Getting Started: Rescue Skills Class
Melissa Spangler’s Journal
Rescue Skills Class
I attended a rescue class taught by Bob Burnett of the Kayak Academy. We started with a few refresher techniques on reentry. After a wet exit, I would right my kayak then place my paddle, with a paddle float attached, across the deck close to the rear of the cockpit. I could secure the paddle with deck lines, however it was good to practice without using them in case a kayak isn’t t equipped with deck lines, or they’re too loose, or they fail. I positioned myself so the paddle was behind me and with my arm holding the paddle in place—my armpit was resting on the deck and my fingers were grasping the lip of the cockpit. I stretched my outside arm (the one farthest from kayak) over the paddle shaft for support. I floated my legs upward by lightly kicking and flexing my hips forward. Once my feet were near the surface I twisted my outside leg up to reach for the cockpit. Using the paddle to balance and push off, I successfully placed my foot into the cockpit. I shifted my weight to raise my other leg into the cockpit. At this point it almost looks like I am in position to do push-ups over the deck. I corkscrewed into the cockpit, keeping about 60 to 70 percent of my weight on the paddle float side to remain stabilized. Securely in the kayak, it was time to reattach the spray skirt. Then I’d wet exit and practice all over again.
We practiced assisted self-rescue, rescue of a panicked kayaker, emergency assisted reentry and towing methods for a capsized kayaker. Everyone partnered up with another kayaker, then practiced drills.
Practice I — Assisted Self-Rescue
One kayaker, the “swimmer,” does a wet-exit. As the rescuer, I would come to assist with the rescue, talking to the swimmer, asking about his condition, “Are you okay?” Bob mentioned, “If the swimmer can talk, then they are breathing, and this is good news.”
I would paddle toward the swimmer and remind him to hang onto his kayak and gear. As the rescuer, I am in charge. The swimmer should never let go of his kayak, in case I lose control in rough water, because then it is highly unlikely to recover the kayak, and the rescuer will have to tow the swimmer. I would request the swimmer to right his kayak. That provides me with more grab points when assisting with reentry. Once the kayak is upright, I pull its bow over my cockpit while the swimmer is at the stern. Carefully twisting the kayak and lifting upwards, I would attempt to remove as much water as possible from the cockpit. Once it’s emptied, Iright the kayak and put it side by side with mine. At this point, I can offer to hold the swimmer’s paddle, or the swimmer may opt to keep it. With his paddle in front of my abdomen and across the swimmer’s kayak at an angle I was able to stabilize both kayaks. I have to reach across the rear of the swimmer’s kayak, holding the lip of the cockpit securely so that the swimmer may climb back into the kayak.
During this drill, we were reminded that the task is much more strenuous for the rescuer holding the kayak, than it is for the person who is reentering the kayak. The swimmer can climb over their deck into the cockpit as the rescuer secures the kayak. The swimmer can also use a technique similar to that of the paddle-float rescue: leaning back, placing his outside leg in cockpit and corkscrewing into position. This alternate method may work better for those who don’t have enough upper body strength to pull themselves into the kayak.
Back in the kayak, the swimmer must pump the remaining water from the cockpit. I must check to make sure that the swimmer is not suffering from injury or hypothermia before parting ways.
Practice II — Assisted Rescue For Panicked Kayaker
If the swimmer is panicking, it is important for the rescuer to maintain control by talking to him and directing him through the assisted rescue. I would approach the capsized kayak from the side opposite the swimmer to keep the kayak in between myself and the swimmer. If a panicked swimmer were to grab my kayak both of us might end up capsized, making a more challenging rescue. If the swimmer is too panicked to assist, I may have to right the kayak without dumping the excess water, then maneuver side by side and continue with assisted rescue techniques, talking to the swimmer to try to calm him.
Practice III — Emergency Assisted Reentry
If the swimmer is an inexperienced kayaker and does not have proper attire for a capsize, it may become an emergency situation, so we practiced fast reentry, simulating cold water and potential for hypothermia.
Practice IV — Towing Techniques
The last lesson was about helping a kayaker who has lost his boat. If the swimmer is not suffering from hypothermia and is capable of holding on, we used the bow tow method where the swimmer holds onto the bow and wraps his feet around the deck. If the swimmer is fatigued or cold and needs additional assistance, he could climb onto my rear deck, placing his head low, almost resting on my back, then keeping his feet in the water to minimize the loss of stability.
Paddle: Werner Premium Camano
PFD: Kokatat Orbit
Footwear: Chota Posi-Lok High Top Zip Bootie
Roofrack: Thule Hullavator
(borrowed kayak and spray skirt)