by Dave Hammond
Going down Maori Gully a paddler was separated from his Kendo in the elevator. The Kendo sank. It travelled about 300 metres down river mostly underwater. Chase boaters could see only a submerged yellow smudge moving along the river bed or one or other of the ends would occasionally surface. Being completely full of water the boat was very heavy and towing it was not an option until it reached placid water, and then it was very awkward and subject to the deeper water forces rather than just the surface influence. Once it was near the bank it was difficult to empty, and time consuming. The paddler had already started walking out so the emptied boat had to be coaxed to the get out. The boat had airbags but they were at home in the garage This could all have been so much easier if they had been fitted.
Tests carried out in Wales show that boats fitted with buoyancy float higher in the water than a swamped boat and are less likely to pin, and if a pin does occur the surface forces will be far less than those in the deeper water. As a swimmer you will obviously be far better off clinging to floating object than one with Titanic tendencies, and a light boat floating on the surface will be a great deal easier to rescue and empty.
Most kayaks come with some buoyancy already fitted, sometimes as part of the strengthening of the boat (this comes in the form of a foam pillar in an RPM), this is not sufficient for whitewater. There is usually room for some extra buoyancy in front the footrests and an inflated wine skin (the plastic bit that holds wine in those 3l cardboard boxes) will fit well here – especially if you are the shorter legged variety of paddler. Some of the full plate footrests are hollowed out and can have wine skins pushed into them and then inflated. Investigate your boat for spaces!
If you are fitting rear buoyancy bags try to find bags that have something to tie into at the pointy end of the bag as well as the wider end just behind the seat, this may come as a strip of webbing or a metal grommet. Then find a way of fixing that pointy end into the rear of the kayak. Using the RPM as an example, this may be done by pulling out the foam pillar, tying a cord to the grommet at the pointy end of the bag, thread the cord around the rear of the foam and back the opposite side of the pillar to the bag, then tie it behind the seat. Leave the cord long enough and you can take the bags out without having to rethread the cord, this may prevent the bags being forced out of the boat by the tremendous water pressures that can be exerted on it.