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Ocean Surf Ski Paddler Safety Precautions

Ocean Surf Ski Paddler Safety Precautions

Apr 2015

Words Dawid Mocke and NSRI, pics courtesy Charl van Wyk, race director of the PETE MARLIN SURFSKI RACE 

Following the tragic death of Mark Feather off East London in November 2014, Sea Rescue has been asked for recommended safety precautions and tips on what to do if search and rescue is needed.

There is seldom one simple answer so we have put together suggestions that we believe should be taken into account when a paddle is to be undertaken.

Weather and sea conditions can change fast and paddlers should factor in that they need to stay afloat and warm for whatever the rescue period is going to be. Even with emergency beacons and flares, a rescue could take a few hours, depending on place, conditions and accuracy of information.

It is important for paddlers to know that there are three phases to a rescue operation:

2.general search
3.and specific location of the paddler.

Basic safety:

It is very difficult to spot someone in the water – so please make sure that we can see you. Often we only get one glimpse of a bright colour – especially in strong wind conditions.

• Paddle in a buddy system.
• Wear a brightly coloured PFD. See here: MOCKE PFD.
• Wear a brightly coloured rash vest (lumo green or orange is best).
• Have a cell phone in a waterproof bag (test that you can use this in all conditions). 
   See here: CELLPHONE Dry Bag.
• Use a leash from the ski’s foot straps to your body. See here: Calf Leash.
• Know who to call for help and be sure that your family know who to call. Be sure that someone knows where you are and when you should return. And that they will call for help if this time is exceeded.
• Have a signal flare (hand held are best) or pencil flares.
• Carry a reflector/mirror.
• Have a whistle that works when wet.
• Have your name and landline number on your surf ski.
• Leave a card with your name and phone number (cell and landline) on your vehicle dashboard.

Good ideas and practices:

• Have a brightly coloured surfski or put bright reflective tape on your boat and on the paddle blades.
• Check if the boat will float if broken. Internal floatation is often an issue.
• Take appropriate thermal protection for the conditions that you are paddling in.
• Keep an emergency bank bag in the back of your vest with an allan key, bung, cable ties and space blanket.
• Make sure that you know what to do in an emergency, have practised it, and know that you can do it when hypothermic.
• If you use a bright hat make sure that it is tied to your PFD. See here: Fly-Dry Visor.

Who to call for help:

• Call for help sooner rather than later.
• Hypothermia will affect your ability to think faster than you realise.
• Have the local NSRI number programmed in your phone
  (find the number on
• Call your friend or family member who is waiting for your return and ask them to call NSRI.


The hand held flares are brighter and easier to see than pencil flares. They are also easier to use when hypothermic. If you have one flare it is best to keep it until you can see a rescue boat. If two flares, fire one at once and keep the other for when you can see a rescue boat, and if six flares, always keep the last one for when a rescue boat is close.

There are three tracking systems, or combinations of systems to consider:

Use a cell phone app such as MySOS

This will only work where there is cell coverage, the phone must be a smart phone that you can use in a bag, it must float and must have enough battery life. This can be tracked by family, friends or event organisers.

Use an AIS MOB device

This is waterproof, has long battery life and lasts for 24 hours after activation. It is expensive but simple to activate and can be seen by all vessels with AIS enabled GPS chart plotters (including NSRI vessels). It gives an exact position. If out of range – or out of direct line of sight, the signal will not be picked up. The transmitting range is about 4NM depending on conditions.

Use a 406MHz PLB device

Also expensive, waterproof and the signal is picked up by satellite which sends a message to the local Maritime Rescue Coordinating Centre. This can take some time to activate rescue as the satellite must ‘see it.’ Then the message is sent to the MRCC which will only react if the beacon has been properly registered with the correct details. Because of the time delay it is not ideal for paddlers.

Frequently asked Questions:

1.Stay or swim? 
It is generally better to stay with your craft as it makes you easier to find and float. Sometimes you may decide to swim – but if you do this you must know that it will be very hard to spot a head in the water … and that the distance that you swim will probably be double what you thought you would have to swim.
2. In or out of the water?
Whichever keeps you warmest.
3. When do you call for help?
Call at the first sign of trouble. NSRI would prefer to respond to someone who thinks that they are in trouble than someone in a bad situation.
4. What info does NSRI need:
Who you are and where you are. What the trouble is, how many people need help and how much battery life you have in your cell phone. A GPS position and local current and wind would be a great help.
5. Use the buddy system?
Stay together, help each other and check who has what rescue equipment that can be used.

The PETE MARLIN SURFSKI RACE, part of the World Surfski Series will take place in East London on 14 November 2015. 

Source: Mocke Paddling

Mocke Paddling