Safety aspects of changes races

Firstly, get well soon Luke. No doubt you'll be back on the water ASAP & bigger & better than ever!
Secondly, as a far away observer (Australia) I find it amazing that propeller injuries are occurring in paddling's most famous race. Here, it is the number 1 rule in changes racing - the motor must be in neutral (propeller stationary) before paddlers can approach a support boat from the water. Just curious but is this not the case in Hawaii or were the injuries caused by impact with the stationary prop? Do the safety aspects of the race need to be reviewed?

Submitted by hasto on Mon, 10/11/2010 - 12:54pm

Very good question. Open water changes are dangerous especially from motor boats. The first change in Molokai is nuts. As Luke said it can happen so fast. I keep asking the question, "do we really need to make changes from motor boats"? Iron races are much safer. Around the island relay races. Multi stage races. Was Molokai originally an iron race?

#1 Mon, 10/11/2010 - 1:13pm

Most of the time, escort boats put their props in neutral while picking up paddlers. Dropping off might be a different story. Not saying this is the case because I wasn't there at the time and don't want to make accusations because I'm sure this was an honest mistake that won't happen again involving the captain. Per Luke, they were making their first change and exited the vessel, don't know if starboard or port side. Luke mentioned he didn't jump that far away from the vessel and the captain made a decision to drive out of the way to avoid collision with a canoe. The result ended in Luke being runned over and severely propped. Luke mentioned by no means was this an erratic and/or careless decision made by the captain and was an unfortunate but honest mistake.

And with anyone that has ever been on an escort, either coaching or spectator, observe the first change, it can be really really hairy and dangerous for paddlers and boat captains. Congestion can be really bad and changes are made in a highly congested area involving paddlers in the water, avoiding escort boats, avoiding canoes, and avoiding other crews paddlers. And unlike cars, vessels don't have brakes.

Carlton Helm

#2 Mon, 10/11/2010 - 1:21pm

Carlton got it pretty well I'd say.

Hasto-Just a heads up, just because the boat is in neutral does not mean the prop is stationary. Any current or motion carried forward will continue to spin the prop and can still cut someone up pretty badly.

Luke you're one tough guy. Prayin for a quick and full recovery for ya.

#3 Mon, 10/11/2010 - 2:19pm

No need to make all races iron. 9 man molokai is a great event.

Start the race later, say 9 am. This will eliminate the glare on the water and make visibility better for all.

Start the race in 2 heats. This will eliminate the congestion at the start, as well as the first change. A club's 3rd, 4th, 5th, or even 50's and 60's crews don't need to start with the top 40 competitors.

Unfortunately, there will always be accidents, but race officials should do their best to correct errors and make improvements to minimize risks whenever and wherever possible.

Race officials, Paddlers, Coaches, and Escort Boat Drivers should always be looking on how to improve all aspects of the event.

Paddlers, Escort Boat Drivers, and Coaches should provide meaningful and constructive feedback to race officials. No whining, no complaining, just good honest thoughts on how to improve things.

#4 Mon, 10/11/2010 - 2:35pm

i can't really comment as to how the accident happened cause i wasn't there. feel really bad for luke and really glad that he's alive! i've escorted many races over the years, both 6man and oc-2/oc-2. the first change off laau is nuts, even in flat water. i've escorted when it was cranking 30knt winds and big seas, when conditions are like that, laau pt. can be VERY NASTY!! add over a hundred canoes, well over a hundred escort boats and paddlers in the water and it is very scary! you can't just turn at any time, other boats are on the side of you, behind you and all going pretty fast looking for their crew. add the big swells and the washing-machine effect of the currents colliding off the point and the wakes caused by over a hundred vessels and it is pretty hairy! also, while props still spin while in neutral, they do so only slowly. you can still get cut, but highly doubtful to be life-threatening. for myself, when dropping off paddlers, make sure everyone is CLEAR from boat before shifting back into gear and that boat/steering is straight so that the ass of the boat does not swing around when in gear and if/when accelerating away from approaching canoe. when picking up paddlers in the water, put boat in neutral a safe distance from paddlers and let the swell/momentum bring the boat to the paddlers in the water. never reverse toward the paddler if they can't get to the transom, come back around, it doesn't take that long. not worth somebody's life, they can tread water a few seconds more. officials seriously need to consider a staggered start, it may look good for tv/media to see all the canoes/escort vessels starting at once but at what price? a human life? while i pray for luke and his speedy recovery, i also pray for the captain of the vessel as he must feel terrible for what happened. as a captain you feel and bear the full responsibilty of those on your vessel and your crew and i know he must be distraught over what happened. god-bless everyone, aloha.

