The Boy Scouts got is right. I often get scoffed at by other kayakers when they see me loading all of the safety gear that I carry with me. “How long are you going for?” they will ask. Well I was reminded today of why I (and you) should always carry your safety gear etc. I was teaching two friends how to kayak, and I only had two kayaks with me. So they took turns trying out the kayak and practicing what I had showed them while I paddled along in my kayak. We were in a small pool on the side of the Black River in Watertown just above a dam. The current was way too strong for beginners, so we just stayed in the pool and paddled around in circles for a few hours.
So I thought, why bother bringing any safety equipment when we will be only a few yard from shore the whole time? Well, a motorboat launched and went upstream. A few minutes later, the same motorboat floated by with the engine off. They were only a hundred yards or so from the dam and I noticed the guy had a paddle and was furiously paddling toward the shore. It did not take me long to figure out what was going on. Their engine had died and they were headed over the dam in a matter of a minute or two. I gave my new kayaker instructions to stay put and quickly paddled over to the motor boat. When I arrived, I asked if they were okay and they replied “NO!” My first thought was to clip a rope onto the front of the boat and tow it in. I could use my tow rope or the extra rope I always carried, except both of these were back at the house! The woman on the boat fumbled with the bow line and managed to get it untangled. She passed it to her husband and he tied it to the back of my kayak. I was able to tow them in, but while he was fumbling with the line and tying it to my kayak, the man in the boat had to stop paddling. Had we been just a bit farther downstream, we would not have had the time.
If I had my gear with me, it would have taken me only seconds to clip onto their bow and start towing them. In an emergency, every second counts. So be prepared. Bring your safety gear, first-aid kit, rope, etc. with you every time you go out paddling. The one time you don’t bring it, is when you will really need it.