Monday, April 12, 2010

Safety for spring time creeking

It is starting to get a little warmer. The snow has started to melt and the runoff as well as the spring rains are making their way to our rivers. This means it's time to start creeking again. Creek boating is inherently dangerous. We paddle hard to access rivers with steep and often times very dangerous rapids. Accidents do happen but being prepared can make the difference between and accident and an emergency. There are plenty of things that we can do to help prepare ourselves; educate ourselves about swift water rescue techniques, familiarize yourself with your group, have a back up or emergency exit strategy, and have a well stocked first aid/safety kit.
I will not be discussing rescue techniques rather I would like to make some key points about group discussion before putting on the river as well as some items that I feel are essential for a good first aid/safety kit. In an ideal world we would always kayak with only our core most trusted friends. I think fortunately that doesn't happen all the time. I enjoy paddling and meeting new friends on the water. Some of my best class V experiences have been with guys I had just met. For this reason I feel that it is a good idea to discuss with your group the general plan for the day, any known hazards on the river, escape routes, basic river signals, and in general how people are feeling that day. Just the other day I put on one of my favorite creeks with one of my best friends. This was a creek we both know by heart. That day I just wasn't feeling great. I felt weak and tired. Because I made it a point to speak up to my friend and tell him I wasn't feeling 100% that day we were able paddle at a slower rate that would allow me not to get too fatigued. This allowed both of us to have a much more enjoyable time on the river. Communication is one key to a successful river trip. If everyone knows not only how others are feeling but also what others are planning on doing it helps to keep thing flowing rather then everyone trying to guess what the other person is thinking about or going to do. I want to know if my friends aren't feeling fully there that day so I can make sure to keep an extra eye on them just as I would like them to do for me when I don't feel 100 percent.
Communication is key in a successful group trip but is not the only thing needed. Being prepared will make a huge difference. I keep a first aid/safety kit with me for every creek run even if it it just a quick lap down the green. You never know when something will happen. In my boat I carry my LL 50' Speedloader throwbag, hand paddles, water bottle, and my drybag full of goodies.


From top left: LL 50' Speedloader throwbag, Watershed Ocoee drybag, Hand paddles.

I keep my throwbag between my legs for quick access for an emergency. I also feel keeping it there I am more prone to grabbing it when I scout whereas when I keep them behind the seat I tend to get lazy and leave it behind. Right now I am using the LL Speedloader that I am very happy with,

For most of the low volume creeking that we do here in the SE I prefer having hand paddles in my boat rather then a full breakdown. Although a breakdown is much more practical and can be used by more people. The hand paddles with a water bottle get clipped behind the my seat on one side of the stern pillar while my drybag gets clipped to the other side.

My Watershed Ocoee holds my first aid kit and part of my safety kit. I try to keep it small while still carrying some essentials.

From top center: Pelican Case containing first aid kit, Leatherman tool, Headlamp with
duct tape, a second multi tool, MSR pac towel, small bag containing other items.

From top moving left to right: Bag to hold things, spare wing nut, allen key, box wrench,
glow stick, zip ties, spare ratchet straps, Corona folding saw, space blanket.

In my bag:
leatherman and another multi tool for boat repairs,
Corona folding saw,
zip ties,
headlamp w/duct tape wrapped around the case,
1 glow stick,
1 space blanket,
2 spare ratchet straps,
1 spare wing nut,
1 small MSR pac towel
and my first aid kit (in a pelican case).

From top moving left to right: EmergenC packets, medicine bottle, gauze pads, latex
gloves, tweezers, needle, swiss army knife, two lighters, Betadine wipes, Arnica and
dental floss, saline packets, Benadryl, Super Glue, CPR mask.

My first aid kit contains:
1 pair of latex gloves,
Betadine wipes,
super glue,
gauze pads,
1 latex CPR mask,
Exederin Migraine (if you ever get one on the river you'll never not have this in your kit),
eye drops,
a large zip lock bag,
1 small swiss army knife,
2 small lighters,
dental floss,
1 needle,
and 4 packets of EmergenC.

As well as these items I also carry a snack for the river and an extra top layer of clothing. Depending on the season I change it up a bit. In the colder months I like to go with cheese and pepperoni with some kind of chocolate. In the warmer months I like to go with some fruit, maybe a bagel, and some chocolate.

Left to right: Breathing tube, Astral Green Jacket LE1, pin kit.

As well as what I carry in my dry bag I carry a standard pin kit on me in my PFD, a small knife, and 4' breathing tube with a mouthpiece that allows the exhale to escape from it allowing one to always breath fresh air. I feel that Astral makes a great rescue vest with the Green Jacket it allows me to keep my pin kit in the Chest pocket as well keep my breathing tube in the rope slot behind the pocket.

Inside of breathing tube from left to right: 2 locking carabiners with slings, oval
carabiner with 2 prussik loops, 2 pulleys.

My pin kit contains:
2 4' sewn spectra slings,
2 Prussik loops,
2 Pulleys,
2 Locking oval carabiners,
1 Oval carabiner.


Most of these items are self explanatory. Everyone who creeks should have a pin kit and a knife. I feel this is a light weight pin kit that can handle a lot of different situations. Many have asked me about the breathing tube I carry with me. I have worn it since Max Lentz died on the Gualey river pinned just feet under water. After hearing that story and knowing some of the rescuers and friends I couldn't help but think this simple light weight piece of gear is important. As I tell others, it's not for me it's for you. It would be very easy in an underwater pin where just the use of a simple snorkel would have been enough to get someone oxygen to use this. Weighing in at only a few ounces and with the minimal space it takes up I feel it is a great addition to any safety kit.

