Ken's Safety Message

by Commodore Ken Heaphy

National Canoe Safety Patrol

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Safety Message from Ken Heaphy, Commodore


National Canoe Safety Patrol / Lower Delaware Chapter


July, 2006

As I write this message the Delaware River is dropping below the 20 foot level at Riegelsville. We have once again been impressed with the power of moving water with the third hundred year flood within 2 years.

Humans have been affecting the environment on many levels and in many areas at unprecedented rates and we should take such events as signs that we should be better stewards of this world that is lent to us and use the political processes available to us to cause our legislatures and big business make wise choices for the future.

Fortunately, I have not seen any articles lately that tell of the tragic death of a boater who wanted the thrill of riding down a river or creek at high water. Whenever a paddlers are drawn to a swollen river they should not ask if they can paddle down the river, but rather if they can stop, go back upstream against the current, and safely get out of the river.

During and some time after the flooding river it will be , filled with bacteria and pathogens from combined sewer overflows and sewer plant blowouts, tree trunks, cabins, propane cylinders, dead cows, bear, sheep, groundhogs and of course - BENZENE

When the river is good for safe paddling, considering contamination and water levels,  what is safe for one paddler may not be safe for another. Please scout your rivers carefully and consult with other more experienced boaters before you go. Storms put many obstacles in the river that were not there before. Take the time to take the hike in and check out potential hazard spots, especially bridges and trestles that may now be filled with trees or other debris and be deadly strainers.

When In Doubt – Scout. Especially after a flood. If you can not see around a bend or over a drop, get out and scout it from land.

Summer time with 90 degree days and 80 degree water is the perfect time to practice wet exits, reentry and recovery techniques.

If you feel the need to pass much gear from your boat to your companions before you practice a wet exit – you probably need to reevaluate your packing plan.

People who paddle closed boats with deck rigging (sea kayaks and many touring and recreational kayaks ) should carry in a “ready to use state” a spare paddle ( short canoe paddle will do ) , paddle float, and pump.

Here is a challenge for every pair of “paddling buddies”. In a controlled environment, with support boaters handy ( just in case ) two boats should dump in deep water at the same time.

The boats are maneuvered into the classic “T” formation but left in the capsized ( upside down ) position.

One paddler goes to the stern of his/her boat and pushes it down and over the hull of the perpendicular boat ( Boat #2).

Paddler #2 goes to the far side of the perpendicular boat and pulls the bow of kayak #1 up until the cockpit of kayak #1 is directly over the hull of boat #2. Boat #1 is rocked back and forth emptying it of water. It is quickly flipped into the upright position and paddler #2 helps stabilize boat #1 while paddler #1 reenters, fastens his/her skirt and prepares to do the classic boat over boat recovery.

The reentry of paddler #2 is facilitated by paddler #1 positioning boat #1’s bow toward boat #2’s stern.

The reentry is easier if the paddle float is rigged under the rear deck rigging and the “sea star” technique is used with paddler #1 assisting in stabilizing Boat #2 while paddler #2 places his/her chest on the rear deck and corkscrews into the cockpit.

Being Prepared includes the main elements of:

  1. using the proper boat for the environment, 2) wearing a properly selected and fitted PFD, 3) using your spray skirt

  2. wearing the right helmet whenever in a Class II situation or whenever paddling a closed boat in a river

  3. proper flotation for your boat

  4. the right footwear

  5. paddling with a group maintaining good group discipline ( keeping all paddlers between the lead and sweep boats)

  6. having a float plan filed with someone who is not on the trip and can report possible problems and probable location if the trip becomes “overdue”

  7. having the proper clothing, rescue, first aid, and signaling gear

  8. having practiced the skills necessary to get you out of any trouble you may get into.

Remember that whenever you are on the water you are responsible for your own personal safety and the safety of the boat behind you.



