What to do when you lose your buddy on a DW

1 week 12 hours ago #32844 by manta
Hi

Yesterday my buddy and I went for a DW. Before we set off we made sure we chatted about what to do in almost every situation except if we lost sight of each other.

As luck would have it when we both turned to go DW I caught a nice run which lasted about 200m. When I fell off the back eventually my buddy was nowhere to be seen. Swell was big and although I tried going back upwind to look for him it did not happen.

Eventually I decided to continue to the halfway point as we would both go past the same lighthouse. We did see each other there again. It was a tense few minutes though.

What happened was as we went I caught a run and he fell in. It took him a few times to remount.

So how do I avoid this in future? What else could I have done? If he could not get back in it might have been bad.

M

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1 week 8 hours ago #32845 by sski
TC Surfski's latest podcast is awesome (Peak Paddle Performance podcast)-
Nick interviews Rob Mousley (this site's founder) who discusses all topics related to safety.
FWIW, he made a good point that often you CAN'T keep track of each other. Check out the podcast-it's great! I'm sure he will comment also.

We have cell phones which may sometimes work to contact each other (there is service where we paddle often). Another possible option is a 'locate' or coordinate app if you share each other's locations. It may not be super accurate but could let you know that your pal has finished the run vs is still near the start and likely in trouble.

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1 week 4 hours ago #32846 by zachhandler
This is something I think a lot about as I had a paddling partner die on a downwinder in part because we made a decision to break one large group into two smaller groups.

I think that you can keep track of each other and still enjoy chasing runs if you really want to. When people say they can't do this, it simply means that they don't want to stay together strongly enough to let good runs go by or sacrifice a chance at a PR. If you are trying to get a PR on a downwind run, then don't even pretend that you care about staying together as a group, because that is clearly not your priority that day.

My friends and I have been maintaining visual contact on downwind runs for the past 9 years. When we paddle I am often ahead. I look back about once a minute to see where each of my friends are. I keep track of where they are in my mind. If in my quick once-per-minute glance back I do not immediately see them, I stop paddling and face upwind until I see them. If I still do not see them I paddle in the direction where I think they last were. Often they simply came off the ski and are remounting. If I still do not see them, then I use the whistle and VHF radio. When my friends are in the lead it is they who are checking back constantly.

Sometimes I really want to go hard for a bit and just focus on my performance. What I do then is let my friends know that I am going to go hard for one mile. As soon as I am done with my interval I turn the boat around, and if they are a ways back then I paddle upwind and join them. The only time I ever paddle a downwind run all-out start to finish is in a race, and that is part of what makes racing so special for me.

I still really like downwind paddling. I feel safer doing it this way. My wife is confident that I am safe on the water.

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6 days 17 hours ago #32850 by robin.mousley

I think that you can keep track of each other and still enjoy chasing runs if you really want to. When people say they can't do this, it simply means that they don't want to stay together strongly enough to let good runs go by or sacrifice a chance at a PR


I agree!

The points that I made in the podcast (or tried to make!) were these:
  • In my experience, in big conditions (30kt+) it's very easy to lose sight of your buddy, especially if one of you goes ahead. When we agree to stick together we try to stay parallel to one another - much easier to look to one side rather than trying to crane your neck to look behind you!
  • In really big conditions, it's EXTREMELY difficult to turn around and go back upwind and the best you can do is stop, stick your legs out and watch as your buddy remounts. But... being stopped in big conditions is extremely unpleasant too; it just takes one big breaking wave, and you're in the water too.
  • In more moderate conditions (which can be just as dangerous for an inexperienced paddler), it's totally different and you can easily stay together and be in a position to turn around, paddle next to a swimmer and help them remount by rafting, etc.

If I still do not see them, then I use the whistle and VHF radio.


In extreme conditions, the only time I'd be able to use a radio or phone would be if I was swimming!
In the conditions I'm envisaging, it's not practical for paddlers to talk to each other on the water. Not for me at any rate.

