|A local kayaker was recently pulled out of Puget Sound by staff from one of the Washington State ferries. The kayaker was about a half mile offshore, close enough for at least one shoreline homeowner to see his capsized kayak and call emergency services for help. The 328-foot ferry was close by and stopped to launch a Zodiac to rescue the kayaker. A TV news helicopter arrived on the scene as the Zodiac was being deployed and filmed the rescue. As the Zodiac got under way, the camera panned back and showed the expanse of water ahead of the ferry. There was only a scattering of whitecaps, but as the camera zoomed in, one of the white streaks turned out to be the hull of a kayak. Even with the kayak filling the frame, if you were to squint a bit the kayak’s purple deck and the paddler’s blue jacket would quickly blend back into the dark water. All that was really visible was the orange paddle float attached to the paddle loosely pinned between the coaming and the paddler’s chest.
Seeing the kayak materialize out of the background made it evident how hard it is to see a kayak from a distance. With such a small profile on the water, color becomes a very important part of visibility. The bright orange paddle float had good contrast against the dark green water, but its size made it invisible at a distance.
It appeared the kayaker was wearing some neoprene, at least pants and gloves, perhaps a Farmer-John or a full suit. There was no sign of a spray skirt. While the paddle float was attached to the paddle, the other blade wasn’t secured to the aft deck. The men in the Zodiac pulled the kayaker out of the drink and delivered him to officers from a Police Dive Rescue unit and the Fire department, then headed back out to collect the kayak and paddle.
The kayaker was taken to the hospital and there have been no further reports on him. He was able to walk away from the Zodiac under his own power, so I think it’s safe to assume that he was none the worse for wear.
He was lucky that he was close enough to shore for someone to see him. Another few hundred yards out, his situation might have gone unnoticed and he would have had to rely on his own resources to save himself. Unfortunately those resources appeared to have been absent.
If you could imagine yourself from the news helicopter’s point of view, it’s easy to see how a vessel as small as a kayak can disappear, and how important it is to have multiple ways to make your presence known, especially when you need help. Even if you’re paddling close to home, bright colors, signaling devices, a VHF radio and paddling partners equally outfitted are important to have with you. The one place you don’t want to be seen is on TV, alone in the water and hanging on for dear life.