Report of a kayak rescue in the vicinity of the Summer Isles - March 2005

Over the Easter weekend of 2005 news filtered through of a rescue involving a sea-kayaker in the vicinity of the Summer Isles. This is a compilation of various posts on the Community Forum outlining events.

The posts have been edited to remove content not relevant to the events but are otherwise a straight copy of what was posted. It looks like the rescue went very well and this article is posted here as an example of how good practice and the proper use of flares and VHF can help save lives.

Most importantly, the casualty is reported to be fine.

The original threads are here and here.

Mike Buckley - April 2005




Douglas Wilcox
Posted: 29 Mar 2005 11:47 Post subject: Conditions were quite lively!

Conditions were quite lively over the Easter weekend. There was a heavy swell coming in from the SW and the F4 to F5 NE winds were holding up the faces and blowing the spray back off the lips.

On the VHF I picked up one-sided (Stornoway Coastguard side) bits of a rescue involving sea kayakers off the Summer Isles. They were talking to the RNLI, Calmac, Coastgard Helicopter and local fishing boats. I know Jim's party and a NESKY party were going there this weekend, anyone got any news?

Douglas Wilcox
Posted: 29 Mar 2005 15:20 Post subject: Alls well that ends well

This is from The Glasgow Herald

I have no idea of the detailed circumstances of this rescue but in general the water at this time of year is 8 degrees centigrade. At that temerature you are unlikely to be able to do anything to help yourself after about 5 minutes, unless you have thermal protection. cCgs and trosers without seals will let the cold water straight in and, once, wet your fleece or whatever will conduct body heat sraight away.

I use a dry suit with buffalo pile/pertex underneath in winter and this weekend I had dry trousers (latex boots) dry cag and underneath I was wearing polartec aquashell which is fleece with a waterproof breathable membrane which on its own is like a 3mm wetsuit.

I am amazed that a large proportion of kayakers do not take thermal protection very seriously. There seems to be a macho, "I'm too good to ever fall in" attitude.

Coming from a windsurfing background I am used to spending time in cold water (I have surfer's nodules in my ears to prove it!). Having seriously chilled myself until I started to use the right gear, I now do not have to think twice about dressing for the water temperature.


El Pres

Posted: 29 Mar 2005 16:45 Post subject: Summer Isles

Yes Bolton Canoe Club are around the Summer Isles and were camping on Taneara Beg at the weekend. Acording to Merlot on our forum Geoff and Alex ( aka Ted ) Seddon were involved in a rescue of a swimmer ? ( not a kayaker) then taken by helicopter to Stornoway. They heard about it on the VHF. I dont know anymore details, may give them a ring to find out.

Jim Wallis is on the club trip so expect a full report on his return ;-)

Chris Foster

Douglas Wilcox
Posted: 30 Mar 2005 22:42 Post subject: Summer Isles rescue

Ruari Campbell has posted this on the private North East Sea Kayakers discussion board:

Just a quick re-assurance email, some of you may have seen on the news that a sea kayaker was picked up out of the water by the coastguard in the summer isles at the weekend, just to let you know that it was NOT one of our party.

We were however involved in the coastguard shout, and picked up the other two members of the rescued mans group. The Nesky VHF has now been used in anger and i can only say it was very exciting to be involved in a real live rescue operation involving the Calmac ferry, lochinver lifeboat, the coastguard helicopter, a couple of other paddlers who were camping on the same island, me and two others from our group.

Last heard was that the man pulled from the water was suffering from hypothermia and in the Western Isles Hospital. A more detailed story will follow on the website.

See you on the water soon,


Quote ends.


Posted: 01 Apr 2005 22:35 Post subject: Rescue

In order to end further speculation Rauri and 2 others from NESKY joined the search from the east side of Tanera Beg having first legged it over the hill to let us know what was going on. We were mostly half unloaded and the only 2 able to respond in anything like a suitable time frame were Geoff and Ted so they went off. I could have abandoned what I was doing and put the hatch covers on but I was still wearing my shorty cag and was starting to feel cold and decided that by the time I had changed into my drysuit and fleece suit the 2 of them would have been well away. I think all the other stronger paddlers in our group were already in their dry kit. Going back out as I was would have been inviting trouble.

Luckily we had 4 VHFs in the group so were able to listen to events from the campsite, as Douglas points out the handheld units on low power are not easy to hear over any terrain, in fact we only heard Rauri once or twice and never heard Geoff but could tell from the responses from the coastguard, chopper and ferry that they were all in touch. We were only 2km from the action and had an 83m hill in the way, mind you the Isle of Lewis (the ferry) must have a pretty powerful transmitter as he came over louder than he would have done if you'd been on the bridge next to him!