Safety Message from Ken Heaphy, Commodore


National Canoe Safety Patrol / Lower Delaware Chapter


November 28, 2005


This is a good time of year for experienced paddlers who are properly dressed and who have waterproof bags with a change of warm dry clothes and rain gear to enjoy paddling the lovely smaller streams. Multiple layers of fleece under a goretex jacket permit adjusting for temperature and degree of exercise. Hats and gloves are very important and even though we do not instinctively drink as much water on a cold day as we do on a hot one, it is still important to keep hydrated. While one of the primary rules of survival for boaters on large bodies of open water is, "Stay with your boat!", the reverse is true of paddling small streams in the winter. The rule for surviving a dump in a small stream in the winter is to get out of the water as quickly as you can, before you lose mobility to hypothermia. Your paddling friends can always pick up your boat.

There is a phenomenon known as the "Sudden Disappearance Syndrome" that often occurs when a person goes overboard in cold water, experiences a gasp reflex, and inhales a large volume of water before their head clears the surface. Therefore, if you dump this winter please keep your mouth shut and deliberately hold your breath until you have your head stable above the water. Especially in winter - WEAR your PFD.

Keep your rescue rope throw bag in your car even when you are not going paddling. It is a great rescue device for people who have fallen through the ice.


BE PREPARED   and PTA    Ken Heaphy




Safety Message from Ken Heaphy, Commodore


National Canoe Safety Patrol / Lower Delaware Chapter


September 5, 2005


My observations during this paddling season show that most paddling clubs have done very well in promoting river safety by embracing the concept of all paddlers wearing a PFD properly fastened while paddling (or in many cases making this a hard and fast club rule.   


Unfortunately this concept has not yet been embraced by the majority of paddlers who are not paddling in club situations, and certainly not in most livery situations.


Education and good example are our most powerful tools for spreading this vital concept.   At times gentle suggestion, especially just upstream of particularly difficult or dangerous rapids may persuade some paddlers to protect themselves.    Loud argument is almost never successful in this regard.


Fortunately sharing the information that the Law requires children under 12 to wear a PFD while paddling and that their parents are subject to fine and being removed from the river if they do not wear them has proven effective in getting such children protected.


I am particularly concerned that a very high percentage of club kayakers do not take the next 3 important steps in their personal chain of survival (helmet, spray skirt, air bags).   Too many people do not value their heads enough to wear helmets. They are basic equipment in closed boats in rivers. Experienced kayakers proudly show the scrapes and dings in their helmets and tell the stories. If they had been bare headed when they had those flips they might not be able to tell those stories.    


Too many kayakers do not wear their spray skirts or do not even bring them.   Besides the risk of swamping, the absence of spray skirts is a major obstacle to an individual's growth in paddling skills.   Paddlers without spray skirts generally do not do much maneuvering.   It is extremely difficult to do a good eddy turn or peel out with the Speed, Angle, Initiation, LEAN and Stroke necessary for an effective turn unless the spray skirt is properly fastened so that the boat does not fill with water during the maneuver.


Surfing is one of the joys of kayaking and paddlers without spray skirts usually don't give themselves this level of fun and generally shouldn't because of the high probability of swamping.


The other major factor of concern is Air Bags.    Air Bags are the cheapest insurance policy you can get for your boat.    A swamped kayak is relatively easy to recover when it is equipped with air bags.   However a swamped kayak without air bags has the characteristics of a submarine and is extremely difficult to recover and that process puts the potential rescuers at significant risk.


We have several weeks of warm water left this season.   If you practice self rescue and the rescue of your paddling friends each time you go out you will reduce your anxiety level and be much more prepared for that unexpected swim.


Please think of the kayaker's chain of survival before you go on your next trip:


  1. Have the necessary knowledge and skills (take a course).

  2. Match the venue to your abilities, equipment, and group.

  3. Know the river level. Know the river, or go with those who do.

  4. Paddle with a group that can assist you.

  5. File a float plan with people who are not on the trip.

  6. Use the proper flotation for your boat, properly installed.

  7. Wear your PFD, Spray Skirt, and Helmet.

  8. When in Doubt - Scout.