It's one thing to show kayakers what to do in an emergency; it's quite another to show them what to expect.

To paddle safely, sea kayakers must learn and regularly practice on-water rescue skills. The best way to train students for rough water is to conduct classes in challenging conditions while at a safe location. To prepare them for what to expect, Sea Kayak Safety, a DVD by Leo Hoare and Olly Sanders, is a great re-source to show these students. Unlike almost all other instructional kayak safety DVDs and videos on the market, which demonstrate rescues only in mill-pond-smooth conditions, this DVD contains extensive footage of sea kayak rescues performed in rough water.

Sea Kayak Safety covers not only rescues (both assisted and self-rescues), but also towing, safety equipment and interacting with rescue agencies. Leo and Olly, both BCU Level 5 coaches, shot all of the footage along the spectacular coastline of North Wales.

In the segments covering rescues, the program demonstrates each technique three times. First, the program introduces a rescue technique by slowly talking through its steps in calm water. Then, the presenters demonstrate the rescue in rough conditions on open seas, filming from support boats or from other kayaks using deck-mounted cameras. Finally, the program replays footage of the rough water demonstration, pausing at key points to highlight each step.

Many of the rescues demonstrated presume paddlers have British-style kayaks. For example, the program demonstrates variations of the "ladder" rescue, where in the paddler goes to the stern end of the kayak, straddles it and gradually inches up the deck of the kayak. While this works for kayaks without rudders, it's a bit more difficult to do on a kayak that has one. Also, many of the demonstrations instruct the viewer to grab onto perimeter deck rigging running along gunwales, another common feature in British-style kayaks that is absent on some North American kayaks.

The segment on towing demonstrates several innovative methods, including the tandem tow (one paddler towing two kayaks); the fan tow (two kayaks towing one paddler) and the line tow (three or more paddlers towing each other in single file). Again, some of these techniques are demonstrated in rough water, which shows that these techniques can be effective in adverse conditions.

The DVD also includes presentations by a Coast Guard watch officer and a member of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution. Although the latter brief segment is primarily relevant for paddlers in Britain, the talk by the Coast Guard officer is useful for American and Canadian paddlers alike. The officer describes the function of the Coast Guard, how to file a float plan, how to make a VHF radio call and how to use signaling devices. Following in the spirit of rough-water demonstrations, the program includes footage of an aerial rescue of a paddler by a Coast Guard helicopter, as well as a lifeboat rescue of a paddler in rough seas.

Sea Kayak Safety is a worthwhile DVD for paddlers of all experience levels to watch. It's both informative and enjoyable - an uncommon mix. The demonstrations of rescues in challenging conditions likely to cause capsize in the first place will sober viewers, while at the same time reassuring them that the techniques can work in real-world situations.

Sea Kayaker | June 2006

Gary Lai is an aerospace engineer and freelance writer living in Seattle, Washington.