#5 Mon, 10/11/2010 - 7:26pm

That first change especially at Molo is very dangerous. All of the above mentioned problems combined with a novice paddler (me) and an escort captain our coach hadn't worked with before, led to a propping accident for myself years ago. Accidents are almost always a series of small mistakes that line up to cause a bad outcome, like shooting an arrow through swiss cheese, one in a hundred times its gonna find it's way through. In my job, (medication administration) we recognized that as humans we will all make mistakes, but we can put checks in the process to reduce the possibility the errors will result in bad outcomes, be it giving wrong patient wrong medicine or one of us having to go through the props again. We used a system called root cause analysis, to break down the error step by step and find all the small things that could have been changed to make it harder for it to happen again. Basically, that's what you've started here with this thread. I think it is time, though, for the race directors to sit down with this and really look at it. I've always felt part to blame for my propping, never did speak much of it, it weighs heavy in my heart. I wish all of us involved hadn't been put through that experience. I am so relieved Luke will be okay. I do hope this leads to some long looks at procedure.
Jennifer McDaniel

#6 Mon, 10/11/2010 - 10:27pm

If props are so much of a concern, how about using jetskis ?
Don't know if it's relevant in moloka'i hoe conditions, just tossing my 2 cts.

#7 Mon, 10/11/2010 - 11:07pm

@ fabrice : Ironicaly, in Tahiti, the FTV won't allow jetskis to be used for "security" concerns...

#8 Mon, 10/11/2010 - 11:34pm

i don't think jetskis would be practical because of size limitations and range of travel, comfort,etc. on one crossing a camera-man who was on his jetski asked if he could follow us across the channel as we were leaving hi-kai to go to lono. i informed him that we were gonna fish our way across but that he was more than welcome to follow us and be within sight and we would keep an eye on him. the channel was not too bad but it was by no means flat, 20knts or so, 8ft. needless to say, he ran out of gas and informed us that he was NEVER gonna go across that channel on a jetski again. imagine a paddler/paddlers on a ski getting cracks all day. i hardly think they'd be thrilled to do a change and paddle. the props aren't really the problem, they don't mysteriously go out in search of paddlers to maim. common sense on the part of the paddler and boat captain is of utmost importance. paddlers should also try and never be too close to the bow of the boat. the ocean is constantly moving thus causing your boat to go up and down. if that bow comes down on your head it's gonna do some damage esp. since rules dictate that escort vessels be 22ft. minimum.= at least several thousands pounds of fiberglass! while most escort boat captains are conscientious, experienced and capable, there are some who are the exact opposite. they think that all they have to do carry some paddlers on their boat, follow the canoe and drop-off/pick-up paddlers during changes. some have been drinking heavily all-night and are hung-over and some even drink during the race. to me, both the paddlers and captains gotta be on top of their game and be aware of whats going on at all times. throw MotherNature into this mix and it can have disastrous consequences. they don't call it The Channel for nothing! i remember one year it was gnarly and a few escort boats refused to make the crossing from hi-kai. on molokai, more than a few participan;ts were wary of making the crossing on race day and asked walter guild if the race might get cancelled. his response; " this is THE MOLOKAI,THE CHANNEL! it ain't getting cancelled! thought that was kinda funny, course i didn't have to paddle but escorting in those conditions can be scary also. esp. the first change and a few after that until there's some separation amongst the pack. be safe on the water. MotherNature gives us so much, but when she takes, she rarely gives back. aloha.

#9 Tue, 10/12/2010 - 6:44pm

So glad to hear that Luke is progressing well in his healing. That said, I'm an advocate of abolishing 9-man races and making them all-iron. There seems to be an emerging trend in this direction (Kona, Havaiki Nui and the Pa'a Molokai race earlier this year). A few years ago, we did not have hydration systems but now there are several options available to support extended paddling. Ironically, Kamanu Composites and other manufacturers are making a case for all-iron races with the new lightweight craft and the resulting diminished physical exertion required to paddle them. Logistical, financial and ecological factors come into play here as well and each of these areas would be significantly improved by all-iron races.

Marathon canoe paddlers race distances MUCH greater than Moloka'i - O'ahu, and their races are all-iron. The "trick" is to prepare properly and train for the long distances.

However, the single biggest reason to adopt all-iron races is obviously safety. Anyone who has participated in the big 9-man races has experienced firsthand the chaotic insanity that occurs during the first change. It's a wonder to me that more situations like Luke's, or worse, have not transpired with greater frequency. No matter how many precautionary measures are implemented with escort boats, there will always be unpredictable factors that can't be accounted for. The unpredictability of the ocean is certainly one of the great challenges of outrigger racing, however, with powered escort boats there is an unforgiveness factor that can be catastrophic.

