Thursday, June 25, 2009

Taking the BCU Foundation Safety and Rescue Training

I know I've said that chasing stars is a fools errand, but the BCU training framework is one of the premier kayak instruction systems in the world. So when I heard that Osprey Sea Kayak Adventures had arranged for Steve Maynard to give three days of training, I jumped at the chance.
The first day was the Foundation Safety and Rescue Training. It is a basic safety course that covers rescues and towing in sheltered water. The group I paddle with regularly practices rescues and towing, but they are skills that can never be too familiar. When a paddler really needs the skills they should be automatic. They are also skills that can benefit from constant refinement and added options.
We started the day off with a couple of interesting boat handling drills. Steve had us arrange the kayaks in a star pattern with bows centered. He then had us move the star left and right. Then we exploded the star and brought it back together. Once we did this bows centered, we redid the exercise stern centered. The drill helped with both basic boat control and group paddling awareness.
We followed the boat control drill with t-rescues. The t-rescue is pretty basic: t the kayaks off, drain the capsized kayak, hold the victim's kayak while they climb into the cockpit.
Steve had a few refinements on the basics:

  • He does not approach the victim's kayak until the swimmer has flipped it onto its hull. This shows that the swimmer is able to communicate and is cooperative. A cooperative swimmer is far less likely to endanger the rescuer.

  • He has the swimmer hold onto either the cockpit of their kayak or just behind the cockpit of his kayak. The standard wisdom of having the swimmer help in lifting the bow of their kayak is outweighed by the danger to the swimmer. The stern of a kayak is pointy, hard, and bouncy in most rescue situations. It is harder for a swimmer to hold onto and likely to bonk them in the head.

  • A rescue should take about 30 seconds from start to finish. A minute is the upper limit.

One point he made very clear during the day was the identity of the most important person in a rescue: you. It doesn't matter what your role in the rescue is (swimmer, rescuer, bystander, etc.), you need to keep your own safety as a top priority. Rescuers shouldn't rush into dangerous situations. Swimmers should be active participants in the process. Bystanders should stay out of more trouble.
After rescues we worked on towing. It was pretty standard stuff. One thing that was repeated was that it is best to start a tow before it becomes necessary. The person being put into the tow should not be given the right of refusal. Steve also mentioned that it is often appropriate to tow a slow paddler if their lack of speed is becoming a drag on the group. There are times where speed equals safety. The longer a group is on the water, the more chances there are for trouble. It also means that everyone is burning through their energy reserves for a longer period of time.
In addition to towing single kayaks with a towline, we also practiced contact tows and towing rafts. In both of these cases it is important to keep the leading ends of the two kayaks in the raft close together. When using a tow line, one way to accomplish this is to run the tow line through the deck lines of both kayaks. (While "perfect form" is to lock the carabiner onto the "victim's" kayak, it is more important that both kayaks are locked into the tow.) When doing a contact tow, the best solution is to get the "victim" to lay across the tower's deck. This will push the ends of the kayaks together.
Steve didn't speak highly of the use of short lines for use in contact tows. It was just one more piece of gear to fiddle with.
After lunch, we reviewed what a kayak should have for safety gear:
  1. Something to fix people.

  2. Something to fix gear.

  3. Something to communicate with others.

  4. Something to locate yourself.

The first two can be covered using duct tape in a pinch. However, it is pretty easy to carry a basic first aid kit and a basic repair kit. One neat piece of gear that Steve carries is a large float bag with a long stem. He uses it to keep fully compromised compartments afloat. For example, if a kayaker lost a hatch (or punched a hole) in the front of their kayak, the float bag would allow them to keep paddling long enough to get to shore.
We then goofed around in open canoes for a little while. It was fun. The mechanics of open canoe rescue is similar to kayak rescues. The realities of doing it are completely different.
Once we stowed the canoes, we headed back out in our kayaks to practice scoop rescues, hand of god rescues, and Eskimo rescues.
For scoop rescues, Steve had us place the victim in the kayak so that they were laying face down on their stern deck instead of sitting upright in their cockpits. This does two things:
  • It makes it easier to right the kayak because the weight is closer to the deck.

  • It limits the chances of doing further injury in the case of a back or neck injury.
For hand of god rescues, Steve showed us that by applying a little pressure on the victim's hull, we can reduce the effort needed to get them righted.
For Eskimo rescues, Steve had us stop aiming for that perfect bow to hand shot. He had us approach the upturned kayak like it was a regular rescue. We could then slide the bow of our kayak into position along the length of the swimmer's kayak. If the swimmer missed the bow, we would quickly be in position to offer them the paddle shaft. It made getting there much quicker. Instead of a 12 inch target we had an 18 foot target.
Along with all of the hands on practice, we also talked about strategies for handling emergency situations. How do you decide who rafts up with an unstable paddler? When do you put someone into a tow? How do you handle a situation where a paddler is out of their kayak in surf or rocks? What are the signs of hypothermia? These are the little things that are big deals.
For rocks and surf, the answer is that in most cases it is best to have the swimmer push their kayak out of the rocks/surf and swim out to where a safe rescue can be done. Why put two kayaks in danger? Besides the rescuing kayak is often a bigger danger to the swimmer than the rocks and surf.

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