Packboat rescue and survival aids

The other year while leaning over on a salmon pen platform, my cherished six-year-old Benchmade Griptilian slipped out of the pfd and down 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 (left). 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 too many lines and straps all adding up to an entrapment risk when expelled from the boat in lively water.

As it is, I’ve long had a quick-grab Benchmade #8 Rescue Hook permanently attached to my main pfd (below). With no sharp point, it’s a good thing on an inflatable and rusts quietly away.

NRS Pilot knife

Then the other day I decided I could streamline things by ditching the somewhat illegal PBK EMT with a proper, quick-grab kayaking rescue knife. NRS’s blunt-tipped Pilot Knife seems the main one available in the UK at around £44. The RRK is another with a hooked tip. The NRS’ locking mechanism wasn’t the smoothest from new, especially when reattaching. I gave it some WD40, but as it is the blade exposed in the shealth looks too ‘knifey’ when strolling into Greggs wearing the PFD after a peckish paddle. So I managed to elongate the Benchmark’s fabric sheath and the NRS slips in there unseen, while still being quickly grabable.

Once you’ve cut yourself free from your boat, the next thing is to alert others of your distress. Some sort of pea in a whistle body gives it a more punchy warble. Look up referee whistles on ebay from Fox or Acme. The piecing blast it puts out will be hard to ignore.

Phone, knife, whistle
Practice self-recovery before you need to.
With IKs, getting back in alone from deep water is easy compared to a hardshell. Same with a packraft. That’s part of the appeal.

Seriously: the best way to dodge 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 at least one where I’m aware of my limitations paddling mostly alone.
I got the whitewater thing out of my system some time ago and have settled on Grade 2 or portaging. At sea, I mostly do day trips in fine weather, which in the UK can mean days or weeks staring out the window. But I’ve yet to have a ‘moment’ nor come close to falling out of my sea kayak. On rivers, 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 whitewater, pounding surf, gale-force winds, as well as being ready to portage or change plans mid-trip. I’ve had my fair share of dramas doing other stuff. 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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