I'm not all saying that zachhandler is wrong - whatever works for you is great - but what I am saying is that you can't rely 100% on your buddy in extreme conditions and you must have thought through what you're going to do if you do get separated (which in my view is quite likely). Each person should be equipped and prepared to self-rescue (e.g. relying on one person in a group to carry a radio or phone is not good practise). If you do end up being helped by your buddy (and I got out of a nasty situation involving a completely broken and separated footplate because my buddy was behind me and was able to come alongside to tie knots in my rudder cables) this is a bonus.

What you can rely on though is that your buddy knows that you're on the water and your ETA. This situational awareness and an understanding of when and who to call for help is vital.

So while I think the buddy system is good practise, especially when you're taking less experienced paddlers downwind, I think that the bigger the conditions, the less likely you'll be able to help or be helped by someone else and you must be prepared to act as if you're on your own.

The guys I paddle with all use the SafeTRX tracking app these days, which makes a massive difference in terms of safety.

(For myself, I use:
  • Belt leash to the boat
  • Paddle leash - chiefly in order to be able to use both hands to do something else, like tie a knot on someone else's boat
  • Whistle
  • Mobile in pouch with SafeTRX app running
  • Handheld waterproof VHF
  • Pack of three pencil flares

Add to that:
  • Pre-paddle briefing
  • Knowledge of the weather forecast
  • Knowledge of the route and potential abort locations
  • Assessment of the conditions and one's own fitness and capability (without reference to anyone else; if you have to ask someone else whether the conditions are ok, you shouldn't be on the water.)

But in spite of all this, we do still occasionally stuff it up. It's what you do then that counts.)

If conditions are really ridiculous (which means a PB is out of the question anyway), we may agree to stick together, in which case we'll paddle 50-100m apart and refrain from taking off downwind!

PB conditions are usually when the wind is extremely strong and the waves are clean - which means a) we're less likely to get into trouble anyway and b) the wind strength mitigates against being able to help someone else by turning around. In that case we're aware of when we're going to finish and if someone is overdue, we would be able to track them anyway.

And also... our decisions to stick together or not also depend on the route. The Miller's Run is relatively safe because the wind is onshore. On the Atlantic side of the Cape Peninsula, we're much more likely to stay together - cold water and offshore winds make these routes far more dangerous.

So the circumstances under which you paddle change the equation quite radically too.

Anyway - sorry, my verbosity got the better of me again. Just wanted to make the point that especially in extreme (aka awesome) conditions, the buddy system is just part of your arsenal of safe paddling practises and you need to be aware of the limitations!

Rob

Currently Fenn Swordfish S, Epic V10 Double.
Previously: Think Evo II, Carbonology Zest, Fenn Swordfish, Epic V10, Fenn Elite, Red7 Surf70 Pro, Epic V10 Sport, Genius Blu, Kayak Centre Zeplin, Fenn Mako6, Custom Kayaks ICON, Brian's Kayaks Molokai, Brian's Kayaks Wedge and several others!

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6 days 17 hours ago #32852 by robin.mousley

So how do I avoid this in future? What else could I have done? If he could not get back in it might have been bad.


And to address the question at the start of the thread(!)

I think you did exactly the right thing in stopping at a landmark where your buddy would also pass.

What else could you have done? It depends so much on the conditions. If wind and waves were massive, it might be dangerous for you to stop. Did he have a tracker? How far to the finish? How far offshore?

I'd say you need to talk this through with your buddy, accepting that no matter what you agree, there's always the possibility of becoming separated. You can then agree what steps you'd take on the water.

Agree with each other that you'll both take phones, radio, flares, whatever it is. You need a means of communication - but it's communication with people on shore, not necessarily with each other. It's often (mostly) impractical to be sitting on a ski with one hand holding a radio or phone; you'll most likely put yourself in the water!

But... great discussion; thanks for bringing it up.

Rob

Currently Fenn Swordfish S, Epic V10 Double.
Previously: Think Evo II, Carbonology Zest, Fenn Swordfish, Epic V10, Fenn Elite, Red7 Surf70 Pro, Epic V10 Sport, Genius Blu, Kayak Centre Zeplin, Fenn Mako6, Custom Kayaks ICON, Brian's Kayaks Molokai, Brian's Kayaks Wedge and several others!

