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“Stay Ready” – Increasing Your Odds of Keeping Safe

-by Jay Murdock, SDKC Safety Editor

I recently heard a great message by David Jeremiah about the human condition, which some elements have direct applications for our sport. It examined the fact that people tend to live for the moment, responding to the immediate and not the important, and put off those things that will prepare them for future events and uncertainties. I’ve expanded on that message to fit our needs.

Our nature is to avoid making hard decisions, those that may increase the level of stress in our lives. This is why we don’t go to the doctor when we should. Part of our make-up is something called the “Normalcy Bias”, the survival mechanism in our DNA which causes us to think everything is ok when confronted with danger of any form. What typically comes to mind is how unprepared people are for natural disasters, like a hurricane. Having not prepared well in advance, they are not staying ready for the event, then have to scurry at the last minute to get ready, often falling short of what is needed for survival. But this is also what keeps us from being prepared for every day occurrences that put us in harm’s way. This is why we have to learn how to be a defensive driver. Learning to be afraid of, or having respect for something that has not yet happened is what changes us from careless behavior to wise and cautious people.

The old adage of “trusting your instincts” only applies when you have developed wise and careful instincts to begin with. We learn as kids to not touch hot objects, but we can also learn vicariously what to avoid. Too often I have read of the tragic consequences of someone venturing into the wilderness or on the water, and not heeding the warning signs of danger. We are out to have fun, and our “guard is down” of paying attention to those signs. Learning to recognize, analyze, then act on those signs will increase the odds of our staying safe. It is one thing to sense danger; it is another to act on that.  

It is better to over-prepare for any event, making careful plans, leaving your itinerary with someone back home, bringing the right equipment, and so on. But the most important thing to take on any outing is a prepared mindset. Go over in your mind every possible danger that may occur on the trip, and think about the safest action to take if that happens. This will give you the ability to act quickly and decisively. That is why going over first aid and safety procedures at the start of the trip is so important. It gets everyone on the same page in thinking about safety, and how to respond as a group. This is why it is critical to know who you are trusting to venture out with. Does that person (especially the leader) have the right mindset for safety.

But there is another aspect of this, one that is related to the Normalcy Bias, and that is the tendency to “freeze up” in the face of immediate danger, and how to better your chance of this not happening to you. Why this is so important can be demonstrated by three examples I have personally witnessed.

While ocean fishing years ago I had three others in my boat and we were trolling for albacore several miles south of San Diego on a calm day. I let someone else steer the boat, who also owned a boat and was familiar with ocean fishing. Suddenly we spotted a six-foot-high breaking wave coming at us off the right side of our boat. At that instance, he froze and did nothing to save us from the likelihood of being capsized by the wave hitting us broadside. I had to physically pull him off the helm, turned the boat into the wave, and pushed the throttle full speed. We were able to punch through the wave, but the boat was half full of water. Keeping the speed up while turning on the bilge pump eventually drained the water out.  

The second instance was being driven home by a friend at night, and we were on the I-8 freeway when a car in front of us clipped another in the rear bumper and it rolled upside down. My friend froze at the wheel while we sped toward the accident. I shouted at him to stop, which jolted him out of that trance, and we narrowly avoided hitting the upside-down car. He later admitted the accident did not look “real”, and he was mesmerized by what was happening. He was mentally unprepared to deal with something out of the ordinary. This explains why some people get up out of their seat in an airplane accident to exit the plane, while others who are able to get up stay put in a bewildered trance. They have not mentally rehearsed that emergency scenario in advance.

The third experience was in a float plane on the Alaska Peninsula during a moose hunt. We did an emergency landing at a remote hunting lodge on the Stony River when we could not get through Merrill Pass to get back to Anchorage. Having stayed overnight, we boarded the plane, pushed out into the river going downstream, and the pilot pulled the throttle cable to increase engine speed. Suddenly the cable broke with the RPM at half throttle. He looked at the broken end and handle in his hand and screamed “look at this”. Then he froze, just staring at the handle. We were still on the water, going really fast, and heading toward a sharp turn and several trees. Disaster seemed eminent, then my brother-in-law (who was also a pilot) reached over and turned off the magneto, stopping the engine. While our young pilot was very experienced in the bush, a broken throttle cable had never happed to him, and he was not prepared for that specific event; the shock of it froze him. Something that older pilots do is go over various emergency scenarios, and the actions taken to avoid disaster. And they do this over and over again. By doing this they develop the ability to focus, think and solve problems under extreme pressure, which transfers to new situations.

It is mental training before something occurs that makes the difference. And through that training we become consistent in our response in an emergency. By repeating that mental training, we gain “mental and muscle memory” which lets us respond to a crisis without stopping to think about it (our mind and body acts automatically). The goal is to be “consistently consistent” through discipline and repetition, and by that we are staying ready for any emergency.

