Only paddle where you can swim to shore - discuss

4 days 3 hours ago - 4 days 2 hours ago #33784 by robin.mousley
In his interview with SA Surfski.com , South African elite paddler Matt Bouman said that paddlers should never go so far out to sea that they can't swim to shore.

In a comment on the surfski.info Facebook page on a recent story about a rescue in Scotland , surfski coach Boyan Zlatarev said:

It’s good to have a safety gear to fall back onto but the questions that needed to be asked were:

1. Can I swim to safety onshore on my own (including fitness abilities plus cold exposure)?
...
If the answer to any of those questions is NO then I simply don’t go and there is no communication device that should change my decision


I have enormous respect for both these paddlers, but both of them live and paddle in places where there is warm water and straight coastlines.

Here in Cape Town we have cold water on one side of the Cape Peninsula (15-20C) and (what we think is) very cold water on the other side (9-15C).  Much of the coastline is rocky and our downwind routes go across indentations in the coastline or bays where we end up 2-4km offshore.  Combine all that with a 30kt wind and big breaking waves and not many paddlers are going to be confident about swimming to shore if they lose their ski.

In fact, if we applied a "no swim, no paddle" rule here, 99% of paddlers shouldn't be doing downwind runs in Cape Town at all.

Which is why I place so much importance on safety equipment that can be used either to self-rescue, self-rescue with help from other paddlers, or to call for help from our coastguard/RNLI equivalent, the NSRI.  I think it's perfectly acceptable to take the risk of paddling out of swimming range of the shore - provided you've mitigated that risk by being fit, competent and using appropriate equipment.

What do other people think?

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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3 days 20 hours ago - 1 day 23 hours ago #33789 by Bill L
I tend to agree with Robin (with all due respect to the others who have much experience/skill).  While it is good if you are in a situation where you could swim to shore, I don’t think it is realistic in a lot of cases.  Cold is a big factor since even in cool water your energy can be sapped by the temperature, combined with waves and wind slapping you around.  Also, if you have sustained an injury, swimming may not even be an option.

A number of years ago I almost had a ski blow away from me (stretched the leash to its max and would have tumbled away if the leash had broken).  I was in water that was a mile or so from a rocky point, in 25-30 knot winds and corresponding seas.  The distance I could have swam; but landing on a rocky coast with 10 foot crashing waves?  It would have hurt to say the least.   Still, had I lost the ski, I likely would have tried the swim and landing.

Having read Boyan Zlatarev’s FB post, I do however agree with his implication that some people head out unprepared because they know they can call for help.  This is also a recurring problem when some head out into remote backcountry mountainous areas; people have been known to use their PLBs when they got tired or hungry??!!!  He is right in that everyone should realize that a rescue is NECESSARILY going to put others’ lives in danger, and consequently should be a last resort.

I carry everything on my ski that is small and unobtrusive enough to not get in the way (VHF, PLB, leashes, whistle, steering bungee).   I think it is acting a bit arrogant to NOT carry anything (e.g., “I don’t need this seatbelt, I’ve never had a car accident”).

If I ever activate my comm devices, it will be precisely because I think I will likely die if I do not.  I have trained extensively for the conditions I will go out in and know what I can handle and when it becomes challenging.  But, how many of us have NEVER had conditions change in a big way, from what was predicted?  As we all know, predicting weather is incredibly scientific in this age, but there is always at least one roll of the dice involved in it on any given day.

My opinion: Those who are too green at this sport don’t realize that bad stuff can happen to them.  Those who are too bold won’t admit that bad stuff can happen to them.  And those who are wise realize that any of it can happen to them, and take the minimum steps to account for those happenstances.

I maintain that not getting separated from your ski and having a reliable communication device (or devices) is the best defense.   

Good topic; I am interested to hear others opinions.  

Bill

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3 days 19 hours ago #33790 by robin.mousley

I do however agree with his implication that some people head out unprepared because they know they can call for help.

I think his comments as applied to the folks concerned are out of place.  They were both experienced, had done that route many times and, clearly, had appropriate gear when it became necessary to call for help.  And it wasn't as if they didn't try to self-rescue...  To remount successfully 8 or 9 times in those conditions is no mean feat.  So enough of the specifics of that case.

On the notion of going out only because you're relying on being able to call for help - I agree.  I've asked myself this question in the past, when going on a Miller's Run on really big days.  My answer is no, I'm going out because I'm fit, I'm very experienced on this route in particular (done some 500 of them over the years), I know my skill level, I know my ski, I'm confident and practised at remounting.  

But...  shit happens.  Paddles break.  Rudder cables break.  Skis even break - a couple of years back a paddler on a Miller's Run nose-dived on a massive wave and the pressure popped the seams on the boat and it disintegrated - on that occasion the NSRI struggled to find him, in spite of his talking to them on his mobile, but did in the end with help of an observer with a telescope on land. 

