Issue:  The Hawaiian Islands are host to a large of number of marine events, specifically paddling races utilizing a variety of watercraft including outrigger canoes, paddleboards, and surf-ski.  Many of these events place replacement paddlers in the water and execute in water change outs to facilitate nonstop racing.  The practice of placing and recovering racing crews from the water is technical and potentially dangerous.  A historical review of past casualties related to this practice has noted that when accidents occurred they were severe and life threatening.  One of many casual factors identified in these accidents was the placing of paddlers in close proximity to the propellers of a moving escort and/or support vessel.  Additional casual factors included loss of situational awareness by the operators, lack of experience by the vessel crews and heavy vessel congestion in the area of an in-water change out.

Discussion:  The success of these events requires the use of escort and/or support vessels to both monitor the safety of the participants and to quickly and effectively change out paddlers as needed.  The dropping and picking up of people in the ocean can be a dangerous evolution and requires the utmost attention and safety precautions to prevent injuries.  These Safe Operating Procedures were developed to promote the safety of these events and reduce and/or eliminate future mishaps.

Recommendations of HOST:  Each racing team should have a compressive plan that addresses in water safety.  The plans should address each escort and support vessel being utilized and should have specific procedures/plans for conducting in water changes specific to their vessel.  Additionally, it is strongly recommended that event organizers mandate safe practices for escort and support vessels to ensure each team has addressed in water safety and specifically has focused on the in water changes.  At minimum, event organizers, racing teams and both escort and support vessels should address the following topics to promote safety.

Advantages of a plan for water safety and guidelines for safe practices for escort and support vessels:  Living guidelines and documents such as a plan for water safety are developed to prepare participants in Marine Events in events of emergencies. The water safety and safe practices for escort and support vessels should be vessel and race specific.  Having a written document will help create an open dialogue between participants, boat operators and coaches in an effort to increase safety and awareness to prevent possible incidents.

Overcoming Variations:

With a wide variety of vessel sizes, capacities, and level of experiences from participants and boat operators, no two scenarios are alike.  Therefore the formatting of attachment 1 and 2 is a recommended outline structure of a plan that provides identification of some critical safety aspects, allowing operators and participants to research and develop key points into vessel or crew specific procedures that best fit their operation. It cannot be overstated that no two vessels, operators and experience level of participants are that same and your plan must be custom fit to your specific vessel and race environment.


Ref; Attachment 1: Plan for Water Safety

Ref; Attachment 2: Safe Practices for Escort and Support Vessels

Ref, Attachment 3: Safe Practices for Event organizers to promote Safety

Attachment 1 is an outline to provide a sample of what should be communicated between race participants, coaches and operators to prevent accidents and/or incidents that may occur. This document is provided to create awareness in race participants and operators to handle emergencies.

Attachment 2 is an outline to prepare escort vessels to handle emergencies that may occur.  The efficiency and response time to emergency situations should increase if vessels maintain proper vessel stability and have recommended emergency and safety equipment.

Attachment 3 Safe Practices for Event organizers to promote Safety- It is recommended that race organizers consider the following topics to promote safety during their Marine Events.

Attachment 1

Safe Practices for Escort and Support Vessels

1.       Certifications & Training for Escort or Support Operators- Due to the high risk nature of operating a vessel in close proximity to people in the water and the potential changing environmental conditions, this Safe Operating Practices strongly recommended that all escort and support vessels whether commercial or recreational be under the control of a Certified and experienced Captain.

a.)    Should have at minimum taken a boating safety course-NASBLA or have a Merchant Mariner Credential from the USCG

b.)    Operators should be knowledgeable of the area, depths and environment.

c.)     It is recommended that boat operators should have at least 1 year experience as a spotter or participant of any channel race or experience operating a vessel.

2.       Required Boat Equipment- All escort and support vessels must comply with State, Federal and USCG requirements.   Escort and support vessels should carry the following equipment:

a.)    Type 1 USCG approved personal floatation devices to accommodate every person including the paddlers they are escorting on the escort and support vessels.

b.)    VHF Marine band radio, capable of two-way communication beyond the line of sight.  (Handheld radio should not be considered adequate due to the restricted range.   Handheld should be carried as a backup.)

c.)     Emergency first aid kit of suitable size to handle possible lacerations cause by contact injuries between humans and vessel propellers.

d.)    Distress signals- 3 current dated hand held approved flares

e.)    Correct number of approved fire extinguishers based on vessel’s size

f.)     A sound making device

g.)    Working Running lights

h.)    Suitable anchor for vessel size.

