Friday, April 18, 2014

Spring Boating safety: An idea for what to do when you find the unprepared preparing to launch

Looks like we've got another glorious spring weekend coming up here in the Northeast, one which will doubtless bring out the unwary boaters in droves.

I always feel like a bit of an idiot when I post my annual spring safety rant (see prior post) because I think most of the small group of people who read this blog already know what they're doing, but I always do it anyways just because you never know how people are going to stumble across this important information and I think that the more places it's lying around on the internet, the more likely it is to be found. So I make this one of the places every year. Just in hopes.

But this week I'm sharing something with much less hesitation.

What do you do when you go to your favorite launch site on a lovely soft spring day and find somebody getting ready to launch, wearing shorts and a t-shirt, with their lifejacket chucked in the bottom of their boat?

I've never actually run into that situation myself. I'm usually launching from Sebago, the club is committed to teaching members about boating safety, including cold-water boating, and so you very rarely see somebody setting out improperly dressed. But if I ever did, I think that I would try something that worked well for my friend Bob H. a few years back. He told me the story at the terrific Long Island Paddlesports Symposium that Elizabeth O'Connor used to run every March up until she moved to CT.  

 He'd gone for a paddle right before coming to the event (he turned up in full cold-water gear in fact) and as he returned to the beach two women had driven up with a canoe on their roof, wearing jeans and sweatshirts. He approached them and, as he told me when I asked him to refresh me memory of the story earlier this week, "I suggested that they place their hands in the water and note how long they could hold it until pain and/or lack of function ensued. I guess the sight of me in (dry)suit and hood underscored the point."

They left without even taking the canoe off the roof - a very good outcome.  

Although friends have laughed when I tell them this, I'm actually terribly uncomfortable with approaching strangers with safety suggestions. I would do it because as an educated boater and a kayak instructor, I feel like have an obligation to do so (plus I would feel absolutely horrible if I said nothing and then read about them in the paper the next day), but I really feel awkward when I do. This seems like a really nice non-confrontational way for even a shy person to get people to understand how cold the water still is right now and hopefully rethink their plans. 
A good idea and I thought I'd share it.


The O'Sheas said...

Don't feel like an idiot. Please. Safety can never be reviewed enough and you do it better than anyone. :)

bonnie said...

Feeling like an idiot seems to have been built into my basic operating system. I've mostly learned to ignore it, though! :D

clairesgarden said...

I'm not sure I would say anything. I've done the same many times and when I 'started' nobody had any of the 'correct' gear anyway.

bonnie said...

If I wasn't an instructor I might not.

I'm fine with people making their own choices, all I would want to do is make sure they understand that there IS a risk this time of year - that's just not something people would necessarily know if they hadn't looked into it.

The only thing I think I'd get pushy about would be the lifejacket -- that's kind of the bare minimum, and NY State has made it easy by making it a rule that people wear 'em up until May 1st.

Anonymous said...

I've had this before - usually our majour initial concern is when people are wandering on the jetty with no buoyancy - I usually grab some club kit and head down and say - "see you've forgotten your kit - don't worry - here's some life jackets, and if you need a wetsuit / drysuit as well then we've some stuff you can borrow in the club!". the club kit is horrible as its usually old, smelly and has been abandoned by its previous owner for exactly this reason. Works every time.