Recently, at my place of work we had to do three manditory safety courses - WHMIS, office safety, and site safety. I've done these in the past, but it has been a while. I am glad I had to re-do these courses... it has got me thinking about our safety as kayakers.
When I paddle I do try to make it a point to take mental notes in terms of my own safety and the safety of others in my group. [In particular I am discussing gear in this blog post, but non-gear safety needs to be thought about as well, perhaps this will be a future post]. I will watch people getting ready and start to make my notes... Who has a proper and quickly accessible sea kayaking tow rope and spare paddle. Who has a map, GPS, and compass? Who is wearing a one piece dry suit, or just pants and jacket, or a wetsuit? Does everyone have a pump and a whistle? Are PFD's zipped up? I'll wonder if people have spare clothes in case they take a swim and get wet (zippers do sometimes get left unzipped) or will they need to use someone else's? Within the group do we have the proper gear if someone gets hypothermia?
I've noticed complacency in both myself and in my paddling partners on day trips. Have we gained so much kayaking experience that we no longer need to carry the 'just in case' gear? I admit on day trips we don't really need a map if we are paddling an area we have paddled 20 times already. But a tarp can come in real handy if something goes awry and we end up on a beach someplace.
As for my own complacency... Here are a couple examples. I used to carry my VHF radio on a regular basis, but I only seem to carry it on camping trips now. I used to carry a ditch-kit that included a little tarp and a fleece sleeping blanket that can be zipped up like a sleeping bag - but these things seem to have found their way out of my kit...
Here is just one recent example of how complacency could evolve into a situation....
On open crossings I will often paddle ahead of my paddle partners to get the crossing over with; I don't like open crossings so much. During our last paddle we were doing a crossing of only about two kilometres - not a big deal. The sea state was benign and my own complacency kicked in. Wanting to get the crossing over with I had started paddling ahead. As I was paddling I was thinking about tow ropes. I checked my mental notes and realized that I was in possession of one of the only two sea kayaking tow ropes within my group, and I was paddling away from my partners with this very important piece of sea kayaking gear. What if something happened back there and someone needed to be towed? Only one person had the ability to do a proper tow. Yes, the tow rope could be handed off to someone else, but it would be far easier and better to get a tandem tow going.
We are kayakers. But we are humans first and therefore subject to the human condition, complacency being one of them. As we gain more experience and skill in our kayaking ventures it seems we tend to let things slide. The tow rope we used to take, and have readily accessible, is left at home, in our car, or tucked away in our hatch. We never had to pull out that tarp for an emergency so it sits on the shelf in our basement now. We lose our whistle one day and don't make it a point to go and pick one up before the next paddle.
I believe most of us kayak for its pure enjoyment, and we don't want to always have to be thinking about gear and safety. But vigilance is the price we have to pay to keep ourselves and our paddling partners safer when we are out there enjoying ourselves.
Personally, I see that I have to try to do better and make the effort to get out of my own complacent behavior. In her awe inspiring beauty, we forget that Mother Nature is extremely cold hearted... She couldn't care less if my paddling partners or I freeze or drawn out on the ocean... she will not cradle us and make it all better. And every time we go for one more paddle we add to the chance that we are gonna get a good sized chunk of the left cheek of our derriere bitten off. So it just makes sense that we try to be a little better equipped in gear and in skill to deal with situations that might arise in our pursuits of the great outdoors.
We have all become complacent. We all have to try to be better. After all, we are all in this thing together.