Click here to buy the book.
 

Home Page

Magazine
Table of Contents
 

December, 2002
Table of Contents

Surviving When Gods Play
By Steve John Isaac

Make a Hypothermia Kit
By Steve John Isaac

Modify Your Space Blanket
By Steve John Isaac

Dozing Off
By Steve John Isaac

Fueling the Fire
By Steve John Isaac

Hydrate Or Die
By Steve John Isaac

The WaterTribe Kit
By Steve John Isaac

How To Finish a Challenge
By Steve John Isaac

Tow, Tow, Tow Your Boat
By Steve John Isaac

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Surviving When the Gods Play

By Steve Isaac (aka Chief)

We play in the ocean at the mercy of forces beyond our comprehension.  One minute we are enjoying a calm passage and the next thing we know a cold front catches us unaware from the rear.  It has happened to me when I should have kept a better eye on my "six,"  and it can happen to you too when the Gods play their game of chance.  Anyone can get blown out to sea.  Anyone can get stranded.  Anyone can get lost.  Anyone can get separated from their boat.  And anyone can get hypothermic.  What it boils down to is that anyone can get themselves into a world of hurt.  You need to be prepared any time you take off in your kayak.

A study of 229 search-and-rescue cases conducted by William G. Syrotuck found that almost 3/4 of those who died (11%) succumbed within 48 hours.  Usually the cause of death was hypothermia.  Hypothermia is a killer that is constantly waiting for the least little mishap so it can claim your life.  

In the last WaterTribe Okefenokee Challenge, December 2001, about half of the nine paddlers had symptoms to varying degrees of hypothermia.  At least one Challenger was forced to stop so he could build a fire.  The fire ribbon that he carried and his knowledge saved his life.  

Prevention is relatively easy.  Stay warm and dry and you won't have any problems.   But staying warm and dry while paddling a kayak, even in Florida, isn't as easy as it sounds. You must be prepared to deal with normal precautions and life threatening situations.

To avoid hypothermia in the first place stay well hydrated and eat regularly.  Put on extra layers of protection as needed during your paddle.  Always add protection about an hour before the sun goes down.  Always have one set of cloths that you never, ever wear while paddling.  As soon as you hit the beach strip off any wet cloths and get into your dry set.  

If you are forced out of your boat, get back in as quickly as possible.  Pump the boat dry and add layers of protection.  Drink hot beverages from your thermos and take stock.  If you feel good and warm, then keep going.  But if you feel the least bit cold or shivering, head for shore immediately and take preventive action.  It's time to break out your Hypothermia Survival Kit.

Hypothermia Survival Kit  ( See Make Hypothermia Kit)

This kit assumes that you are solo and there is nobody to help you.  You are already hypothermic and you are shivering almost uncontrollably.  Shaving a fuzz stick and building the perfect fire takes too long and requires too much dexterity.  You need self help fast.  Here is what you need to survive.

Absolutely Must Have Really Helps to Have Very Nice to Have
Hypothermia Kit
  • Modified space blanket
  • Candle lantern
  • 3 PowerGels or Stingers
  • 3 Chemical heat packs
  • Hurricane matches
  • Fire starters or Fire Ribbon

See how to modify a space blanket.

Emergency Shelter
  • Poncho (get the silicon impregnated kind)
  • Ranger Rick modified poncho liner
  • Mylar/aluminum sleeping bag
  • Bundle of Fatwood
If you still have your boat, you should be able to add:
  • Dry long johns
  • Dry second layer
  • Outer layer
  • Dry hat
  • Hot beverage
  • Food

You won't be using this stuff until your shivering subsides and you have the dexterity to operate normally.

Here is what to do if you are over the edge and cannot function normally:

  1. Take off your PFD and sprayskirt.  Remove your hypothermia kit and keep all items close by.  You may also need your knife.  The PFD can be used as a seat cushion if you want.

