This really is a no brainer. If you get cold and start cramping in the water, you want a buoyancy aid. A mate of mine dislocated his shoulder in big conditions, out at sea and he would have died without his PFD. You get used to it quickly, there's no reason not to use it. You have to wear them to race in South Africa.
Ocean Ski Safety Information
- Leash from boat to paddle. Not essential, but in hectic conditions I have a rope leash. I've swum on many occasions and haven't had any problems with tangling the leashes. It's great to be able to let the paddle go while you're doing something else and not lose it.
- Leash from you to the ski. I use a belt leash - the coiled leash clips onto the belt with a quick release fastening. When you're in breaking seas, 2km out to sea, you must not lose your ski. It's difficult enough to spot a ski, it's close to impossible to spot a lone paddler swimming in the middle of breaking waves. Lose your ski and you're dead, it's that simple. You don't want to be attached to the ski in surf though, and that's where the quick release comes in. As you get to the surf, one pull on the lanyard and the leash is off.
- Mobile phone in waterproof pouch. This is really, really important. It's very difficult for a rescue craft - boat or heli - to see a ski in breaking water. As the paddler, you will spot them much earlier - and if you can talk to them, you can guide them to you. You MUST have some form of comms gear - which can be any one or more of: phone, flares, vhf radio, mirror, whistle.
To me, paddling safe and smart means reducing the natural risks inherent in our sport to a level where you're not endangering your life and more importantly other people's lives.
Bearing in mind that my favourite paddle involves us going up to 2km offshore and downwind in winds up to 40kt and waves of up to 3m, and that the water is often pretty cold, here's what I carry as a matter of course:
- VHF radio. I have a small waterproof VHF that I carry in the front pocket of my PFD. The great thing about it is that it's so much easier to use than a mobile. You just press a button to talk and you can do that even when you're too cold to use a mobile.
- Whistle. The sound carries a long way - especially downwind - and can be heard above engine noise. Particularly useful at dusk or at night. I used mine in anger in daylight when I injured my back during a race.
- Brightly coloured gear. I've spray painted my paddle blades neon pink in the past (couldn't bring myself to do it with my latest blades!). Very effective. Wearing a neon orange or yellow cap is also good.
- Flares. I carry a 3-pack of pencil flares. I've used them in anger during daylight and they were effective. We ended up self-rescuing but as we got to safety the sea rescue folks turned up having been summoned by plenty of shoreside folks who'd called in the flares.
The fundamentals are:
- Be prepared and know what you're going to do if you break a paddle or rudder line.
- Don't lose your ski - you must be tethered to it.
- Be able to communicate.
- Let other people know where you're going and what your ETA is. When the weather is extreme, we go so far as to drop the NSRI folks an SMS just to let them know we're on the water. The situational awareness created thereby means that they don't waste time if they are called out.
Hope that helps!