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PFD's again?

Reivers Dustin
Mar 28 #28913


Posted a cool photo of myself on FB taken by Mr Lampi. I was not wearing a PFD. So some dudes are calling me out on it. Now my family thinks I'm going to drown. You can see from the pile of race photo's that this was a flat condition race. So I am interested in everyone's thought on this forum. Not so much on facebook.

I've said this before: in my opinion a leash is more important than a PFD in most conditions. The PFD is part of an array of safety factors. Like: heightened awareness (for miles around you), knowledge of your skill level, leash, proper clothes, a way to contact help, solid equipment, …

The PFD is a generic, visible, enforceable item. I think PFD is over-rated for high effort paddling. For boating around at resting heart rate with your blue jeans and sneakers on - sure, PFD is clearly called for. Problem is, the typical “AHJ”, (Authority Having Jurisdiction) can't enforce a statute that suits everyone, they go for the best general fit. If I'm a race director with unknown skill levels going into open water - no argument from me. I'll support PFD required.

Which would you rather have in your possession: a PFD or a boat. If for instance you had to choose?

paul clement
Mar 29 #28915

I’m with you on this one Reivers. I’ll take the boat every time. Having a pfd “on board” seems absolutely reasonable particularly with an experienced paddler in a flat condition race where there are plenty of folks around.
I understand the counter argument and see it as concern for the worst case scenario, which is reasonable. That said, people should recognize the whole situation; conditions, craft, experience and situation around each photo posted.
Good on you for going down and supporting Ernie’s race.

Kimberly Reeves
Mar 29 #28916

It was on your deck…yes?

beau whitehead
Mar 29 #28917

Reivers, the same guy who called you out on FB accused me of not wearing a pfd in a race picture a few months ago. Only because he couldn’t see my inflatable belt back in a grainy picture taken from a mile away.

You of all people make sound safety decisions Reivers. You have more life experience than most on this forum. You followed the rules laid out by the race director.

You were surrounded by multiple racers on a flat water day. You had a leash. Don’t change a thing.

Marc Blake
Mar 29 #28918

If I'm not mistaken, I think Beau just called Reivers OLD!

Tyler Irwin
Mar 29 #28919

I agree about the importance of leashes.

I just saw a post last night from a gal down in Hood River about how you shouldn’t have leashes for a surfski, especially when downwinding. I guess she got rotisserie-ed and was fighting to keep the ski under control while in the water.

Now, I’m not a surfski paddler, but I’ve got to assume that this leash-less claim is bunk?

Personally, I wear my OC1 leash every session, but that’s just a personal preference.


Duncan Howat

Mar 29 #28920

If she would just use a JD inspired stern leash absolutely no problem of rolled up boat. Guaranteed lost boat in the Gorge with no leash and 25 plus winds, but I guess there you could always swim to shore–in the summer. D

Reivers Dustin
Mar 29 #28921

Thanks for weighing in on this. I am having second thoughts about the whole discussion. Not about my own reasoning, but about race directors who have the guts to put events together. For a race director it would be intolerable to have someone hurt on your watch. So I hope this topic does not weaken any race director's authority.

As we have seen, some nice folks want to try paddling and they can show up in the oddest scenarios.


Mar 29 #28922

I'm going to climb up on my high horse here… I'm a professional rowing coach and manage a rowing and paddling boathouse in Portland, in addition to getting my jollies on a ski locally and in the Gorge. I've also run dozens of rowing regattas, some with a paddling component. I've pulled lots of people out of very cold water and have tracked on many incidents- some, like one just over the weekend, with loss of life.

My firm personal opinion and practice is that any time immediate rescue is not available, ie, a motorboat in direct line-of-sight tasked with keeping you safe- you should wear a PFD. I didn't use to be this dogmatic but we had two cardiac events here in Portland- one rower and one paddler- either could have ended with a fatality except for dumb luck in both cases (non affiliated safety launch nearby, happened to be near a small island and happened to have a phone and was able to call 911 before he became unconscious). I know Bham rowing had one as well (hi Charlie, glad you're still kicking). There have been many others worldwide.

I don't disagree with your assertion, Reivers, that a leash to a boat is as good/better then a PFD- I just don't see it as an either/or, but as an “and” scenario. There's too many things that can go wrong- injury, cardiac/other sudden medical issue, damage to boat, lost/broken paddle- in which self rescue goes out the window and flotation is your best line of defense. Cardiac events may be more likely under high exertion as well. I used to paddle without a PFD in the summer when the water and air were 70 and up… after the two cardiac events, I don't any more.

Everyone's decision is their own, but I'd just encourage folks to err on the side of coming home…

Also, FWIW, the post from the Gorge by no means was saying 'No Leash'- my takeaway was 'the leg leash didn't work well, I should have taken the time to set up a stern leash, they work much better/are safer in Gorge conditions.' It's a good, important read and reminder.

Career Safety Patrol guy out.

Dennis Mowry
Mar 29 #28927

Rolling the leg leash would be a reason for stern leashes, (& to make them mandatory) :D'

Reivers Dustin
Mar 29 #28931

Regards the recent incident in Iowa, would you consider taking a crew out in those conditions?

One of the first books I read about paddling talked about rings of safety. So in my reasoning, a PFD is one of the last rings of defense. Many things went wrong if you need your PFD. Some of these can be a challenge to control, for example rudder fail, broken or dropped paddle. But we should be inspecting our gear, checking forecasts and more important looking carefully at the situation.

