Wednesday, May 7, 2008

'Newbies' and rolling the Feathercraft

As I mentioned in a mid winter post, I had ordered a lower stern cross rib and thigh braces to retrofit my Feathercraft Big Kahuna for easier rolling. Tonight RonO and I headed over to a local lake to see how the newly 'Dubsided' boat rolled. And she rolled just fine. I needed to make a couple adjustments to my inaugural assembly job and my tuliq didn't fit the cockpit coaming but basically the boat rolled really well. After we got done playing in the surprisingly warm (56F, 13C) water we took a paddle up the lake and ran into two guys who were out in their brand new rec boats.

By now everyone has probably read the article in USA Today, Kayakers Keep Rescue Crews Busy. It was linked and discussed in Bonnie's blog and the excellent blog, Paddling Instructor, had an open letter from the president of the National Association of Boating Law Administrators. Finally, Silbs weighed in with a fine post on the topic. I've had two encounters with new kayakers in the past week. One was very close indeed. My next door neighbor strolled over as I was in the garage fondling boats and announced that she had purchased a kayak. She is very athletic but petite so her decision was pretty much based on a boat that she could hoist up to the car roof by herself. She purchased the craft at a 'big box' sporting goods store and had questions for me like, what kind of paddle should I get, do I have my legs straight on those pegs when I paddle, and what do they call that thing that goes around your waist and over the hole you sit in? Its fairly obvious from the questions that they sold her the boat, tied it on her roof, and wished her a hearty bon voyage.

Fast forward to our folding boat rolling session last night. After I made the 'wardrobe adjustment' to the Feathercraft we set out on the lake to paddle and saw two other kayakers along the west shore. We paddled over to say hi and found two enthusiastic brand new rec boat owners. These guys bought their boats at a large local sporting goods store and their questions were very similar to the ones my neighbor had asked. Since Ron had his tuliq on, I was wearing a dry suit, and we were both soaking wet they correctly surmised that we knew how to do 'those eskimo rolls'. Ron did a couple and one guy said that he had watched a bunch of videos on YouTube and figured he had a pretty good idea on how to go about it. As he started to put his paddle into the set up position that he had seen Ron use, I very quickly pointed out that he lacked the thing that goes around your waist and over the hole you sit in. I also pointed out that the lake was a bit brisk yet, the beer holder he had screwed on to the front of the cockpit might need to be removed, and his cigar would certainly go out if any eskimo rolls were attempted. Much to our relief he agreed.

So what the hell do you do? I find it difficult to argue with any point that is brought up in either the USA Today article or with the six factors that John Fetterman cites in his open letter. Both my neighbor and the guys on Long Lake are good people and more than eager to learn. The local sporting goods retailer that sold the two guys their boats offers demo/instruction every Thursday night during May and June and strongly suggested to the guys that it would be a good idea to attend one. Will they go? They weren't sure. The old tried and true matrix of conscious/unconscious and competent/incompetent seems to be in play in all these interactions. The unconscious incompetent has no idea what they are doing or the dangers involved. With any luck they move to the conscious incompetent where they realize the activity is dangerous and that they need some instruction. I think this is the area where effort needs to be focused, moving people to the awareness stage. Then if people realize an activity can be dangerous and choose not to attempt to become proficient, I guess I don't see what can be done other than legislation and/or licensing. I'm generally opposed to more laws, other than one requiring legislators to repeal two laws when they enact a new one, but I'm not sure or confident of any alternative strategies. Any thoughts out there??


Kristen said...

I feel really torn on this one, Dave. Laissez-faire and all that jazz. In some ways perhaps we could equate this to driving - everyone gets a licence to drive - not everyone should really have that privilege. As a cyclist I am stunned at the ineptitude I see everyday on the roads. As a driver I am getting more and more peeved (probably related to every day as I age...) at drivers blatantly breaking the law. Many will inevitably kill someone, if not themselves. Does that worry us? Only if it's someone we know. Do we stop a fellow driver and tell them that they're not wearing their seat belt or their kid's aren't in restrainer/seats or they should be doing 25mph in a school zone? Nope. (Though I sure would like to.)

I don't know where this leads me, but I'd hate to see kayaking "regulated." Who'd fund that? Who'd police it?

DaveO said...

I'd really hate to see it regulated also. The driving analagy is a good one. Drivers training and licensing procedures certainly have not cut down on the number of knuckleheads. Although most drivers have an idea of the rules of the road while most kayakers are woefully ignorant of the rules of the sea. That being said it would be really depressing to see the Paddlesports Enforcement Division of the Department of Natural Resources. I shudder to think of it. This is great discussion nonetheless.

bonnie said...

I was actually a little surprised how little commentary that article did draw on my blog - of course I hadn't really said much about the regulations.

It's a tough call -

I am of course wildly in favor of boater's ed.

In NYC, I don't know if I'd squawk too loud if they did start requiring kayakers to take a basic boating safety course (although I'd want that boating safety course to be a little more kayak-centric) - but there's a lot of things I wouldn't squawk about for NY Harbor that would be ludicrous in less heavily-trafficked areas.

But I think that the Coast Guard auxiliary reaching out to businesses that sell kayaks? That, I think, is a very good idea - especially if they look past the Rutabagas, Small Boat Shops & Jersey Paddlers of the world - knowledgeable outfitters who care, I mean - and start trying to get some awareness at those big-box stores, where the sales staff may think they're selling something as safe as a pool toy.

Oh, and speaking of pool toys - y'all see this yet?

bonnie said...

oops. Sorry, of course I left out the point that although I probably wouldn't yell too hard if they (those pesky they, whoever they are) mandated boating safety classes for NY Harbor paddlers, I'm still not sure I'd really want that to happen.

Also assumed that everybody looked over at my blog & saw that I mentioned that a CG Auxiliary friend had actually said that the CG IS focusing on paddlecraft safety, but that rather than trying to put together a less stinkpot-centric boating safety class, they were going to be focusing on getting the boating-safety message out at places where kayaks are sold.

THAT makes TOTAL sense, especially if the CG can get some awareness in the Sam's Clubs & WalMarts.

Some people are class-takers, some people are club-joiners, some people are book-readers, some people just don't care - but the one person who's gonna have the best chance to at least TELL the newbie that there's stuff they need to know is the person who sells them the boat in the first place.

Nan said...

I'm really torn on this one. There are no good answers. It would be nice if there was a way to ensure that no one ever bought a kayak (or almost any other piece of recreational equipment) without first having tried the sport, but that's not going to happen. It's probably inevitable that there are going to be some people who see a sport on tv, think it looks cool, and march into a big box store with money in hand and then go off to combine incompetence with overconfidence.

Maybe the only answer is to increase funding to the Coast Guard, local law enforcement, the Park Service, and who ever else gets called out on rescues. As the article noted, the growing popularity of kayaking means there are going to be more people getting into trouble even if the actual percentage of kayakers who need help remains the same. I.e., if you have 100 people kayaking on a lake this year, and 1% have problems, and then next year there are 200 kayaking and it's still only 1% in trouble, the number of rescues has nonetheless doubled, from 1 to 2.

DaveO said...

Great point on the percentage of 'Darwin' candidates staying roughly the same. It also amazes me what people will pick up on. For instance, do we think the number of people wanting to climb Mt Everest increased or decreased after "Into Thin Air"? They saw 'extreme' adventure and I saw a series of cumulative screwups that resulted in disaster. I guess PT Barnum was right with his 'never lose a buck by underestimating the tastes of the American public' theory. Its kind of depressing.