Instruction Question: When do you do you teach wet exits with your students?

Tuesday, 05 May 2009
The Wet ExitYou are teaching a group of beginner sea kayakers. How can you be sure that they won't panic or get trapped when they flip over?

The only real way to be (almost) sure is to practice the wet exit with each of your students. You want to be sure that when they flip over they can hang out, calmly reach forward, pull the release tab of their skirt and swim to the surface.

The question as to when you actually teach throughout the day it is one that has been batted around in my little community for several years. Do you teach it right away or wait until later in the day? There are practical issues like cold water, access to changing facilities, time management and the students fear to take in account when you schedule time for it.

I was very interested in what the instructor community thought of the issue so I tweeted out yesterday this same question and I got a variety of several really good 140 character responses:

@kayaksuperior - Onland stuff first, then wet exit right before lunch. I wouldn't leave it to day 2- not doing anyone any favours.

@ChrisGriffith - just before lunch so they can dry off and warm up.

@SeaKayakStMarys - do it 1st, that way the students are more comfortable with the idea of a capsize. The initial shock dulls thereafter

@canoelover - Right after how to get in and out of their boats. But it depends on water temps.

A variety of opinions. Some say do it first thing in the morning while others say to do it just before lunch. Offline, I have had this conversation where some people feel it can wait until day 2 while other say it isn't necessary at all.

Personally, I'm a big believer in getting it over right away in the morning. As the instructor I then can be more confident that I have done my part in making sure people are safe. Plus, it gets them over their fear of getting trapped in the boat so they can get on with the lesson.

Statistically speaking, it is rare for beginners to get trapped in their boats but it does happen from time to time. What is more likely is that they will have a perception they are drowning and by the time they are back to the surface 3 seconds later, they have already decided that kayaking isn't for them. That is much more common.

The whole issue around wet exits has been given more press over the last number of years after the drowning of Robert Beauvais from New England back in 2001. Robert had enrolled in a beginner kayak class and things were going well. The teacher went over the wet exit procedures on-land and everybody participated with no problems. The instructor said they would work on the wet exit in the water at the end of the day so students wouldn't be wet all day. Right after lunch the class jumped on the water again and Robert flipped his kayak over. Something happened underwater, he panicked and drowned.

In part mainly because of that accident; the New England legislature passed the kayak safety bill in 2006 requiring anybody who takes a course or rents a kayak to go through safety training including a wet exit.

So it leaves me to my last part of this whole thing. Answer these questions for me if you can:
  • How do instructors handle teaching the wet exit for short beginner lessons like evening clinics when time management is a huge concern? What do you do?
  • Or, what do you do when you are teaching in a harbour where you don't have a nice sandy beach but rather a pier or cement walls?
  • What about disgusting, gross or really cold water?

I will admit that it can be tricky to weigh the practical issues we face as instructors against the real life safety issues students face but I feel it is extremely important think about it and mull it over to develop a plan.

Let me know what you think. Post your comments below.

David Johnston

David Johnston

David Johnston has been introducing people to the sport of sea kayaking for the past 15 years. He is a senior instructor trainer with Paddle Canada and teaches for several paddling schools in Ontario, Canada. Full Bio.

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