And it makes no sense whatsoever to go out without equipment that would make the NSRI's job easier if they are called out (which they will be, whether it's me that calls them or my shore party).  By using SafeTRX, I make it trivial for them to find me; by using the VHF I can talk to them; by using the flares I can also guide them to me.

As for swimming - I'm fit but I'm no great swimmer.  In warm water I could no doubt make slow progress and eventually get to shore.  When the Miller's Run is really working with big breaking waves and 25-30kt of wind and sea temperature of 17C, not so much.  I don't know of ANYONE who practises open ocean swimming in those conditions - why would they?  

But, how many of us have NEVER had conditions change in a big way, from what was predicted?  

100%

I carry everything on my ski that is small and unobtrusive enough to not get in the way (VHF, PLB, leashes, whistle, steering bungee).   I think it is acting a bit arrogant NOT carry anything (e.g., “I don’t need this seatbelt, I’ve never had a car accident”).

Again, 100%.  

I guess one should probably ask not whether you go out because the rescue services are there, but whether you would go out if you knew that they weren't there.  What would you do differently?  

It's complicated.  As a general rule, if the conditions are benign and for me the crucial thing is clean sets v confused seas, then we generally just go for it.  On the other hand if the sea is really confused, waves breaking in all directions, or visibility is bad and a Personal Best is out of the question, then we'll stick together - especially if one or more of the party are nervous.  But in extreme conditions like that the buddy system is of questionable use anyway - it becomes extremely easy to lose sight of your buddy and even if you don't, if they get into trouble, it's extremely difficult to do anything about it.  To turn the ski and paddle upwind in 30-40kt is almost impossible - and to approach another ski safely is likewise very difficult.

But to ban paddling anywhere you can't swim to shore...  would take away 90% of the sport - at least here in Cape Town.

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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3 days 19 hours ago #33791 by manta
I used to be a lifeguard. In this job I was involved in a fair amount of rescues. One such rescue was a professional swimmer that had been caught in a riptide, become exhausted and needed to be rescued. 

My point is that no matter how good your swimming skills, the sea currents, wind, swell and waves have you beaten. To suggest that people only enter the water up to the point where they can self rescue is a little short sighted IMO. Things happen like the case mentioned above. 

Each person needs to be aware of the risks, be prepared for the risks and if things go sideways ready and willing to action their plan. Mike Tyson said everyone has a fight plan until they get punched in the face. I think that is very apt in this discussion. No one can predict what will happen out at sea. We prepare as best we can and then we take as much risk as we are comfortable taking.

I have a horrible self rescue story I still need to tell. The short version is I injured my shoulder on a DW paddle. I could only paddle on one side and was unable (only one working arm)  to use my mobile to call for help. In that case my swimming ability (which is good) would not have helped me one bit. There were other things I had practiced that actually saved the day.

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3 days 19 hours ago #33792 by robin.mousley

I have a horrible self rescue story I still need to tell. The short version is I injured my shoulder on a DW paddle. I could only paddle on one side and was unable (only one working arm)  to use my mobile to call for help. In that case my swimming ability (which is good) would not have helped me one bit. There were other things I had practiced that actually saved the day.

I'd like to hear that story!  Especially the "other things... that saved the day"!  Was it on a Miller's Run?

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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3 days 16 hours ago #33793 by PSwitzer
Rob, you should get Matt on the phone for an interview to clarify his comments.  Obviously we can all agree that the attitude and skill set of self-responsibility is the ideal.  However that still leaves plenty of situations, like the Molokai or Doctor races, that only Aqua-Man would be able to swim himself to shore in an emergency.  

Here's my take:  Dying at sea while paddling is a matter of a series of unfortunate events all lining up like holes in a bunch of slices of swiss cheese.  Safety requires you to mitigate each risk in turn- cold water, equipment breakage, personal debilitating injury, etc.  If you never paddle out of swim range of the land, that will eliminate a number of these factors but not all of them.  So in areas where you have a really strong rescue network to mitigate risk in the rare circumstance you need it, of course it's ok to take advantage of it and enjoy the conditions.  

The crux is to realize, and accept, that even the NSRI, or your escort boat in the Molokai race, is not a sure thing.  In 2001 during the OC6 Molokai crossing, the channel was blowing hard.  A swimmer jumped off the escort to deliver fluids to the steersman, and while he was in the water the inexperienced crew allowed a line to entangle the prop and kill the motor.  We had drifted well out of sight of the lone swimmer by the time one of the crew (a stunning young bikini-clad blonde) dove under the boat with a knife and cut the prop free.  By the grace of the Kaiwi channel we were able to find the guy after motoring upwind but I thought he was a goner for several minutes.

So yeah, enjoy the offshore runs, but think hard about what we are getting into!