  2. Squeeze excess water out of your paddling clothes.

  3. Put the modified space blanket on over your wet clothing.

  4. If you have your poncho liner, put it on over the space blanket.

  5. If you have your poncho, put it on over the poncho liner.

  6. You have now created a three layer warming hut: vapor barrier and reflector, dry insulation, and wind/rain cover.  In many cases this is all you will need and you will start to warm up immediately.  If you only have the space blanket, you are still going to recover.

  7. Sit down behind the best wind break you can find.  Form a sort of tipi around yourself.

  8. Eat a PowerGel or stinger and drink water if you have it.  Eat a PowerGel or stinger pack every 15-20 minutes until you have consumed all three.  Only after eating all three should you eat any other food.  It's important to keep fat and protein out of your stomach for the first hour.  Consume only kindling (simple sugars) to get your inner fires working.  Only then eat regular food.

  9. If you are not warming up, break out the heat packs.  Place one under each arm pit and one in the groin area.  Do not place next to bare skin.

  10. FIRE HAZARD WARNING:  The Mylar space blanket, poncho liner, and poncho are highly flammable.  You must be very careful with your candle lantern not to let the lantern come in contact with anything you are wearing.  Do not become a human torch.  Only use the candle lantern if your life depends on getting an external heat source.

  11. If the heat packs aren't enough, it's time to break out the candle lantern.  

  12. Light the candle lantern using a hurricane match.  Carefully bring the lantern under your tipi.

  13. WARNING -- Obviously be careful not to light yourself on fire.  The space blanket, poncho liner and poncho are extremely flammable. A candle lantern should keep the flame contained.  But only you can make sure that the materials you are wearing don't catch on fire.

  14. Keep your head outside the enclosed space so you don't asphyxiate yourself.

  15. Allow some venting around your neck so moisture can escape.

  16. When your shivering has subsided enough, you may want to build a bigger fire and change into dry clothing if you have any.  Use your wearable tipi as a changing room.

  17. Make forays into the edge of the woods to collect dead wood, leaves, pine needles, etc.  Gather the material by the arm full and dump it near some natural shelter area like a tree, log, rock, etc.  Repeat this procedure until you have four times the wood and kindling you think you need.

  18. Use your Fatwood and fire starters to make your fire starting pile.  Light it with your Hurricane matches.  Build up the fire as needed.  Be sure not to light the woods on fire.

  19. Instead of a huge bonfire make a small fire with a natural reflector wall or object behind it. Once the fire is going well you may want to remove your poncho and convert it back to a blanket or a shelter.  You have a natural reflector on the far side of the fire and the blanket/shelter reflector of the Mylar/aluminum space blanket on your side of the fire.  You should be toasty warm and even able to dry your cloths.  

  20. Don't set yourself or the woods on fire.

  21. By this time you should try to eat something if you can.  Drink hot fluids if you can, but any fluid helps.

Even if you have your boat and your normal tent and sleeping bag, you may not have the dexterity to set it up.  Your emergency shelter takes almost no time or dexterity and gives you immediate shelter.  Once you have recovered sufficiently you can change clothes and setup a normal camp if you have your boat.

Now What

We have prevented or recovered from hypothermia so now what.  If we have our boat, no problemo, but what if we don't.  We're stranded and we might be lost.  We're hungry, we're thirsty, we need shelter so we don't get hypothermic again, and by the way can we figure out how to get back to civilization?

We need just a few items to survive long enough to find our way back or wait for rescue.  Add another few items and we can live in relative comfort.  This is when the traditional survival kit comes in handy.  

Commercial Survival Kits

Checkout Randall's Jungle Training for the these kits.

