Kayak Rescue: The definitive guide to modern reentry
and recovery
by Roger Schumann and Jan Shriner, 2001

should begin this review with a bit of a disclaimer. I know Roger and
have recommended him as an outfitter and instructor in the past. More
to the point, Roger once rescued me in the mouth of Tomales Bay
(near, as I learned later, the great white shark rookery) after I got
slammed by a boomer, so I come to any discussion of his rescue skills
with some preconceptions.

Anyway, I was very impressed by this
book, for several reasons. One is its completeness (well, almost;
more about that later). This book talks about more kinds of rescues
than I have ever seen collected in one place. More importantly, every
rescue mentioned is dissected to a high level of detail, including
step-by-step instructions for each, and occasional comments based on
the authors’ experience with that particular rescue.

Let me say a word about that word. Schumann and Shriner begin the
book by suggesting that it might be better, especially with less
experienced students, to avoid the word “rescue”
altogether. Many of us have seen paddlers who consider a class
successful if they stayed upright, not whether they learned anything.
Above all else, do not swim! This is partly because they are afraid
of being in the water, or of being cold, but perhaps also because
they want to avoid being “rescued,” and all the emotional
and personal baggage that entails. Better, perhaps, they suggest, to
talk about “reentries” instead, a much less loaded word
(They also suggest “recovery,” but anyone with a wilderness
first aid background will prefer to avoid that one).

I was
pleased to see that the organization of the book follows my own plan
in teaching rescues (Yes, “rescues.” Schumann and Shriner
give up on the “reentries” idea early on, in a bow to
common usage). That is, to begin by teaching braces so that a
re-whatever will not be necessary, then to move on to wet exits,
basic solo and assisted reentries (OK, I’m going to use both terms),
and more complex moves like reenter and roll, Eskimo rescues and
rolls, and special circumstances and tricks like sling assists,
rescuing loaded sea kayaks, and double re-entries.

I think
this learning sequence is essential. Practicing bracing moves easily
into practicing snapping up off a partner’s bow, because the two
movements are dynamically identical. This prepares students well for
the Eskimo rescue. I know that students have trouble learning Eskimo
rescues directly if they haven’t learned to hip snap yet.

last two chapters deal with towing in a good amount of detail, and a
Consumers’ Digest review of three commercial products for rescue: the
Back-Up, the Sea Seat, and, yes, sp…spo… don’t make me say
it…all right, sponsons. Hmm, my WordPerfect spell checker just
flagged “sponson” as a misspelled word. They were fair
towards, but not enthusiastic about any of these products.

are also a couple of chapters about preparation and prevention and
basic safety gear. These say basically the same things that we all
know about PFDs and signaling devices (no, they don’t identify the
ultimate handheld VHF) and float plans, but are useful reading
nonetheless, especially if you keep asking yourself “Do I always
do that?”

The book is profusely illustrated with black
and white photos, usually at least one per page. These are
occasionally a bit foggy, but as Schumann and Shriner do most of
their paddling in Northern California, it may just been that the
light really did look like that.

As an added bonus, there are
several stories interspersed among the procedures, with compelling
titles like “Reentry at Punta Diablo” and “Counting in
Dog Years: Tale of a Rock Garden Bow Rescue.” The stories
generally avoid the “No shit, there I was…” tenor of most
paddling tales, while still maintaining a high level of realism and
providing a lesson for the wise to heed.

A few particular
techniques merit comment. Schumann and Shriner mention the deck
rigged paddlefloat reentry as a useful ploy, but are not
wholeheartedly enthusiastic about it unless you always paddle your
own kayak (with the same paddle) and never flip in borrowed boats.
They are also a bit disparaging about such Brit standbys as the All
In rescue and the HI (aka, Ipswich) rescue, although they do refrain
from Roger’s earlier claim that “Ipswich” is an Olde
English term meaning “a good way to break a paddle, dude.”

couple of ideas caught my fancy and I tried them out at a rescue
clinic I ran recently for a couple of local clubs. For example,
incorporating a sling into a paddlefloat rescue adds a few seconds to
the setup time and shaves much more than that from the reentry time,
while adding a ton of stability. Some students who were struggling to
keep the paddle in position hopped right back in the boat when we
added the sling.

Another of Roger’s tricks that most of us use
is the rough water simulator for bracing and reentry practice, which
consists of someone yanking the kayak back and forth and up and down,
grinning maniacally while the victim tries to stay upright or get out
of the water. The RWS is a big improvement over the standard “edge
’til you start to fall” bracing drills. I’ve hurt myself being
the RWS, though, so I’ve started using a pair of ropes tied to the
bungees and crossing under the kayak. It requires two people to be
the RWS, but you can get a boat really on edge with a brisk pull on
the rope. Keep the ropes short, though, so you can be close by to
offer a hand up if needed. Wayne Hodorowitz has a variant on this
rope trick that simulates a broached surf; he’s written about it in
Sea Kayaker.

I wouldn’t feel like I was giving good value in a
review unless I had a few quibbles, so let me get into those now. I
was interested to find that one of the rescues that I use and teach
that didn’t make it into the book. This is the parallel eskimo
rescue, in which the rescuer approaches the upside down boat parallel
(what else?) and lays the paddle across her lap and the upturned
hull. The victim reaches up, grabs the paddle between the boats, and
snaps up. I taught this one to my wife so we could demo it, and she
really likes it, as the rescuer is very stable. If you’re worried
about a victim reaching up and grabbing your cockpit rim and pulling
you over, don’t. I challenged a student in the last rescue clinic to
pull me over that way. All it does is pull you over onto their deck
(Assuming they are still in the boat, of course. A swimmer can and
will pull you over easily). It may be necessary to place the victim’s
hands correctly on the paddle. Put their thumbs together, Meg informs
me, which is a trick I hadn’t come up with.

A second departure
for me is in the starting position of the paddlefloat rescue. I
really don’t like to start aft of the paddle, which necessitates a
usually graceless pirouette over the shaft (Schumann and Shriner call
this the sea star move, which sounds exotic, but I’ve never found sea
stars to be very graceful), when you could start on the bow side, and
in your first move stick your leg into the cockpit. Schumann and
Shriner say that this only works for shorter paddlers, but I’ve got a
33″ inseam and size 12 feet, and it works fine for me. The aft
starting position does get you climbing up on the stern deck, which
is lower than the cockpit, so that’s a good reason to do it that way
if you can’t get up easily.

I can’t quibble much, though. This
book is a solid resource, pulling together most of what there is to
be known about sea kayak safety and rescues, and doing it in a
readable, occasionally even witty, style. It’s definitely worth the

Steve Cramer