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Social Distance Rescues


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Below is a link to a video just posted on our local KASK (Kiwi Association of Sea Kayakers) newsletter.  It's actually a couple of Canadian guides (you can tell by lack of rudders) who are experimenting how to observe the 2 metre distance while performing assisted rescues.  You can debate the validity of the techniques, but might be an interesting challenge to test.


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On 5/21/2020 at 5:17 PM, jmcotton said:

Thanks!  Looks like good options

Well, actually not so much. As the video makers stated, some of their techniques simple won't work in rough conditions. That's probably true of all of them, plus they're adding the risk of broken paddles and other injuries to the mix.

There's also some really important points that people need to understand about COVID-19 and infectious disease spread in general.

  1. You have to receive an infectious dose of the virus. In the case of COVID-19, that's somewhere between 1000 and 10,000 virus particles (based on the latest information I've seen).
  2. Receiving an infectious dose requires a combination of exposure and time. That's why the majority of infections occur indoors, where people are in a room with someone who's infected for an extended period (the best estimate I've seen is 15 minutes or more).
  3. In an outdoor environment, receiving an infectious dose is much less likely, since the air around you changes constantly and the virus is dispersed; it's not recirculated and concentrated as it is in a closed room. Windy conditions disburse the virus even further.

Let's extrapolate this to normal assisted rescues:

  • They take place outdoors.
  • They're most common in rough conditions, which usually means there will be significant wind. Even if the wind speed is low, the moving water (waves and swell) also moves the air above it, so there is constant air circulation.
  • Experienced rescuers can have a swimmer back in their boat in a minute or so, and their actual close contact time is even less. If pumping out the cockpit is necessary, the rescuer can slide down the deck lines to gain some distance.

Given all of these mitigating factors, there doesn't seem to be much to be gained by attempting to use techniques that put the paddlers and their equipment at increased, immediate danger of injury or hypothermia. The first order of business is to get the paddler back in their boat and away from any immediate danger. Anything the compromises that goal for the sake of the highly unlikely possibly of contracting an infection from someone who may have the virus, seems more risky, rather than less so. 

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All good points. We often think about risk in ways that aren’t rational. 

Do check out the Danish video as it includes some suggestions on distanced rafting, which certainly seems safer than regular rafting. 

Also (definitely not yet in this season) there do arise situations where a swimmer is at very  little risk from injury or hypothermia. Someone was fooling around in their boat in late August and capsized, or whatever. Nice to have an option or two. But certainly, as you say, not an automatic go-to. 

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Thanks Brian for that reply.  In the beginning of this pandemic there were a lot of unknowns, including how swamped the hospitals will get and how badly affected the most vulnerable population would be.  It turns out that hospital capacity was fine and that the most vulnerable and disproportionately affected are nursing home residents.  What I have not heard much about is how little this virus really spreads outdoors, especially under circumstances where people are active such as paddling or hiking.  There have been some reports saying how few cases spread outdoors, and it is now suspected that outdoor activity is not a realistic way that this virus spreads.  The media has not been reporting on this prominently.

The great thing about paddling is you can leave all that stress at home and get away from it all for a bit.  You can pass paddlers and not see masks and forget about that garbage for a while. Just take it easy, people, and use common sense, such as when you are indoors around other people who are not members of your household.

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I recently saw an article specifically about the possibility of spreading the virus outdoors and the conclusion was that it was highly unlikely, unless you were close to an infected person and downwind (or in their draft, as in cycling) for an extended period of time (an hour or more). If I can find the link, I'll post it here. With the rapid dispersal that occurs outdoors, it's quite difficult to get an infectious dose. Walking, running, or riding past someone is not going to do it. It seems even less likely while paddling, as you're rarely close, the air is moving. As I pointed out, even in a rescue situation where you are close, it's still really unlikely. It's something that I wouldn't worry about, certainly not when someone is in immediate danger and in need of rescue.

I don't worry about it when I'm out riding, either, but I've curtailed riding in large groups (actually, the group rides I used to do have been cancelled until we're past this outbreak).

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I  would speculate that a tried- and- true T Rescue would pose relatively small risk to the participants, and in the overall scheme of things  should command less attention and re-thinking in planning   ones CV-19 paddling.    The new methods shown here suggest  to me that they would, like any new thing on the water, best be achieved after practice ( I certainly would want to practice these before "taking them to the bank" ) , which in turns means... more time spent with  people in some contact with each other.  

 I'm inclined to think that having a water- friendly mask of one kind  (maybe a buff or  neck  warmer or a balaclava  around ones neck ) at the ready., and deploying  it in the event of a rescue,  would provide an adequate  barrier between paddlers for such a relatively short period of contact . Beyond that, my personal approach would be to paddle very conservatively (eg leave the rock play or paddling likely to result in a capsize for another time)   to forestall the need for a rescue in the first place,  and, most importantly ,   emphasize protocol during the loading/ carrying/ launching /landing phases of a trip where the contact between paddlers is  inevitably closer. 

Edited by PeterB
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  • 1 month later...

I was just participating in a Sea Leader training with John Carmody the last couple of days, and we tried out a new assisted rescue technique that incorporates social distancing and seems to work reasonably well in rough water (which is where we did it, because that's where it needs to work).

Both of the videos above demonstrate a technique where the rescuer stabilizes the bow of the swimmer's boat in a T position over their cockpit after emptying it, while the swimmer cowboy-scrambles in. Someone tried this on a trip I was on in a recent rough-water rescue off Marblehead, and it was actually fairly unstable with the swimmer falling back in while attempting the scramble the first time.

John has watched the videos and he adapted this technique by simply sliding the swimmer's boat up further onto the cockpit. (The second video above does this to some extent, but not quite enough.) The change makes a huge difference in that the flat portion of the swimmer's hull provides much more stability, and allows the rescuer to get a much wider grip on the boat's decklines. It is not as nice as a bow/bow or bow/stern assist but it works well enough and maintains the 6 feet handily.

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I also played around with this the past couple days. We did determine that the hull shape of the boat makes quite a difference - a "steeper" V on the bow makes things less stable than a boat with a flatter profile, as it kind of tips sideways on the rescuer boat. (Atlantic LV harder than a Cetus LV!)

For me personally I think if someone needed a rescue quickly (cold water, near rocks, injured paddler, etc) I think the risk of injury to body/boat more than the risk of covid transmission. But in benign conditions I'd certainly try this first. 


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