Randall Mini
Survival Kit

Waterproof Case

  • Otter Box
  • 4.5"x3"x1.375"
  • Long paracord lanyard

Randall Jungle
Survival Kit

 

Waterproof Case

  • Otter Box
  • 6.5"x3.75"x1.625"
  • Short lanyard

Randall Adventure
Survival Kit

 

Waterproof Case

  • Otter Box
  • 6.5"x4"x3.25"
  • Short lanyard
Tools
  • Button compass
  • Paper and pencil
  • Razor blade
  • Large needle
  • 2 Safety pins
  • Rubber band
Tools
  • Suunto base 
    plate compass
  • Paper and pencil
  • Razor blade
  • Large needle
  • 2 Safety pins
  • Rubber band
  • Mini ASP flashlight
  • Red paracord
Tools
  • Suunto base plate compass
  • Paper and pencil
  • Razor blade
  • Large needle
  • 2 Safety pins
  • Rubber band
  • Mini ASP flashlight
  • Red paracord
  • Mini Mag Light
    + batteries
  • Ranger pace beads
Signaling
  • Reflective patch
Signaling
  • Reflective patch
  • Signal mirror
Signaling
  • 2 Reflective patches
  • Signal mirror
  • Whistle
Shelter
  • 10' of 9 ply waxed cord
Shelter
  • 20' of 9 ply waxed cord
Shelter
  • 20' of 9 ply waxed cord
  • Space blanket
Fire
  • Swedish Scout FireSteel & Striker
  • Cotton wad
  • Resin pine stick
  • Candle stub
Fire
  • Swedish Military FireSteel & Striker
  • Cotton wad
  • Resin pine stick
  • Candle stub
  • Bic lighter
  • Steel wool
Fire
  • Swedish Military FireSteel & Striker
  • Cotton wad
  • Lighter pine stick
  • Candle stub
  • Bic lighter
  • Steel wool
Food
  • Light gauge wire
  • Steel leader
  • Nylon line
  • 2 Small hooks
  • 2 Medium hooks
  • 3 Split shot
Food
  • Light gauge wire
  • Steel leader
  • Nylon line
  • 3 Small hooks
  • 3 Medium hooks
  • 4 Split shot
  • 5 corn kernels
  • 2 bullion cubes
Food
  • Light gauge wire
  • Steel leader
  • Nylon line
  • 3 Small hooks
  • 3 Medium hooks
  • 4 Split shot
  • 5 corn kernels
  • 4 bullion cubes
  • 12' x 4' gill net
Water
  • Nothing
Water
  • Potable Aqua tablets
  • 3 Splash Caddy bags
Water
  • Potable Aqua tablets
  • 3 Splash Caddy bags
First Aid
  • 2 Neosporin Packs
  • 2 Alcohol swabs
  • 2 Bandaids
First Aid
  • 2 Neosporin Packs
  • 2 Alcohol swabs
  • 2 Bandaids
First Aid
  • 2 Neosporin Packs
  • 2 Alcohol swabs
  • 2 Bandaids
  • Gauze 

 

$39.95 + Shipping $89.95 + Shipping $134.95 + Shipping
Add to this kit -- 
  • Knife
  • Space blanket or 2 large garbage bags
  • Purification tablets
  • collapsible canteen or Splash Caddy bags
Add to this kit -- 
  • Knife
  • Modified space blanket or 2 large garbage bags

 

Add to this kit -- 
  • Knife
Don't forget to provide spare glasses if you need them.  Make sure your kit includes any medication necessary for periodic use.

Checkout Randall's Jungle Training for the above kits.

Although these kits look expensive, I suggest buying one of them anyway.  If you buy it, you will have it.  If you try to make it cheaper, it is one of those tasks that never seems to get done.  Also, you might be surprised at how much it costs to replicate one of these kits.

My favorite kit is the Randall Jungle model.  I already have the space blanket in my hypothermia kit and I always (err, almost always) carry a knife and a first aid kit so I have everything I need if I lose my boat, get injured, or get lost on a hike.  The Adventurer model is too bulky to fit in my PFD or butt pack.  The Mini kit is a bit Spartan, but it has the advantage of being really small so it works if room is a problem.  The Mini is the one I carry in my EFT Pack. Speaking of PFD and butt packs, how do we put it all together?

