Solo sea kayaking^

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Phil Andrew
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Solo sea kayaking^

Post by Phil Andrew » Tue Jan 31, 2006 8:29 pm

I went out this afternoon for a paddle. I carried my Sea kayak down to the beach and paddled up the coast and back,it took a couple of hours. I've done the trip at least 30 times alone and with others.
When I returned at 17.20 to the beach I saw the coastguard Landrover and a police van parked on the prom.I assumed they had something to do with the man who'd gone missing off a cross Irish sea ferry last night.
I dragged my boat up the beach toward the slip,got out my mobile to call the house and ask my son to come down and help me carry the kayak home.
As I was talking I noticed the 2 coastguards and 2 policemen walking toward the slipway..... and then toward me.
I finished the call and turned to the 4 uniformed men,I know 3 of them from my local pub.
"what the hell are you playing at Phil...... it's nearly dark and you are out on your own......middle of winter?......freezing cold.......ALONE!!!??"

I asked if I was breaking the law? Of course I wasn't. I'd done nothing wrong yet I was being spoken to like I was some kind of reckless idiot.
I was wearing a dry suit,I always carry full rescue gear with flares,etc and the sea was as flat as a fart. I had also told my wife exactly where I was going and my ETA for return.
2 people had called the police because they saw me out at sea in a kayak.


I've climbed Scottish winter grade 3 alone. I've walked up over 200 Munros in summer and winter alone. I've even paddled class 2 and 3 rivers alone( I know this is REALLY to be discouraged!) and nobody bats an eyelid?

Why do so many people frown on solo kayaking?

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Mark R
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Re: Solo sea kayaking

Post by Mark R » Tue Jan 31, 2006 8:39 pm

Phil Andrew wrote:Why do so many people frown on solo kayaking?
I don't think that paddlers do.

Clearly the wider world needs educating, though.
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Post by Garty » Tue Jan 31, 2006 9:01 pm


Don't let their attitude towards you spoil what was clearly another nice trip on the water. I was out solo in Poole harbour on a cold but beautiful day on Sunday and the local police Marine section cruised past at one point, giving me the thumbs up sign which I returned and off they went. Like you, I had taken steps to inform people of my whereabouts, I was getting a bit warm with my dry-kit on incase of an unexpected dip and I had flares etc. All minimum requisites for the time of year, I suggest.

It's about attitudes, there are some well-meaning but unfortunate paddlers out there and there are clearly some emergency service personnel who have to fish them out when accidents occur.

As long as we take all reasonable steps to reduce the risks then gradually attitudes will change.

Failing that, look out for number one and ignore the Bah Humbug Brigade!!

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Post by fruitcake » Tue Jan 31, 2006 9:17 pm

Have also been met by coastguard on arrival back at the beach - not out solo though - there must have been about 6 of us - all happy with the conditions and with a range of gadgets / communication systems etc. We'd been out for the day and had returned in the dark (by choice not by mistake I hasten to add) - I think it was prob January but one of those beautiful crisp days. Someone had seen us go out and saw our cars still parked after it was dark and had phoned the coastguard. The coastguard then took all our names etc and gave us a chat about what kit did we have blah blah. It is reassuring to know that the coastguard are there and that folks are watching out but it was pretty embarrassing to be met by the coastguard - what if we'd decided to go camp somewhere too and not returned?

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Post by al27 » Tue Jan 31, 2006 10:02 pm

The harbourmaster generally phones my wife if anyone reports a boat out alone. Although if you go out after dark, it makes it a lot harder for people to spot you!!

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Post by steve crofts » Tue Jan 31, 2006 11:19 pm

Hi Phil
As a paddler and full time coastguard you have my sympathies.
I occasionally go out alone but always with a dry suit,vhf,flares,in good weather on familiar paddles,
but I suspect my colleagues think I am foolhardy.
As you are probably aware the nanny state, politically correct brigade and availibility of mobile phones generate lots of calls about situations
just like yours.
Here at Forth MRCC we receive numerous calls from well intentioned members of the public who think someone is in trouble,because ie he is alone,not moving,far out to sea etc etc ,unfortunately we have to act on these reports.
The Police also receive many reports like yours,they usually refer
them to us,but if the local unit is quiet and curious they will probably put
in an appearance,probably thats what happened in your case.
Anyway best of luck in your future solo paddles.

