Having the right equipment is key to safety. Here’s a list of the primary gear you’ll want to have lined up:
Your kayak (or other vessel) should be appropriate for the conditions, and able to support you and a swimmer if needed. While smaller whitewater or other “play” kayaks are maneuverable and fun to paddle, they’re not the best for this type of event. Prior to swim day, make sure your kayak is seaworthy and ready to go.
– Personal flotation device (PFD)
If you have an inflatable (Class V) PFD, Coast Guard regs require you to wear it at all times when in the boat. The law allows you to have a Class I, II, or III PFD available, but in an emergency involving the kayak or a swimmer, you will not have time to put it on.
Please wear your PFD, and help us set a good example for others who may be watching.
– PFD or other flotation device for swimmer
If your swimmer tires, cramps up, or is otherwise unable to swim, passing them a flotation device in addition to supporting them with your kayak will be a big help until an assistance vessel arrives.
– Good quality whistle
USCG regs require you to possess “an efficient sound ¬producing device.” This may be a horn, whistle, or other accessory. However, the best device for this event is a good-quality marine safety whistle ¬ something like the Fox 40 pealess whistle. They’re available at Dick’s, West Marine, and the like. It should be carried on a lanyard or retractor for instant access, not stuffed in a PFD pocket or inside a hatch. We’ll discuss signaling for help shortly.
– Anchor, with adequate line
If a swimmer has an issue, you may need to be able to stabilize your boat if necessary until more help arrives. Not a must-have, but a not a bad idea.
– Weather-appropriate clothing
On the paddle, you may be exposed to cold, heat, wind, rain, spray, sun – all in the same morning! Keep an eye on the weather forecasts, and make sure you’ll have what you need for the expected conditions.
– Water – some for you, and a bottle for swimmers, just in case.
The morning of the event
Show up after a good night’s sleep. Get something to eat before the race, so your body has the fuel it needs to paddle the course.
Attend the pre-race orientation and briefings and ask questions if there is something you miss or don’t understand. There will be important last minute course information, changes, etc. Also listen in on the swimmer briefing – it’s good to have as much information as you can.
If a swimmer experiences trouble on the course, your first actions will be to get them the spare flotation device, or take whatever other measures are necessary to ensure their safety. If you require emergency assistance from the jetskis/support boats – a swimmer has a medical problem or other urgent issue – raise your paddle into the air and wave it back and forth, and sound three long blasts on your whistle. Keep waving your paddle (and repeat the whistle signal, if necessary) until you are sure an assistance vessel is headed your way. If you require assistance from the jetskis/support boats, but it is NOT an emergency – swimmer is unable to continue, etc.- hold your paddle in the air, NOT waving back and forth, and sound one long blast on your whistle. There is a lot of activity and movement for the jetskis and boats to monitor, and the whistle will help quickly draw attention to your situation and get help on the way. There will be some predictable challenges associated with the event:
During the course briefing, make sure you understand the turns, and which side of the course markers the swimmers should swim on the different course legs.