Learn from your mistakes, and take action to not repeat them! I’ve made some notable errors on trips I’ve led, and after each trip have evaluated the event, researched the remedy for not repeating that mistake, then shared that info with the group. While these events and evaluations are serious, finding humor in them also helps to move beyond them, while not allowing trauma to paralyze us. “To err is human, to forgive divine”.

One last element that is essential for a quick response to an emergency is confidence. We gain confidence through that mental preparedness and compliance to the essentials of what is important to know and act on. That confidence gives us the courage to act through the fear of the moment. During the war in England the famous preacher G. Campbell Morgan saw that people were fearing the invasion from Germany, and wanted to bolster their confidence. He told them that all around England were “Strong Men” of consistent action and focus on what is important, and that the “fixed heart is one of courage”. Churchill was giving the same message, and the country became resolved to fight on at any cost.

Be prepared, be brave, stay safe…

December 5th Ocean Paddle

Jane Hardy led a group of 13 paddlers out of Aqua Adventures on a crisp and calm morning up to the Pacific Beach Pier.

Jane sporting our cool club hat
Jane sporting our cool club hat
Dana Voss
Other paddlers not shown in photo
Thanks to Dana Voss for the last 7 photos – Come join us on the next paddle!

October 31, 2020 Skills Session

-by Jay Murdock, SDKC Safety Editor

Jane Hardy has been leading weekly skills sessions, with consistently good turn-out. Fourteen paddlers showed up for this one, and the weather and water temp were nice. Thank you Jane for your contribution and leadership in this effort.

Jane on a roll / past photo

Our website contains considerable information on kayaking skills, presented in step-by-step procedures. Click on the Skills tab at the top of this page to view that.

Debbie, Dave and I took a few minutes to discuss some up-coming paddles for the club, and we’ll let you know about those in the future. In the meantime, Dave is still leading the Wednesday evening paddles out of AA, and you are welcome to join in. They launch at 6pm, and you can rent a boat from AA in advance if needed.

Debbie and Dave

2019 June Lake Trip Report

-by Jay Murdock, SDKC Safety Editor

We had mostly great weather this year in the Sierras while watching the Aspens turn color (they were green at the campground when we arrived, and yellow when we left).

We paddled Silver Lake and Gull Lakes, and hiked to Parker Lake.

Jennifer’s parents and daughter joined us, and they entertained us with songs from the Sound of Music as we hiked. Each night we went to different restaurants for dinner and had good conversations. It was a relaxing, beautiful trip, and time well spent. Hope you can join us in the future.

Sitka Trip Report

-by Jay Murdock, SDKC Safety Editor

In June of 2019 fifteen of us ventured to Alaska, this time to a very special place with a Russian name. We had several paddles on the bay, and at a lake nearby that we were flown to in a float plane with an amazing pilot. The Swing EX inflatable boats performed well, and we are already planning our next trip in 2020 to Austria.

Kevin’s modified Cessna 185 that he has mastered the art of flight in
Mary getting ready to paddle Redoubt Lake

We were able to launch at the dock in front of our hotel, which was very convenient. After our paddles we would walk around town to the shops and museums, go on hikes, and gather at several restaurants to dine. Sitka is a very cool place to visit and a wonderful place to paddle. The water is clear and calm, protected by the many islands that dot the bay. We could see starfish 20 feet down, and got up close to several bald eagles. Everyone had a fun and memorable time.

First day getting our boats ready to launch.
Taking a lunch break on “Friendly Island”…
Janet and David looking at an eagle

We had four main sponsors for this trip. Innova Kayaks gave us a good discount on the boats, the Totem Square Hotel gave us discounts, Kevin Mulligan of Baranautica Air Service gave us special treatment and hats when flying us to the lake, and West Marine gave us cool water repellent hats and gear discounts. We also received help in letting us launch from the dock from Wayne and Joel of FishBaranof.

Thom showing he can paddle…without a paddle.
Jennifer looking good in her boat
Our hotel is just right of center. Thanks to Eric Emerson for taking this and two other photos here.
Mark took this photo after 10 pm. The fishing never stops in summer with 20 hours of daylight.

Beginner’s Class Report

-by Jay Murdock, SDKC Safety Editor

The Club hat-sales-proceeds free class for beginners held on 4/27/19 was conducted under ideal weather/temperature conditions at Aqua Adventures.

The class covered introductory basics of getting in and out of a kayak at a dock, holding the paddle, the low brace, and the forward, back, sweep, J, and scull strokes.

We then practiced the power forward stroke, using the legs and torso, and discussed some safety issues like hugging the shore, crossing a busy channel, and the signal light.

We also discussed having some second level introductory classes, which are now being planned. Those classes will be called “Basic Safety Instruction”, and will cover the wet exit, self-rescue using the paddle float, assisted re-entry using the heel-hook, T-rescue, quick tow rescue, dealing with extreme temperature, lightning, fog and wind, hugging the shoreline, using a VHF or phone, crossing a busy channel, the buddy system, group travel, using a signal mirror and/or flag, filing a Float Plan, and the signal light. These classes are open to those who have already taken the Beginner’s Class, or have evidence they know those basic skills.  

