Practitioners of SEA KAYAKING are a bunch of safety-conscious hoopy froods. We sass this because sea kayakers always talk about safety. For example, “You just posted that video of the place I paddle. The video only showed calm water, but it gets crazy there. You should have introduced the video with a 15 minute safety talk about the dangers of paddling there when it gets crazy.” Sea kayakers have conversations that stretch out into 100s of comments about how one advertisement showing calm water might lead someone to buy a recreational kayak and go paddling in 10-foot waves. They debate the merits of self-rescues and then they debate them again. Sea kayakers come up with lists and talk about the perfect kayak ditch kit or the perfect tow rope or where to store a spare paddle, which is a piece of safety gear often talked about and discussed in length. Sea kayakers take classes about safety and rescue and in the spring each year sea kayak clubs practice rescues. When sea kayakers are bored paddling, they jump in the water to practice a rescue or do a roll. Sea kayakers philosophize about what’s their safety burdens as experienced paddlers. Sea kayakers probably talk about and read about and argue about sea kayaking safety more than they actually paddle. And don’t get a sea kayaker who paddles on cold water started about paddling on cold water.
I’m a sea kayaker and do this, too.
There’s one conversation that seems to hang out there. It usually starts when an image shows a potentially risky activity with a ambiguously safety depiction without comment. For example, it shows sea kayakers on known cold water in calm conditions and you can’t tell whether or not the paddlers are wearing wetsuits (there’s a difference when an advertisement makes a danger seem like no big deal — that’s a bad idea). The conversation discusses the responsibility of those involved in advertisement and how they depict the sport. It can head into direction of guiding and whether or not such and such guiding company is safe. But, it usually devolves into a conversation about the risky things that entry-level sea kayakers do, because they don’t know better and whether or not the ad is causing them to do those risky things. Suggestions are made about safety stickers or pamphlets being put into all kayaks sold or signs or some kind of license to pilot a kayak. The conversation then turns the corner on what the industry and individual sea kayakers should do about it. Some people argue that experienced sea kayakers who see a newbie about to head off into risky conditions, should intervene. Some argue that sea kayakers need to get off their high horse. Go to any paddling forum or social media group and there will be at least one conversation that echos this. No one ever volunteers to join a kayak advocacy group and devote his or her free time to educating the public.
Basically, it’s the worry that newbies won’t paddle safely and they’ll die. The conversation is about “we” sea kayakers and what “we” are going to do about it. Just like some magically “we” appears when “we” talk about safety. When in reality, those saying “we” almost never actually DO anything about it.
I’ve participated in this “same” safety conversations at least a dozen times over the years. At least a dozen times the conversation eventually ends and no one changes his or her mind. But, while having this conversation at the GLSKS a couple of years ago, we were talking about how safety conscious sea kayakers are and then we started talking about all the stupid risks that we’ve seen unaware people take in kayaks and then we talked about how vast majority of those folks don’t die.
Lots of newbie kayakers do lots of things that I wouldn’t do as an experienced kayaker, but they live. It makes you wonder about all the safety training. Of course, people die, too. It can end up being experienced kayakers or newbies. Then there’s an activity that looks risky, but we may not understand the paddler’s skill level or planning that went into it.
There really isn’t an answer that I’ve been able to discern from all these conversations, but I’ve come to personal conclusions. Some of these conclusions come about because I’m a photographer and writer who writes about sea kayaking and photographs sea kayaking on dangerous cold water. I photograph scenes in which the paddlers are dressed appropriately, but sometimes you can’t really tell. Here are my conclusion this week. But, it’s a complicated issue, so my conclusions could easily change next.
- Showing a picture of or a video of an activity that depicts a dangerous area as an easy, calm place to paddle doesn’t spur people to head out on their own in dangerous conditions.
- I’m not responsible for the actions of others who see my pictures.
- People that are going to head out on their own are going to head out on their own regardless of what I say, so I just don’t say anymore.
- When people are ready to learn, they’ll seek out instruction.
- People that don’t know there is instruction benefit when they learn that instruction is available.
- I’ll do something in the appropriate venue. For example, I teach sea kayak safety to the club I’m involved with for free and I write plenty about sea kayak safety here.
- Cold water kills and no matter how you explain it to people, they don’t believe it.
- Putting a sign up at every kayak launch spot that says cold water kills wear a wetsuit or drysuit doesn’t stop people who are going to head out without from heading out without (we have these signs in Minnesota) even when they know better.
- Dunning-Krugger is too big of a force in many people first taking up kayaking.
My biggest personal conclusion is:
- It’s not my burden unless I’m guiding, teaching or lecturing to worry about all the other kayakers in the world who may be doing something unsafely or who may want to do something unsafely after seeing one of my photos. Even if they suffer from Dunning-Krugger, it’s on them and not on me.
- I’m not going to worry about it anymore. Not my issue. Life is too short to worry about it. I’m going to paddle my own paddle. I’m going to help those that want help and not worry about the rest.
Do you have any personal conclusions about the safety-when-it-comes-to-newbies issue in sea kayaking?