I notice that some folks are really “eyes out” in mil-speak. Meaning that they are continually scanning the horizon, the location of other paddlers, the locations of any other boats. Others not so much. It's not a good indication if you get surprised by a storm squall or a large vessel. They actually don't “come out of nowhere”.

Mar 29 #28932

For me? Without seeing the conditions, hard to say. Certainly would think twice about it and want a close visual inspection as well as watching the forecast. The below freezing wind chill is a big danger factor, as well as very cold water. Maybe a highly experienced crew, properly dressed, and- here's the kicker- with a coaching launch equip with PFD's/rescue ability in close proximity and supervising. Inexperienced, bad clothing, no launch- no way. That's a big difference between rowing and paddle culture, and a major piece of the incident in Iowa- no launch! Having a coach on scene, trained in water rescue, and ready to get folks out of the water and to safety quickly is key.

The rowers I coach go out with no PFDs on. But we have a coaching launch tasked with rescue (as well as coaching) with them at all times. The coxswains do wear PFDs, and are often if flotation/exposure suits if the weather is cold.

I don't disagree with you at all about the rings of safety and the PFD being the last line of defense. 100% with you on that. I think my main change in thinking over the last few years has been how close I feel I'm getting to that last line, even when I feel well prepared on safe days. I've just seen too many fit, skilled, well prepared, and overall safe people get into serious trouble based on crap totally outside their control- so I've started really trying to backstop myself more then I did when I was younger.

I'm not trying to call anyone out, and everyone has to make their own judgment- just pointing out how often shit can go wrong when you least expect it, and through no fault of your own, and how much I hate reading these stories of folks who don't make it back.


Larry Bussinger

Mar 29 #28933

I guess I’m going to weigh in. I agree with Sam although I understand Reivers point. However we paddle so much, we tend to forget the 1- 10- 1 rule. 1 minute to survive the cold shock/ panic/ cardiac event. 10 minutes to survive the loss of motor skills (such as loss of grip). 1 hour to die of true hypothermia.

And the other one. The pfd will tend to keep your head high enough out of the water that you will tend breath more air than water.

My take on Reivers is that he doesn’t wear a pfd only on nice and forecasted nice days. I know that he likes his layers of protection.

Larry Bussinger

Dale McKinnon

Mar 29 #28934

I’m sure there are those that do not know of Bellingham Bay’s surfski history, but November 15, 2007 was a heartbreaker and a claxon about risk assessments. The questikns asked by LG still apply today.

Wave Surfer
Mar 29 #28935

Great post Sam, just to add more clarification to the Gorge incident (I live and paddle in the Gorge and she is a close friend of mine). She is a proficient paddler both on OC1 and surfski. She previously paddled and Epic V8 carbon Elite and had moved up to a V9 carbon Elite after paddling a demo V9 Ultra off and on quite a bit last year. She was also in very dynamic section of the river - Swell City and the Hatch. It wasn’t a big day, but that day you needed to know what you are doing if you are going in there and she had been in there on much bigger days on her V8. She also had a good PFD and normally paddles with a stern leash but she made two mistakes that day - 1) she was under dressed. Even though the air temps were in the 60s the water here is still 44 killer degrees, and 2) she had a stern leash on AND a calf leash at the same time. I won’t go into all the reasons of how that happened here and why it wasn’t caught, but it did, and it contributed to her entanglement when she flipped over. She wasn’t in the water long but already starting to feel the effects of cold water immersion - limbs slow to respond, disorientation, etc. she was also scared out of her wits out there because she thought she was going to drown. When panic sets in, things deteriorate quickly. Luckily others were there to help her get untangled, get her to shore and get her warm. You can read through the thread on the Small Boats page for all the details. When these things happen it’s never one thing, it’s a series of small things and decisions that lead up to it. It’s better to armchair quarterback it now, and we should to promote awareness, than after a worse case scenario.


Kimberly Reeves

Mar 30 #28938

Kelly was referring to an ankle leash that she was using b/c she hasn’t set up her stern leash yet… she supports leashes :)

Tyler Irwin
Mar 30 #28941

That may be the case Kim. But she never says that in her post. In fact, the direct quote taken from her FB post was, “NEVER, NEVER wear a leg leash on a surfski, especially in downwind conditions!!!”

Now, maybe I'm not the best at reading between the lines and I do not know Kelley nor of her paddling skill. But to make such a bold statement to the masses without further context isn't all that responsible.


Wave Surfer
Mar 30 #28942

Tyler she did clarify that in the comment section. As well as others chimed in to make sure everyone understands the pros and cons of both types of leashes and their limitations.

Reivers Dustin

Mar 30 #28943

If it is the Kelly I know of in the gorge, she is highly competent. JD is her usual paddle partner and he's the fiercest leash enforcer I know of. JD was first race director I know of who was ejecting racers who did not have sensible leash setup. He personally inspected every single one prior to his Wildside events. It's good we have these discussions and so much has been learned and shared. It's also good to stay humble about things, especially if we weren't personally involved. Good job folks.

Makes me think about a 60 mph day off Governor's point with LG working to help a guy in the water. I was calling the CG on the radio and unable to hold the paddle with one hand due to high wind. So just sitting with feet out talking with Coasties. I was completely amazed at how complicated it was to just deal with the little leash I had between the radio and PFD. Such a simple thing required so much focus and effort. I remember ranting later about how every little piece of gear and all the little strings and pogies, and stuff just seemed to take on a life of it's own. Since those days I've become particular about how much adrenaline I'm exposed to.


pfds_again_2021.txt · Last modified: 2021/05/07 01:10 by preavley