In our April SK Newsletter I raised the issue of approaching ostensibly novice paddlers when it appears they aren’t adequately equipped or skilled for the paddling they’re doing. I recently had occasion to talk to two such kayakers.
I was at Bowman Bay, just outside of Deception Pass, the fastest moving tidal waters in Puget Sound. A friend of mine had launched a new sail boat there and we were taking it on its maiden voyage in the protected waters of the bay. A man in a whitewater kayak flagged us down so we killed the motor and drifted up to him. His kayak was old and had a lot of duct tape on it; his PFD was new and still had a cardboard hang tag wrapped around one shoulder strap. His name was Chris. He said his friend Vince, Vince’s daughter and his own daughter were in another kayak and had paddled out to Deception Island. Vince had intended to make a short trip out to the island and back but they were 30 or 40 minutes overdue.
We had to return to the dock to fill up the outboard’s gas tank. Chris met us there and came aboard.
We headed out toward the island and I soon caught sight of the alternating flash of a kayak paddle. As we drew closer Chris could tell it was Vince. The kayak was a yellow recreational boat and Vince and the two girls were seated in the long cockpit opening. They were OK so we motored alongside as they made their way back to the beach.
I turned to Chris and said, “Now that we know they’re safe it’s time for a lecture.” I know people don’t like to be “lectured” but Chris had obviously been concerned about safety and he was, for the time it took to get to the dock, a captive audience. I told him about the water temperature in the area and the speed at which hypothermia would incapacitate anyone who happened to fall in. I told him that the area around Deception Pass is known for its strong currents and boats running the pass often throw large wakes. He listened intently. When I was done he said, “Can you talk to Vince about all that?”
When we got ashore Chris and I walked up to Vince. Both the girls were there with him so I said I wasn’t sure if they wanted the girls to hear this. Chris said he thought it was important for them to hear what I had to say. I switched my approach to suit the 6-year-old girls. I told them I worked for a magazine about kayaking and that we often published articles about kayaking safety, then asked “What happens if you fall into cold water?” One of the girls pulled her arms into her chest and drew in a quick deep breath. “Exactly right!’ I said. I told them that after that your hands get cold and hard to move, and you stop thinking clearly. I told them about wet suits and dry suits and how they keep you safe from cold water. I still had my PFD on so I showed them what I carried when I went kayaking: radio, aerial flares, laser signal, whistle, and a kayaker’s inflatable life raft. Vince pointed out that his kayak had Styrofoam in the ends to keep it afloat. I told him that such a small volume of foam would only keep the kayak from sinking; it wouldn’t support anyone sitting in it. The lack of floatation, immersion wear and signaling devices would turn a capsize into a very serious situation.
As I was talking to Chris and Vince it was clear that they were hearing some things about paddling and cold water that they hadn’t heard before. As fathers, they were quite willing to listen to any advice that would help them keep their children from harm. A number of kayakers have joined in the discussion on our forum and have offered their perspectives on talking about safety to novices. It seems the consensus is that it can be an awkward situation, but that it is important to give the benefit of your knowledge in a way that is courteous and respectful.