-- Last Updated: Feb-08-13 3:10 PM EST --
come into play.
Several years ago Marshall of The River Connection conducted a kayak safety demonstration during the AMC Paddlefest at Plum Point on the Hudson River.
For most folks it would have appeared to be just an ideal day. Temperatures were in the upper 70s and sunny. The water temperature was probably somewhere in the low 70s and winds were light. However, by the time of the safety demo the winds had picked-up. We were experiencing a consistent on-shore breeze of 20+ knots and waves up to 1 foot. Well that does not sound too challenging, right?
Marshall carefully and effectively demonstrated several paddle-float reentries using his sea kayak. He did it in his usual professional and relaxed manner, with that rye sense of humor thrown in. Those watching from the beach really had very little
clue to how easy he made it look, particularly with the wind, but they would learn in several minutes. Most participants used their own boats and equipment. As we organized them, before they gave it a try, Marshall suggested to me that we modify
the drill to make it a bit easier for the group. The wind was blowing everything and everybody on to shore. We had half the participants paddle out into about 5' of water while the other half became sea anchors. Each non-paddler held the bow toggle of their partner's boat while the paddler wet-exited and attempted a paddle float re-entry. Most of the 'swimmers' found it very difficult to re-enter, even through their kayaks were being anchored and not blowing about. Others found it impossible. For some of it was lack of practice or balance; for others it was equipment; and for the remainder is was both. No one had what many would consider a 'rec' boat (e.g. 8-10' pungo). All the boats had at least two bulkheads, but many of the kayaks had largish cockpits and at least 24" beams. One or two of the people had a true sea kayak (e.g. ~ 22" beam; 3 bulkheads, lower volume cockpits).
The type of kayak was only only one factor in the equation. One gentlemen I worked with had a 14' kayak with two bulkheads and a roughly 26" beam. It had a relatively large volume cockpit and limited deck rigging aft of the cockpit (e.g. no straps or lines to hold a rigged paddle-float. The guy was fairly athletic, but even with direct coaching and encouragement he could not successfully enter his boat. When full of water his kayak really wallowed in the wind and small waves. He later admitted that although he owned a paddle-float he had never trained with it. Many of the participants came to realize how challenging it would have been to try a similar self-rescue on open water without someone holding onto their kayak. What they did with that knowledge is unclear.