Packing for Survival

If you don't have it, you can't use it.  The problem with survival kits of any type is that very often you don't have it with you when you need it.  During the last Okefenokee Challenge I found myself running upriver to search for a challenger that may have been in trouble.  Although the challenger was OK when I found him, I could have ended up the one who needed help.  When I left the landing, I grabbed a water bottle and nothing else.  About two hours into the trip it started to sprinkle and threatened to rain.  Although it wasn't real cold, hypothermia would have been a concern.  I didn't have anything with me.  I was also scaling vertical, limestone banks up to 20 feet high.  One slip and I could have been severely injured.  But again, no first aid kit.  The moral of the story is that you have to pack in such a way that being prepared comes naturally.

The ultimate survival test for a paddler is getting separated from your boat.  Even if you tether yourself to the boat like Chris Duff did when he circumnavigated Ireland, someday you might be forced to cut that tether.  Anyone who thinks they can never get separated from there boat is a fool, and the Gods love a fool.  So what's the plan?

  1. You have to stay afloat.  
  2. You have to avoid in-water hypothermia.
  3. You have to make it to shore.
  4. You have to avoid or recover from hypothermia on shore.
  5. You have to survive until rescued or you find your way out.
  6. You have to signal your situation.

Basically, you have to be wearing everything that you need.  Let's assume you are wearing normal clothing and a paddling jacket.  You are not wearing a dry suit or wet suit.  Since you are out of your boat, we all hope you are wearing your PFD.

The Well Found PFD

The only thing you can count on if you get separated from your boat is your PFD.  Of course you ARE wearing your PFD -- aren't you?  It should have everything you need.

Signaling:

  • EPIRB in right breast pocket
  • 3 Flares in left bottom pocket
  • Signal mirror in left bottom pocket
  • Strobe/flashlight in special strap left shoulder
  • Whistle & small compass tied on left side

Sheath knife strapped upside down on left side for a right handed person.  Be sure it has a serrated section on the blade and a line cutter notch.  Don't use a folding knife.  Can you get it in and out of the sheath easily?  Is the knife absolutely secure in its sheath?

Survival Pack Attached to Back of PFD or Kept Handy:

  • Orange plastic survival bag
  • Hypothermia Kit (see details above)
  • Randall Mini or Jungle Survival Kit
  • Some water if you have room

Other Items To Consider:

  • Mini first aid kit
  • Over the counter and prescription medications
  • Spare glasses
  • Sawyer Extractor
  • Spare car key
  • Money and/or credit card
  • Medical ID for any allergies or similar info
  • ID and next of kin information in case you are dead or nearly so

 

Back View Unpacked

Hypothermia kit, Randall Jungle Survival Kit, and first aid kit go into inner pack pouch.  

(I've eliminated the large first aid kit and switched to a Randall Mini Survival Kit to reduce weight and bulk.)

Orange survival bag goes in outer pouch so it can be extracted in the water.  Why is a plastic bag in a Ziploc?  By containing the folded in air we get some flotation from an item that at best would be neutral.

Note strobe on upper left shoulder.

 

Back View Packed

It all fits but it takes some careful packing.  Once everything is inside, it looks sleek and functional.

Be sure that you don't pack it so tight that you cannot get the orange survival bag out while in the water.  Also, you want to be able to get the hypothermia kit out easily because you might be shivering so much that normally easy tasks take on increased difficulty.

 

The compass is a Silva Fisheye.  A spherical compass is easier to use while floating in rough water.  Precision is not necessary.  You just want to know the general direction of land.

 

Front View Unpacked

The EPIRB is tied into the front right pocket.  Flip out the antenna and turn it on.  Leave it in the pocket.

Signal mirror and 3 flares go into the left pocket.  Whistle and compass are attached on a short tether.  Knife is upside down on left side since I am right handed.

 

Front View Packed

With everything tucked away in a pocket it doesn't look so messy.

The Whistle and compass can be pulled out easily.  The only items not tethered is the knife itself and the flares.  Keep all tethers as short as possible.