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6 days 11 hours ago #32855 by manta
Thanks for all the information.

It has given me food for thought and given me more ideas for the arsenal of tools one needs to stave off potential disaster.

DW for me is mostly to enjoy the experience with others as opposed to a mad dash to get my best time. I am still a novice and quite slow so that may change if I am ever fast enough to feel like I am challenging anyone or anything else.

It is addictive though and there is a constant drive to want to improve. I think the trick is to couple that with some proper safety and make sure every trip out is a safe and enjoyable one.

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6 days 11 hours ago #32856 by robin.mousley

DW for me is mostly to enjoy the experience with others as opposed to a mad dash to get my best time


For me it depends on the conditions and where I am; if the wind is howling and it's lining up on a Miller's Run (which I've done 500+ times), then I'm totally up for a PB. But, and it's a big but, everyone I'm paddling with needs to be on board with that and there's been many a time that the PB has gone out the window in favour of staying back with someone who was comfortable enough in the conditions, but still preferred to have company.

If I'm on a stretch of coast that I don't know, then I have absolutely no problem asking that we stay together.

It is addictive though and there is a constant drive to want to improve


It's an addiction!

I think the trick is to couple that with some proper safety and make sure every trip out is a safe and enjoyable one.


And that we can all agree on!

Happy paddling!

Rob

Currently Fenn Swordfish S, Epic V10 Double.
Previously: Think Evo II, Carbonology Zest, Fenn Swordfish, Epic V10, Fenn Elite, Red7 Surf70 Pro, Epic V10 Sport, Genius Blu, Kayak Centre Zeplin, Fenn Mako6, Custom Kayaks ICON, Brian's Kayaks Molokai, Brian's Kayaks Wedge and several others!

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4 days 10 hours ago #32860 by SpaceSputnik
Just in addition to what has been said. We are finding that whistles are next to useless even in calm conditions. If someone gets ahead by half a mile whistling does nothing but damage your hearing. We've been playing around with an idea of carrying small air horns instead. I am sure flares are great but our field of vision is limited and if you are not looking....
Radio and phones are not that easy to use on water although we still carry them.
I am talking about relatively calm conditions, I imagine that it gets a lot worse for most of you guys playing in big stuff.

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4 days 9 hours ago #32861 by robin.mousley

We are finding that whistles are next to useless even in calm conditions


Yep, there are no silver bullets, there's nothing that works 100% of the time in all conditions. Having said that, I have had two experiences where a whistle helped:
  • Years ago, I injured myself in a race and was able to attract the attention of the rescue boat using the whistle
  • During a night search, the guy in the water used his whistle, which was heard by the rescuers; they still didn't find him - but they did hear the whistle even above the noise of their engine

So, while understanding that it's not an incredibly effective means of communication, given that it weighs nothing and takes virtually no space, I'll still carry my whistle and recommend that everyone attaches one to their PFDs! It's definitely better than nothing!

Rob

Currently Fenn Swordfish S, Epic V10 Double.
Previously: Think Evo II, Carbonology Zest, Fenn Swordfish, Epic V10, Fenn Elite, Red7 Surf70 Pro, Epic V10 Sport, Genius Blu, Kayak Centre Zeplin, Fenn Mako6, Custom Kayaks ICON, Brian's Kayaks Molokai, Brian's Kayaks Wedge and several others!

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4 days 9 hours ago #32862 by SpaceSputnik
Certainly, just attach and forget about it. As long as you know how limited it is.

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4 days 8 hours ago #32863 by zachhandler
Whistle is very effective at getting the attention of those immediately around you. For example if you want the group to stop because someone is having a mechanical or physical problem or if you have noticed that one of the group members is missing.

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4 days 8 hours ago #32864 by SpaceSputnik

zachhandler wrote: Whistle is very effective at getting the attention of those immediately around you. For example if you want the group to stop because someone is having a mechanical or physical problem or if you have noticed that one of the group members is missing.


