I was conducting a private lesson recently on a relatively windy day. The student was an intermediate level paddler working on improving rough water skills. As part of the lesson, we practiced some assisted rescues. As I was performing a rescue with my student in the water as the swimmer, I instructed him to keep a hand on the kayak at all times so as not to get separated from the boats. He was a bit too casual about heeding my advice and in a split second, the two kayaks had blown just out of his reach. Since we were both in drysuits, I let him try to swim towards the drifting boats. He made a valiant effort and did some good paddle swimming, but all to no avail. The boats quickly blew even farther away. At that point, I clipped a towline to the empty kayak and paddled back to my student. Once he grabbed the bow of my boat, I pulled in the towline and reunited him with his kayak. During a debriefing session at the end of the lesson, this student expressed amazement at how quickly the kayak had blown out of his reach. He had fumbled for just a second in trying to grab the decklines of his boat with gloved hands and just that fast, the boat was gone.
I had the same situation occur several years ago on a kayaking trip with some friends. The capsized kayaker was an experienced paddler, but once again he was just a bit too relaxed about grabbing his kayak and the boat was quickly gone. Thankfully, I was wearing a towbelt. It took just an extra minute to clip my towline to the wayward kayak and take it back to my friend who was floating serenely waiting for his rescue. He also expressed surprise at how quickly the boat had escaped his reach.
Moral of the story: This scenario can very easily happen to anyone. You need to be absolutely religious in hanging onto your kayak and paddle when you wet exit your boat, and everyone should be equipped to tow a kayak at a moment’s notice. Even relatively light winds can blow a kayak out of your reach in a split second. In the first case, we were reasonably close to shore so the student could have taken a swim to shore without his kayak, but in the second case the options would not have been as good. Bulldozing a sea kayak in wind and waves is not easy and neither is paddling with a swimmer on your back deck. Most likely, that is what we would have had to do had I not had a towbelt. Imagine what might happen if this were a solo paddler who lost contact with his/her kayak.
In order to be able to hang on to your kayak, make sure that your decklines are loose enough that you can grab them easily even with gloved hands. If your decklines are so tight to the deck that you can’t easily pick them up with your bare hands, imagine the difficulty you might have while swimming in waves wearing neoprene gloves. You also want your bow and stern toggles hanging down towards the water for easy capture with gloved hands. This weekend, put on your paddling gloves and go out to the garage. With your eyes closed, try grabbing your decklines and toggles wearing gloves. How easily can you get your hands around these safety features on your boat? If the answer is “not very easily”, maybe your weekend project can be to loosen the decklines and modify your end toggles.