Safety Alert: Dangers of paddling in offshore winds

16 September 2016

This safety alert applies to all individuals and organisations engaging in paddling activities.

A recent investigation into a kayaking incident at Anglesea surf beach found that strong offshore wind prevented paddlers from being able to paddle back to shore.

ISSUE 

In offshore winds, sea conditions deteriorate the further you are from the shore. The relatively smooth conditions at the water's edge are not true indications of the conditions further out. Wave size and whitecaps may not be visible as you are viewing the backs of the waves.

Strong offshore wind conditions may prevent you from being able to paddle back to the shore.

These hazards increase significantly when operating in offshore winds in remote locations and on large expanses of water.

RECOMMENDATION 

Maritime Safety Victoria recommends:

  • always wear a lifejacket when paddling
  • don't paddle in offshore winds - particularly if you are a novice paddler
  • know your location and the risks involved - choose a suitable location for your activity and understand how the wind direction and sea conditions impact on the safety of that location (seek out local knowledge from someone if you are unfamiliar with the location)
  • check the weather when planning your activity as well as on the actual day (before you head out)
  • if operating near the coast understand the effects of topography on the wind and know how to identify the lee (wind shadow) visually
  • know the limitations of your ability and that of your craft and equipment and ensure they are suitable for conditions and your planned activity
  • know the capabilities of your group, particularly the maximum wind speed your group is able to paddle into for a sustained period - plan for the weakest member
  • have a contingency plan should something go wrong (eg. capcise, fatigue, effects of cold water immersion, lost paddle, broken paddle, lost craft, unexpected change in sea or wind conditions) ensure your plan is understood by everyone in the group
  • have a plan for self-rescue and how to get external help. If you can't self-rescue in the conditions, don't go out
  • carry communications equipment capable of contacting emergency services from the location of your activity (consider a phone in a waterproof pouch, VHF radio, EPIRB or personal locator beacon)
  • tell someone where you are going and when you will be returning (so that they can raise the alarm if you have not been able to)
  • use the appropriate craft and equipment for the activity, know its features and capabilities and how to use it for all conditions.

Additional considerations for those leading groups:

  • Conduct a comprehensive risk assessment during the planning of the activity and review it on the day of the activity - before heading out on the water! 
  • Comply with guidelines such as those published by the Department of Education and Training and Australian Canoeing.

Ensure:

  • those leading the activity have suitable qualifications or experience
  • leaders skills and knowledge are current and appropriate for the activity
  • the capabilities of each group member are known and not exceeded - plan for the weakest member
  • the group is trained and skilled in group rescue techniques
  • you establish an effective communication method within your group and there is adequate on-water supervision 
  • the group stays together and the activity remains within any boundaries established for the activity
  • contingency plans to recover paddlers in difficulty are adequate, achievable and suitable for the conditions and that you have a means of escalating the plan to get external help 
  • your group carries communications equipment capable of contacting emergency services from the location of the activity (consider phone in waterproof pouch, VHF radio, EPIRB or personal locator beacon).

For more information on craft, equipment and other safety information including training options, videos, and float plan lodging visit Australian Canoeing

THIS ADVICE IS EFFECTIVE IMMEDIATELY 

Approved by Peter Corcoran, Director Maritime Safety 

Safety alerts are published by Transport Safety Victoria (TSV) under section 197 of the Transport Integration Act 2010 (Vic) to promote the safe operation of transport services. Safety alerts are intended to provide information only and must be read in connection with obligations under relevant legislation.

ACTION ITEM 

The Anglesea kayaking incident provides us all with the opportunity to reflect upon what we can do to improve safety.

MSV is committed to improving the safety of those who enjoy paddling activities. We are currently undertaking a large scale review of paddle activities and how they can be made safer.