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Mastering the art of "the send" means having a written Emergency Action Plan...

For most of us, foiling has dramatically increased our water time. From prone to winging and tow, I am on the water almost as much as my body can physically handle.  With this I am also foiling into new areas right here in my own backyard of Amelia Island. Specifically with winging and towing, we are riding unbroken swell and doing downwinders 2 to 3 miles offshore. Downwinders are not new as we have been kiting downwind for over a decade here. The difference is how much further offshore we are going with the wing and foil. We have always had a number of safety protocols in place anytime we are on the water. That said, while most of these protocols are well understood by our local crew most are informal and, in some cases, assumed. For example, we use the buddy system (i.e., we are looking out for each other) but haven’t really discussed it in any detail!

Last winter I had my first wingmare which I wrote about in my blog – here.  Prior to this I was pretty confident I could physically get myself out of most anything on the water, but this incident left an impression on me in many ways…one of which was safety. Specifically, I felt like we needed more from a safety standpoint. Initially, we talked about getting Apple watches (which most of us did) so we could communicate with each other and call for help when offshore. Then I came across the Big Wave Risk Assessment Group (BWRAG) and took the Surf Responder online course. While BWRAG is focused on big waves and towing, there were a number of things applicable to other disciplines such as downwind winging runs.

One of the key takeaways from the course was to create an emergency action plan (EAP) and, most importantly, to actually write it down (as opposed to the informal approach I have been using). I thought I’d share the EAP (below) I developed (most of it anyway) for anyone who wants to use it as a starting or reference point. Overall, I found the process of developing a plan well worth the time and effort.

Emergency Action Plan - Wing and Tow Foiling
Download • 438KB

Using the BWRAG structure I began developing an EAP specific to my activities and location here. I did this over several days while sitting on the sofa in my living room. I mention this because the benefit of doing this in a stress-free environment means your plan is going to be far more comprehensive and detailed than it would trying to figure it out in the midst of an emergency situation. Moreover, you will be more prepared for any emergency by implementing the preventative measures and controls you identified in your planning process. For example, a simple control measure is the use of an Apple watch for communication. Wishing you had one (with sufficient battery life) sitting 2 miles offshore with a shredded wing in 25 knot wind blowing cross-off is a real bummer (I’ve been there). Having already thought through what can go wrong, how you’re going to respond, and what resources are available to help search and/or rescue you means all you have to do in the heat of the moment, when time is of the essence, is recall it and execute.

In the end, a lot of the content in the EAP consisted of things I already had thought through in my mind, so it was just a matter of writing them down. I found the exercise of identifying the preventive measures and controls for each risk scenario very valuable. See the Emergency Planning Tool below I used for tow foiling as an example. This is where I found the most gaps in our current informal plan. A few of them are worth highlighting for your consideration.

Emergency Planning Tool - Tow Foiling
Download • 247KB

First, I identified some additional emergency resources in the area and obtained local contact information for each of them such as the cell phone number for the beach security booth at one of our common launch spots. The Florida Wildlife Commission (FWC) was another resource I found as they regularly patrol the same zones we tow and wing. I even included the names and numbers of friends and acquaintances who I know live on the beach. In my mind, the more the merrier when it comes to resources capable rendering aid in an emergency even if it is just another set of eyeballs. Check out the Emergency Response Resources section of the plan for a full list. For quick and easy access, I put the contact information for all the emergency resources in my contacts under the heading EAP in my phone/watch. I want to be able to quickly search/scroll to the resource I need. I also shared them with my spouse.

Second, I upgraded some of the safety equipment. I added a bleed pack for first aid to control bleeding along with a proper sized tourniquet (i.e., appropriate for a foil wound). I also found a hook knife (strap cutter) sized to cut wing leashes. For towing, I added some basic tools to be able to repair simple things like tightening battery terminals which can prevent a ski from starting if loose. I also added seat straps to prevent the seats from coming off in a rollover and swim goggles to help do inspections/repairs of the intake in the event it gets clogged by the rope or debris. All together, most of the preventive measures and controls I added were low cost and easy to implement… so no brainers in my mind. See the Preventative Measures and Controls section and the SOP section for more details.

Lastly, I suggest sharing your EAP with the spouses/significant others among your crew along with phone numbers. For me, I am not sure my wife could describe what my wings or boards look like, not even their color. I don’t think she could have provided a description of the general area or location of where I might be for search and rescue purposes if asked. Now, if prompted (e.g., SOS from my Apple watch), with her access to the EAP (saved in the cloud) she can provide detailed maps of the areas where we downwind and tow, pictures of my equipment (I want the USCG helicopter pilot to know what my wing looks like) and contact numbers for all the emergency response resources in the area. Bottom line, with access to the EAP she can now play a key role in the prompt initiation of a response along with the efficient and effective search and rescue effort.

The art of “sending it” is being able to “send it” again. To me, having an EAP is one of the keys to mastering “the send.” After all, pushing our boundaries is one of the things that attracts us to the ocean. Managing the risks associated with being out on the ocean is something we all do already to some extent. For me, after going through this process, it was clear my emergency response planning was sub standard at best. I hope sharing this helps motivate you to develop your own EAP. For those that do, I’d love to hear some of the preventive measures and controls you came up with in the process.  

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