You never know when a screw or bolt will come loose on a boat so I like to have a multi tool, any other tool that I will need for my boat, as well as a spare wing nut and ratchet strap in case of a lost one or broken one. A simple fix for a backband, bulkhead, or seat can make or break a day on the water. I feel a headlamp is a pretty essential piece if gear if something does go wrong and you end up pushing daylight. I like the Petzl e+LITE a compact light with red and clear LED as well as a small case that works well to wrap duct tape around so you don't have to carry the whole roll (another common spot is wrapping some around the center of your paddle). I also like to carry a glow stick (you know like from when you were a kid). If you do end up spending the night out a little light can help in making a fire easier or just warm the spirit a little. If you're spending the night out that space blanket will help warm your chilled body a little bit and only packs in at about 4" x 2" x 1". That folding saw in the dry bag will be nice to cut up some wood for a fire that night to dry your gear and keep you even warmer. If you're adventurous you could even build a small shelter. The saw actually has a few purposeful applications. On that same creek I mentioned earlier we came across a rapid that had some new wood in it. We may not have been able to get all of it out, we were able to clear up enough to make a safe line through. We have also used my saw to cut up an old broken kayak so we could get it out of the gorge. Worst case scenario, someone breaks and arm or leg you can cut branches to make a splint. You can fasten fasten the splint with duct tape and or zip ties. Zip ties are also great for small boat repairs, fastening finger splints, fixing elbo pads and many other uses. One very good use I have found for them is to close up the tunnel of a spray skirt if you have to tow a boat out. Towing a boat is made much easier by putting a skirt on it first and closing up the tunnel. This keeps it watertight, incase it does flip it will not swamp on you. The final loose item that I carry is an MSR pac towel, it's small and has many uses. It's nice to dry your hands off if you have a camera or want to eat some food, as well it doubles great for a major wound dressing because of it's great absorbency qualities.

This leaves us the first aid kit. Latex or rubber gloves are important for treating any kind of open wound. Betadine wipes come in small packets and work well for cleaning out wounds without too much waste or bulk. Super Glue works very well for most cuts. Even some larger lacerations can be held together quite well with some duct tape butterfly bandages and Super Glue until you are able to get the victim to a hospital. Other abrasions and cuts that are easy to wrap can be bandaged with some small gauze pads and duct tape. I also carry a very compact Latex CPR mask. I carry some medications but not much. I carry Ibuprofren for any injury where swelling or pain is an issue. I have a history of getting migraines and after the first time I got caught on the river with one I have never not had Exederin Migraine in my kit. I do not have an Epi Pen so I cary Benydryl in case of any allergic reactions. I also carry some travel size containers of saline solution incase some one gets something in their eye. I try to be as homeopathic as possible so I carry Arnica for myself if I get injured. Also there is a small pair of tweezers and a needle for splinters and ticks. I pulled a tick off me just the other day so everyone start looking. I keep all of these in a large Zip Lock bag. I use a large bag so that if there is an accident I have a place to put dirty gloves and gauze pads.
In addition to these first aid items I keep my lighters (two small bic') in here to stay dry. It's always good to have a back up on a rainy night out. It may take a while to get that fire started. The needle you used to get that splinter out is also great with the dental floss to sew up a torn skirt. A relatively quick and easy fix that once dry can be aquasealed for a really good fix. I have grown to really like EmergenC it is great source of vitamin C as well as a good little energy burst. I like the raspberry.

We put ourselves at risk every time we put on a creek. The more prepared we are the more we can prevent, treat, and manage properly the accidents that do happen to us on the water. Creek boats are not that large so minimizing what we carry and using everything we can turns a small kit into a very practical kit. From cutting limbs for a splints, using a kayak hull for a backboard, or using a drytop for a sling, there are many ways to improvise to make a bad situation much much better.


Peter Holcombe said...

Great post!

One question though Can you explain the 4' breathing tube with a mouthpiece that allows the exhale to escape from it allowing one to always breath fresh air. How does this mouthpiece work? What kind of a valve is this, Where do you get one. Is the valve in the victims mouth or on the other end?

Peter Holcombe

Kevin said...

Can you go into more detail about how the breathing tube is made?

lifeofloon said...

It's just a simple rubber/plastic? tube with a mouthpiece attached. The mouthpiece has a male end that fits snugly inside the tubing and is ziptied on. It is designed that so when it gently bit down on one can take a breath. It is designed so that the exhale leaves the mouthpiece thus allowing a constant stream of fresh air. These tubes originally came in the Dragorossi Elite Mafia and Critical Mass creek boat models. They ran from inside the sealed stern bulkhead up under the seat with the mouthpiece and a foot or so of tubing were held in place by a bungee between the legs.
Corran's thinking was if someone vertically pinned they could pull their skirt and have a few breaths of a air, maybe another minute of underwater time untill help could come. Personally I never thought I would use it and saw more of benefit if used it with the intention of it being for someone else. Personally I found the vacuum effect made it really hard to get those few breaths from the boats oxygen.

Martin Graves said...

Great article, I also have a question about the breathing tube. With the one way valve, presumably the exhalation works by the pinned kayakers expiratory effort closing a valve. If you are under a couple of feet of water does the water pressure effect the respiratory effort to close this valve, ie is it harder to breath out against whilst under water?