STREAMLINING THE PADDLE FLOAT RESCUE
The paddle float rescue is often viewed with hopeful dependency by beginners, and disdain by people who roll and are familiar with assisted rescues. I've passed beyond those opinions to a more balanced appreciation of the paddle float rescue. As it is normally practiced, the paddle float rescue is a slow, insecure rescue. When optimized and well rehearsed, it can be faster than an assisted rescue, though not as stable in rough water. I can do a paddle float rescue in 25 to 45 seconds, timed from the instant of capsize to being ready to brace or begin pumping. Rolling and bracing are better options, but a well executed paddle float rescue is a quick and businesslike recovery method that is entirely under your own control.
There are three parts to having an improved paddle float rescue: The paddle float design, streamlined rescue technique, and sufficient practice. The best type of float is made of closed cell foam, carved to fit your deck. The best technique is one I believe I learned from the "Performance Sea Kayaking" video, in which the paddler climbs onto the rear deck while holding the paddle shaft behind the cockpit combing (without using deck rigging to secure the paddle), and corkscrews into the cockpit. Practice in comfortable, safe surroundings, like a swimming pool, with supervision.
One of the biggest time losses that occurs in the paddle float rescue is the inflation of the paddle float. Inflatable floats* are attractive because they store easily, and there isn't a lot of space in a kayak. However it takes a long time to inflate and attach a paddle float. I can do the entire rescue faster than most people can inflate and install the float. In cold water this could make the difference between survival and death. When one considers the quick onset of weakness from immersion in cold water, and the possible necessity for multiple rescue efforts, the fastest method possible is the safest one. (Wear a drysuit if you plan to die of old age!) A foam float is the safest choice because you save the inflation time. Your weight and coordination figure into the size of the float. The smallest you should consider is about 450 cubic inches. You can buy a ready made float at a paddling shop, or you can make one. I made mine out of the the same kind of gray minicell foam that we use to build custom cockpits. The dimensions are approximately 8.75" x 12.5" x 5" (average thickness), with rounded corners, for a volume of about 530 cubic inches. A little wider might be better if your paddle blade is wide."Instructions" part of this website for hints on tools, techniques, and materials.
I use a different sequence of events to
accomplish my rescue than is usually taught. I'm trying to expedite the
rescue as much as I can, so here is what I do:
3. Place the shaft of the paddle behind the cockpit combing with the float end of the paddle toward you, and grip the shaft and combing securely with your forward hand. You will be behind the cockpit and the paddle, with your aft hand on the center of the deck. There should be space between your hands so there will be room for you to slide onto the deck.
4. Kick your feet near to the surface while keeping your arms extended, and head low. Kick and surge vigorously forward so that your belly lies across the center of the deck. Keep your head low, and your center of gravity slightly toward the side of the boat the float is on. Your body will be perpendicular to the boat.
5. Put your ankles over the paddle shaft, one at a time. This will be easy if your weight is far enough over the boat. Of course if you get your weight too far forward you'll capsize to the side where there is no float to help. Keep your head low, and be aware of your center of gravity until the conclusion of the rescue.
6. Slide the first leg into the cockpit. Your body shifts to 45 degrees from the axis of the boat.
7. Move the hand from the paddle to the rear deck, move the other hand from the rear deck to the paddle, while sliding the second leg into the cockpit. The body will cross the axis of the boat, and be a little beyond alignment with the boat's axis. It is crucial to keep the head low, and the weight toward the paddle float.
8. Move the hand from the deck to the paddle, and remove the other hand from the paddle while twisting forward into the seat. Keep your weight toward the paddle float.
9. Pass the paddle over your head to a bracing position.
*Erik Thoreson of Norway writes: Inflatable paddle floats can start to leak when stored on deck, due to wear at the fold. This could create an unpleasant surprise when you really need your float. A paddle with sharp edges can cut through the welding between the two chambers, rendering the float useless. This occasionally happens when they are used for training. I have seen both types of failures several times.