PaddleWise Discussion on Kayaker Swim Support

Date: Tue, 08 Aug 2000 14:05:56 -0400
From: Bill Leonhardt
Subject: Re: [Paddlewise] swim support roles and tips

At 12:27 PM 8/8/00 -0400, John Waddington wrote:
>I think that Craig has made a very good point. If people are
>geared up for a day of rescues, they would approach everything
>differently than if they were planning on being there as
>About a year ago someone posted tips for kayak support boats.  It
>included things to carry (extra PFD, etc.).  I saved mine to my
>hard drive, but can no longer find it. Does anyone still have a
>copy of that list? I will be paddling support in a couple of


I agree with you that Craig Hicks did indeed make a very good point.  The
differences in kayaker vs. power boat capts. priorities and philosophies
are not universal but I they certainly approach their duties from a
different mind-set.  In this year's around manhattan race, I had an
opportunity to meet the power boat I would work with and we worked out some
good shared techniques that made the race go smoother.  I think, where
practical, meetings between the power boaters and kayakers would be very

I once post the following advice to swim race kayakers.  My wife told me it
sounded a little "preachy" so I have been meaning to edit it, but just
haven't got to it yet.


Bill Leonhardt


Some thoughts on swim race support             
W. Leonhardt

With the upcoming swim race, I'd like to take a moment to consider the role
kayakers play in a swim race.  Naturally, we provide a good channel for
communicating with swimmers and we help them navigate, but, in my mind, the
most important service we render is to provide immediate aide to a swimmer
in distress.  

A prime example of this is the aide given by two kayakers during a swim
race in the Chesapeake Bay in the summer of 1999.  They came upon an
unconscious swimmer floating face down (due to a seizure, I believe) and
had to take immediate action.  Their alertness and quick response literally
saved the swimmer's life.  

I am bringing this topic to light because I have witnessed a few swim races
where kayakers participated but were ill prepared to lend immediate aide.
It's not too hard to imagine a scenario where a kayaker might have to come
to the aide of a swimmer and make physical contact with him or her.  I know
that there are times good judgement requires that we keep a good distance
from a swimmer (panic thrashing, etc.) but there are also times, like in
the Chesapeake race, where we might have to grab one.

Therefore, I recommend that swim race support kayakers:

1. Always wear a PFD.  If a swimmer is in distress, you may need to lend
immediate aide and not think to put one on or waste time doing so.  If you
are dealing with someone in the water, things can happen that would cause
you to be in the water too.  Wearing a PFD will help you continue to
provide aide while in the water and make your rescue easier for the rest of
2. Always use a spray skirt.  If you are helping a swimmer in the water,
you may need to lean your boat while doing so.  The last thing you need is
to be scooping water into your cockpit.
3. Insure that your boat has adequate floatation.  If you go for a swim
while helping a swimmer, it will give you both something to hold on to
until more help arrives.  It will also help other kayakers to help you get
back in your boat.
4. Carry a spare PFD under a deck bungee.  If a swimmer gets in trouble, it
is much better to toss a PFD to them then to have them grab onto your boat
possibly causing an upset.

In essence, what I am preaching here is to have floatation for you, your
boat and for a swimmer.  I think it makes good sense.   

Date: Tue, 08 Aug 2000 14:34:28 -0700 From: ralph diaz Subject: [Paddlewise] Tips etc for swim supports [Fwd: Swim Race Floation] Perhaps this forewarded message from last year is what John Waddington was thinking of. There is a growing amount of discussion on what to have on board. An extra PFD is a good idea as well as a tow rope of some sort. Also, if you can afford it, a marine VHF radio. Obviously a whistle or airhorn is a good idea. Another thing is techniques involved in two types of situations: 1)steering swimmers back on course and/or away from dangerous obstacles; 2)dealing with a swimmer who is in trouble. Here is some quick stuff on this. I think by next year we will have worked out a good set of guidelines on this. So this is just to tide you over. 1) Steering swimmers. Swimmers vary in their ability to hear and carry on a conversation. Some have seemed totally deaf to anything but a mine going off. Others catch your words quickly. Try everything you can to communicate. But if the swimmer is going off course or into danger, position your kayak in front of them so that they either hit it or see it and stop. We are making certain in the NYC swims that the race announcer makes clear to the swimmers that if a kayak is in their path it is for a reason, i.e. to help them stay on course or away from a danger. And, most importantly, such incidental touching of a kayak that might result from this manuever is NOT an immediate disqualification. If they hang on to the kayak, then they will be disqualified. 2. A swimmer in trouble. The tried-n-true advice is not to let a distress swimmer grab you on the side of your kayak, which will likely result in a capsize unless you are in a double folding kayak (which is as good as swim raft float). Let them grab only your bow and be ready to pull away if they seem panicky. Tossing them an extra PFD or seat cushion, i.e. any good portable flotation, is also a good idea. Call for help with your marine radio or by waving your paddle and using your whistle or airhorn. I have been told by someone who presented to a BCU 5 star coach the problem of dealing with several people in trouble at once that the coach advised flipping over your boat on your own and having it serve as a grab on raft for all of you, with you on the opposite side of them. This was actually told in the context not of swimmers but rather if coming on to several people in the water who did not have PFDs and were in the thralls of drowning, something that happened here a year or so ago not to far from where last Saturday's race started. Two guys in a motorized dinghy flipped and drowned within 50 feet of the esplanade along Manhattan's Riverside Park. I doubt that there would ever be a need for such action in a swim with motor boats all over the place and plenty of rescue help available. But a spare PFD and having persons hang on to your bow would be a good working solution until help came. Again, guidelines are evolving as we speak and something should be available by the next swimming season. ralph diaz - -- - ----------------------------------------------------------------------- Ralph Diaz . . . Folding Kayaker newsletter PO Box 0754, New York, NY 10024 Tel: 212-724-5069; E-mail: "Where's your sea kayak?"----"It's in the bag." - -----------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: Tue, 8 Aug 2000 10:43:09 -0800 From: "Seng, Dave" Subject: RE: [Paddlewise] swim support roles and tips Hi Bill, That doesn't sound to "preachy" to me. Good solid advice. Another thing that might be good is for paddlers to at least experience what it's like to paddle with someone hanging onto their boat or lying on the rear deck. That way you'll know what works and doesn't work for you. Most _competitive_ swimmers won't panic in the water - even with a debilitating cramp. If you can make eye contact and converse with a swimmer having a bad time you're probably safe putting your boat within their reach. Dave Seng Juneau, Alaska