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3 days 16 hours ago #33794 by SpaceSputnik
Swimming is a funny thing to in a drysuit with a half-inch of thermal layering under. With a pdf over you are quite buoyant, but not exactly a fast swimmer.

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3 days 15 hours ago - 3 days 15 hours ago #33795 by MCImes
I also think the Swim To Shore as a safety mechanism is unrealistic in the majority of fun conditions. No way you're swimming in against a current, rip tide, or strong wind and waves. 

Everyone's previous comments are right on - deaths usually happen from a cascading series of misjudgments, bad luck, and equipment failures and you must address each failure point as a link in the chain. Being able to bail out safely is nice, but there are many many other factors to examine in determining whether the risk of a paddle is acceptable. 

When I go out on a big day, in addition to the self rescue equipment I carry, I always ask myself - "If everything goes wrong  (i.e seperated from boat, paddle and all emergency signaling equipment miles off shore) and Im stuck in the water for several hours, does someone on shore know where I am and do I have enough immersion protection to survive the night".
I figure I'd need to survive overnight through the morning. I always try to have enough protection to survive for 12+ hours without support. I know it would be a really crappy night, but I would live to tell about it. This makes for some hot and sweaty paddles in a wetsuit, but when the $&%+ hits the fan, I'm quite sure I will feel good about sweating a little bit. 

So basically, its a nice idea and you should always have some bail out plan in the back of your mind, but it translates to the real world less well. 

Current Boats: Swordfish S
Past Boats: Epic V10 g0, Stellar SR g1, Fenn XT g1
"When you've done something right, they wont know you've done anything at all"

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3 days 3 hours ago #33798 by tve
I find the statement about swimming to shore rather puzzling. I really want to ask back under which conditions would Matt or Boyan actually start swimming? If there's one thing I try to drill into my mind it's to stay with the boat. Did they mean "Only paddle where you can swim to shore so you can self-rescue if your leash fails"? Or did they really mean "Only paddle where you can swim to shore so you can leave your boat and swim to shore"?
Furthermore, have they actually practiced such a swim in the worst conditions they paddle in? I fear there's a big difference between the distance someone thinks they can swim vs. the actual distance in rough conditions.

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3 days 1 hour ago #33799 by PSwitzer
I just remembered this story from over a decade ago and it seemed appropriate to revisit:
https://www.surfski.info/latest-news/story/997/oscars-long-swim.html 

Short version in case link doesn't work for you:  2007, Oscar and Bevan Manson are doing a run in big Durban conditions 2 Km offshore when oscar nose dives, cracks open the bow of the ski and it floods.  He and Bevan abandon the wrecked boat then trade off swimming/ paddling all the way in which takes an hour.

Oscar mentions he thinks he hit a submerged object because of the damage to the nose of the boat.  However a buddy of mine just wrecked his v12 a few weeks ago in huge wind/ swell getting pitchpoled, and same thing as Oscar, swam in after abandoning the swamped craft.  The initial boat injury was very similar to what Oscar describes.  A similar incident happened years ago in the Molokai race, a guy did a bad nose dive/pitchpole and the boat cracked open and flooded.  

But to Rob's point, it's a lot easier to swim to the beach in Durban or Hawaii compared to most of the paddling world.

One more story about (not) swimming in!  I don't think Guy will mind if I share, sorry to throw you under the bus, buddy! 

https://www.sail-world.com/Australia/When-sailors-turn-rescuers--a-second-chance-for-kayaker/-86385?source=google

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3 days 1 hour ago - 3 days 1 hour ago #33800 by Atlas
I guess we'll all have our own opinion on this one.

I regularly swim in open water as part of my training for Ironman triathlons. In order to complete a full Ironman I need to be able to swim 4 km easily which I can. This coincidently is about as far as I usually get offshore on my regular downwind paddle. However I seriously doubt I could swim that distance in the conditions I like to paddle in. As has been mentioned by others; if the reason I'm out of my ski has to do with injury then I have no chance at all.

like others on this forum I employ multiple risk mitigation strategies the most important of which is always dressing for immersion and choosing a ski that I'm confident in. This has resulted in some hot sweaty downwinders. However it reduces the anxiety of falling out and it makes it easy to practice re-entry at the end of almost every paddle. I am also not afraid or embaraced to change my mind at the last minute if I think the risks are higher than I'd initially calculated.

Current skis:
Epic V10L, Think Zen, Fenn Bluefin, Fenn XT double

Previous skis
Fenn Swordfish, Fenn Swordfish S, Fenn XT, Spirit PRS

Most with DK rudders.

