Thursday, March 03, 2011

Spring Boating Safety - Why I finally wrote my own.

Viv hasn't posted her full story yet, but being an impatient blogger instead of an actual writer, I'm going to go ahead and share my response now.

If you've been reading this blog for a while, you know that I (like a lot of trained paddlers) am very into spreading information about the hazards of cold water boating, especially here at the end of winter and on into early Spring, when we're getting a blissful sprinkling of days that tempt people to just get the ol' boat out of the garage a leeeeeetle bit early. Plenty of people do just that, stay in their boat and rightside up all day, have a lovely day on the water and come back just fine, not realizing that they really had a very lucky break -- had they ended up in the water, they might have found themselves in much more trouble than they ever imagined.

Unfortunately, boats being boats, and people being people, accidents do sometimes happen, and it always seems like March and April in the temperate zones always feature an unfortunate number of news stories about those less fortunate souls.

Friend and Sebago Canoe clubmate Viv, who is a writer for the Rockaway paper The Wave and blogs about life on the peninsula at Oy Vey Rockaway!, got wind of just such a story on Monday. She emailed a few of the winter paddlers at the club asking if we'd heard anything about it - details were sketchy, basically that it was a solo paddler, he capsized, there was a strong possibility he wasn't wearing a drysuit, and there ended up being a rather large rescue effort involving a couple of helicopters and land and marine units from the police and fire department. Great thing was, this one had a happy ending.

Being a writer for the Wave, and knowing that there was likely to be something in the Wave about the incident, and being concerned about another possibly negative image of kayakers (we are not the most highly regarded variety of recreational boater out there & we always sigh when something like this happens - there's a whole pack o' 'yakkers out there all winter, but this ends up being the one you read about), Viv reached out to the group she did to suggest that we provide some kind of response talking about the safety precautions that the paddlers of Sebago Canoe Club take during cold-water season.

Specifically, she asked me if I had anything here on Frogma that could be quickly whipped into shape as a quick column.

The interesting thing is that for all I must have a hundred posts on the topics of boating safety, winter paddling, spring paddling, and cold water workshops, I didn't think ANY of them would be suitable for what she wanted.

How does that work? Simple!

There is so much great information about cold-water boating on sites like Chuck Sutherland's coldwater pages and the Atlantic Kayak Tours Expert Center that I have never bothered to write something of my own on the topic. Why bother when others have done it so well? Instead, my safety posts are almost always reposts of the latest story (all too often with a tragic ending), followed by a mention that these stories are all too frequent in the spring, followed by a link to one of those hightly informative sites with a strong recommendation to go read all about it over there. The other sort of safety posts you'll frequently see here are of course announcements and reviews of cold-water workshops - I'm always happy to spread the word about those, but again, I'm usually just reposting something sent by the club or outfitter that's running it.

So -- no. I had nothing for Viv.

But even though we didn't have all the details yet, the bare-bones outline she had provided sounded like the classic late Winter/early Spring warm air-cold water story. And with a happy ending. A perfect cautionary tale. In kayak-coach school, you learn the term "teachable moment" - that's what you call it when life is kind enough to drop something in your lap that, with a little attention, can be spun into a good lesson.

The cold-water boating lesson is one that's important enough that I thought it would be a shame to let it slip by. A happy ending, Viv offering to try to get something in the paper if it could be organized quickly - what a chance to get the message out to a better audience than I'd ever reach on this blog (I always feel like I'm preaching to the choir here, I think everybody who visits here knows as much as I do on the topic). I told her I'd come home and write something last night, and I did. Ended up being a late night, but if with Viv's help, it can get some circulation beyond "the usual suspects", it was absolutely worth a little sleep deprivation.

I'll be posting that here shortly, and I hope you all think I did OK!

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