Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Advice: Please, Stop the Kayaking Deaths! (proper risk management)

I have written about safety previously in my post Safety is a Mindset, but I will continue to revisit this topic, as I consider any kayaking related death a tragedy, and possibly preventable. The kayak news feeds I follow are filled with stories of deaths, rescues, injuries, etc. I know, some of this is the nature of "news" itself - if it bleeds, it leads. People are attracted to stories of kayaking deaths the same way we like to read about shark attacks. We can afford to be frightened from a safe distance. That said, there are some trends occurring that I believe could increase the risk of more deaths and injuries. According to a 2016 report from the market research firm NPD, recreational kayak sales increased by double digit percentages during the period of 2014-2016. I wrote about the increasing sale of cheaply made and designed "discount" kayaks in my post The "Kmart Kayaker" - Why More People Are Dying from Paddle Sports . Put these trends together: more kayaks sold, more cheap kayaks purchased - you can postulate a reasonable assumption that many of these kayaks are purchased by inexperienced, possibly out of shape, and possibly uneducated kayakers. 

Experienced kayakers are not immune to risk either, and that is why I wanted to speak more philosophically about the concept of risk assessment, management and mitigation. I am in the process of reading (for the second time - and well worth it) a book entitled Antifragile written by Nassim Nicholas Taleb., formerly a derivatives trader and risk analysis professional on Wall Street. I encourage anyone to read this book. It is dense and sometimes confounding, but challenging to one's view of risk and the benefits of taking risks. Taleb describes a good risk as being one where the downside is known and limited, but the upside is unknown and unlimited. When I read stories of kayaking deaths and injuries, I often identify the opposite. Folks seem to take enormous risks with their safety for what is probably a limited upside. Granted, you may meet the love of your life on a paddle trip, or the physical activity might have a ripple affect on your health and fitness practices and stave off a chronic disease, both of which have an enormous potential upside. Let's face it, though - most kayak trips are meant to provide exercise, enjoyment, exploration, and possibly adventure. While the amounts of each available on a given trip would be hard to quantify, it is not unrealistic to say they are somewhat known and limited. The downside to an improperly planned trip is unlimited - it's death, and all of the heartache, disruption, and pain that it could bring to your loved ones.
USCG rescue
Don't be the guy getting dragged

So, what to do - avoid kayaking? Stay out of the water? Not for me. As the saying goes "I could get hit by a bus tomorrow". Random events are just that - random, and all risk cannot (and should not, in my opinion) be avoided. However, risk can be assessed and mitigated. Is it really worth the experience of solo paddling to that offshore island in February to risk dying? Apparently, for one New Hampshire kayaker it was: story here . For me, it wouldn't be. Look, people are going to die kayaking. They're also going to die falling down a flight of stairs. Not to linger too long on a morbid subject, but I'd rather die in the midst of a supreme adventure then waste away in a nursing home. That said, the upside to that adventure better have damn well been worth it. Because the suffering of my loved ones would be the cost. 

Read every kayak safety article you can. Take a water rescue class. Make sure you have the right equipment - and possibly more than one of everything. Think of the Navy Seal mantra "two is one and one is none" - those guys know how to mitigate risk. Research where you paddle. Read Safety is a Mindset. Wear your PFD. Look at my About me page - I wear a PFD always when paddling my kayak, and a helmet when surfing my waveski. Be honest with yourself about your fitness and experience level.

Do yourself, your loved ones, emergency rescue personnel, and the kayaking community a favor. Properly consider, assess, and mitigate your risk. That way, you'll enjoy kayaking for a long time to come.

- TB on the Water




Jacob said...

There are numerous incidences when people have lost their lives during kayaking adventures, so my mother disallowed me accompany my friends in a rafting expedition. Then, one of my close friends convinced her about the safety measures, and helped her to get over with her fear with ease.

TB on the Water said...

Glad to hear you had the experience of rafting, despite your mother's concerns. Organized rafting companies usually do a pretty good job protecting their clients, and even amateur rafting trips offer the benefit of not being alone. It's always important to scout river conditions to know what's ahead, and to make sure everyone on the trip is experienced enough for the conditions at hand. Rivers can be very dangerous.

In the end, nothing is risk free - but, proper planning and skills can significantly decrease the risk, and increase the enjoyment. I hope you get back on the water soon!