Packboat rescue and survival aids


The other day while leaning over aboard a salmon pen platform, my cherished six-year-old Benchmade Griptilian slipped out of the pfd and into the briny depths. We ummed and ahhed about diving down to retrieve it, but I’m told these pens are 20-metres deep and can hold no less than 80,000 fish.
It was a bitter loss, all the worse when I saw what a replacement cost new. Long story short, I replaced it with a similarly anti-stealth orange PBK EMT Rescue Knife for a few quid. Like they said “you won’t worry too much if you drop it off your lifeboat and [it] sinks into the depths.” No I won’t.


At 150g it’s heavy but locks out with one of those cheap ‘liner’ locks and has a window smashing stud, should I ever find myself in the nightmarish scenario of being trapped in a sealed aquarium. You also get a pocket clip, plus a handy line cutter – a good idea when your packboat begins to acquire yards of lines and straps all adding up to an entrapment risk when expelled from the boat in moving water. As it is, I’ve long had a quick-grab Benchmade #8 Rescue Hook permanently attached to my main pfd (see below and right). With no knife-like sharp point, it’s a good thing on an inflatable and rusts quietly away.


Once you’ve cut yourself free from your boat, the next thing is to alert others of your distress. Gael had a nifty ‘survival’ whistle on our recent Mull trip. This isn’t just any whistle, this is a bonafide survival aid. You also get a thermometer to check on the hypothermia index, a mini magnifying glass for roasting ants, and a compass to help evaluate your drift.
All that for just 99p from China, or under four quid in orange from the UK. The only thing that’s missing is some sort of pea in the whistle body to give it a more punchy warble. I tried shoving a lentil in there, but first go it blew out and temporarily blinded me – which was when the magnifying glass came in handy. Search eBay for “4 in 1 Thermometer Whistle Compass Magnifier Survival” and feel safer out there.

Practice self-recovery before you need to.
With IKs, getting back in is easy. That’s part of the appeal.

Seriously: the best way to avoid dangerous situations is to avoid them in the first place. That’s not as glib as it sounds. For me, who’s written and talked (and even won awards) about adventure travel for over four decades, paddling is one of the more potentially risky things I do these days. Or one where I’m very aware of my limitations in paddling mostly alone.
I got the white-water thing out of my system some time ago and have settled on no more than Grade 2, or portaging. At sea, I mostly do day trips in fine weather, which in the UK can mean days or weeks doing other stuff. But I’ve yet to have a ‘moment’ nor come close to falling out of my sea kayak. On river’s I’ve not been tipped out of an IK since my Sunny days and never in a packraft. That’s how boring my boating is! I’ve managed that by avoiding the high-adrenaline side of things: technical white-water, pounding surf, gale-force winds, as well as changing plans on a trip. I’ve had my share of dramas. For me the adventure with paddling is quietly exploring wild places with packboats. I leave the appalling fascination of this sort of thing to others ;-)

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