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Safety and visibly on the water is of utmost importance. I cannot stress this enough, safety and visibility on the water is paramount. We all have a responsibility to ourselves, our families, as well as others on the water. Every choice and decision we make in life in general usually affect not only ourselves, but others, even if we never realize this. This is no different when we get on the water, than it is in any other situation in life. We have posted on Facebook, and continue to do so, articles from www.paddling.net, that go over different safety concerns, and steps we should take, and I encourage you all to read them, go over them, no matter how much you think you may know. I read them and reread them on a regular basis. That being said, the subject of this blog post today is of a growing concern, and a growing problem on the water, especially bigger waters where we share the waterways with larger vessels and powered vessels.
My business partner Paul, was having a conversation with one of his friends, who shared an experience with him of an incident that happened within the past couple of weeks. He was on the lake, bass fishing, and was headed out to a favorite spot, in his bass boat. He luckily spotted something, and was able to react in time, to avoid a collision with multiple kayakers on the water. Was this because he was daydreaming about that next big catch? Was it because he thinks, that because he is in a bass boat, he is better than those in the small plastic boats? Was it because he feels he has more right on the water than they do, because his boat costs more? The answer to all of these questions is a resounding NO. It was because he could not see them. You see, on wide open water, it is much different than driving down the road. Your eyes are scanning everywhere for obstruction, objects in the water, debris, etc... These kayakers were blending in to the surroundings, due to the colors of the kayaks, the clothing they were wearing, the color of the blades on the paddles. The quick thinking of not only the driver of the bass boat as he saw the kayakers at the last seconds, but the kayaker making erratic movements with his paddle prevented a disaster.
So you may be asking, how can someone not see multiple kayakers on the water? Well, let’s look at a few factors. From a kayak paddler point of view, you are lower to the water, you may spot things boaters can’t. From the bass boat perspective, they are higher on the water, things can blend in easier, especially with what I call 'white noise' in the background. What I mean by white noise, is waves, moving water, ripples. This can play with your perception of things. Not only that, the right colors and distance, and a kayaker can lose sight of another kayaker. I have personal experience with this. Fishing one day with Paul, his wife Teresa, and a friend Jim, Jim has grey camo kayak, he was wearing a black jacket, and has dark hair. He paddled out fishing, and I was, as I normally do, making notes of where everyone was, and always watching for hazards. The next time I looked in Jim's direction, he was gone. I started scanning the horizon, 'where did he go?', 'is he ok?'. I started to paddle in the direction I had last seen him, then noticed movement. He was there, just not very easy to see. Had he not moved just right, it would have taken me getting much closer to see him.
So how can we become more 'visible' on the water? Wear brighter colored clothing. Wear a bright colored hat. Yellow or Orange are great colors, but are not the only colors out there. If you paddle with dark colored blades, consider blade reflector tape, or use visibility flags. If you see a boat coming at you, raise your paddle or a bright colored object and wave it to garner the attention of the driver. Will wearing or using bright colors always work? No, and here is why. Think of the sun reflecting off the water, not only is it blinding, it is also yellow or orange. White could look like clouds, blues like water. Are these good excuses for not wearing them? The simple answer is NO. Your chances of being seen go way up, when bright colors are involved. That leads me to another safety item to always have on board, a safety whistle. It is required on federally regulated waterways, but why not carry it always? You never know what may come up that a safety whistle could be of use.
So in closing, think safety first, it will greatly improve your time on the water, and everyone else’s as well.
By: Kevin Fox