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Post by Ryan Clements » Wed Feb 01, 2006 12:25 am

Hi Phil,

Hmm, that must have been quite frustrating, to return to shore only to get a lecture. I think, as Mark said earlier, it's a matter of education. I have also paddled rivers alone, and have friends that do the same when there is nobody around to paddle with. I think as long as you have the experience to assess the risk (which it sounds like you do) and are not being reckless by paddling close to your limit it is simply a matter of personal choice.

I used to live in Fort William, one day whilst paddling the River Nevis we were inspecting Polldubh falls. A police car crossed the bridge over the falls and then stopped in the lay by, an officer got out of the car, marched over and said "what do you think you are doing, you idiots try to pull off stupid stunts like this and it's people like me that have to pull out your body's!". I couldn't believe my ears! I was also very surprised that considering he worked in the Fort that he wasn't a little more "clued up".

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Post by capsized8 » Wed Feb 01, 2006 9:37 am

The only sure way to prevent a welcoming party on your return would be to use a vhf and call the CG giving them the expected trip information as you set out, followed by another call on your return. They will not start looking for you if you fail notifying them on your return, but at least they will have a better idea of where to look when/if you are missed.
You may have to listen to words of caution when you tell them you are alone.
Holyhead CG are very helpful and pleased to hear from us small boaters as I am sure is the case elsewhere around our coast
peace and good padlin.

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Post by atakd » Wed Feb 01, 2006 11:00 am

If you specifically ask the Coastguard to, they will act as your shore contact and check up if you fail to return. It does mean leaving your VHF on all the time though, which not everybody does.
Its interesting to see that, like me, most sea kayakers endorse solo paddling but many books etc. counsel against it. Authors covering their backs, I suppose.

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Post by Jim » Wed Feb 01, 2006 11:55 am

For obvious reasons the emergency services have to act when a well meaning but stupid member of the public calls them on a matter like this.

My old boss and his brother in law were once out fishing in a small rowing boat just off Largs at dusk when the inshore lifeboat paid them a visit. Someone had phoned in because it was getting dark and they didn't seem to be moving - obviously dusk is a good time for fishing and they were just drifting on the tide trolling over the side. Luckily by the time the lifeboat arrived they had finished and were about to row back because the lifeboat insisted on waiting around until they got to the shore. I don't think they bothered to go out again, although both have kayaks now, but I presume that in future the crew would identify the boat, check they were OK and then leave them alone having seen they really did know what they were about.

You can leave your details with the CG even if you don't have VHF, and they don't even require you to call wehen you return, the thing is that if someone calls to say they think there is someone in trouble they will have to mobilise in case it is either isn't you at all, or you are in trouble and it's better to check now than when you are overdue. Obviously as atakd says, if you have a VHF and are listening to it they could call you up and ask if you are in trouble, but I still suspect that if there is any doubt that there may be someone other than you in the vicnity but perhaps out of your sight (try identifying a kayak against a cluttered town backdrop in failing light, or even in good light for that matter!) that they will still want to check it out. The ultimate irony of course would be if you joned in a search for yourself due to a member of the public describing your position badly and both you and the coastguard assuming it must be someone else!

Solo paddling is something that no-one would actively recommend, BUT if you personally feel you want to and are safe to do so, most of us wouldn't try to stop you, and many of us would do it or have done it ourselves. The problem is that if you say "solo paddling is fine if you are competent" then some people will ask questions like "how do I know when I am competent to paddle solo", and there is no real answer to that because it's more than just skill, it's about having that certain mindset and confidence in your skills and a full understanding of what it would actually mean to be separated from your boat with no-one around to help out. It is very deep and meaningful in a way that trying to express in terms of qualification isn't.


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Post by MikeB » Wed Feb 01, 2006 12:11 pm

Jim wrote: "solo paddling is fine if you are competent" .

My major concern when I go out alone isn't competency, but the unexpected - the heart-attack, stroke or dislocated shoulder - even competent paddlers could well find themselves in difficulty due to no fault of their own.

It's a personal call - as with so much, it's "each to his own". The same is true in the hills - but there I was slightly more comfortable that I was in less danger of adding drowning to the list of possible nasties!