I can't make any comment about the group of 3 that got into trouble because I never saw them. The swimmer was in the water for a considerable time and was still conscious although not making much sense when the rescue boat picked him up, so I think we can assume he had suitable clothing on or he would not have lasted as long as he did.

The conditions had started out warm, sunny and flat but after lunch it picked up to about force 4 from the east so there was little fetch but a bit of chop and quartering conditions for us. I have no idea which direction the casualty's group was travelling but from some directions the conditions would have been a bit tricky although not outrageous.

All the kayakers that took part did so in a very professional manner and seemed to have won the respect of Stornaway coastguard by the end of the evening.

As for the mayday call, we gathered at one stage that initial call out had been made by mobile phone by the swimmer, although it seems more likely that his friends did that after losing contact with him? I'm not sure if the Herald story is entirely accurate, but we did hear over the VHF that passengers had reported seeing a flare, whether this was before or after the ferry had joined the search I don't know because the search had already been on for around 30 minutes before the ferry got involved and I think it is likely that they picked the shout up on VHF the same as Rauri. The casualty obviously considered the timing of his flare right though.

The best part, well have you ever seen a large ferry execute a handbrake turn? That was worth seeing!

And of course NESKY were invited over to our large display of pyromania that evening, which was nice.


Posted: 01 Apr 2005 21:57 Post subject:

Sounds grand. Very pleased to hear the rescue was successful - a tribute indeed to the professionalism of the kayaking brigade and it's good to hear that everyone is ok.

We were thinking of you, knowing you were in the vicinty - and hoping everyone was ok!! Are there any lessons to be learned for us all from the incident?


Posted: 01 Apr 2005 22:58 Post subject:

Lessons to be learned? Probably best in the other thread but mainly that VHF is a very useful piece of kit to be able to use.

The initial shout was over the VHF, Rauri from NESKY just happened to still have his turned on when it went out. Without handheld VHF the SAR kayaks would have been useless, only adding to the number of watercraft in the picture and confusing things. After the swimmer was recovered it was stated that there were 2 other 'canoes' missing, and it appeared for some time that they may have been looking at our 2 rescuers as the other 2 because we couldn't hear the other hand helds (poor line of sight, well, no line of sight) but in fact the lifeboat were aware which group was which, they only got confused after NESKY had found the other 2 kayaks.

Also, how do you search? Our 2 apparantly do a lot of searching and can start paddling a grid on demand - maybe the rest of us should consider that for the future? Just think, what if it was one of your own group missing assumed capsized? You last did the head count only 5 minutes ago so he/she can only be 5 minutes away plus some drift, but where do you actually start looking and how do you go about it?


(From a post by Simon Willis, specific to EPIRB's, but relevant to the incident. The original is here)

Posted: 01 Jun 2005 14:44 Post subject: EPIRB's

At the Skye symposium there was some discussion in one session about the use of EPIRB's (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon).

A highly experienced kayaker from Northern Ireland told me he now didn't carry flares, just one of these gadgets. Principally, this was because you need something like a firearms license to buy flares in N.I. and it's a lot of hassle.

I asked a coastguard and a helicopter pilot whether there's any need for flares. They clearly thought they are still very useful, especially when pinpointing a casualty. They were also keen on mini-flares, which slightly surprised me. But they were BIG fans of EPIRBs.

VHF (or cell phone) is obviously the first shout, because you get an instant reply. But unlike a flare, you know someone will respond to an EPIRB signal as if it were a 'mayday', although it'll take 15 minutes for the information to reach the local coastguard and a further fifteen to get a precise fit, due to satelite tracking time.

They prefer EPIRB's which broadcast on 406 MHz, but can manage with those on 121.5 MHz (I'm not sure why). Most 406 EPIRB's apparently have a 121.5 transmitter as well and the helicopter can home in on this signal.

I was told "you can get an EPIRB for about £100" which, it was pointed out to me, is around the price of a couple of parachute flares, but lasts longer. They're difficult to trigger accidentally and, if you do, you can switch it off and ring the coastguard without penalty.



Posted: 01 Jun 2005 15:23 Post subject:

Further to this, and in the context of "lessons to be learned etc", at the Skye symposium, I spoke to the helicopter pilot who had done the rescue - he commented that the only background that he was aware of was that the casualities companions had not been aware of his capsize / not being with them - perhaps due to the group getting split? (My surmise, not his).

He also mentioned that it was a red decked boat - very difficult to spot. He suggests presenting the hull skywards, assuming it's white of course, as its easier to spot.

With respect to VHF, he confirmed they were able to talk directly to "us" and liked to do so. First contact on 16 and then might ask to move to another channel were 16 to be "busy" with other CG / rescue traffic at the time.