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2 days 12 hours ago #33806 by downwinda
I grew up in Hawaii surfing, paddling, etc. and we lived by that motto of not paddling beyond where you were comfortable swimming in from.   I can't count the number of times I've had to swim in from a good ways out.  Usually it was swimming in with a disabled craft, or chasing after a wayward surfboard when we used to surf our longboards sans leash.  I made it in every time, sometimes after dark, sometimes stung by man of wars. We practiced in our 6 man canoes when it was getting dark, usually without a canvas (spray skirt) and I remember swamping offshore and having to swim the boat through Kailua shorebreak, flip the canoe over to drain the water, then paddle back to Lanikai.  I wasn't in the canoe the time a Lanikai OC6 boat went down off of Waimanalo, again at dusk, and completely swamped.  After trying for quite a while to bail the canoe,  John Foti, being the waterman that he is, unrigged the ama and to avoid losing anyone, had everyone hold on to it and kick/drift their way in to Bellows Beach.

Also Pswitzer, I believe that after Geoff pitch poled his V12 off of Waikiki, he noticed the cracked nose, but was able to paddle it in to the surf line.  Alas, since it was closing out and his boat was partially full of water it got destroyed coming through the breaking surf zone.  I think anyone with even an intact boat would have had trouble getting it through the breaking waves without getting it destroyed.  That's why he told the other guys to go on to finish the reverse DW  run in Hawaii Kai, and that he'd make it in on his own.

Well I now live in cold ass Washington State, and none of these things could happen without a much higher risk of death.  II actually now wear a PFD and carry a VHF radio.  luckily there is a Coast Guard Station right in out Bay, and they have already rescued several other surfski paddlers who were unable to remount in windy conditions.

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2 days 7 hours ago #33807 by Jef58
I'm not much of a downwinder being on the west coast of Florida, but take this as a tip from someone who wants to promote safety first. As an "ambassador" of the sport so to speak, maybe Matt Bouman doesn't want paddlers to take this lightly, especially the folks who take things for granted. Here where I live, there are a number of sea tows and rescues of  power boats who get caught out in afternoon storms that pop up here almost every day in the summer. Most boats here are not equipped to handle severe weather in the open water, let alone a Surfski. I don't live in SA and wasn't raised in that type of water, though I completely understand the nature of how bad things can get very quickly out in the open water....so it is better to be, or at least aware, of the best chance for personal survival if things go bad. I guess I look at this as a disclaimer (so to speak) instead of a hard fast rule that applies to all paddlers....and maybe not targeted at experienced paddlers like the ones who frequent this forum.

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1 day 13 hours ago - 19 hours 34 minutes ago #33808 by Henning DK
Ocean race is an extreme sport, and there is always a certain risk that things get out of control in the elements of nature. You can never be 100% safe, and you probably don't even want to, most fun things in life have a risk to it.

I currently paddle in cold conditions, alone, and sometimes in the dark. I try to keep safety equipment at a minimum, but carefully chosen to make a difference.


Consider what makes a difference in most situations

The surfski should not be cluttered up with all kinds of safety equipment, you must choose what is most relevant for you, and consider what you prefer to rely on that would make a difference for you.

The leg-leash, of course. Loosing your boat means swimming, and paddling is much to be prefered. But paddle-leashes do break. and if you cannot paddle to shore, swimming is your next option, with or without your boat.

I don't like swimming in waves, so the PFD is absolutely essential equipment for me. I have often recognized Matt Bowman on pictures as "the gui without a PFD" (sorry if I'm wrong), and I guess he is a very good swimmer, so it makes perfect sense to me if he thinks that being within swimming distance is a basic safety requirement. A PFD would slow him down, and may not provide significantly more safety in this situation.

The next most essential equipment for me is being correctly dressed for the water temperature. I am mostly within 1-2 km from friendly shores, and since the water temperature at this time of year is 4°C (yes, it's quite warm this winter) this means I am in a good quality 5mm hooded wetsuit. This will not only allow me to swim for at least 1-2 hours, it also helps me survive a long time in the water in case of a worst case "should never happen" scenario.

So basically, I agree about being within swimming distance of the shore when possible, and my equipment extends this distance, which depends on the conditions in general. Off-shore winds are no-go, of course!


If you cannot help yourself

I don't believe in electronics in my surfski, cell phones in particular. It's nice to have your phone if you end up on shore in an unexpected place and need to contact someone, and I may bring it for this purpose. But on the water, I consider cell phones to be false safety. Will it work when I am in the water, and can I operate it with my 5/3mm neoprene gloves - probably not worth trying!

My waters are quite trafficked and with houses along the shore, so instead of electronic communication devices I have a battery operated laser flare in my PFD. This can be seen from far away day and night and will work for about 6 hours, even when floating in the water. It's easy to operate, and I would say it makes a more reliable difference than cell phones (or smoke flares).

And the wetsuit again makes a significant difference, saving me from the cold.


Keep it simple

Consider the conditions and risks, and choose safety options that make a difference.
This is not advise - it's just the way I think about it ;-)

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