Leaving details with a shore contact / advising the CG - these are all good safeguards, and if nothing else might stop an un-necessary, expensive search. As my good friends will know, I do have a reputation for getting it wrong and ending up in Loch Ffyne instead of Largs -(don't ask!) - - in that particular instance, the VHF and a mobile phone call or two saved the possibility of someone getting worried.


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Post by sandpiper » Wed Feb 01, 2006 12:11 pm

A very interesting discussion. I am fairly new to sea kayaking so I dont expect I will be solo paddling for a while. However the discussion here is very similar to that on rock climbing sites where solo climbing ie climbing without ropes, causes great debate. Those of us with experience (decades in my case) and who started a long time ago when climbing was less mainstream, dont have a problem with it. Newcomers seem to have more of an issue, perhaps due to growing up in an increasingly paranoid society.

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Post by DaveM » Wed Feb 01, 2006 1:31 pm

My major concern when I go out alone isn't competency, but the unexpected - the heart-attack, stroke or dislocated shoulder - even competent paddlers could well find themselves in difficulty due to no fault of their own.
When I did my last first aid course the paramedic said the chances of surviving a heart attack are only 8% if you are in a fully equipped hospital with staff standing by, and down around 3% out on your own.

A couple of years ago a friend of mine died of a heart attack training in his WWR C1, I understand he didn't even take his deck off, so I know the risk is there.

I haven't stopped driving in case I have a heart attack at the wheel. It's important to get the risk into perspective. I've survived 40 years of mainly solo paddling, so I'm not too worried. Besides, I'd rather my last moments were on the sea than at work.

I've had too many coastguard and lifeboat callouts over the years, if you regularly solo in the winter it's one of those annoying facts of life, like rain.
Everyone please bear in mind the poor s*ds that got called out of the pub to find you probably don't want to be there either, it's just their job.

My solution is to ban coastal dog walking to eliminate 90% of inwanted call-outs.


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Post by runswick2000 » Wed Feb 01, 2006 2:13 pm

DaveM wrote:I've had too many coastguard and lifeboat callouts over the years, if you regularly solo in the winter it's one of those annoying facts of life, like rain.
Everyone please bear in mind the poor s*ds that got called out of the pub to find you probably don't want to be there either, it's just their job.

My solution is to ban coastal dog walking to eliminate 90% of inwanted call-outs.

Speaking as a lifeboatman ust a few points:

Firstly, It's not our job, we're volunteers and we do so gladly under ALL circumstances.

Secondly, we understand that everyone can make a bad decision or due to no fault of their own can get into situations beyond their control. We should never judge people (Though of course some do).

Finally (on a serious note), we would rather be called out early when nothing is actually wrong rather than someone hesitate and not call us for fear of making an unecessary callout. If in any doubt, should you see something that worries you whilst walking your dog, give the coastguard a call. They are, after all, the professionals.
Perhaps the greatest flaw in democracy is the idea that, if a majority of the population believes arrant nonsense, it somehow makes the nonsense true.

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Post by Jim » Wed Feb 01, 2006 2:32 pm

MikeB wrote:
Jim wrote: "solo paddling is fine if you are competent" .

My major concern when I go out alone isn't competency, but the unexpected - the heart-attack, stroke or dislocated shoulder - even competent paddlers could well find themselves in difficulty due to no fault of their own.
Feel free to add your own health or absolutely any other factors you want to my far from extensive list of things that ultimately affect the decision.

It is a personal one and different people place different emphasis on the importance of certain factors than others may.

Personally I'd be happy to see the Police/Coastguard/Lifeboat checking that I was alright, I wouldn't expect a telling off like Phil got but I understand that as the people standing there worrying because they don't understand my sport, that they are likely to react differently to other paddlers!

As for banning dog walkers, please no! I kitesurf quite a lot and I know how easy it is to lose track of each other - I long ago decided that should I become separated from the crowd and in trouble it is more likely that the random dog walkers or busybodies would spot me than the other kitesurfers and windsurfers who have plenty else to concentrate on!


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Post by Ken R » Wed Feb 01, 2006 4:31 pm

I have been following this thread with some interest and I think Jim's last post touches on the real issue - attitude. The first response of the CG and Police to Phil should not have been a lecture.

