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Video - Cleopatra needle rescue by Surfski


Paddler & Moderator
May 15, 2005
An interesting rescue of a paddler from a vertically swamped kayak seemingly out there for 'quite a while' about 1km or so from shore.

Slightly difficult to ascertain exactly what's going on, but the surski paddler abandon's the compromised kayak, asks the victim hang on to the back but then reconsiders and gets the victim to hang on to the front of her surfski and then has all kinds of trouble directionally - even asking the victim to help her turn the kayak to head to shore and then asks for him to help turn it the other way as they're veering off course. Then because of all the difficulty, advises the victim to move halfway back to the side of the surfski and 'lean on' it - thereby overturning her and her surfski.

Now that both are in the water and she may be halfway back on, luckily it seems that another boat is near enough to be hailed and presumably finishes the rescue. Odd set of choices even tho' it would be difficult to hold onto the rear of her kayak.

but . . . he was rescued . . . and what's more important than that?

edited to add - here's the more complete story:

Wallick ended up getting into the water with him, got him draped him over her boat and flagged down a pontoon boat.

Wallick’s thankful she had enough paddling experience to help, and wants the incident to be a safety lesson for everyone.

I don't know how many of you have paddled a surfski, but I found it a very tippy experience during the few years I owned one.
Surfskis don't have deck lines, and there's no reasonable way to add them.

I have a lot of respect for that woman for even trying to rescue a swimmer; I don't think I would have done as well.

If we're in the mood to criticize, I think we should focus on the kayak manufacturer and the kayak community for letting that man think a kayak without reliable flotation in both ends was appropriate. The swimmer was wearing a wetsuit (more than I see the 'T-shirt and shorts' rec kakaers and SUPers wearing at this time of year) so he did some things right.
the 'ending up getting' ended up getting me, too . . . but, but . . .

but as I was re-reviewing what I gleaned from this incident later last night, it came to me that this is not like many of the scenarios that we have reviewed: she did not leave.

She did not leave [to get 'help' or whatever the other excuses are - you've seen them], and I have no doubt that she wasn't going to leave until she could do no more - even when both were in the water and draping over the surfski [she obviously could remount] and the prior screw-ups.

she did not leave. If there's one thing that made this rescue happen, it was her attitude that she was not going to leave and she was going to do something . . . and we should honour her for her depth of character when it was really tested.

She did not leave.
She was also very charitable when she said that she 'got into the water with him'.
It seemed pretty clear to me (listening to and watching the video) that the swimmer pulled the surfski over and dumped her in the water.
She’s incredibly impressive. My bet is she has some sort of medical training, the way she works through a process with authority:

- are you okay? How long have you been in the water?
- grab my boat, we’re going to shore
- no, don’t worry, about your boat — it will wash up on shore
- your lips are blue, get on my back deck
- etc. etc.

That, plus all the encouraging language (“Hold on to the boat, you’re doing great!”). She can be on my team any day!

I'd love to hear some perspectives on what could have been done better/differently in this rescue given the circumstances.
If the swimmer was showing signs of hypothermia then the #1 priority is to get him out of the water. With a surfski as an unstable platform it would help if they could get the water out of the other kayak. Which depends on what it is and why it is flooded. But even if it stayed flooded and canted I would think it could be tied to the surfski to improve the stability of the surfski - if they have some rope or cord or a 50' buoyant heaving line.
Just from the video, I don’t know how far away they were from the guys boat. If it were near, if she could have made it - with him - to that boat, she could have used it to give more stability for the guy to get up on the back of hers - if that would have been stable enough with a surf ski. I can see it would be questionable because if they tipped over half way to shore - they’d be in the same situation.

Or, with both of them, and the deck of the surf ski, it might have been possible to empty the half full kayak. Then lash them together (assuming extra line - not unreasonable) for a larger float. But in almost every event I’ve been in - thinking of some traffic court appearances in my lifetime - there are always things I think of later that I could have, should have, done/said at the time and would have given a better result.

Note that, as far as I know, the 50’ heaving line is part of “required equipment” in Canada. And there was no mention of any kind of paddle float. If I were an equipment renter, I’d want to be sure the boat I’m renting has required equipment along with pump and paddle float (if they are not required). The paddle float gives the guy more flotation and the pump gives the woman something to bang the guy's hand with if he touches her boat without permission.

In the classes I’ve been in, we are told the rescuer is in charge. and you keep a distance from the “swimmer” until you are sure they will follow your directions. Of course what works with willing students in the classroom doesn’t necessarily transfer to friends who have a “You’re not the boss of me.” attitude.

I think the rescue styles have changed a bit. I was told to keep the swimmer at the bow of my boat so I could see them and they could hang on the the toggle there. But in recent videos, I see the rescuer has the swimmer come amidships. But in that scenario, they also have access to the swimmer's boat.

Good thing that rescue boat was nearby. there was no mention of a Marine Radio.

On the “what would you do differently” path, If the swimmer’s boat was nearby, I’d take him to the boat and use the combined flotation of both boats to get him out of the water and, if possible get the water out of his boat. Then I’d lash the boats together for greater stability and paddle both boats and swimmer to shore.

