Safety issues: PFDs

16 years 7 months ago #666 by [email protected]
The issue of PFDs has come up in a lot in recent comments in some articles on the site. I think the forum is a better place to debate this - hence this topic.

The use of PFDs is mandatory in all the main races here in Cape Town. Up until recently, the same has not been true of races in Durban. From discussions with the Aussie visitors, PFDs are not generally used in Australia.

To kick off the discussion, here's my take on it. In big downwind conditions you are likely to come off your ski at some point. We've seen this happen even to top paddlers eg Dave Kissane and Dawid Mocke at the World Cup.

Without your ski, you become very difficult to see in the water. Therefore a top priority is to stay with your ski - therefore leashes are a good idea.

However, leashes sometimes break or become detached - and again there are examples of this from the World Cup race.

If you do become separated from your ski and you are out at sea, it's not unlikely that you will either be injured (the example of a friend who dislocated his shoulder during the Knysna to Sedgefield downwind race two years ago springs to mind) or you can get cold and start cramping. Either of these situations can impede your ability to swim.

This is where a PFD is key.

An argument against both leash and PFD is that they can be dangerous in the surf. No question, an ankle leash should not be used in the surf zone. Some people argue that a PFD means you can't dive under a wave and is therefore an impediment.

My argument is that in a race, 99% of your time is spent out at sea - and there's nothing to stop you removing your ankle leash before you go through the surf zone, and nothing to stop your removing your PFD if you should be in the water in the break zone and you find you must duck dive under the wave.

So PFDs should be worn, especially if you're in big conditions out at sea.

And consideration should be given to the race organizers because they will be the ones faced with lawsuits from the authorities and from drowned paddlers' families should there be a casualty in a race.


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  • Alain Jaques
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16 years 7 months ago #667 by Alain Jaques
Replied by Alain Jaques on topic Re: Safety issues: PFDs
Make PFDs compulsory, end of story, no calls on race day and no prolonged arguments. It works in Cape Town, some don't like it but they wear one anyway. Eventually wearing it becomes second nature like a seatbelt in a car, you don't notice it and you feel unsafe without it. Remember bicycle helmets 15 years ago? Nobody wore one, now everybody does, all the time.

I want this sport to grow, I've invested hundreds of hours in it and I don't want to see that set back by a very public and very avoidable incident should a paddler drown in a race. Fingers will point at the organisers and the perception will be that this is a dangerous sport.

As for elite and A grade paddlers being excluded from this rule, again I say PFD's should be even more compulsory for them. Dawid, Oscar, Dean, Hank, Barry and others are heroes to thousands, me included, I copy them in the hope my paddling will be a bit like theirs. Paddlers take their cues from their heroes, if Oscar doesn't need a PFD today then I don't need one either - WRONG!.

Wearing or not wearing a PFD will be copied, that's why product sponsorship works, if Dawid drinks Fast Fuel then I'll drink it too. What would have happened if Oscar had donned a PFD at the start of the ARB World Cup? I bet 90% of the field would have followed suit.

Elite paddlers have a responsibility to protect paddlers from themselves, they are role models to thousands, there is far more at stake than personal preference and comfort.

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16 years 7 months ago #668 by Mako
Replied by Mako on topic Re: Safety issues: PFDs
Oscar, we are talking about Long Distance Ocean Racing. Dungeons is totally different, and yes I've been there done that. Races that lap in and out of a surf zone are also no brainers and to my mind not what LD ski's are for.

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16 years 7 months ago #669 by damianf
Replied by damianf on topic Re: Safety issues: PFDs
The pattern I picked up in the previous thread (before it was moved to this forum topic) was that the Cape Town boys seem to have a strong "for" argument for the wearing of PFD's whilst the Durbs boys a strong "against" argument ... evidenced by how few of the Durban paddlers wear the things.

Is it not reasonable that the contrast in the conditions produced by the Atlantic vs the conditions produced by the Indian Ocean warrant the wearing of PFDs in the one ocean and not in the other??

I have lived in both cities and have to say that it would be harder to get me to wear a PFD when paddling off the Natal cost than off the Cape Coast. I grew up as a lifeguard on Umhlanga Beach and cannot dispute Daleviv's comments and Oscar's comments regarding "ease of manoeuvrability" in the pounding Natal surf. Whereas in the Cape - we don't really paddle near large backline surf conditions and if I fell out or lost my boat here, I would want to be wearing a PDF. Factors like the rapid onset of hypothermia make this very compelling.

I think that what the Durban guys are saying is that if you wipe out off the Natal coast you swim back to the beach. It goes back to the argument of understanding your limits... i.e. don't paddle at all if you can't swim.

