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Deception Pass Challenge 2021

The pass of the Deception Pass Challenge to the Deception 'Required Pass' Challenge.
Safetyism, that plague of the sea kayaking community, has struck again!

Sadly, it’s not limited to sea kayaking. And it’s terrible for kids, as it subtly teaches them that the world is too dangerous for them to experience without supervision by experts and authority figures.

Sadly, it’s not limited to sea kayaking. And it’s terrible for kids, as it subtly teaches them that the world is too dangerous for them to experience without supervision by experts and authority figures.


And, it can give people 'experience' without learning judgement.

I saw it here in the '90s when adventure racing kicked off. Fit, talented, skilled athletes who relied on a race director to decide it was safe to go.

In the real world they had to make those calls for themselves. Nature had a way of not caring how many race t-shirts they had!
The link Alex posted from "48 North" is well written, well researched, appears to be factual and has context. Facts and context, two critical things needed to get a clear picture of the event. It clearly shows that no one, including the Sherriff thought the event was unorganized or unsafe; or that anyone was in real danger of death or injury. It also portrays the difference in mindset of the law enforcement officials, who are there to "keep citizens safe", something they are mandated to do: and the mindset of event participants, who were having fun, and or learning at their limits.

Everyone interviewed agreed that participants were having an adventure and that no one came to harm. Yet, the progressively more restrictive entry requirements and limits over the years are exactly what happens, when society as a whole decides to put limits and restrictions on activities that should be solely at ones own discretion. This can and does lead to spontaneous, unofficial events where there is a notice to come on a certain date and a certain time and participate in an unofficial race with no formal organization, safety vetting, or safety plan in place. Is that a preferable way of doing things?

While not averse to some regulation and law enforcement oversight, I dislike the 21st century western world idea, that society "has to police" people going out on the sea, for their own safety: and in addition "has to rescue live, or recover dead bodies" at great expense and risk to first responders, and all at tax payer expense. When rescue and recovery are mandatory, and society expects it to be done and pays the cost, then it feels it has the right to put limits and restrictions on what an individual is "Allowed" to do.

Folk who dislike discomfort and fear, avoid risk and should not be expected to cover costs for search and rescue for risk takers who get into trouble. User pay of some sort? Perhaps we should take a page from some European countries policies and require folk to get insurance, if they, personally, want the luxury of rescue while participating in high risk activities. No insurance, pay for the rescue.

In the final analysis, learning judgement is an individual responsibility, at least with respect to risk sport. It is not something that society should police. I have family, friends and acquaintances who cannot remotely understand the allure of sea kayaking, cycle touring, climbing, etc. That is fine, that is the way many modern folk feel. And that's Okay, I can't understand the allure of lying on the beach for a week at an all inclusive resort, or penned up on a cruise ship either. In fact, I might even pay for a rescue from that situation, if I were ever to find myself in it again.

To sum up: If you want to take risks, you need to understand them and be able to take care of yourself. You should always expect to own the consequences of your choices and decisions. That is why we paddle with others who share our passions and why we take care of each other. That is why we take courses and practice rescues and rolling. That is why we diligently consult charts, tables and weather forecasts on our trips. That is why we stay on the beach when conditions warrant. That is why we tell others about, and post tales of our epic adventures; and yes, near misses. That is how we learn to be safe and responsible and help to teach others.

Very interesting and pertinent thread Alex! End of this Old Goat's safety police rant. I've been ranting about this topic for 5 decades at least!

Cheers, Rick
Folk who dislike discomfort and fear, avoid risk and should not be expected to cover costs for search and rescue for risk takers who get into trouble. User pay of some sort? ... No insurance, pay for the rescue.

But what is a "rescue?" Here is a tweet from the coast guard claiming they and other agencies "rescued 15–20 people" during Deception Pass Dash 2021. But as we've seen from some of the responses pasted earlier in this thread, some of the race participants deny that any "rescues" occurred at all. "Capsizing is normal," writes one kayaker who was there.

As the 48° North article (linked upthread) reminds us:

"There is an interpretive distinction between the words 'assist' and 'rescue' — but both are typically genuinely appreciated. The gray area between assist and rescue came up in a Sheriff boat’s response to a participant who was in the water, but was coherent and in full command of their facilities, as reported both by this participant and a safety SUPer who was in eye contact with this person."​

Well, OK, but even an “assist” still costs money. If the purpose of billing rescue recipients is to recoup unexpected governmental costs, then an “assist” might as well be a rescue.

Even if we could all agree on what constitutes a rescue, there is still the question of what constitutes the "costs" of the rescue. Recall that in this instance, a coast guard vessel and several other agencies' boats were already staged at the site of the race as part of the safety plan. However, once things went awry, the 48° North article tells us, the coast guard "called an audible" and brought in a second vessel that happened to be transiting the area. Later, the coast guard also called in a helicopter. Neither the second vessel nor the helicopter were part of the safety plan. Do the second vessel and the very expensive helicopter count as "rescue costs" that must be borne by the lucky recipients?

