5 Tips for a Better Kayak Rescue

Lessons learned from a kayak rescue that almost did not work

By Rob Casey

Coming across a capsized panicked kayaker can be a stressful experience. But with the following skills under your belt, the rescue can go a lot easier.

Always wear your lifejacket (PFD) while on the water.
While the law in most areas requires you only need to have one in your boat, wearing it will make you safer. According to the U.S. Coast Guard, 90 percent of those who drown in boating accidents in the US were not wearing a PFD. If you need to rescue someone from your boat, they could desperately grab at your craft to stay afloat, often capsizing the rescuer. PFDs add core warmth, which is essential during offshore or swift water rescues where it can take a lot of time to get the victim to shore.

Prepare your boat with safety gear to assist with a rescue or for being rescued.
In a waterproof drybag, carry a first-aid kit, extra (non cotton) warm clothing, rocket flares, chemical heat packets, a mylar emergency blanket, electrolyte packets, lighter and emergency matches, duct tape, and a VHF radio and extra batteries. Also carry a kayak-style throw line and an extra PFD. Extra warm clothing should include two warm hats, gloves, rain pants, a fleece jacket and rain shell. If possible leave these items in the boat so you don’t have to remember to grab them before leaving home. Many look at the weather, and if warm, decide not to carry extra clothing. Wind can increase rapidly on water so always be prepared for the unexpected.

Carry adequate communication for your location.
Always carry a VHF two-way radio and a cell phone. If one doesn’t work, chances are the other will. Place both in waterproof cases and test batteries before leaving shore. Use channel 16 to place a Mayday call. List location, the situation and condition. Bring a call list of important emergency agencies in order of importance for your area.

Bring a backup paddle or oar.
If you break or lose a paddle or are in a boat where your engine fails these will help you get to shore easier or away from a dangerous area.

Take control of the situation
During rescues, most boaters and paddlers will refuse help despite being in a grave situation. Generally they may feel embarrassed or their ego is in play. They will also most likely refuse to let go of their gear. If their boat isn’t helpful in the rescue, insist they leave it behind and get them onto your craft as soon as possible. Getting them out of the water is very important in order to keep warm.

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