Potential dangers at sea await paddlers

Editor‘s note: This report is part of a bimonthly series of Ocean Rescue Watch columns about the people on Kaua‘i who rescue others and work to keep our beaches and waters safer.

Saving lives of recreational ocean users, at the beach and on boats, by promoting ocean safety is the mission of the Kaua‘i Lifeguard Association and the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary.

Because outrigger canoe paddling is one of the fastest growing sports on Kaua‘i, Kaua‘i Coast Guard Petty Officer Charlie Palmer and I recently presented an ocean safety workshop to more than 60 one-man paddlers as they completed their first race of the year.

During our interactive presentation, the paddlers were asked to visualize a paddler going out on the ocean on a sunny Kaua‘i day with calm water conditions.

The hypothetical paddler went out alone without checking a weather report. He didn‘t know about float plans. After a few hours, the weather changed. The sky darkened, and the water became gnarly, with waves building up to eight to 12 feet.

As he tried to reach his life jacket lashed down behind him, his canoe turned sideways on a large wave and capsized. The wind blew his canoe farther and farther away. He was unable to swim and reach it.

The current pushed him farther and farther from shore. He had no way to signal for help. After six hours passed, he became very tired from treading water. His wife was worried and called the Coast Guard. She was unable to tell them where he went, when he was expected to return or where he parked his car.

A fishing boat spotted the canoe adrift and called the Coast Guard. There was no identification on board. After treading water for about 10 hours, he heard and saw a helicopter overhead, but he had no way to signal it. He later saw a Coast Guard vessel about a mile away, but going in another direction. He thought about the things he could have done differently. Although in great physical condition, he became very tired, cold, dehydrated and ready to give up.

The paddlers at the workshop were instructed to recommend what that hypothetical paddler could have done differently. They responded as follows:

•  Check weather reports.

•  Prepare a float plan.

•  Don’t go out alone.

•  Wear a life jacket.

•  Leash yourself to your canoe.

•  Carry a VHF marine radio.

•  Carry a mirror for daytime signaling.

•  Attach a strobe light to your life jacket for night time signaling.

•  Attach a whistle to your life jacket.

•  Carry a PEPIRB (personal emergency position indicating radio beacon).

•  Attach an ID decal to your canoe with contact information.

The paddlers were advised to wear life jackets. Coast Guard statistics show that 90 percent of drowning victims in boating accidents were not wearing life jackets.

I explained how personal emergency position indicating radio beacons (PEPIRBs) could facilitate a rescue. I also read an email from Coast Guard Hawai‘i Public Affairs reporting how two kayakers were recently rescued after deploying a PEPIRB while on a trip from Maui to Lana‘i.

We strongly recommended that the paddlers prepare themselves for dangers that could be encountered at sea.

• Jim Jung is a U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary vessel examiner and boating safety instructor, and vice president of the Kaua‘i Lifeguard Association.

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