While we are giving credits - it appears the guy was doing the best he could to follow her instructions. In the cases I’ve come across, the person in need was hardly cooperative (“I’m okay.” - as they guy’s ankle is pinned down by his motorcycle. Or the XC-Skier with a fractured ankle who insisted in skiing to the trailhead and driving her stick shift home.). They have their own ideas of what they need and what needs to be done. Sure, you can paddle away until they decide to follow your direction without question. But it that can become a “power struggle” The classes all focus on the mechanics of a rescue and conveniently avoid discussion of the social dynamics involved.
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Realistically, she did everything she could. There is very little chance a woman on a ski can perform some sort of curl rescue on a half-flooded boat while managing an adult male hypothermic swimmer. She would have wound up fatigued and cold: two victims.

And the end of the video has her flagging down a boat, so she was successful.

Unfortunately, it’s a complicated question because:

It is helpful to state for our hypotheticals what a baseline is before a critique is relevant. And from there, it’s important to be precise in what the criticisms require to be valid: More strength? More technique? More skill? More Equipment? More understanding? Or exactly the existing parameters? I personally like ‘existing parameters’ as that really drills down to the survival issue. And then ‘more understanding’ is helpful as it doesn’t require additionally strength, skill, or ability to be present. But let’s leave that initially.

So an important baseline to recognize is that after contact, the victim was already ‘rescued’ three different ways:
  1. She phoned for help. Therefore, no matter what was going to happen, rescue was imminent. Period.
  2. She exercised an option to drag the victim to shore OR increased visibility. It wasn’t perfect, but the option could be reinstated at any subsequent time barring victim unconsciousness.
  3. She also used the option of attempting/draping the victim over her kayak to limit exposure and extend the precious commodity of time.
All three of these options were still in play though it’s arguable how much time [if any] to unconsciousness would eliminate option 2.​

So let’s say no phone contact was possible or was made:

- Existing parameters:
Strength and skill is necessary to re-float the boat and the existing buoyancy is questionable as it is fairly low in the water so I think it’s valid to attempt to drag the victim to shore.​
Existing parameters accepts her poor decision to have the victim at the bow but then there are two options:​
- the first is to logically understand that forwards is bad after doing it for some time, so what about then realizing paddling backward will have directional stability - although time does go up as back-paddling is harder and slower,​
- or the second option, when he moves back to tell him to NOT put his weight on her kayak but to grab it with one hand at the back end of her ckpt. And then try to paddle to shore as it is fairly near.​
If unsuccessful, then do what she [off the kayak] did to drape/hold the victim until someone else comes along and basically be in the original position but much closer to a highly populated shore where more eyes have the possibility of noticing. Visibility is also a key element that goes way up with proximity.​

- More understanding:
More understanding would do as above, but immediately understand that a dead horizontal weight at the front of the boat was approaching ridiculous – and get the victim at the side [or back if really conscious] and stretched out to minimize drag thru the water.​

- More skill and strength - refloating the boat:
I’ve personally been the one on the spot in 3 capsized and fully flooded kayak [no floatation] and boat scenarios. It ain’t pretty. The boat was left until I got the victims to shore [remote lake] – only after all was well did I pull in the boat [and actually got the motor going!!]. In the kayak situations, it took forever, and loads of strength to move/re-right/empty the kayaks but the conditions were not great. I understand the best technique a little better now, and in benign conditions it probably would be way better but still would take time – and I would still be ready to re-consider/abandon the approach at any time. But if it worked, it would save the day.​
And secondly with skill if the refloated boat option was abandoned, the front horizontal victim orientation for paddling would never have been chosen.​

- More equipment?
Let’s leave off radio/cell etc. If an inflatable [3x the foam floatation] paddlefloat was present that would really reduce strength and skill required to refloat the boat [hmm, I didn’t include it as an initial question to ask in the null scenario - add it above] . And if two paddlefloats were present [2 kayaks, huh?] it would be a total no-brainer and the victim could even be unconscious - another legit lifesaver.​
That looked like a situation where flares could have been used to signal for help , maybe they were and no one saw .

I tried to tow a friend in the water with my kayak , very slow in calm water and impossible to go against a current or wind more than a few yards if at all depending on conditions . All they can do is hang on and drift , if they lose the ability to grip then a clip in system could buy some more time if their head is above the water enough to breathe. Needless to say someone hanging onto your kayak in anything but calm water increasing your chance of capsizing .

Lucky for her and the hypothermic guy a passing boat rescued them . The lady deserves credit and without her activity the guy in the water might not have been spotted till too late. With so many what-ifs and buts , it is reasonable to consider her leaving him and going for help as the right thing to do.

Decades ago the Sea Seat was reviewed in Sea Kayaker Magazine , seemed like another arrow in the quiver of safety equipment but it never caught on and seems unavailable. It still requires activity of the person in the water to get into it , in cold water one loses hand function and strength as the minutes tick by. edit , so would be smart to get into it immediately
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