Book Review on
Sea Kayak Rescue: The definitive guide to modern reentry and recovery techniques

- by Roger Schumann and Jan Shriner, 2001

Review by Steve Cramer

I should begin this review with a bit of a disclaimer. I know Roger and have recommended him as an outfitter and instructor on this list in the past. More to the point, Roger once rescued me in the mouth of Tomales Bay (near, as I learned later, the great white shark rookery) after I got slammed by a boomer, so I come to any discussion of his rescue skills with some preconceptions.

Anyway, I was very impressed by this book, for several reasons. One is its completeness (well, almost; more about that later). This book talks about more kinds of rescues than I have ever seen collected in one place. More importantly, every rescue mentioned is dissected to a high level of detail, including step-by-step instructions for each, and occasional comments based on the authors' experience with that particular rescue.

Rescue. Let me say a word about that word. Schumann and Shriner begin the book by suggesting that it might be better, especially with less experienced students, to avoid the word "rescue" altogether. Many of us have seen paddlers who consider a class successful if they stayed upright, not whether they learned anything. Above all else, do not swim! This is partly because they are afraid of being in the water, or of being cold, but perhaps also because they want to avoid being "rescued," and all the emotional and personal baggage that entails. Better, perhaps, RS suggest, to talk about "reentries" instead, a much less loaded word (They also suggest "recovery," but anyone with a wilderness first aid background will prefer to avoid that one).

I was pleased to see that the organization of the book follows my own plan in teaching rescues (Yes, "rescues." Schumann and Shriner give up on the "reentries" idea early on, in a bow to common usage). That is, to begin by teaching braces so that a re-whatever will not be necessary, then to move on to wet exits, basic solo and assisted reentries (OK, I'm going to use both terms), and more complex moves like reenter and roll, Eskimo rescues and rolls, and special circumstances and tricks like sling assists, rescuing loaded sea kayaks, and double re-entries.

I think this learning sequence is essential. Practicing bracing moves easily into practicing snapping up off a partner's bow, because the two movements are dynamically identical. This prepares students well for the Eskimo rescue. I know that students have trouble learning Eskimo rescues directly if they haven't learned to hip snap yet.

The last two chapters deal with towing in a good amount of detail, and a Consumers' Digest review of three commercial products for rescue: the Back-Up, the Sea Seat, and, yes sp...spo... don't make me say it...all right, sponsons. Hmm, my WordPerfect spell checker just flagged "sponson" as a misspelled word. They were fair towards, but not enthusiastic about any of these products.

There are also a couple of chapters about preparation and prevention and basic safety gear. These say basically the same things that we all know about PFDs and signaling devices (no, they don't identify the ultimate handheld VHF) and float plans, but are useful reading nonetheless, especially if you keep asking yourself "Do I always do that?"

The book is profusely illustrated with black and white photos, usually at least one per page. These are occasionally a bit foggy, but as Schumann and Shriner do most of their paddling in Northern California, it may just been that the light really did look like that.

As an added bonus, there are several stories interspersed among the procedures, with compelling titles like "Reentry at Punta Diablo" and "Counting in Dog Years Tale of a Rock Garden Bow Rescue." The stories generally avoid the "No shit, there I was..." tenor of most paddling tales, while still maintaining a high level of realism and providing a lesson for the wise to heed.

A few particular techniques merit comment. Schumann and Shriner mention the deck rigged paddlefloat reentry as a useful ploy, but are not wholeheartedly enthusiastic about it unless you always paddle your own kayak (with the same paddle) and never flip in borrowed boats. They are also a bit disparaging about such Brit standbys as the All In rescue and the HI (aka, Ipswich) rescue, although they do refrain from Roger's earlier claim that "Ipswich" is an Olde English term meaning "a good way to break a paddle, dude."

A couple of ideas caught my fancy and I tried them out at a rescue clinic I ran last weekend for a couple of local clubs. For example, incorporating a sling into a paddlefloat rescue adds a few seconds to the setup time and shaves much more than that from the reentry time, while adding a ton of stability. Some students who were struggling to keep the paddle in position hopped right back in the boat when we added the sling. As soon as I get the pictures developed, I'll post shots of me reentering from a standing position. I'll see if I can duplicate that move in some waves.

Another of Roger's tricks that most of us use is the rough water simulator for bracing and reentry practice, which consists of someone yanking the kayak back and forth and up and down, grinning maniacally while the victim tries to stay upright or get out of the water. The RWS is a big improvement over the standard "edge 'til you start to fall" bracing drills. I've hurt myself being the RWS, though, so I've started using a pair of ropes tied to the bungees and crossing under the kayak. It requires two people to be the RWS, but you can get a boat really on edge with a brisk pull on the rope. Keep the ropes short, though, so you can be close by to offer a hand up if needed. Wayne Hodorowitz has a variant on this rope trick that simulates a broached surf; he's written about it in Sea Kayaker.

I wouldn't feel like I was giving good value in a review unless I had a few quibbles, so let me get into those now. I was interested to find that one of the rescues that I use and teach that didn't make it into the book. This is the parallel eskimo rescue, in which the rescuer approaches the upside down boat parallel (what else?) and lays the paddle across her lap and the upturned hull. The victim reaches up, grabs the paddle between the boats, and snaps up. I taught this one to my wife so we could demo it, and she really likes it, as the rescuer is very stable. It may be necessary to place the victim's hands correctly on the paddle. Put their thumbs together, Meg informs me, which is a trick I hadn't come up with.

A second departure for me is in the starting position of the paddlefloat rescue. I really don't like to start aft of the paddle, which necessitates a usually graceless pirouette over the shaft (Schumann and Shriner call this the sea star move, which sounds exotic, but I've never found sea stars to be very graceful), when you could start on the bow side, and in your first move stick your leg into the cockpit. Schumann and Shriner say that this only works for shorter paddlers, but I've got a 33" inseam and size 12 feet, and it works fine for me. Of course, Roger is an ACA ITE and Jan is an IT, so perhaps I'm risking my certification by saying, considering how rigid and dogmatic the ACA is. (Note to the humor-impaired: I'm joking).

I can't quibble much, though. This book is a solid resource, pulling together most of what there is to be known about sea kayak safety and rescues, and doing it in a readable, occasionally even witty, style. It's definitely worth the $14.95.