At the recent Sea Kayak Expedition Gathering we ran some Incident Management training sessions.
Here are a couple of videos showing some of the work we did with the RNLI.
Here are a couple of videos showing some of the work we did with the RNLI.
Towlines are one of the most important pieces of kit when leading and coaching on the sea. I use a waist mounted line which gives me the flexibility to pass it on to other group members and keep me ‘out of the system’. As I frequently paddle different kayaks it is a system I can take from boat to boat too.
There are an increasing number of waist mounted sea kayak towlines available now, and the one I use is the Peak UK 15m line. One reason I like it is because of the large size of the bag and the opening, which makes re-packing in rough conditions so much easier. However, as with every line I’ve tried, there are a number of adaptions I make to an off-the-shelf line to make it even better for me.
The new line comes like this straight out of the packaging-Opening the bag reveals a stainless steel clip, and a float-Pulling the line out further reveals an extra clip which is used to capture a bight of line to secure a daisy chained section. The idea of this is so the length of the tow can be changed to make it shorter than the full 15m of line held in the bag.There’s also a short length of bungee on the rope where it’s tied into the bag, to provide some shock absorption. The bag itself also has a number of plastic D-rings on it, both inside the bag-…and outside-
So now to turn an already well designed towline into an even better piece of kit! One of the first things I do is strip the line down, removing the daisy chain clip, the float and attaching the main clip to the line by stitching and whipping the line-One reason for this is to make the line as ‘clean’ as possible (ie no knots or snagging hazards). I find that having a large float near the clip, and a bulky knot can prevent the line running under decklines efficiently and gets in the way when setting up some rafted tows and releasing the tow.
The next step is to saw a cut through each of the plastic D-rings-This means that I now have attachment points to house the clip when not in use. However, when I need quick access to the clip, a sharp tug pulls it through the split D-ring without having to fiddle around and unclip it.I also have a similar split ring on the front shoulder strap of my buoyancy aid. If I’ve used the towline and think I might need it again quickly, I’ll often coil it into my hand then stuff it down the front of my buoyancy aid with the clip attached to this split D-ring. Again, a sharp tug releases the clip and the line can be quickly deployed.
With the daisy chaining removed, I need to have a way to set up a short tow quickly. To do this, I slide a metal D-ring onto the belt.This captive ring can be used to set up a tow half the length of the tow rope. To do this, I pass the clip through the decklines of the boat to be towed and clip it onto the metal D-ring.And that’s it – I now have a clean line that’s easy to manage, quick to deploy, adjustable and ready to go! Make sure you start out with a great towline that’s well made and designed and it doesn’t take long to make the adaptions needed to give even more flexibility in use.
We all know that confident leadership can inspire the rest of the group and help canoeists and kayakers perform at their best – but what can we do to come across as being confident?
We need to be confident in our decisions, and confident in our instructions. We need to have clear aims and objectives, and communicate them effectively to the group. And there’s a simple way for us to achieve this – we can do what great leaders do and eliminate the word “try” from our vocabulary.
When we use the word “try”, we introduce the possibility of failure. We plant seeds of doubt in the minds of our group. And yet “try” is a word I so often hear when assessing leaders for their 4 or 5 star awards.
“We’ll try to get that eddy”, “I’ll try to hit the line”, We’ll try not to capsize” – these are all common phrases, but they don’t inspire confidence in either the leaders or the groups ability.
In fact, “try” does not exist in the real world. We either do something or we don’t – there is no try. Many people think of Winston Churchill when we think of great leadership. For him, trying didn’t exist either. Imagine the effect on the morale of the people if he’d broadcast this speech before our ‘finest hour’-
“we shall try to fight on the beaches,
we shall try to fight on the landing grounds,
we shall try to fight in the fields and in the streets,
we shall try to fight in the hills;
we shall try not to surrender”.
-the effect’s not quite the same is it? It’s almost as if the word ‘try’ gives us permission to fail! So when you’re out paddling, let’s stop trying – let’s just “do”.
One way to remember and check you have covered everything is to use the acronym My ABCDE.
M.Y.A.B.C.D.E. stands for-
Me – Introduction and a bit about me.
You – Introductions from the group.
Area – the plan for the day, the water we will be on, and the ‘type’ of trip we will be undertaking.
Boats and kit – safety checks and also who has what kit and where.
Communication – how will we communicate, what signals will we use.
Doctor – an invitation for anyone to let me know any relevant medical needs and a reminder for people to carry any relevent medication.
Emergency – what to do if an incident occurs – a swim brief and what the rest of the group should do.
Have you ever wondered how really good leaders make the right decisions? How do they know when to stop the group and put them in a safe place while they paddle something or scout ahead? How do they know when to stop the group and change strategy?
One thing they do is unconsciously monitor where they are placing their focus of attention.
Evidence suggests we can only focus our attention on one thing at a time. However, we can switch focus from one thing to another quickly, with practice. What we need to decide is how much of our time we should spend attending to any particular thing.
There are so many things we could attend to, and they can be put into three general categories-
Good leaders are paying attention to these three areas in different proportions, and these proportions will vary depending on the situation.
If a leader is well within their own comfort zone, their focus of attention may look something like this-
Focus of Attention
Now, imagine that the group arrive at a challenging piece of water. The Leader decides that he needs to pay more attention to the environment – perhaps 70% of his attention. But that means the very most he can attend to the group is 30%, perhaps not enough. So the leader stops the group, puts them in a safe place, and no longer has to worry about them while he pays attention to the environment and his own safety.
