Friday, April 30, 2010

The "need to be seen"...and it ain't about ego.

Normally, I would never suggest that "it's all about being seen" - that does sound just a little, well, egocentric.
Perhaps it's shyness or a degree of introversion, but the idea of attracting undue attention to myself is something not normally entertained. Indeed, I even spent a meaningful number of years in my vocation with an agency that not only provided unique clothing for the purpose of "blending" with the environment, but provided some very useful instruction in the art and craft of actually "evading" unwanted attention! I remember well, while on exercise in a thickly forested training area in northern Europe, I once was so successful in ensuring that my designated vehicle was properly camouflaged, that it was quite possibly only by a stroke of good luck that we actually found it again! Yup, there was a bit of good-natured ribbing over that one.

Having said that, there are times when we should probably do all that we can to be "seen".

I've previously shared some thoughts here about visibility on the water and the clear advantages of reflective and highly visible materials on both kayaks and clothing. Increasingly however, there are kayaks on the water that are not so easy to spot and paddlers whose PFDs and clothing blend all too well with the water. Some of these boats look incredibly cool but, again, they are not easy to see and I'm not so sure that's a good thing. It becomes an issue when you are sharing the waters with larger, often very powerful boats, with drivers who may not be looking for us or who are distracted for any number of reasons. The idea of sea kayakers being referred to, by the Coast Guard, as potential "speed bumps" does not engender confidence!

When Joan and I launch from home, we usually head out across a piece of water that can be completely deserted or, on some days, quite busy with marine traffic - anything from outboard runabouts, cabin cruisers, sailboats, a tug towing log booms, and the occasional Canadian navy Orca class patrol boat. From the perspective of the paddler, all can come out of seemingly nowhere and be on you with impressive speed. When the paddler's "centre of mass" is just a metre above sea level that can be a bit of a problem, especially if we are difficult to see.

I will admit that our kayaks both look a little like someone lost control with a roll of reflective tape but we know there's a good chance that we'll be seen in the event of any need to be "found" at night. PFDs and paddling jackets provide a "splash" of mango or red in the day time. Our kayaks are yellow and "mint" (think '56 Chevy "robin's egg blue") - they can't be confused with very much in nature. In some ways, the colours may look a little dated but, for us, the important thing is that there's a good chance we'll be seen. And honestly, it ain't about ego. :-)

Just seems like a good idea.



  1. I am a big fan of brightly colored boats. We may have the right of way as human powered craft, but we definitely don't get the right of way from the big boats. I always try and paddle brightly colored boats. and my PFD is red. I really should put something bright and reflective on my paddle, but it is so beautiful I can't bear to put anything on it.

    I was almost run down by a mega yacht on the hudson river (80 miles north of NYC) and we were the only two boats on the water.

    Something that has always troubled me, composite boats always have a white hull. When a boat with a white bottom is upside down, it looks like a white cap. Imagine search and rescue looking for you, and your boat is overturned in a rough sea. It would be hard to distinguish from the waves. I have often thought about putting a yellow stripe down the center of my keel.

    thanks for the post.


  2. Thanks for the thoughtful comment, PO. I know what you mean by visibility of inverted kayak in foamy seas. I think that the reflective tape along the side of ours might be visible, at least part of the time. Certainly if we applied it hull-side (as opposed to deck side) it would be much more so. As I'm sure you do, we carry a strobe to make sure that, in a worst case scenerio, they at least find us! Probably best that we all stay right side up! Yup, mega yachts can be a little anxiety-producing when they are bearing down on you. :( D.

  3. Hello Duncan & Joan:

    I agree with you about "the need to be seen" and it's definately not about ego in your circumstances. It could be the difference between life and death out there on the water in such a small craft. Having been a sailor - a racing boat one at that, back in good old TO, I can relate with being on the water at nights, as some of our races were overnighters. 'twas bad enough reading your compass and finding the buoys, but when another boat is on your tail about to ram you to get around that buoy ahead of you, it's real scary, and they can see you. Put on all the reflectors you can, so that you can be seen.


  4. Just curious. How many times have you been inverted...when you didn't intend it, that is? Or do paddlers talk about such things?!!!

  5. Hi J,

    I appreciate your comment. I didn't even realize that you had sailed back east! Looking forward to hearing more about that. I'm sure racing through the night, with the pressure to win, raises a whole lot more issues with regards to safety on the water. Yikes! D and J.

  6. Hi Jill,

    OK, I'll be honest with you. We' ve owned various kayaks since 1973. In that time, only once have I capsized unintentionally and that was in 1975 when we were living in Waterton Lakes National Park. The ice had only just left the lake a week or so earlier. Joan was on the shore and I was "showing off" seeing how far I could lean in a brace. Well, it didn't go well. I flipped and had a horrible time trying to get the spray cover off mainly because of the shock of the cold. When I did get out and finally pulled my kayak to the beach, I was slightly hypothermic and greatly embarassed. Oh well. as they say, all's well that ends well. We were new in town and it gave folks something to talk about! The Chief Warden and his wife (an excellent paddler) were wonderful and took us under their "wing" for the rest of the summer. Yup, I'm touching wood. Hmmm, do you think our favourite "Dean" has ever had an unintentional capsize? :-)

  7. Jill,

    We do talk about it, I think because we are so small and vulnerable on the water. There was a post on another blog (I forget which one) about all the flares and reflectors, and lasers she carries in her boat and in her PFD.

    I thought about the white underside of my kayak because I do month long trips in Alaska. And I tend to think about the 'what ifs'


  8. PO's correct, and clearly has the mileage to back it. The greater the vulnerability, the greater the importance of asking "what ifs" - can only enhance safety. D.

  9. I have a nice red plastic Valley Aquanaut that has a bubbly surface that stops stickers or tape from sticking to the surface. The only areas that were flat were the areas with the Valley branding on it. Now there's no Valley branding and a heap of marine-grade reflective tape on it! I also have a Greenland paddle that i call my "night stick". It has reflective tape on teh ends of the blades and I've been told you can see the moving paddle for miles. It's not my favourite paddle (couldn't bring myself to stick tape to my bets ones!) but for the occassional night paddles it's perfect.

  10. Hi FP, thanks for that. You're clearly well prepared for those night paddles which we find to be a very special time on the water - with, of course, additional prep and precaution. Always enjoy keeping up with your postings! Duncan.