Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Safety Patrol

So I embark herein on a somber post, one I've been ambivalent about: what can go wrong on the water.

Nothing terrible's happened on any trip I've been on, but a number of local headlines have brought the subject up. Recent back in July, at least.

For the good and the bad, all you have to do is subscribe to the US Coast Guard Twitter feeds. For example, this one from mid-March, near the Tappan Zee Bridge. The water was still very cold, and anyone unprepared was not going to fare well.

More recently, a paddleboarder disappeared off the coast of New York. Although it's worth pointing out that,  in some cases, people are found.

Even non-kayaking events give one pause. Sometimes planes crash on the Hudson. They don't always end this well. Recently a WW2 fighter-bomber crashed while preparing for showing off Memorial Day weekend.

So what's a paddler to do? When these events cluster together, it's hard not to think that this is a dangerous sport, and one should be careful at all times. Flat water, perfect weather, always file a float plan, never far from shore.

But, that's kinda boring.

It's easy to look at most of these stories and observe, "there were inexperienced, or poorly equipped, or poorly trained people who had no business being in those conditions at that time." Then you read something like this.

A trained and registered guide, with two clients, caught off guard by a strongly-winded storm, capsized in cold water, and two of three dead.

There's probably more local knowledge that I can't glean over the internet. The point is, it's not always the misguided idiots on a lark who suffer catastrophe.

It'd be too easy to wrap up with the familiar caveats: always check the weather, always go out in a capable group, have multiple means of summoning assistance. A proper trip, even a simple one, involves contingency plans that mimic disaster recovery plans; the most audacious expeditions have redundancy approaching the Apollo program in depth.

It can happen anytime. A medical emergency, a badly placed log that hits your head when you capsize while reaching for some snacks in your day hatch. Or maybe you just forgot that one thing, that one step, that makes a difference.

It's pointless to live in fear; it is the human condition. We can only take steps to address it.

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