 

 

Side View Packed

As you can see the side profile isn't too bad.  The backpack presents a relatively small profile.

Make sure the backpack actually adds flotation to your PFD system.  

The backpack used here is a Lotus Designs "EFT Pack."  It attaches to the back of any PFD, and it can be removed and used as a day pack.  It comes with a 35 oz. hydration bladder which I discarded.  Volume is 320 cu.in. (5 litters).  Although the 500-denier Codura nylon is waterproof, the pack is not.  The only nit I have is that if a pack intended for the back of a PFD is not waterproof, then it should have strong mesh for drainage.  However, I have the volume stuffed anyway so not much water will get caught inside the pack.

Why did I discard the bladder?  It's too small for my needs, and the water would have added weight high on my back.  I prefer a larger bladder when I use one and I place it under my seat for added stability.  Although the water would be nice to have in a survival situation, I decided that other items had higher priority.  It's a tradeoff that each person can make as they see fit.

Test Your Life Support System

Be sure to test the pack that you strap onto your PFD.  The fully loaded survival pack should add at least 3-8 pounds to the buoyancy of your PFD.  Throw it in a pool after you tie 3-8 pounds of diving weights or a bag with 3-8 pounds of sand to it.  If it still floats you're ready for further testing.

The only item in the backpack that is essential to get at while in the water is the orange plastic survival bag.  It has three functions while in the water.  First, if the water is cold, you can get inside the bag to slow down hypothermia.  Second, some say it offers some shark protection.  Third, it helps aircraft searching for you.  When you get to land, it can be used for shelter, a vapor barrier, signaling, and a water making still.

Now test your combo to see how it floats you.  If you don't like how it works as a system, make some changes until you do like it.

Now tumble your pack and PFD.  Spend an hour in a pool or beach area working it over while wearing it.  When you're too tired to keep dunking and rolling, carefully inspect all the contents.  Did you lose anything?  Are the things that need to stay dry still dry?  Make changes as needed.

Ok, one last test.  Perform a self rescue while wearing your fully loaded PFD.  Did you crush anything?  Were you able to re-enter your boat.  Do you need to add an assist strap to your re-entry system?  Did anything on your PFD catch on the boat?  

If your system passed all these tests, you're good to go.

Acquiring the Skills

I've told you to pack the necessary equipment to build a fire quickly, but I haven't told you how to do it.  You have the tools necessary to fish or snare some food, but how is it done?  How do you re-enter your boat?  What do you do if your don't have any of the stuff listed?  Sorry, but all that is beyond the scope of this article.  You will have to do some outside reading and practice.

Fortunately, there is only one book that you must read for the skills to survive on land.  It's titled, "Tom Brown's Field Guide, Wilderness Survival," published by Berkley Books of New York.

The most important skill to master is fire building.  Using the tools in your emergency fire kit, you should be able to start a fire within one minute and keep it going indefinitely.  That will take some practice.  Tom Brown will also explain the importance of making a reflector on the opposite side of your fire from your shelter.  This reflector is as important as your fire.  Make sure you understand that principal.

Although there are several books that deal with self rescue for sea kayaking, you will need in the water instruction or at least practice.  These skills look and sound easier than they are, especially in rough water.  And don't listen to the crowd that will say that paddle floats don't work in rough water.  Although there is no guarantee, they do work if you know how to do it and you have practiced.  Also, consider sponsons as a self rescue aid.  Sponsons will help you to recover from hypothermia in your boat.  You will have the stability you need to fully pump the boat, put on extra layers of protection, drink, eat, and anything else you need to do before going on for another 20 miles.

Take what is useful and discard the rest.  When Mother Ocean plays her tricks you might be ready. 

© 2002, Steve Isaac. All Rights Reserved

 

© Copyright 2000-2018 WaterTribe, Inc.

Chief@WaterTribe.com

www.WaterTribe.com

WaterTribeTM Pending