Friday, June 13, 2008

Kayaking Tragedy- Lessons Learned and River Safety

Ben Earle picture on the Hokitika river in New Zealand- Photo by Maggie Crocker

Last week, i watched as my best friend and amazing boater Ben Earle got vertically pinned and stuffed under a log. I watched as he struggled for air before drowning right in front of my eyes. Its is an experience i will never forget till my dyeing day.

What it made me realize is the number of people in the whitewater community over the years whom both Ben and i have paddled with, who have had no rescue training what so ever. It is very disappointing indeed  We have paddled with some of the best boaters, whom i grew up watching on videos only to find out that in the field of river safety where completely ignorant

Fistly my advice to ANYBODY who plans to paddle on moving water is to take the time to attend a rescue course. these courses are available in many forms depending on where in the world you live, but the most common being Swiftwater Rescue Technician (SRT)
They are designed to give river users techniques and skills that could potentially save their own life or sombody around them. 
All my creeking companions hold rescue certification and the skills they have, on more than one occasion, have saved my life and i have saved theirs. It is a skill that we should all have and practice regularly.

Ask yourself this, ... could you live with yourself watching your friend or family member drown, knowing that there are skills you could have had, which may have saved their life?!?

...I know that i could not live with myslef....

Ben's situation was a very complicated one, and i am at peace that i tried everything i could.
Throwbags come in many shapes and sizes, get one and learn how to use it. I guarantee that if you paddle long enough you will likely save more than one life during your career

On every paddling trip at least one breakdown paddle should be carried and all boats fitted with stern float bags.
Carabiners are an important tool on any rescuers arsinal, they can be used to attach rope to either the boat, anchor or towline of a rescue PFD.
It is very important that any carabiner that is exposed on your pfd (ie. not in a pocket) is a locked. locking carabiner should be screwed closed so as not to clip onto anything else on the river.
Pictured above: right-left:
QUICK-LOCK- a good option for cow tails where they may need to be unlocked quickely and lock instantly after letting it go.
SCREW GATE- Is a great option as part of a rescue kit and the best option if you plan yo carry them on the outside of your PFD.
QUICK- CLIP- Not a bad option when left in the back of your boat. They should never be left exposed on your PFD

Knife's come in all shapes and sizes, and they are a must when carreying rope of any description. Saw's are also a good option when paddling creeks
I urge you to think very strongly about the following point. To understand what i am talking about, Wedge your kayak in-between the chair and bench on your local picnic table, climb in and put your deck on.
Now try and get out without using your hands, it can be virtually impossible.
Above is a picture of the foot-block on my Fluid solo, Note that the center pillar has notches in it which act as steps to assist in getting yourself out using nothing but your legs
This is an example of another company's foam center pillar. Those of you who tried getting out of your boat and have a foam pillar similar, you will understand that it is impossible. If your boat does not have steps, try sculpting them out of foam or replace your boat completely. there are many company's out there who's creek boats have this feature, i urge you to chose one of them and convince your friends to do the same
Above is a picture of two types of rescue vests. There are many on the market and everybody who intends on paddling on creeks should own one with a harness. there are many points to be made regarding the PFD, but you MUST make sure that your river knife and quick release are as close to the center of your torso as possible. This provides you with the best possible chances to utilize them should you be pinned and the water forcing your hands away from your body

For those of you who knew Ben, you knew that he took river safety very seriously. Even those who didn't know him personally, i urge you to do one thing for him while it is fresh in your mind. Please take off your next weekend from boating and instead attend a rescue course with your friends, chat about what you would do in a desperate situation and go over your river signals. Then get back out their and Huck your meat safely.

I just finished one yesterday, i could not think of anywhere i would rather be after his funeral than scrubbing up on the skills that he was so very competent at. I owe my life to his skills on more than one occasion and for that i will never forget.

Rest In Peace Benji
Adrian Kiernan


Cristian said...

Froma argentina, thanks for this instructions (my english is very bad) your friend sure was a good people and great kayaking...

good luck "brother"

"Rest In Peace Benji"

Cristian Brega

KayakMind said...

Hi Adrian. Terrible news about Ben. I hope you don't mind, but I used one of your photos in my post on about his passing. If it's a problem, let me know at and I'll take the photo down.

Best wishes,

Chris Emery