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A Safety Tale of Three Paddlers

This summer, we wrote quite a bit about accidents involving paddlers who did not wear PFDs or leashes - but almost all of those stories involved people on standup boards.  Many of them were new to the sport.  But we've run across some stories that remind us that safety and the potential for accidents aren't limited to newbies on paddleboards.

On a recent forum we follow, one experienced surfski paddler recounted how his boat flipped, mere yards from the dock and wind blew it upstream, whilst he was carried downstream by the current.  He was in coolish water and after 45 minutes, he was able to get back into his surfski but he reported his fine motor skills were compromised.

In this story by Rob Mousely on one of our favorite ski sites,, just two weeks ago, two surfskis washed ashore on the same day, after their paddlers flipped on the famed Miller's Run in South Africa (where the site is based.)


Leashes Can Break

In one instance, there was leash failure. The paddler was in the water swimming for 1-3 km, over rocks and in pretty wicked conditions ("proper" conditions for the intense Miller's Run, the story recounts.) The leash somehow came unclipped.  Here's what Rob says:

"We can’t tell why the leash unclipped; it didn’t break, the catch simply came undone. The leash in question has a plastic quick release clip – did this slip?  Who knows?  What is certain though is that no single piece of safety equipment is infallible.  Components can age, can break, can slip, clips can be fastened incorrectly. "

Here are his tips to make sure your leash doesn't fail - they are applicable to both surfskis and outriggers. And SUP too, when you think about it.

When you use a leash:

  • Make sure it’s properly clipped on.
  • Replace it regularly - every 1-2 years.  After your PFD, it’s your primary safety device.
  • Consider using a paddle leash as well.  If your primary leash detaches or breaks, the paddle leash might save you.
  • Give some thought to what you’d do if you did lose your boat.  What distance can you swim?  Have you a means of calling for help like a mobile or VHF radio on your person (as opposed to on the boat)?  How would you tell anyone your position?

I'd add to this list - check it over every time you paddle.  Make sure all the working parts are in good order.

I like the Mocke Life Line Craft  leash and I use it in my outrigger.

Test the PLB

In the second instance, the paddler was carrying a Personal Locator Beacon which he activated, but it did not send out the emergency signal. The paddler was using a friend's ski which was different from what he was used to and when he was flipped in the conditions, he was not able to remount, being unfamiliar with the boat.  His leash kept him with the ski, however, but in the rough conditions, he needed a rescue. The manufacturer is looking into the cause of the non-alerting PLB.

Most PLBs have a test function.  If you use one, test it periodically.  Make sure you know how to use it.  Have a backup, like a phone, a tracking app or a marine band radio. File a float plan. The fact that someone know when the paddler in this story was supposed to be back and they realized he was overdue is likely what saved him.

All three of these stories are a good reminder that even when you have and are using the safety gear, even when you are an experienced paddler, accidents can happen. As many of us are getting ready for the Chattajack 31 race in Tennessee, it's also a good reminder to double check the safety gear - no matter what you paddle - and have a plan, just in case something happens and you have to wait for a safety boat.


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