Most of the information on this page is meant to suggest practices that can help you avoid making careless mistakes or being inadequately prepared for outings. They may not help you avoid some of the most risky decisions that we are all capable of making due to our natural biases and weaknesses in decision making. The following are good articles about safety related decisions and some common pitfalls to watch for.
These lists and rating systems are intended to get you thinking about the full range of considerations that affect your safety. They are offered here with the hope that they will encourage you to learn about considerations you do not fully understand, treat such yet to be understood considerations with respect and a healthy dose of conservativism, and ultimately for you to develop your own personal gauge for safety concerns so you can better judge when your skills and preparation are up to the conditions of any potential paddle outing.
The chart below (click to enlarge) comes from the 2016 ICF Ocean Racing Coaching Manual. It is the results from a survey of surfski experts on the most common causes of surfski emergencies. It seems that common sense should dictate that you direct your preparation toward avoiding the common causes and also toward being able to deal with situations that you cannot avoid - to the best of your ability to prepare for them. The respondents to the survey come from all over the world. If you live and paddle in a cold water location, you might rate the frequency of problems from cold water shock and inability to remount as very common and therefore should place even greater emphasis on equipment (wetsuits, more stable surfskis, etc.), skills (stability, remount, group paddling, communication), and judgement (when is it too cold? too rough and cold?) that help you avoid and/or deal with the risk of cold water.
|Least Common||Common to Very Common||Most Common|
|Capsize, no leash, lost ski||9.09% (4)||77.27% (34)||13.64% (6)|
|Capsize, broken leash, lost ski||15.91% (7)||77.27% (34)||6.82% (3)|
|Capsize, unable to remount||6.98% (3)||65.12% (28)||27.91% (12)|
|Broken rudder||39.53% (17)||60.47% (26)||0% (0)|
|Broken steering||38.64% (17)||56.82% (25)||4.55% (2)|
|Broken paddle||52.27% (23)||47.73% (21)||0% (0)|
|Capsize, cold water shock, unable to remount||25.58% (11)||48.84% (21)||25.58% (11)|
|Taking on water, sinking||60.47% (26)||39.53% (17)||0% (0)|
|Health issue (heart attack, dislocation, etc.)||60.47% (26)||32.56% (14)||6.98% (3)|
|Boat/ship accident||84.09% (37)||15.91% (7)||0% (0)|
|Shark attack||97.67% (42)||2.33% (1)||0% (0)|
|“Most of us sort out our probabilities not with statistics but according to what we have actually experienced. Psychologists call this the application of “heuristics”. Heuristics are the generalizations we accept about the working of the world, drawn from the grab bag of what we've seen personally or what we've heard from trusted sources like friends and relatives.”
Source: James R. Chiles, Inviting Disaster: Lessons from the edge of technology, HarperCollins 2001
Photo: Lawrence Risley video (this one could have hurt - slow down your playback speed to get a better look)