18 Tips to Make Your Paddle or Paddle Back Safe

We all love to paddle in the open ocean or Bays, and as you get more experienced, paddle backs become the ultimate experience.

The picture with this blog is the screenshot from Willy Weather just prior to our paddle back on Port Phillip Bay in Victoria, Australia yesterday. 44 knot tail breeze with gusts of 50 knots. Wild, extreme, yet, given our high level of experience, a paddle that was also extremely exhilarating.

However, any ocean paddle comes with risks, especially as conditions get more extreme. And there can often exist a bit of bravado from paddlers, wanting to either keep up with more experienced paddling friends, or wanting to show that they have no limits to the extremes that they can go to – a friend of mine describes this as ‘the not wanting to miss out’ syndrome.

There is no room for this attitude in ocean paddling. It creates too many risks, and even if you go out solo (not wanting to burden anyone else – which, unless you are super, super experienced, you should never do) it stuffs up the sport for everyone else.

However, having experienced the absolute worst case scenario on a paddle back with a dear friend recently, I felt it time to offer my tips for increasing safety on a paddle or a paddle back. Below are my 18 tips for increasing the safety of your paddle.

I am very grateful to say that on the day that I experienced this ‘worst case scenario’ on our paddle back, there was no bravado (we both studied the conditions carefully before we left and mutually agreed that we were comfortable), and we took many (or most) of the safety procedures that I mention. (Had we not, I am not sure I would have been able to live with myself).

As a result, I can comfortably say that it was a tragic accident, and did almost everything that we could. I say almost everything, as, whilst our procedures were very thorough, and authorities acknowledged this,there is more we learned from such an extreme occurrence.

So, here are the things we did on the day of the paddle back yesterday corresponding to the photo above that might help you on your next ocean paddle. A few of these measures we learned from the accident mentioned, and most of which we now insist on. And I welcome any feedback or further tips to improve the safety of our sport, and he fun we can have:

  1. We all wore life jackets – PFD’s.
  2. We all wore ankle leashes.
  3. We all carried flares with us, in our life jackets – not on ski. This is important as, if you lose your ski, and also your flare, then your visibility whilst you are floating in the water is extremely poor, so if you don’t have a flare with you (as you lost that with your ski or didn’t bring one), you dramatically reduce your chances of being found/rescued.
  4. We all carried phones in weatherproof cases.
  5. We stuck together – no more than 100m apart the whole paddle.
  6. As this was a paddle along the coast, we stayed within 200m of the shore the whole time (given it is only 12 degrees celcius in the water at the moment, we didn’t want a long swim).
  7. We had someone follow us in a car for as long as they could see us.
  8. We agreed that if we lost our ski, personal safety (for all of us) was the priority, so were prepared to lose the ski for good.
  9. We wore high vis orange life jackets (always orange for us – it’s so much more visible than any other colour – we’ve found) or T-Shirts over our PFD (if not orange).
  10. We wore high vis orange hats (as I’ve learned the hard way that once someone is in the water, their PFD or T-Shirt is no longer visible, so your head needs to be highly visible also).
  11. If in doubt before you paddle, pull out. No room for heroes. Having someone who is struggling ruins the paddle for everyone, as the rest of the paddlers have to (or should) hang back to make sure the person struggling is ok. We had 3 paddlers withdraw based on the conditions yesterday, a couple of whom probably would have been ok, however I commend all of them for having the guts to make an honest call.
  12. Say no to any paddler you (or the group) have doubts about. We said no to someone yesterday.  And we were glad we did when we got out there.

And some extra things you should consider:

  1.  Log in to a tracking app on the phone (all of you) – Glympse, RoadID etc.
  2. Carry a whistle on your PFD (it’s bloody hard to hear out there in a strong wind).
  3. Take an EPurb (or however it is spelled).
  4. Use a paddle leash – there are some arguments that these are a better safety feature than an ankle leash. Without your paddle you are in trouble, and how many times do you see people having to swim for their paddle. Plus they act as a break for a ski that is being blown away.
  5.  Dial the number of one of the paddlers with you on the paddle back (the one more likely to be closest to you) before you get on the water, so that it’s the first thing that appears on the phone when you activate it on the water. It’s bloody hard to fumble around with dialing numbers on the water in rough conditions, and, inside the case, with water on the screen, the phone frequently doesn’t work well.
  6. Never do an open ocean paddle with someone you are not familiar with, especially when conditions are extreme. Don’t rely on what they tell you about their ability as a gauge. This lesson once cost me an obliterated ski, so was a very expensive lesson :-(

That should be enough for now. But we never stop learning.

If you’d like to book in for a one on one lesson, or group session, or paddle event package, please contact me on 0425 739 918 or via email tim@wepaddle.com.au.