Kayaking Safety

This document contains many useful external links, not only covering sensible safety advice, but useful learning / training resources. It is therefore thoroughly recommended for everyone to read, and review from time to time.

This was copied from Google Docs on 27/03/2018 which was last updated 10-02-2016.
This document will be updated regularly.

PSKC safety guidance – kayaking

Participation in kayaking can bring great rewards – learning new skills, companionship and an enjoyment of the natural environment. Balanced against that reward, there are some hazards that you might encounter when kayaking:

  • Hypothermia (mild – severe)
  • Impact (with another kayak, another person, or solid object such as rock)
  • Laceration
  • Dislocation
  • Hyperthermia
  • Drowning

These hazards can cause an individual damage, but the chances of these things happening, their severity and the consequence is variable. We think of this as “risk”. For our purposes, risk can be thought of likelihood, severity and consequence of a damaging event occurring.

Risk = likelihood + severity  + consequence

Take a capsize. It’s damaging as it makes you wet and cold – putting you at risk from hypothermia. On a summer day when you are paddling 3 metres from the shore in front of the PSKC yard the risk is quite low. Low likelihood you’ll capsize, low severity as it is warm and low consequence as you can stand up and walk to shore. The same capsize on a windy winter day, half way to Inchkeith Island is very different. Higher likelihood you’ll capsize, higher severity as it’s cold and higher consequence as it will be more difficult to get back into your boat. Same event, very different “risk assessment.”

Managing risk is about understanding the actual risks of an activity, and doing everything reasonable to mitigate the risk via controlling actions. We hope that this safety framework will help fully enjoy the rewards that kayaking can offer while managing the inherent risks.

For the purposes of this document, the word trip means any outing in kayaks and canoes for any purpose. Should you be running an official “Training Event” for the club, please refer to the additional guidance in the Standard Operating Procedures.

Recommended training

  • Outdoor first aid qualification.
  • Kayak specfic safety training: j.mp/SCATRAINING
  • Getting out there.

Learn more:

Video: Sea Kayak Safety DVD. Olly Sanders & Leo Hoare. j.mp/SEAKAYAKSAFETY
Book: Doug Alderson & Michael Pardy j.mp/SAFETYRESCUE
Book: Matt Bronze & George Gronseth j.mp/DEEPTROUBLE
Web: RNLI Advice for Kayakers: j.mp/RNLIKAYAK

Before you go

Assess the suitability of your trip. Consider the following:

  • Weather forecast – what is the expected weather?
  • Tides – what effect will they have?
  • Experience level and “state” of your group – are participants suitable for the trip today?
  • Route – are there known hazards such as overfalls? Will you be far from shore?
  • Age of participants – if youth paddlers are present, then the trip should comply with Canoe Scotland guidance on appropriate supervision levels. See : j.mp/SCACOACH
  • Paddling alone increases risk.

If you have any doubts on the suitability of your trip, get advice from more experienced / qualified members of the club. No trip plan should be set in stone – it is prudent to modify plans based on the latest information available.

Have an “on shore chat” to ensure the group understand the plan for the trip and their role in mitigating risk. (For example – discuss what to do in event of capsize, the expected conditions and their effect.)

Check for any medical issues with your group that might be important to know (for example asthma).

Use an “on shore worrier.” This is a person not on the trip who you inform of your route plan and expected time of return. Provide them with contact numbers of multiple participants in the group. In the event that you are overdue they can attempt to make contact with the group and take action if required.

Consider contacting the Coast Guard to inform them of your route. This is not a requirement but recommended, especially for multi day trips. Coastguard number: 01224 592 334. In an emergency the Coastguard can be reached via 999 or 112.

Check kayaks – are hatches watertight. Hull undamaged? Are airbags in place? Skegs working?

Dress for the water temperature not the air temperature to protect from cold water shock [j.mp/COLDWATERSHOCK].

Always wear a buoyancy aid.

Depending on the trip consider carrying:

  • First aid kit
  • Water
  • Mobile phone
  • Tow line
  • Knife
  • Spare (split) paddle
  • Pump
  • Spare clothes
  • Survival bag or group shelter
  • Kayak repair kit
  • VHF Radio
  • Flares
  • Torch

If unsure on what to carry, get advice from more experienced / qualified members of the club.

The most common injuries to kayakers occur from lifting boats! Take care to lift carefully, they may be heavier than you expect. Watch out for pedestrians / cyclists when carrying equipment down to the water.

While you are kayaking

Continually assess risk as it changes with condition of weather, group, location and tide. Many incidents being with a seemingly insignificant change such as a decision to split the group or failure of a skeg. Try to think forward and foresee the consequences of any change.

Consider having a defined leader on the water. This is generally the most experienced member of the group. This does not mean that this person is a dictator, but uses situational leadership [j.mp/SITLEAD] to help achieve the trip objectives safely. Depending on the group and situation, discuss the evolving risk assessment and decisions based upon it.

Carry appropriate safety and rescue equipment and know how to use them. See the equipment and recommended training lists.

Watch for signs of hypothermia [LINK] (cold) or hyperthermia [LINK] (heat stroke) and treat early.

When you get back

As soon as you are off the water, contact the “on shore worrier” and if necessary the Coastguard.

Did any member of the group become immersed and breathe in water? This often occurs during cold water shock. [j.mp/COLDWATERSHOCK] Even if they recover (often coughing up water at the time of immersion) they should be monitored for secondary drowning [j.mp/DROWNING].

Did any damaging event happen? Report it as soon as possible to the club via the web form here: [LINK]. It is important that the club can learn from any incident as soon as possible, and so this report will be used to improve safety policy. Incident reports will be published here: [LINK].

Did a near miss occur? A near miss is something this did not cause any damage but had the potential to. If you see something and are unsure if it was a near miss or not, it was and you should write it up. Report near misses via the web form here [j.mp/PSKCReportForm]. These reports will also be used to improve safety and will be published on the web site.

The Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations

(RIDDOR) 1995 require the PSKC to notify certain injuries, illness and “dangerous occurrences” to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) at the earliest practicable time after the event. Reportable injuries are:

  • a break or fracture of any bone except those of the fingers or toes
  • any amputation
  • dislocation of the shoulder, hip, knee or spine
  • loss of sight (whether temporary or permanent)
  • chemical or hot metal burn to the eye or any penetrating injury to the eye;
  • an injury resulting from electric shock or electrical burns
  • an injury that leads to a loss of consciousness or requires resuscitation
  • an injury that requires the injured person to be hospitalised for more than 24 hours