Remember... the Durban guys are not arguing that "only POOFTA's" (I think Daleviv might even be a Poofta) :-* wear PFDs they are arguing that they would feel safer in "most" conditions not being pounded by waves with a PDF limiting your ability to reduce the pounding.

It's not clear cut for me. Sometimes I don't but most times (95%) I do.

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16 years 7 months ago #670 by downwind
Replied by downwind on topic Re: Safety issues: PFDs
P oofta
F rom
D urban............. ;D

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16 years 7 months ago #671 by Mako
Replied by Mako on topic Re: Safety issues: PFDs
In South Africa the maritime controlling body (SAMSA) require paddlers at sea to wear PFD?s at all times, this is in line with international maritime law. Approved bodies such as Canoeing South Africa can apply for PFD exemptions for organized races and to the best of my knowledge this is what they have done allowing race organizers of events such as WC to waive the PFD rule. I do not know what additional responsibility, if any, is placed on officials once the call is made to waive PFD?s. Paddling close inshore around the backline vicinity so to speak would classify paddlers with surfers where no PFD is required.

When competing in a long distance ski race, the only time a paddler may be better off without a PFD is when IN THE WATER ( i.e. lost control and has fallen off) in the surf impact zone and risks being hit by other ski?s. Here paddlers can simply choose to shed the PFD if they?re proficient swimmers. Similarly paddlers in deep water could shed PFD?s anytime they feel the PFD is limiting their ability to swim and save themselves. I don?t think there is any GOOD argument for not wearing a PFD while racing without personal support boats. Uncomfortable is not a good reason.

Picture the following. Someone?s testosterone driven son enters a ski race and being invincible and having entered a race like the recent WC chooses, for whatever reason, not to wear a PFD as he?s been given the option. This person is then unfortunately lost at sea and the body may or may not be recovered. Once the dust settles the grief stricken family approach, or are approached by an ambulance chaser (You can find one in the smalls of your local newspaper) and sit down to see what they can do. First they go after the organizers naming every one of the organizing committee as respondents. These members then have to spend time in court whether they are liable or not. The lawyer will want to test every possible angle to validate the claim. While meeting with the family they also decide that they should name the sponsors as respondents as there?s potential for a big payout too if they can be found to have contributed to the loss of life never mind attendant negative publicity. To court the lawyer will bring printouts of Windguru and SA Weather Service reports for race day and the days leading up to the race. Respondents may be asked what they thought of the weather conditions leading up to and on race day and they would not be able to hide the fact that everyone knew long before the race that conditions would be such that paddlers were likely to get into trouble. There are too many documented cases of what happens in big wind and big seas for anyone to claim ignorance these days and my guess is that negligence would be easy to prove and once negligence is proven any indemnities signed by competitors brought to court by respondents are worth nothing. The respondents, sponsors and the sport will loose. The paddlers that chirped and put pressure on officials to ?Bugger the PFD?s? on rage day will be very scarce around this time and will conveniently forget their contribution.

Some claim that Elite paddlers don?t need PFD?s. They may need them less often than the unwashed but they too fall off and some have been unable to remount their ski in rough conditions. Elite paddlers are no more immune to medical episodes than the rest. Blue bottle stings for instance seem to affect Elites too and I?ve seen a very groggy elite and an unconscious and one barely conscious paddler at the end of the same race. The unconscious paddler was wearing a PFD and was still conscious when rescued by the race support boat.

Those that claim warm water is reason enough to waive PFD?s. Read above! Warm water just increases the amount of time a paddler can survive immersion, no more.

PFD?s aid ones ability to operate smoke and flare signals, cell phones or radios while in the water.

The only time a PFD is a nuisance is after a race when it too needs to be carried home in a wet bucket, washed and dried.

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16 years 7 months ago #672 by Dave Kissane
At the risk of being shot down in flames I would like to raise a couple of points:
1.which elite paddler struggled to remount their ski? many lives have been lost during races in the history of the ocean paddling? Lets then come up with a % of total competitors. And if there has been loss of life, would it have been different with a PFD or leash?
3.if bluebottles and other hazards are considered should we consider wearing PFDs in surf lifesaving ski events as well? Where does it end?
I understand all the logic that is being presented and can't argue with alot of it. I would just hate to see the sport overrun by excessive scare mongering. I am not saying we do not need to lift the level of safety in the sport (I think we would all agree that "strong" leashes would have been helpful in the WC) - just don't overdo it - you might end up taking the fun out of it. Listen to the guys who have done more races over more years than anyone (Oscar, Dean and Tails). Adopt a common sense approach and be consistent.

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