Many thanks to AA, and to Gary Billick and Jesse Nodora for assisting in the instruction.

A great day on the water…

South Bay Paddle Report

-by Jay Murdock, SDKC Safety Editor

Ten people paddled on Saturday, March 30th to see the National Wildlife Refuge in the south part of San Diego Bay.

The elusive turtles did not come to the surface where we paddled, and are rarely seen (they come up for a quick breath, then are gone). We did see fish jumping, and several birds, including a pair of Ospreys in a nest provided by the Refuge (below).

The weather was beautiful, and a slight head-wind on the way back gave us a mild challenge. We ended the paddle with some sightseeing in the Coronado Cays, then had lunch in the park where we launched. It was a good day on the water.

Whale Watch Paddle a Success

Twelve paddlers ventured out on Sunday, January 27 from Aqua Adventures on a calm ocean and perfect weather. Debbie Van Martin and Dave Beckmann led the paddle, and our thanks to them for doing that.

Three whales were spotted in the distance to the west. A few paddlers tried to catch up to them, and were able to get a little closer, but those whales were in a hurry to go south.

Our thanks to Catherine Kimball and Debbie Van Martin for these photos.

The next club paddle will be in April, launching out of the Coronado Cays to see the wildlife of the south bay. Come join us to experience the quiet openness of that area, and calm waters. There will be a picnic after the paddle. Beginners, youth 12 and up, and all boat types are welcome on this paddle.

The Club’s Future and What YOU Can Do…


Some of the people who have given much of their time and effort over the past several years have recently turned over the “reins” to others. Many thanks to Jane Hardy, Teresa Boli, and Gilbert Siegel for serving the kayak community here, and we are grateful to them. They will still be involved in club activities where they can. Jane will continue to lead some advanced skills sessions, and we will see Gilbert and Teresa on the water also.


Debbie Van MartinDebbie Van Martin has become our new “Social Events Coordinator”, and will be announcing some events in the future to bring people together in fun ways. She is high energy, a great cook, very interesting to talk to, and a lot of fun to be around.



Dave BeckmannDave Beckmann has been leading a “Meet Up” group on Wednesday nights for several years, and will now be doing that for the club also. Dave is skilled in kayaking (you can see him performing a snappy “roll” on our website in Skills), and has experienced some interesting paddles back east. Come paddle with him and others each Wednesday at 5:30pm (launch at 6pm). Boat rentals are available through Aqua Adventures at a special rate of $15 for these paddles.

You can check out Debbie’s and Dave’s “Bio” on our website:


Starting December 14th our cool club hats (in Kaki, Chrome, and Black) will be on sale again at Aqua Adventures (AA) for $20. The hat sales proceeds will be used to pay for lessons and activities to foster club growth and events, so help us in this effort by purchasing a few. They make great gifts and will help the club in many ways. We do not have any membership dues, so this is the way we will pay for things. Please help support our club in this promotional effort. It’s a win-win: you get a new hat, the club gets a new member, and someone gets a free introductory lesson.


In order to help the club grow, each hat sale will provide one free lesson to someone wanting to experience an introduction to kayaking. In a joint effort with AA, once we have at least 6 hats sold, and 6 people signed up (and signed up as new club members), we will have a Beginner’s Lesson at AA, lasting for an hour or so. AA will provide the equipment and dock help (that the club pays for), and the club will provide instructors. The lesson will go over just the basics, allowing a person to get in a kayak and learn a few paddle strokes and basic boat handling. More advanced skills lessons will then be available through AA for those who want to pursue this sport. We need club volunteers to help teach the Beginner’s Lessons, so please reply to me if you can assist in this. It would be great to have a ratio of one-on-one. This would also help new people make friends with those already in the club. Mentoring is the way to grow our club.


We need people to help lead paddles, teach the Beginner’s Lessons, and assist with social events. Let Debbie or me know what you can do to help foster our club’s events. If you are a young person, we especially want you to help lead the club’s future with the next generation, passing on this great sport to others. Anyone is welcome to contribute an article on kayaking on our club website. 


Debi Nolan is now preparing the space where the deli was for years, with plans to open sometime in April or May. There will be live entertainment on weekends and others times and will be open during extended hours. I have already discussed with Debi having a club party there, which should be very fun. Having this next to AA should bring more people to paddling, and is exciting news for everyone. She already has a cart out front to sell some food and beverage, so stop by and meet her. I don’t know if she paddles, but we will get her in a boat… J


AA has a good variety of decked and SOT boats to rent. You can find their website by the link on the club’s home web page for their shop info. They are committed to stocking more kayak items, so stop in to give any suggestions you want to see them carry. Congrats and many thanks to Craig and Ashleigh for their beautifully renovated shop, and all the hours they put in to grow the sport of paddling. We value the club’s partnership with them, and are grateful they are doing so much for us, TRR, and other worthy organizations in this area.