I had an experience of the CG calling out to Lifeboat some years ago. I was part of a group who paddled from North Landing, Flamborough around the head on a very rough day. We were in WW boats and enjoying the conditions and a spot of surfing. After lunch, near South Landing, we became aware of an engine, which was strange as no other silly fool was out there. It was the Inshore Lifeboat. There followed a conversation that was mainly banter. The CG had seen cars with roof racks at North landing and were concerned. Having ascertained that the cars were ours, they asked if we intended to paddle back to North Landing. After an affirmative response they pointed out the white horses off the head, we pointed out they were there on our outward journey. A little more banter, all very lightly handled, we got the view that they would prefer it if we went into South Landing. This having been confirmed we pointed out our problem getting back to the cars. They said they would arrange for the CG to ferry us back. We then negotiated another half hour surfing and said we would see them at South landing.

The way it was handled by the lifeboat group was great - they respected our ability and that we would make our own decision. Our decision was based on the potential reports if we paddled back and then got into trouble. We were treated well by both lifeboatmen and CG - they couldn't have been more friendly and helpful - all comes down to attitude.

I will return to the solo paddling thread to finish. I have and will paddle solo when I judge it is right. Yes, I will have VHF, flares, etc. and check in with CG and out again. Oh, and yes I have had a heart attack before. That time I was lucky and called paramedics in time. Still took them 3 goes with the jump leads. They commented their success rate on a call out was less than 6%.

So, on this one I'm with Dave, I'd rather go doing what I enjoy but I will not knowingly put other people in danger.


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its a worry

Post by johnn_y » Wed Feb 01, 2006 5:18 pm

The experiences here are typical of two of my own experiences with the coast guard, years ago surfing in the early morning on my own in Scarbough, the coastguard spent 30 mins or so watching me and when I landed I pop a quick wave and off he went..

However as I do a lot of solo trips of one sort or another I worry that one day things will get out of my control and I will end up having an incident that will be reported on. (opposed to the many that haven't been reported)The immediate assumption will be "solo" = Reckless, not experienced and equiped for adventure....


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Post by Mark R » Wed Feb 01, 2006 6:17 pm

Reading through, I don't think this is really a discussion about solo paddling - it's a discussion about whether or not to notify the authorities before paddling.
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Post by Phil Andrew » Wed Feb 01, 2006 6:46 pm

Agreed. I don't feel I should have to inform the coast before I go out. I feel that a route plan and ETA/ETR left with my wife are ample. Mountaineers,groups or solo, aren't expected to phone the mountain rescue before a climb up Ben Nevis.

The only time I ever inform the coastguard is before a night paddle and only because I KNOW 100% that someone WILL phone the police. That's a whole new debate though! Why inform them for one thing and not another?

My friend says that a true adventure is when nobody knows where you are, including yourself!

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Post by Jon Wood » Wed Feb 01, 2006 7:08 pm

I think my most exhilarating paddle last year was going solo along an unfamiliar Skye coastline in adverse conditions.
As other contributors have commented, it's as much about feeling right in oneself as much as having the technical ability, and carrying a plethora of communications devices.
My security was leaving a group of paddlers behind, and knowing that there was someone waiting for the group at the end of the journey.
Linking to another thread, my arrival time was about 5 minutes earlier than expected for a 10km paddle.

I have actually felt less comfortable on my regular night-time solo paddles on the Regents Canal, if I'm not at ease with my boat and surroundings.


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Post by Bunty Hargreaves » Wed Feb 01, 2006 8:26 pm

Why do so many people frown on solo kayaking?
In the words of Matt Broze from the Introduction to Sea Kayaker Deep Trouble:
Solo paddling is far more dangerous than paddling with a partner.
And from the BCU handbook:
Don't paddle alone.
I have paddled alone and no doubt will do so in the future. It would be hypocrytical of me to frown on it. But I am not surprised that the practice is disapproved of by some people. I don't think the police had any business approaching Phil in this case. I do think though, that the Coastguard would have been quite right to have attempted to have an adult conversation with Phil about their concerns and his management of the risks.

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Post by skerraydave » Wed Feb 01, 2006 10:50 pm

I always paddle alone and nobody has ever reported me to the coastguard or showed any interest at all, apart from occasionally trying running me down. What am I doing wrong?
What are you drinking:waves or water?