3.   Suggested Additional Boat Equipment

a.       Prop guard

Additional safety equipment- Escort vessels should carry the following equipment to handle possible incidents:

a.)    A 406/121.5 MHZ Emergency Position Indicating Radio (EPIRB)

b.)    A throw line with floatation device for the recovery of people in the water

c.)     A pre-rigged towing line and bridals of suitable size and length to facilitate towing the racing vessels

d.)    Dedicated spotters whose sole purpose is for in water safety during in water change outs.

e.)    Swim fins & Mask

f.)     Swim ladder

g.)    Unlocked Cell phone

h.)    Extra paddles

i.)      Straps for canoe or ama

3.       Emergency Plan

a.)    Contact USCG

b.)    Attend to injury or incident

c.)     Contact Race officials

-Identify additional threats to racers both in water and onboard via VHF race channel.

d.)    Follow USCG and Race Official instruction

e.)    Escort boats shall keep a record of all injuries and report injuries that require medical attention to the race officials immediately.

4.       Escort Boat carrying capacity:  Each escort and support vessel should have the capacity to carry the total number of paddlers, vessel and support crewmembers, and any additional cargo to support the racing team.  The carrying capacity needs to be in accordance with the manufacturer’s approval for each vessel and that the vessel design allows for the wind, wave, and sea state for the intended route.  Most vessels have a maximum capacity plate, which specifies maximum total weight of person, gear, and outboards engines allowed in pounds.  Care should be taken when assessing weights, recognizing the weight used for calculating persons was previously based on a 160 pound person and that any change in the outboard motor weight and or horse power may have changed the safe loading of the vessel.  Vessels that do not have capacity plate can use a simple formula- vessels length times width divided by 15 to determine the maximum persons.  This formula is intended for only good weather, and is only a general guideline, and should never exceed the vessel carrying capacity recommended by the manufacturer.

Escort and support vessels that are inspected/certified as a passenger vessel by the U.S. Coast Guard shall stay within their established stability parameters.  The stability letter and/or Certificate of Inspection will provide the total number of persons allowed onboard and it also specifies the route (waters) and service they may operate.  It remains imperative that operators ensure the vessel is never overloaded.  A common error is failing to take into account the additional support gear that is required for these events.  Other errors include not accounting for wind, wind waves and sea state.  Many of these events start on shore in the lee of an island and transit to open ocean that significantly changes the exposure to the vessels.  Operators should recognize that how a vessel is loaded may have dire consequences as it relates to stability.  Placing weight high on the vessel may make it prone to capsizing. As too many people (and/or gear) will also cause the boat to become unstable, it is important to always balance the load so that your boat maintains proper trim.  Too much weight to one side or the other will cause the boat to list and increase the chance of taking on water.  Too much weight in the bow causes the boat to plow through the water, and too much weight in the stern will create a large wake.  All of these situations make the boat difficult to handle and susceptible to swamping.  Improperly loaded or overloaded boats will have a negative impact on the vessel stability and could result in accidents that are preventable.

Attachment 2

Plan for Water Safety- This is a comprehensive plan that should be communicated between all race participants (all boat operators, coaches, race participants prior to the start of the race and discuss the following:

1.       Specific points on the vessel that participants will utilize during the departure and recovery operations.

a.       Entry

b.      Exit

2.       A communication plan- Should be defined and acknowledged by all participants  in Marine Event

a.       Specific commands the person in charge of the escort and or support vessel may give

                                                              i.      Leaving the vessel

                                                            ii.      Recovering in water crew

                                                          iii.      Emergency situation

                                                           iv.      Aborting operations

                                                             v.      Event Cancellation

3.       Procedures for departing and recovery operations of the participant(s) on escort vessel into the ocean

a.       Roles and responsibilities of Participants on escort vessel

                                                              i.      Coach will assign participants their seating arrangements (if any). 

                                                            ii.      Captain will designate the side of the boat that the participant(s) will exit the vessel.

                                                          iii.      Upon approach to designated location of the “drop”, all persons onboard should keep in mind the stability of the boat by not crowding to one side of the boat.

                                                           iv.      Once the escort is ready to drop the participant(s) in the water, the captain should verbally call out; “neutral” confirming the vessel is in neutral. The participant(s) should then jump into the ocean away from the escort, clearing the vessel and propellers. Never jump outside of a vessel on a turn.

                                                             v.      Once in the water, participant(s) should look at escort boat to be sure they are clear and away from the vessel.

                                                           vi.      Once clear of the vessel, participant(s) should form a line in the ocean to allow for an easy pickup for their steersman.  They should be in numerical order with the highest number seat closest to the approaching canoe. Splash water to ensure their position is known by other vessels after being dropped and awaiting pick up.

                                                         vii.      Once canoe approaches, participant(s) should put one hand out guiding the canoe until they get to their seat.  This helps block any sudden movement of the craft towards the participants head.

                                                       viii.      Once in the canoe, participant(s) should make sure they are clear of the departed participant(s)

1.       If applicable, zip up their canvas & bail out water if needed.

b.      Roles and responsibilities of the support personnel

                                                              i.      Ladder

                                                            ii.      Throwing the throw line

                                                          iii.      Relay commands and confirmations relayed by Captain or coach.

                                                           iv.      Keep watch of all persons in water

                                                             v.      V. Relay Emergency commands and hand signals to captain and participants.

