Thoughts and Ideas about Rescues in Real Life Conditions

Thursday, 14 November 2013

This past weekend I was out paddling with by buddies Erik and Wilber here in Toronto on Lake Ontario. The three of us have been working with a group of intermediate paddlers introducing them to the wonders of late season paddling and the joys of rough water. It has been a lot of fun.

So, after several weekends of fairly calm conditions we decided to push the envelope a bit and take the group out in rougher water since the SW winds on the lake was finally bringing us really a nice 2.5-3 foot swell.

Out paddling in the rough water we had two people tip out into the water (not at the same time) and quickly got them back up and running again so there was lots of learning for everybody throughout the day. I know I walked away with some interesting insights and things that we should emphasise more so students are more prepared about rescues. Here they are in no particular order:


1) As instructors, we need to teach students that not to be a passive victim if you find yourself swimming.

For some reason we always teach swimmers take direction from the paddler in the kayak and not to take any action until she tells you to. That makes good sense from the perspective that it teaches the paddler how to take control and give directions in an emergency situation but the reality is that in real life conditions, if the swimmer is perfectly fine I believe they should take a more assertive role in helping the paddler help them. As rough water partners, both should know their roles and the steps to rectify the problem. It just speeds the whole thing up considerably.


2) We need to really, really, really drill home the idea of holding onto your gear and boat.

My students understand the concept but when they are floating in the waves everybody forgets about their paddle. The concept grabbing and keeping your stuff from floating away really needs to be drilled home, over and over again as you can’t swim faster than a boat blowing away. Never let go of your paddle or boat. Never.


3) Teach your students how to use their own paddle to swim faster.

If you need to move around in the water it’s way easier to use your paddle to help pull you through the water. This really rings true if you need to go any type of distance greater than 2-3 boat lengths. It’s also a lot easier then swimming with one hand and the paddle beside you so teach it to your students and they will thank you for it.

If you are not sure what I’m talking about here is a quick video I found demonstrating it.

What do you think instructors? Share your own tips or insights below.


David Johnston

David Johnston

David Johnston has been introducing people to the sport of sea kayaking for the past 15 years. He is a senior instructor trainer with Paddle Canada and teaches for several paddling schools in Ontario, Canada. Full Bio.

Strategic partner

Paddle Canada Logo