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Re: Solo sea kayaking

Post by muzz » Thu Feb 02, 2006 9:44 am

Although new to kayaking I often go out alone too. I live a few yards from the shore-line on the Cromarty Firth and often walk my boat down to the slipway and paddle along the shore. I have also paddled across to the other side when its dead calm.
I did one trip on which I was supposed to be accompanied but the other paddler cancelled the night before. I did a crossing on my own when it was quite choppy and found it very scary but very enjoyable!
A wee debate about my solo paddling on the newsgroup and reading Douglas's post about his brother Donal tipping over got me thinking.
I have decided to stick close to the coast when on my own except on dead calm days. This has led me to try and recruit more people into joining me and to get more of my friends to start paddling.

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Post by steddyjames » Thu Feb 02, 2006 1:44 pm

I think it's quite reassuring that people are making call outs.

I would rather a few unwanted call-outs to people who don't need help than not be called out to find out the next day that someone is missing.

If someone doesn't know whether to call-out or not due to lack of education it is far better to be on the safe side and inform the coast guard anyway.


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Post by Owen » Thu Feb 02, 2006 5:07 pm

I've always paddled solo, hardly ever give it a second thought, I really don't see sea kayaking as such a dangerous sport.
I've never had any problems with other people calling 999. I did once have a prat in a yatch chassing after a group of us as we set off; he nearly ran us down. He was most put out when we told him in no uncertain words that he was the only danger we were facing and if he didn't, take up sex and travel, we'd report him to the harbour master.
It was just arrogance on his part, he know nothing about kayaks, but assumed just because he had a big expensive yatch that he know more that we did.

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Post by CCL » Thu Feb 02, 2006 5:49 pm

One evening last summer, my godson and I were in a double sea kayak, fishing just near the Stoer Lighthouse north of Lochinver.
It was dusk, the sea was like a mirror and we were fishing. The sunset was really beautiful in the sky and his parents knew where we were and when we would be back.

At some stage I noticed on the horizon a very bright light coming towards us - and wondered who on earth could be in trouble on such a peaceful evening. It got nearer....and I checked my VHF but, being just under the cliff did not pick up any signal.

Some short time later, Lewis enquired about a distant sound from the sky which impressively came into view at about the same time as the lifeboat reached us. I still fully expected to be asked about a third party in trouble (perhaps someone had slipped as they were walking on the headland?) and was very much taken by surprise that they had come looking for US!

SO it turns out that a well meaning tourist up at the lighthouse had thought we were in trouble (!!!) and called up the coastguard. I'm happy to report that they were pleased we were ok and satisfied that we had VHF/flares etc and had left details of our evening fishing with a responsible adult on the land. They declined our offer to share the mackeral (probably sick of it!) and my godson's schoolteacher didn't believe him when he wrote about the lifeboat and helicopter in his 'what I did during the summer holidays' news!

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Post by Mark R » Thu Feb 02, 2006 8:43 pm

I was spotted miles offshore in the Mersey Channel at night by a tug boat passing by, just before crossing the shipping lane. I deliberately turned on my headtorch as he passed so that he would see me; just incase he had any sudden plans to change course. I just sat there waiting passively as it chugged past, and my actions couldn't in any scenario have been interpreted as being in distress.

I should have switched on my VHF at this point but didn't; it didn't register that my presence there would trigger any concern. However, after I came ashore I discovered that the CG had alerted all shipping to keep an eye out and were basically having kittens...partly because they couldn't figure out why a kayak might be out there at night without being in trouble, partly because they had a series of truly immense ships (and I mean immense, I saw them) due to come up the channel later at midnight high tide springs.

I would have known about none of this if I hadn't landed - purely by coincidence - near the CG station and been spotted by some anglers whilst doing do - even they'd been alerted to look out for the lone paddler.

No lifeboats were launched (it was being considered though) and everyone was smiling once they knew the full story. However I still felt sheepish. Yes, it was certainly my perogative to bimble around as I pleased, but calling through on VHF and letting them know of my plans would have cost me nothing and saved all the hassle for me and other shipping. I think I felt at the time that calling them would have been be a lot of silly fuss; however they persuaded me that they never, ever, ever mind being told what is going on...and I subsequently followed their advice when trying anything on the water slightly out of the usual, like paddling at night, in busy shipping lanes, crossings in rough weather, etc.

I still don't think I'd usually make the call in the calm paddling situations like many have described here, e.g. CCL's story.
Mark Rainsley

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