I say no to search and rescue costs. We don't bill motorists for police and fire costs when they crash their cars, and we shouldn't bill kayakers for coast guard costs when they flip their boats. We don't kick smokers and cheeseburger lovers out of Medicaid. We bear the costs of dealing with people who get themselves into trouble, because it is the right thing to do. The US government's budget for fiscal 2022 (spanning the Deception Pass Dash incident) was USD 6.5 trillion. We can afford to fish a few kayakers out of the water.

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Sounds to me like the event was also a training exercise for the sheriff and Coast Guard. I believe people who drive rescue boats and fly helicopters must keep up a quota of hours on the water or in the air. The event was a great opportunity to the "rescue" people to practice their technique and interagency communication.

In conversations with S&R people around here, each "going out" is an opportunity for them to learn their craft. The people are usually volunteers or "on duty" anyway. And the gear needs to be used to maintain its fitness.

Sounds to me like it was a win-win event, and, amazing but true, the press found an opportunity to spin it into attention-grabbing headlines. Who'd a thunk.
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Fair enough, but then why do the organizers feel it is necessary or prudent to keep putting further limits on qualifications and entry numbers in longstanding kayaking events, after, in Alex's words, a "Goat Rope", first one to our knowledge?

Search and Rescue organization and responsibility in the US, is "very different" to the way it is Organized in British Columbia. In B. C., to a very large degree, it is highly trained volunteers who are the primary first responders, while Federal and Provincial Government Agencies are the coordinators, provide backup, and extra resources when required. The system works very well in a Province where the coastline is vast and the interior is often remote and hard to access. As an example, North Shore Rescue in the Vancouver area is a world class rescue organization, and is extremely busy year around. In Washington State, the Coast Guard and Sheriff's Departments appear to be the prime responders. And as I said earlier, tax payers bear the cost in both jurisdictions. The problem comes when certain activities are viewed as being eccentric or extreme. And practitioners are in need of assistance, or rescue, and the public and authorities begin to feel the need to regulate these adventure sports.

A bit of a digression: More than fourty years ago, I was teaching a climbing and crevasse rescue course for Simon Fraser University on Mount Baker. A group of folk who were descending the lower Coleman Glacier, took off their ropes and crampons, and began to "glissade" down the ice. The fellow in the lead went through a snow bridge into a deep crevasse. The others managed to stop, barely. One fellow was sent running down the mountain and into Glacier to call the authorities. The lad we pulled out was very badly hurt. It was those of us already on mountain who first responded, got him out and managed to get him to the top of the trail by the hut. It was the Sheriff's Department who met us there and had a helicopter come in to fly him out to hospital. Fortunately for that fellow, there were a bunch of experienced, trained, skilled, climbers on the mountain when he went into the crevasse. On a more remote mountain, he would have died.

There have always been a lot of folk on Mount Baker, Mount Rainier and others of the big volcanoes, many with limited experience, or skill sets. But because these are standard routes with lots of traffic, they are not considered "extreme" by the public. Same can be said for the hiking trails in Greater Vancouver, yet there are rescues there numerous times a week for unprepared hikers who get lost or make very bad decisions about things like clothing, route finding, time required etc. But because the ordinary citizens go into these high risk situations without feeling nervous, or understanding the risks, we just leave the routes open and keep paying for rescues.

So yes, I agree we want to assist and rescue folk. But we have an "optics problem" in our chosen sport when the media and bystanders without any understanding, or context sensationalize an event like the one we are discussing. I will note, that it is rare to hear the media chastise sail, or power boaters who need to be rescued; or having events blamed for accidents; or for being unprepared, or taking dumb risks. And yet, there are big "events and accidents" involving these folk as well.

There was a sail race this spring, Race to Alaska, where a number of participants had to be rescued in the Straight of Juan de Fuca after making bad decisions, when the race organizers and coast guard on both sides of the border were advising caution. It is ironic that when I look at the URL for the linked article, what do I see: -5473020 Is that typo an accident? Or does it indicate a subliminal bias on behalf of the reporter and newspaper with respect to the risks of the sport being reported on, and the level of risk taken by those rescued? Why does Parks Canada now prohibit kayaker circumnavigating Vancouver Island from camping on the West Coast Trail? Just say'in?

But sailing and power boating are not recognized as being extreme sport, or high risk activities by the average person. And there-in lies the rub: ocean kayaking = extreme sport, mountain climbing = extreme sport. Meanwhile sailing and power boating are safe normal things to do, riding ATVs and Snowmobiles in the backcountry are safe normal things to do, going for a day hike on the North Shore Mountains in your shorts and sneakers is a safe normal thing to do; at least in the perception of the general public. No difference in potential risk in my world view. It all comes down to individual responsibility, preparation, knowledge, decisions and yes, luck.

But we live in a complex society, where we do take care of others and spend money on assistance and rescues. The problem with our sport seemingly being perceived as extreme seems to be one of perceived risk, lack of knowledge, and of real context on the part of the public, and the media, hence bad optics when folk need a rescue. Not certain how to fix that. But it seems to lead to skewed and sensationalized coverage and to increasing regulation for our rather misunderstood and perceivedly eccentric passion.

Cheers, Rick