Respect the Sea, Yourself, and Others

There is an inherent risk with sea kayaking. We accept that when we put on our gear and launch. It’s the risks we can mitigate or altogether prevent, but fail to, that lead to most of the incidents we encounter or. more aptly put, create.

Two of the biggest (and preventable) reasons people get into trouble on the water:

1) A lack of respect for the sea.
2) A lack of respect for their skill level.

Be prepared.

As much as the sea provides for life, it can just as easily (and does) take it.

  • Learn about tides, current, and weather and how they impact/change sea states. 
  • Know when sea states WILL change.
  • Expect that it could be worse than you can handle.
  • Have the correct gear for the conditions (and wear a PFD and immersion gear!!)

Beyond all else, it’s the next two point that I want to emphasize – all of the advanced knowledge and gear do you know good if you get in too far over your head.

  • Have the right skills for the conditions.
  • Be honest with what your skill level is.

Overestimating our capabilities

We’re all guilty of it at one time or another, myself included.

I have led or been on a number of classes and trips, privately and through local clubs, where those on the water were out in conditions well beyond their experience level.

In some cases, the paddler rose to the occasion. In others, the plan for the day had to be scrapped (costing others an experience or learning opportunities). A few times the trip went as planned and the rest of the group, rather than fully taking in the experience, spent time watching out for and rescuing a paddler.

None of these are fun scenarios. They place everyone at risk. Each costs everyone something.

Knowing your skills, both paddling and recovery/rescue ones, affects everyone on the trip, not just yourself.

As a side note, when on a trip, it’s worth thinking about who is out there with you. If you are unsure of their skills and if they could help you (or be a liability), consider whether yo should be going.

Be honest with yourself

It’s usually when we’re tested and fail that we truly learn our limits. When we’re talking about being on the water and in sea states we weren’t prepared for or didn’t prepare for, finding that limit can come with a price.

A trip is not the place to learn those limits

Before you head out take the time to learn what your (and your kayak’s) limits and capabilities are. If you don’t know or are unsure of your level, get in touch with an instructor. I have had students reach out to me just to get an assessment of their skills. Most of the time this isn’t formal. It’s a paddle in the conditions they think they are ready for or plan to paddle.

If you’re on a trip and the plan or conditions change?

Please speak up. There is no shame in questioning the plan or your skills. There is nothing wrong with saying no or expressing doubt. It’s quite the opposite. A good trip leader/instructor will respect that and adapt accordingly. It can be hard to plan when you haven’t paddled with someone. More when there are several in a group.


…the sea, yourself, and others

On the water, even small incidents can have bigger consequences than they do on land. There is usually less time to act, our working environment is constantly changing, and getting help generally takes longer.

An honest assessment of your skills and some basic preparation will help mitigate or prevent unnecessary risk allowing us to manage the ones we cannot control. In the end, that keeps all of us safer.

I’ll repeat it for those who haven’t heard it….incident management is as much about preventing incidents as it is learning the skills and knowledge to handle them when they do occur.

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