4.       Procedures for departing and recovery operations of the participants on craft

                                                              i.      Paddlers in the canoe prepare to depart the canoe. This is expressed called out by the coach in the escort boat.  The seat numbers will be announced who will be getting out of the canoe.

                                                            ii.      Those departing the canoe should ready themselves for departure.

1.        If in an OC-6- open their canvas by unzipping. This should be done one at a time. Confirm the unzipping by calling out seat number and down or unzip, Etc. Ex“1 down”, “2 down”.

                                                          iii.      As the craft approaches the persons in water for a change out, once the front of the canoe has reached the first person in line, a designated person in the canoe will call the “out.” This is when the departing participant will depart the craft.  

1.       Paddlers place their paddles in the paddle holder in the hoop, and then they will “roll” out of the right side of the canoe.  For example “ready (get ready!), paddles set (put your paddles in the holder), out (get out!)”. (The verbiage changes upon coach and/or canoe club preference.)

                                                           iv.      Once in the water, the paddler should come up with their hand coming out of the water above their head, to block their head from hitting the canoe or other paddles.

                                                             v.      When the craft has cleared the participants(s), they should group together closely and watch for the approaching escort vessel.

                                                           vi.      Escort boat may throw a line with a buoy on it.  If so, participant(s) should grab their line and pull themselves toward the boat.  This is used to keep from drifting away from the boat, while waiting to get onboard. 

                                                         vii.      Participant(s) must get on the boat quickly and as safe as possible using a ladder or as the captain of the boat has directed.

5.       Specific Hazards associated with the escort and support vessels

a.       Propeller safety

                                                              i.      Escort and support vessel operators shall place engines in neutral and verify the propellers are not engaged when the vessels are within 10 yards of in-water paddlers, signal or communicate the same and receive acknowledgement from the persons in the water before commencing recovery;

                                                            ii.      Escort and support vessel operators shall NOT, under any circumstances, place the in-water paddlers to the stern of the vessel. Backing down to recover racers is strictly prohibited.  If the escort and/or support vessels fail to make the recovery the paddlers will, either swim to the vessel while in neutral or the vessel will make a second forward attempt;

                                                          iii.      Escort and support vessel shall afford recovery devises such as ladders, swim steps to aid in recovery.  These devised should be placed in area away from known hazards

b.      Onboard hazards

                                                              i.      Any onboard hazards specific to vessel should be communicated.

1.       Examples: Low overhead, tripping hazards, slippery surfaces etc.

6.       Location of Emergency equipment

a.       PFDs:_________ 

b.      First Aid Kit: ____________

c.       Distress Signals: _______________

d.      VHF Radio: _______________ 

e.      Anchor: _____________

f.        Additional Handheld Radio:____________

g.       Cell Phone: _______________

h.      GPS: _____________________

i.        Fire Extinguisher: __________________

j.        Sound Producing Devices: ______________________

k.       Fins: ______________

l.        Bridles: ___________________

m.    Extra Paddles: ______________________

7.       Knowledge of Participants-

a.       List of all coaches, spotters, participants and contact info

b.      List of emergency contacts onboard for ALL those onboard

c.       Any previous medical conditions

d.      Any Medications & locations such as an Epi pen, inhalers

Attachment 3

Safe Practices for Event organizers to promote Safety- It is recommended that race organizers consider the following topics to promote safety during their Marine Events.

1.       Should have defined course- no USCG, State or Federal navigational aids to be used as turning markers

2.       Should have Defined Rules & Guideline packet for all race participants

3.       Must hold a pre-race meeting

4.       Should have Insurance requirements

5.       Should have participant eligibility requirement

6.       Should have Escort vessel requirements.

a.       Length

b.      Required equipment

7.       Should have specific rules for escorts and support vessel conduct during race

8.       Official vessels must follow USCG & state requirements.

9.       Official vessels should have additional emergency equipment onboard to handle race appropriate worst case emergencies. For ex:

a.       Towing bridles

b.      EPIRB

c.       Throw lines

d.      Handheld VHF

10.   Should have adequate amount of certified medical professionals onboard a support vessel.

11.   Should use a common VHF Radio Channel

12.   Follow Common Safety Protocols set forth by race officials

13.   Ensure Boat operators have Insurance and hold at minimum a NASBLA Certificate of Completion

14.   Have an adequate number of Patrol Vessels for Safety Purposes

15.   Have a list of all registered participants with Emergency contact information. Registered participants should be identified by a race number.

16.   Rules and Guidelines for Escort and Support vessels to respect race environment and community.

17.   Should have defined Rules for Canoe Hull, Rigging & Equipment

18.   Should have defined Course Rules

19.   Should include a clause to follow City and County, State of Hawaii & Federal Government Rules at all times.

a.       Alcohol

b.      Property

c.       Facilities

20.   Should have a check-in and check-out procedure to account for all participants.