Any veteran paddler knows of someone who died at sea. Uncontrollable circumstances can arise but there are many things you can do to be as safe as possible.
As with any sport there are calculated risks involved, but the odds of a problem can be significantly mitigated by following some basic common sense guidelines. Surfskis are very fast, relatively unstable boats and accidents can happen to the most experienced paddler.
The basic safety gear that any paddler should have with them include:
a good quality boat leash
a paddle leash
a loud emergency whistle
a fully charged cell phone and/or VHF radio with SOS feature.
additional signaling devices can be advisable such as a strobe or flair
food and water as needed depending on the duration of your trip.
Your local dealer or experienced members of the paddling community will be able to advise what is safe and what is not. We will elaborate in detail on each piece of safety gear as this website develops.
It is generally unwise to paddle alone, especially in rough conditions. Things can go wrong rendering your surfski useless for anything but extra flotation. If a rudder cable snaps or a paddle breaks, you are virtually dead in the water. There are backup measures you can take - for example bringing a spare paddle and rigging up a back-up option for your rudder - but conditions can change quickly at sea and your chances of managing a problem are dramatically increased if you have someone along with you. You should also make sure that someone on shore knows where you are putting in, what route you are taking and when you are expected back.
Bright clothing is advisable. Most companies are making PFD’s, rash guards and hats in high visibility colours. This is important so you can be spotted by both your paddling partners, rescue teams and other water craft.
Many experienced paddlers dress for immersion (expecting to swim). In our average water temperatures - between 4-10 degrees Celsius - the average person has between 30 and 60 minutes before complete exhaustion and/or unconsciousness. Likely about 10 minutes before muscles become affected and fatigue is accelerated. Mounting a surfski can be tricky and exhausting and in cold water it is even harder. Many paddlers wear drysuits or wetsuits in cold water conditions to ensure warmth in almost any situation.
The community around surfski paddling is very welcoming. Any veteran of this sport will be more than happy to answer questions and offer advice from their years of experience. Connect with a group and ask questions.
Photo: Comox Harbour Downwinder