“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

Kayak Cleanup

Once a year, the San Diego River Park Foundation gets special permission to enter the San Diego River Estuary on kayaks and pull trash out of the water in this sensitive habitat. Join us on Saturday, January 11th for this unique opportunity to see the San Diego River from a new angle while helping out! 

The San Diego River Estuary is a critically important 330-acre wildlife area with habitat for many sensitive species, including endangered birds that nest in the estuary, like the Ridgway’s Rail and the California Least Tern. Over 100 different species of birds use this area as a rest area along the Pacific Flyway during their yearly migrations between Alaska and Mexico.  

We will have kayaks available for volunteers to borrow, but you are welcome to bring your own. 

While boats are in the water, shore volunteers will remove trash along the banks of the estuary and the adjacent San Diego River Trail. 

Kayaks will be sent out in two shifts: 7:00 am-8:45 am and 9:00 am-10:45 am. 

Please indicate which shift you would prefer when you RSVP.


  • This event is open to volunteers ages 13+, but volunteers under the age of 16 must come with an adult.
  • No experience necessary.
  • Closed-toed shoes are required.
  • Sun protection, water, and a snack are highly recommended.
  • Community service hours can be verified.

RSVP REQUIRED.  Limited volunteer spots are available. To sign-up for the interest list and receive full details, please email volunteer@sandiegoriver.org or call (619) 297-7380.

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.


We are going to paddle the south bay and check out the giant Green Turtles and many birds there. We will meet at the small park at the east end of Grand Caribe, in the Coronado Cays.  If you have a bird identification chart, bring it. Please note the disclaimer below.

This paddle is ideal for bringing kids. They must wear life jackets, and paddle/stay close to a parent or other designated adult at all times. 

DATE: March 30

LOCATION:Coronado Cays (see map below)

LAUNCH TIME:  Be there by 8:30 to get your boat to the beach. We will launch at 9 am. The sandy beach has a gentle slope for easy launching.


This is a calm water, easy paddle for beginners on those, or any boat type, so come join in the fun. We will be moving at a slow 2 to 2.5 knots.


Reserve your boat and pick it up the day before the paddle: (619) 523-9577  


Bring your own food and drink. This is not a potluck.


A life jacket (required, and must be worn), hat, boat and paddle, map and compass, GPS if you have one, sunscreen, sunglasses, camera, water and towel to clean your boat, drinking water, snack, VHF radio if you have one, sack lunch and chair for the picnic after the paddle.


Turn in to the Cays off of Silver Strand Blvd. Look for the sign, and then the guard house, but you do not need to stop for the guard. Turn right just past that guardhouse, and go until you see Grand Caribe Causeway. There is a public restroom at the Coronado Cays Park to the west of the Causeway.

This is not a sanctioned San Diego Kayak Club or Aqua Adventures event. The announcer of this event is not the leader of such, merely a “coordinator”.  

Disclaimer: We will have experienced paddlers on this trip, but they will not be responsible for telling you what is or is not safe for you to do. We watch out for one another and assist one another, but all individuals are responsible for, and manage their own safety. This responsibility includes assessing your gear, skill level, and physical conditioning relative to conditions and location, as well as making decisions about what you will or will not do. Participants acknowledge that kayaking on the open sea or bay is inherently dangerous and can lead to physical injury including death as well as property damage. Participants, on their behalf and on behalf of their heirs and assignees, agree to hold the announcers and other participants blameless in the event of such injury, damage or death. Please join us if you want to mildly stretch your capabilities, but please stay home if you would be wildly stretching them. Participants should have bracing skills, be able to self-