Apologies for my longwinded discourse, but this is a serious matter that I've been thinking about for some time and I want to stimulate discussion and change BEFORE someone gets killed.

Aloha nui loa to all.

#10 Tue, 10/12/2010 - 8:33pm


#11 Mon, 10/18/2010 - 8:35pm

my thought and prayers go out to luke and his family for a speedy and complete recovery. carlton brought up whether escort boats are in gear during drop offs. i can only speak for myself and give reasons hoping it may help a captain not get into a bad situation. first off a boat has no steering and therefore no control when not in gear. first and foremost you must have a clear exit after paddlers come off the boat. for all my drops i will have my boat in gear and turning toward the side that the paddlers are jumping off the boat. this pushes the props away from anyone who has come out of the boat, even if they slip and end up right beside the boat. this also keeps the boat under power so it is not effected by the swells as much. if there is a choice all drops will be done going downswell. the swell will help push the boat away from paddlers if the boat is turning toward the paddlers.remember boats steer from the back therefore the turning point is in the middle of the boat and if you turn away from an object the tail of the boat will hit the object. all pickups should be done in neutral and as added safety with the engine off.
the first change should be extended 10-15 minutes to spread out the field a bit more.

#12 Wed, 10/13/2010 - 5:09pm

good post sean

#13 Wed, 10/13/2010 - 8:57pm

The most important part of safety management for water changes is a clear understanding between the boat driver, the paddlers, and the coach about how to exit and enter the escort boat during changes. There are many types of boats being used as escorts and they all have different features that must be considered when making changes. The safest boats are those with a swim platform at the rear transom which allows paddlers to jump clear of the boat and away from the props. Outboard boats, especially those with twin engines, might require that the paddlers jump off the side which would put them closer to danger especially if they are on the side opposite the driver and he cannot see them. Either way, their must be a clear procedure that everyone understands and does not deviate from. I prefer to have the engines in neutral during drops and pickups in case I have to leave the helm for any reason.
The first drop at Laau point is especially difficult because the driver is looking back into a rising sun and all of the canoes look alike. Also the canoe steersman are making last second course changes to try and pickup their relief paddlers who may not have been dropped off directly in front of them. In some cases the canoe may miss the pickup and the escort boat has to circle around, pickup the paddlers, and try to make a repeat attempt as quickly as possible. This is a recipe for disaster and requires clear thinking on the part of drivers and paddlers. I agree with Sean that this could be improved by holding off on the first change until the field spreads out a little more. Others have suggested having two starts, but, because the field is so large, 120 canoes, it would seem that this would just cause the problem to happen twice instead of once.
I don't think there is any rule change that can make this completely safe and it really comes back to all of the participants, paddlers, coaches, and drivers being on the same page and understanding what can go wrong and how to avoid an accident. An accident can happen to any of us. I have nearly run over people in the water when I was looking the wrong way. I have nearly had my boat capsized at Diamond Head and Barbers Point when I was looking at the canoe and not at the waves about to break on me. Safety is everybodys responsibility and no one is immune from an accident. It can happen at Waikiki or it can happen at Laau.

#14 Wed, 10/13/2010 - 10:09pm

Mai'kai maryguava, your comments are right on. Safety HAS to be paramount if world class paddling events in Hawaii are to continue and grow. Its long overdue that a sound risk management assessment and plan is put into place for the Molokai-Oahu races. The race organizers should be at the forefront of this effort. Every paddler, coach and escort boat driver should have the opportunity to review this plan before hand. I last steered this race back in the mid 90's and I had no idea who, what or where the safety and or emergency services were or even if they existed. This race has grown to over 150 canoes, each requiring an escort boat. Add the official boats and do the math. Thats a lot of sharp props and hard hulls operating in a relatively small area with paddlers entering the water. Believe it or not, Not EVERYONE in the race is a GREAT athlete and or waterman/waterwoman. There are always a lot of new paddlers in this event and many dont know or admit to their own limitations. Ive even seen a youngster piloting an escort boat during the race. Thank God Luke was not killed but this is a wake up call to all paddlers. This incident was too close to a tragedy to ignore. Luke IS an acomplished paddler showing that it can happen to anyone. Ive been paddling off and on for the past 34 years and I've spent the past 26 years in the marine rescue profession as an ocean lifeguard, USCG boatswainmate and marine police officer. I've seen my fair share of marine accidents and fatalities. This is our state sport and heritage at stake. I sincerely hope the paddling community comes together and DEMANDS greater safety nets are put in place for future races.

#15 Fri, 10/15/2010 - 12:02am

Please register or login to post a comment.

Page loaded in 0.233 seconds.