On August 8 2019, two Singaporeans went missing while kayaking in Malaysia. The couple were separated from their 13-people group and had been missing since then. It was only until the 6th day when the body of the woman had been found. However, the authorities called off the search operation for the man on the 10th day as there was a lack of new leads. It was a shocking piece of news to many and perhaps you now perceive kayaking as a scary sport activity. But is it really dangerous?
Kayaking on a lazy river or calm water is considered a low risk activity. On the other hand, kayaking in class V rapids will probably be considered a high risk activity. However, the danger often lies when we think a situation is safe but it actually isn’t. Here are 9 real dangers of kayaking that we think you should at least know.
1. Sun Exposure
You might be thinking, how can sun exposure be included in the list? Well, it may seem fine to be exposed to the sun for an hour without sunscreen protection, but if it’s longer than that, it could be something you should be concerned about as heat stroke, heat exhaustion, sunburn or dehydration may follow afterwards.
You have to keep in mind that there will be little to no shelter during your activity and excessive sun exposure may become a real threat. Thus, it is very important to protect yourself from the baking hot sun by wearing sunscreen and long-sleeved attire. To avoid dehydration which will lead to dizziness, fatigue and mental confusion, do carry extra water and always keep yourself hydrated, especially during hot days.
2. Undercut Rock
Undercut rock is an area of the bank where there is a hollow depression formed underwater. The formations are usually irregular and are able to trap river debris such as fallen trees, branches and even paddlers too. It often happens in fast-moving water and are not visible above the water. If a paddler is caught under the water surface, it will become deadly. If such situations occur, always remember to stay calm and think of a way to escape from it. Always remember to wear a lifejacket and be sure to research your plan running routes prior ahead.
3. Cold Shock
Cold shock happens when you enter water that is drastically cold. The extreme temperature change will over stimulate your nervous system which in turn will cause your body to stop functioning properly. Hyperventilation, muscle spasm, changes in heart rate and blood pressure, confusion and other mental problems will then arise. Do note that the water temperature and the air temperature might be extremely different so it is advisable to dress properly and to never paddle alone.
When you suddenly drop into cold water or if the weather is too cold, hypothermia may occur. Hypothermia happens when your body has been exposed to extreme cold temperature for a long time. Therefore, by wearing suitable clothes and preparing extra dry clothes is exceptionally important during harsh conditions. But of course, avoid going out to kayak during extremely cold months.
5. Improper PFD
Wearing a PFD (personal floating device) or a life jacket is important when kayaking. But wearing one with the right size is much more important to prevent accidents and injuries. Your life jacket should not be too loose or too tight and make sure it is rated for your weight and size. Invest one with good quality as cheap ones may not be safe.
6. Strainers and Sweepers
Strainers are obstacles in a river that only limited amounts of water can pass through, but not people and kayaks. Sweepers are trees that bend low over the water or have fallen completely across. These two are deadly obstacles and should be avoided at all costs during kayaking. If you happen to be stuck in one, the current might trap you underwater. Therefore, remember to avoid them and do not paddle alone so that you will have someone there helping you to get out if you are stranded.
7. Weir Hydraulics
A weir is a barrier across the width of a river that changes the flow characteristics of water and usually results in a change in the height of the water level. The danger lies on the downstream of the weir where a self-circulating current of water will trap anyone in a never-ending cycle of re-submersion, in which we call hydraulics. Avoid going near them and paddle as far away as possible. Do not take the risk! If you are trapped in a hydraulic, remember to relax yourself and swim downward to break free from the currents that are in repeating cycles.
8. Avoid Anything Around Your Neck
It is highly advised to not wear anything around your neck during kayaking, and these include necklaces, lanyards and map cases. These things could easily caught by a branch or rock in the river and it could be extremely dangerous.
9. Lighting and Extreme Weather
A little rain might not hurt but if it seems like a storm is coming, get out of the water as soon as possible. Water is a good conductor of electricity. If lightning strikes the water, you could end up getting electrocuted.
Understanding the dangers of kayaking is important so that you can act wisely in such situations. When you have basic knowledge on kayaking safety, it can be a safe and relaxing sport for anyone.