Excellent point.

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1 day 4 hours ago #32872 by wesley
What I tell novice paddlers and intermediate paddlers that i give lessons to is that you are solely responsible for you own safety. Period. So take the necessary safety precautions and heed the lesson learned of experienced paddlers. Many paddlers make the mistake thinking the group will save them or the experienced paddlers will. When in reality as Zach and Rob pointed out the only thing someone in the group can do is call the coast guard, press the distress button, etc, when we reach shore in big conditions.

I also let them know that if they are going out with a new member that they do not know, they need to know what their skill level is BEFORE they go out so they can make better decisions or judgement calls. Most novice to intermediate paddlers over state their skill level and then get in to trouble very quickly. I also tell paddlers that at anytime they feel uncomfortable, they need to speak up and we will turn around or head to more sheltered waters. I use myself as an example, and their have been many times I have said to my training partners, I am not doing that course today or I am going back. As often the case my RISK tolerance is lower than theirs and they know that about me.

With paddlers not as fast, our group does circle backs every half mile to mile so the group stays together and the slower paddlers still feel like it is a group paddle and feel welcome to join us again.

Wesley Echols
Former Stellar Kayaks and Surfskis, Performance Director, USA ,
SurfskiRacing.com, #1 in Surfski Reviews.

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1 day 4 hours ago #32873 by Fath2o
Interesting discussion! For a lot of the reasons mentioned already is why I prefer to paddle alone in risky and questionable conditions. I have had to repeatedly turn around to stay with a group or had a faster paddler stay with me. I don't think that is what most of us are out there for. If you get a series of good runs, chances are, you won't be able to find your mates. At least that has been my experience. I am selfish and want to have an uninterrupted paddle! Not be worrying about other paddlers the whole time. If someone gets in trouble in rough conditions, it just seems like your rescue options are limited. I have been in conditions where coming in short of your chosen destination will very likely end with the destruction of your boat and getting injured or drowning in the surf.

BE PREPARED!

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9 hours 9 minutes ago #32881 by SpaceSputnik
There is certainly something to what Faith2o said.
I am getting a feeling that being in a mismatched group can be more dangerous than alone. Example: a stronger paddler in a faster boat inches ahead. Soon enough they are far away to make communication very difficult. You would rather change the course but you end up chasing your buddy just to tell them that getting more and more tired following the path they are choosing at a pace that is too much for you. If you turn away to follow a path that is safer for you they will at some point realize they lost you and they may end up searching for you where they didn't intend to be.

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8 hours 49 minutes ago #32882 by manta

I am getting a feeling that being in a mismatched group can be more dangerous than alone. Example: a stronger paddler in a faster boat inches ahead. Soon enough they are far away to make communication very difficult.


This is something I can relate to. On my first DW I went with a group. I was very clear with everyone that I was a novice but that means different things to different people. They left me for dead with their ability to get onto the runs and within a couple of minutes they were very far ahead. I semi panicked to try and catch up which led to a fall. This was followed by another 4 falls. Obviously I was so far behind there was no hope. In the end I had to paddle the course on my own. It was not a very pleasant first DW.

Since then I have been out a few more times and although I have improved a great deal. I still consider myself a novice. At least now I have some posted times for our usual DW run. When meeting up with a group I try and find one or two people that have a similar time for the run to me. Not easy as I am still very slow compared to everyone else. Although I no longer rely on other people to help me at least I feel more comfortable that should something happen and I am unable to call for help myself for whatever reason someone will be able to assist me.

The take home message for me is, novice, beginner, intermediate all mean different things to different people and we need to have a common understanding before setting out. That is why I use my time as a guide. When I tell them my average time everyone knows I am a novice and can plan accordingly. If there are no other paddlers my speed I simply don't go. The Millers run is a hotly contested run and the guys around here are all experts so more often than not I don't have anyone to paddle with.

This thread is very enlightening with lots of good advice from the more seasoned paddlers.

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