by Wayne Horodowich
(Editor’s note: Wayne Horodowich is the founder of the University of Sea Kayaking. USK was conceived in the 1980’s and officially founded in January of 2000 to enhance and promote sea kayaking. The USK website has 100’s of pages of information on sea kayaking. To check out the USK website, go to http://www.useakayak.org/.)
Recently I received an e-mail from subscriber Moulton Avery regarding his experience with so-called safety boaters that supported swimmers doing a race across the Potomac River. He raised numerous safety concerns. In reality, the safety boaters were more of a liability than an asset.
Early in my career when I was so impressed with my new found kayaking skills I figured why not be a safety boater for a swim race along the Santa Barbara coast. What I LACKED was real experience! I can briefly tell you that I was forced to capsize my kayak because a hypothermic swimmer climbed on my kayak. While sitting upright behind me he wrapped his arms around me because he felt unstable. He actually pinned my arms to my side. I reverted to my old lifeguard training to get out of the situation, which was to take him under. I let the kayak flip over. I figured he would let go and he did. I then did the fastest roll I could muster and when upright I paddled away from him. (Thank goodness I had a competent roll and he didn’t keep me from rolling and he let go of the kayak.)
While I kept my distance away from him we had a verbal exchange. As a side note, he kept swimming towards me in a panicked manner (I was back paddling at the time to keep him from touching my kayak again). Once he calmed down I was able to assist him in a manner that met both of our needs until the motorized launch came along. (15 minutes later. Some help from the launch- huh?)
I believe the vast majority of so-called kayak safety boaters (for swim races) are untrained for the potential challenges that can occur during a swim race. In addition, the normal safety gear we carry as sea kayakers is insufficient for supporting swimmers. I am sure many of us have horror stories about safety boating for swim races and we can bitch about it for hours on end.
Rather than rant about the risks of safety boating, I would rather use this forum to hear from the rest of you regarding your thoughts about what type of training safety boaters should have and the equipment they should carry while providing support for swimming races. Here is a chance to put our collective experiences together and create a safety list of training and equipment.
I am presently writing an article on this subject from my experiences as a safety boater. Your experiences and thoughts would be great very helpful. In addition I would like to take our collective thoughts and present them to the ACA & the BCU as recommendations. I am hoping that my article will enlighten other sea kayakers as to the real dangers of safety boating so they will think twice before they volunteer.
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