Now, perhaps the leader decides that the challenges ahead are within the capabilities of the group, but when actually paddling the leader will have to concentrate of his own performance and increase the focus of attention on himself to 50%. And he’ll need to adapt his performance within the environment, so the environment requires 40% attention. Again, that means that he cannot focus on keeping the group safe, so he decides to run the water one at a time with those not running it safely out of harms way.
So next time you’re out with your groups, have a think about how much attention you are paying to these different areas at different times and in different places. Calibrating this can be a useful way to know when it’s time to change strategy.
I’ve taken part in numerous canoe and kayak training and assessment courses – skills courses, coaching courses, BCU courses, update courses – and all stress the importance of good leadership in outdoor adventurous activities. Leadership is the topic of articles and chapters in books – it almost seems that as long as we have a good leader in our group when we go out canoeing or kayaking then everything will be fine.
But leadership is only one end of a continuum. At the other lies “followership”. A good leader can do so much – and for the group to work really well together everyone else needs to demonstrate good followership behaviours.
So what is good followership? Here is a list of some followership behaviours that are useful-
One interesting point is that as I observe successful groups, the group members often move backwards and forwards along the Leadership – Followership continuum. Everyone has a role to play if the group is to be successful, and everyone has some responsibility.
Many people raft canoes together on open water, perhaps thinking that the additional stability offered by the raft provides a greater margin of safety. This may be true in some circumstances, but rafting canoes does create additional hazards which should be considered.
Should your raft become swamped, then you have all your eggs in one basket. Recovering swamped canoes can be challenging and is definately worth practicing. All the paddlers will be in the water, so you will need a strategy for an “all-in rescue”.
Here is a short clip of a rafted canoe recovery and all-in rescue.
There are several tips which will make this process easier, and these start with the construction of the raft.
All-in and swamped raft rescues are well worth practicing in a controlled environment (warm water, close to shore and in an on-shore wind) and with competent supervision. Alternatively, these recoveries can be included in canoe and kayak training and assessment courses and are part of the BCU canoe four and five star syllabus.
While paddling with a very good friend and exceptional paddler we pinned an open canoe on white water. His boat quickly folded around him, but he was well equipped and exceptionally calm. As the folding boat trapped his legs under his kneeling thwart he reached for his rescue saw, cut through one side of his kneeling thwart and freed himself in just a few seconds.
We then attached a line to the end of the boat, and because the large airbags he had kitted his boat with displaced so much water the two of us were able to un-pin the boat with a z-drag.
Have a look at the incident here-
After we had recovered the canoe, he cut off the rest of the kneeling thwart and we were able to enjoy the rest of the day on the river together.
The incident happened very quickly, and it was only through training in white water safety and rescue, practice, good equipment and by remaining calm that dealing with the incident was relatively routine. Two pieces of equipment were very important – having the rescue saw at hand allowed the paddler to rapidly escape from the boat. Large airbags significantly reduced the force of the water on the boat and enabled two people to recover it with a simple z-drag.
Many people who canoe or kayak on white water or rivers use the grading system to help them understand and anticipate what they are likely to be up against when they get onto the water. No such system exists for canoeists on large lakes or lochs. The system laid out below is has been designed for using in these situations, and is loosely based on a system some sea kayakers use.
Score the following-
Water Temperature – 1 point for each degree below 20C
Wind – 1 point for each mph
Wave height – 2 points for each vertical foot (trough to crest)
Waves breaking – if yes add 10 points
Potential Swim distance – 1 point for every 25m (normal clothes), 100m (wet or dry suit)
Paddling at night/fog – 20 points
Each misc hazard (eg difficulty communicating, remoteness, time on the water, tiredness etc)- 10 points
Add up the scores from the above, then divide the total by 10 to get a grade. The grades are-
Grade 1 – easy conditions suitable for beginners close to shore.
Grade 2 – Moderate conditions, intermediate skills required.
Grade 3 – Intermediate to advanced skills required.
Grade 4 – Difficult – advanced skills required.
Grade 5+ – Very difficult – experts only.
As an example. Paddling across a 200m lake, water temperature 10C, wind force 3 (10mph), 1 foot waves, long fetch so some whitecaps, daytime, dressed in pile and fleece clothes.
Water Temperature – 1 point for each degree below 20C – 10 points
Wind – 1 point for each mph -10 points
Wave height – 2 points for each vertical foot (trough to crest) -2points
Waves breaking – if yes add 10 points -Yes 10 points
Swim distance – 1 point for every 25m from shore (normal clothes), 100m (wet or dry suit) -100m in normal clothes – 4 points
Paddling at night/fog – 20 points -0 points
Any misc hazard – 10 points -0 points
Total – 36 points. Divide by 10 = 3.6
Grade 3 – Intermediate to advanced skills required.
In any good white water canoe and kayak course (perhaps your BCU four star or five star training, or your safety and rescue course), you’ll learn several different river running strategies. One important one is called Eddy Hopping.
Eddy hopping is illustrated here-
With all the paddlers in seperate eddies, the leader will paddle down to the next one. They will then turn and signal for the second paddler to paddle down one eddy (to the one the leader just left). Then, on signal, the third paddler will paddle to where the second was, and the fourth to where the third was until all paddlers have moved down one eddy.
This strategy is very simple and effective, and allows the leader to select eddies which are achievable for the group.