Friday, March 07, 2008

Look, It's A Lolcanoe - Or, Why I Stay Out Of PFD Debates!

As anyone who's spent even a little time lurking on a kayak & canoe forum knows, safety debates (lifejacket practices, group management, solo paddling, crazy expeditions, etc.) tend to generate a lot of heat (especially around this time of year when the northerners are getting a little crazy waiting for ice-out & even us temperate-zoners are sick and tired of strangulation by latex being a featured part of every paddle...)

Generally breaks down into the freedom-of-choicers vs. the safety-firsters.

Me, I tend to stay out of those.

Why? Well...mostly, because by my own admission...

funny pictures
moar funny pictures

yep, that's me in the back of the tin can...


(btw, if Canoe-Buildin' Uncle sees this he'll have my hide for their next skin-on-frame restoration. He likes to say about that boat, usually as he's repairing yet another popped rivet, "I paid twenty five bucks for that boat twenty five years ago. I think I got ripped off." - but really, I think he kinda likes it!)

In a bit of that blogospheric synchronicity thing that sometimes happens, I had JUST scrounged up this picture from the back galleries at Buzznet, braced for the criticism, and oddly enough not gotten any (think the totally awesome er snooze-inducing sailing canoe distracted er put people to sleep before they made it to the comments...but then 2 days later or something, Derrick at Kayak Quixotica did a post on EXACTLY the topic of whether it was irresponsible for people who ought to know better to show pictures of people paddling without pfd's.

And I left a comment over there referring to the picture in "lolcat" terms.

Of course then I immediately felt guilty about being flippant & proceeded to leave the following very long comment - and then I decided to just turn it into a post!

This picture was taken on a hot summer day on the Manistee River in Michigan. This is a very quiet, small, shallow river. It moves along, but it doesn't get any rougher than this at any point, there's nowhere you can't get to shore, and in fact there's a section at the cabin where we stay that I really like just like to jump off the dock & swim the half-mile or so to the next takeout, walk back to the cabin & do it a couple more times. Then maybe a few more times in an innertube (another perfectly fine mode of transport for the Manistee).

Oddly enough, the one time I was in this canoe & ran into a little trouble it actually worked out well to not have a lifejacket on - I was playing passenger that time, there was a pine tree down at a bend & we got caught, broached against the branches & flipped. I got stuck under the canoe - there was no going upstream but there was enough clearance under the tree that I was able to dive, swim under it & come up on the other side (conveniently alongside the paddles & a few other odds & ends that were heading downstream). There are those flukey situations, but the cases where a PFD saves someone's life are so much more the norm that this story is not one I'd use to argue against PFD use.

This picture really shows one of the rare exceptions I'll make to my usual PFD-use preference - the areas I normally paddle, I never go out without one on. You'll never catch me out anywhere on the New York City waterways, or Long Island Sound, without it - if a motorboat hits me & knocks me unconscious (the easiest mishap to envision a kayaker getting into in my area), I want to float.

Whitewater, in fact rough water of any sort, and/or cold water, and/or a trip where I was going to be far from shore would be some of the other factors that would make me say a PFD is a must.

But yes, there are places where the water is sheltered & warm enough that I have gone without - which is why I stay out of those PFD debates.

BTW - the whole family IS sans pfd - but if there were any children, they WOULD be in PFD's. Our family paddling rules, not that they are real rules, pretty much say adults make their own decisions. The kids do not get that privilege.

It's a very serious topic & I'm doing this additional note because I don't actually want anyone to think it's something to be blown off lightly!

That's always true, but especially now as we're going into spring. We've had some fine warm days already here in March - but we've been discussing the demo we're supposed to be doing on Sunday, and we're going to be playing it very safe, because the organizer has told us that that water is in the 30's. That's officially "effin' cold", and it's considered very bad form among symposium organizers to have your demo people end up being taken away in an ambulance for some careful emergency-room rewarming...we'll see how much we can do.

I have to go back & see if I made a note of how cold the water in Norwalk was for the cold water workshop - somehow thinking low 40's (ok, I checked - it was 39). That was nippy.

1 comment:

bonnie said...

Of course something that's occured to me more recently it probably wouldn't make a bit of difference to me, personally, if legislation suddenly were enacted requiring year-round PFD wear for kayakers.

The only places I would NOT wear it are places that are so benign that nobody would bother enforcing.

The Coast Guard doesn't patrol the Manistee River.