Briefing

Briefing

Last night I had the good fortune to be involved in a Search and Rescue exercise (SAR) with paddlers from the New Forest Kayak & Canoe Club (NFKCC) and Lymington Lifeboat Crew.

It turned out to be a cracking exercise and a fun evening/night paddle all rolled into one.

The exercise was organised by Simon VK from NFKCC and was actually the second evening that the canoe club and Lifeboat Crew had spent together – the first being a trip to the RNLI station where Simon had taken his normal paddling kit (including group leader and safety/communications kit) down for a ‘show and tell’ session to get feedback from the Lifeboat Crew.

Crossing The Solent

Crossing The Solent

The feedback from this session was incredibly positive with the RNLI folks being very positive about the amount and range of kit carried.

Building on this, the plan for last nights session was to paddle from Tanners Lane across to the IOW and rendezvous with the support rib at 8pm. They would then put in a call to the Lifeboat station to report a lost group of kayakers.

The Lifeboat would then conduct a SAR and on arrival would find 2 paddlers in the water, one with a dislocated shoulder, the other with a swamped boat (possibly Cleopatra’s Needle) and have to deal with the incident.

Final Checks

Final Checks

The group of 7 paddlers met at Tanners lane and were on the water for 7pm – we’d allowed an hour for the crossing to Newtown Creek however favourable tides and the sheer excitement of the evening spurred us on and we made quicker than expected progress.

As we arrived so too did the Support Rib who stopped and chatted with Simon to finalise the details of the exercise before putting in a call to the Lifeboat Station to set things in motion and start the exercise. They then retired to another area of the Solent so as not to give away our location.

RNLI Arriving

RNLI Arriving

In what seemed next to no time, we spotted the distinctive Orange colour of ‘Victor Danny Lovelock’, the Lymington Lifeboat in the gathering dusk sweeping it’s way up from the Calshot end of the Solent. Once they arrived they quickly took charge and prioritised the casualties before getting them onboard and administering first aid and recovering the boats.

It was interesting to see their obviously well drilled method for bringing a swimming casualty (dislocated shoulder) onboard by dispatching one of their own crew into the water to support the casualty in the water and push from below as the other RNLI crew pulled the casualty onboard with the non-dislocated arm closest to the rib (Check out this gallery from the evening to see this documented). Once onboard, the casualty with the dislocated shoulder was swiftly strapped and immobolised.

Approaching Incident

Approaching Incident

Bringing Casualty Onboard

Bringing Casualty Onboard

First Aid

First Aid

After the rescue was done and dusted we had a brief period chatting through the exercise and sharing good practice with the Lifeboat Crew as keen as us to learn from the drill. One example of this would be bringing a sea kayak onboard the rib, the Lifeboat Crew initially brought the upturned kayak up and over the rear end of the Rib stern first not realising this would force the weight of the water down into the footwell making it heavy and harder work. Once Simon had explained lifting the bow first would quickly drain the water the Lifeboat crew asked us to re-swamp the boat so they could set-up and try again.

Sea Kayak Recovered

Sea Kayak Recovered

From a paddlers perspective, the Rib keeps it’s engines running at all times and therefore paddlers must keep clear of the stern of the boat. We also need to be mindful of the draft of the ribs (amount of boat/engine that is under the water) and work to move casualties/paddlers into deeper water if at all possible to avoid the lifeboat risking running aground. The final take away from this part of the exercise was the amount of drift that could have occurred during the rescues. When we stopped to chat to the support rib prior to the drill commencing, we were in the main channel and drifted a substantial distance within 5 or so minutes. Luckily the rescue drill happened in more of an eddy however, if we had still be in the main channel for the whole drill we would easily have ended up down towards Gunnard meaning a substantial paddle back to the launch point or an alternative route back to the mainland then a need to source transport back to the launch point for shuttle runs.

Moonlight Finish

Moonlight Finish

All too soon, it was time to head for home. The light had really faded now and wind picked up so we buddied up and closed in as a tight group for the paddle back. With tide, wind and choppy conditions it made for a nice work out paddling back with the RNLI support rib tailing use until we were out of the main shipping channel. It made a nice change for me to have company on a night paddle and more than one of the NFKCC paddlers commented that I must be feeling more at home on the water now the daylight had gone!

It was interesting that almost everyone had a rear deck-mounted light for the paddle home with a large number being my personally favoured Kayalu Gear Kayalite. This was the first time I’ve paddled in a group with this type of light. In my review of the Unit, I’d mentioned in a group situation they may be best used by the rear paddler of a group however I would (and will) now revise that statement as there was no issue with loss of night vision and the lights certainly made it incredibly easy to spot other paddlers.

Now a couple of days has passed there has been a flurry of emails between those involved discussing the final details and a meet-up at a local pub arranged with the RNLI crew to talk over the whole exercise and pick through the details. I am sure there will be more salient learning points from this discussion so will update this post as necessary.

Lymington Lifeboat

Lymington Lifeboat

What I will say is that the whole experience was hugely worthwhile both from a paddling/leaders learning point of view and building positive relationships with the RNLI.

It was extremely well organised thanks to the hard work of Simon Von Kauffman from NFKCC and once again, demonstrated to me what a friendly, welcoming and enthusiastic bunch the NFKCC are. If you are looking to join a club with a strong Sea Kayaking aspect then I would highly recommend you drop them a line.

Huge thanks are also due to all involved from Lymington Lifeboat Station and the RNLI who gave so generously of their time for this exercise. I know from experience, that Sea Kayakers are strong supporters of the RNLI as a charity and would those who are not members to consider joining or seeking opportunities to support or donate to the wide range of RNLI fund raising activities.

Useful Links:
New Forest Kayak & Canoe Club
Lymington Lifeboat Website
Gallery from evenings exercise