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Water Safety
1999 Kawika Sands

It is a sad fact of human nature that until we are forced to face the fact (and although every person in the outrigger is responsible to some degree for insuring their own safety), steersmen, coaches, clubs and club presidents, associations and association presidents, race promoters/organizers and even outrigger manufacturers ALL have a moral AND LEGAL responsibility to address safety issues! (pertinent laws and legal theory will be covered in a separate installment).

Arrive at the outrigger having already listened to the official weather report and observe local conditions. Since the steersman is legally responsible while underway, put that person in charge of safety. If they fail to see that ALL required equipment is going out with the paddlers, YELL AT THEM!!! The steersman may assign certain duties amongst the crew, but he/she is STILL scrutinized FIRST.

Are the conditions rough? If so, are you going out in a Malia-Type outrigger or a Bradley-Type outrigger? Should you use a cover? Are you and your crew dressed (particularly if cold) properly? Do you have the right emergency equipment aboard? Is there a possibility that you may be on the water after dark? Was a float plan left with someone ashore (in case you are overdue)? Does everybody know what to do in case of an emergency? ANY emergency? If you, as a steersman OR a coach, do not consider these and similar questions EVERY time you launch? Perhaps your replacement will?!

Do you have at LEAST one person at each practice who is currently certified in first-aid and CPR? Steersmen? Coaches? PRESIDENTS? Perhaps your replacement will?!

Personal Floatation Devices
Emergency Signaling device

To be legal (in the U.S., U.S. territories, etc.) you MUST have: One PFD for every person aboard, and a proper emergency signaling device. The PFD, or lifejacket/vest, is rather strait forward. You MUST HAVE ONE FOR EVERY PERSON ABOARD!!! and YES this INCLUDES Hawai'i! (Don't EVEN mention real or imagined "traditions" on this topic! Believe me, I've heard it all!). The "proper" emergency signaling device takes a little explanation but it's not complicated. They run about US$7+ each.

What's "proper" depends on if it's day or night. You can use a flag or a smoke signal during the day, but obviously they are moronic (AND not legal) at night. Therefore flares make a good choice. There are day flares, night flares, and day/night flares. Obviously the day/night flares make the most sense.

U.S. Coast Guard reg's require that flares be rated at least with 500 candlelight power. I've yet to come across a statute that requires a specific number of flares aboard, however I'm told safety experts suggest a mix of ariel (US$5+) and hand-held (US$12+) types. The size of the flare usually depending on how far you go out to sea.

The main considerations are brightness of the flare and it's burn duration. The brighter the flare, the farther away it can be seen. The longer it burns, the more likely you will be spotted at a glance. Duration is also important when the seas are high and during daylight hours. I use day/night ariel flares that last about 10 seconds and hand-held flares that last about two minutes.

Then, of course, there is the bailer. You're a MORON if you need a law to tell you that you need these! I prefer to have four bailers in the outrigger. One each at seats 2, 3, 4 and 5. Many get by, and do fine, with just one. MY rationale is having one bailer is like having one flare, what do you do if you loose it? Having more than one bailer allows several persons to bail simultaneously (distributing the workload and making it easier on everybody!). I like 1-gallon orange juice containers (it's orange, has a good handle and the plastic is tough enough).

Finally, EACH of these items are to be kept in serviceable condition AND readily available for use!!! NO TYING THEM DOWN in such a way that they cannot be EASILY and QUICKLY used!

Most of these are, as far as the law is concerned, a matter of choice. I suggest the following:

1 VHF radio
1 Heat/Cold pack
1 Whistle
1ea Green/Red/White light sticks
1 Flashlight
1 Tow line

A VHF radio needn't be kept with EVERY outrigger, but at least one per practice should be included even if not far from shore! It's not that you couldn't YELL at someone ashore, it's so you can speak DIRECTLY with an emergency service (the Coast Guard) saving critical minutes. Recently there was a discussion on VHF radio choices. They vary widely in cost (approx. US$125 to US$300+) depending on size and features. What was not discussed was 'waterproofness.' This is an issue with most older models but there are waterproofing bags made for VHF radios available at most marine supply stores (about US$5).

NOTE: Take the time to learn PROPER VHF radio usage and what channels are monitored by whom! Technically, you need a license to operate one but the paperwork is usually included. Unlike a cell-phone, a VHF signal can be traced back to its' source even if the battery is low. CB radios are NOT monitored by ocean-going vessels and entities. At least leave a float plan with someone with your estimated time of return.

A heat pack may give the added time one needs to stay alive. Cold packs are basically "instant ice" you can keep with you and could prove invaluable in cases of hyperthermia (as opposed to hypothermia). About US$2+ each.

When interviewed, the base commander of a U.S. Coast Guard station reminded me of an incident where five people went into the water for many days after their boat sank. SEVERAL times rescuers passed within a few yards of them. Each time close enough to hear the conversations aboard and yet the rescuers neither saw nor HEARD them. Given fairly good conditions you must be about five yards away from the rescuers to be reasonably sure of being spotted. FIVE YARDS! and you STILL may not be seen or heard! An emergency/survival whistle or horn can make you heard over wind, water, engines or distractions.

Or running lights, are to be used ANYTIME visibility is limited. This means that if visibility is anything LESS than "unlimited" (including daytime), and your outrigger is NOT displaying navigation lights (red= left, green= right, white= aft), the U.S. Coast Guard is perfectly within their rights to cite you (the steersman) and escort you back!

Light sticks cost about US$2+ each, and there are flashlight-type running lights. However they are prone to corrosion or require batteries which too often rundown.

A flashlight, flasher or a white lightstick should be carried. Note: Coast Guard reg's do not clearly categorize and OC-6 (something I'm working to correct!!!). Therefore, depending on how the authority du jour interprets the law, you could be cited for not using/having one aboard. It's a good idea to have one handy anyway!

Not as important for saving lives as for saving your outrigger! A 1 inch x 80 foot nylon tow-line should suffice (keeping a knife handy to cut loose instantly in case of emergency is not a bad idea!).

Packets of easily digested food (i.e. "Gu") may give needed energy at crucial times. Dye markers are so compact, inexpensive, and make spotting victims from the air easier. Reasonable clothing where possible is your last line of defense against hypothermia. A bright green/orange/red cap can help make you easier to spot (NO, you don't HAVE to wear it while paddling but having it handy on your person might be a good idea).

Obviously there are LOTS of other gadgets and gizmos you can get. Use your judgment on these but BE SAFE! THEN have fun!

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Last Modified: Saturday - 19991113.10:01 EST
Copyright 1999 Kawika Sands
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