Sometimes it may not be that easy. But as I paddle the route I am always looking for back ups. Where can I get off the water?

After a route has been plotted, I look at weather and sea state. I will listen to the VHF weather when I am making my plan, before I go to sleep, and when I wake up in the morning. If there is one thing weather does well, it is change. I like the joke that meteorologist is English for liar! I am also looking at tides, and making sure that if I need to be at a certain point because of the tide or tidal influences, I will work that into the plan. For instance, I need to be at the junction of these two waterways at slack tide, because if I am there when the tide is still flooding the current will be too strong.

Next I look at gear. Am I dressed for the conditions? Thinking about both weather, air temperature, water temperature, rain and sun? Is my kayak in good working order? Does my VHF have batteries and is it handy? Spare paddle on the back deck? If my plan doesn't call for a break on land, do I have food that is easy to get to, and convenient to eat while paddling?

And finally 'paddler'. This can be me, or an entire group. How is everyone feeling? Sick? Tired? Sore shoulder? Mental State? Maybe someone in the group is just not ready for day 22 on the water, and the group needs a rest day to relax, and heal up. But if everyone is ready, and everything else is good, it's time to paddle.

If I am in a large group, I will have a talk with the group the night before. Going over the float plan, so everyone is on the same page. We can discuss schedules - moving boats at 6, on the water at 7 so we can catch the ebbing tide - Breaks every two hours for ten minutes, or whatever the group decides or likes. In a group communication is key.

But then once on the water, and the plan is becoming action, You must always be watching what is happening around you. Are there changes in any of the factors we have made plans for. Is the weather changing? Is a bow hatch leaking? Is the sea state changing?

And as important as plans are, equally important is flexibility. Maybe you get half way to your destination, there is a weather change and the smartest call is to turn around. Talk to your group as you are paddling to make sure everyone is doing well.

It seems like a lot to do, but most of it happens automatically. With practice, all of it will happen automatically.

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