What is acceptable risk in kayaking?

Risk Assessment

I had an interesting discussion with a number of paddlers as I was assembling information for my Risk Management class this past weekend. It led me to a couple of good questions?

The first is, what is the riskiest thing you do all day on average?

Is it kayaking?

Or is it something else? And what steps do you do to mitigate/avoid that risk each time you approach it?

People assume that kayaking is dangerous. And is dangerous to a certain extent, but is it even the most dangerous thing you will even do on any given day?  To what lengths will you go to mitigate or avoid risks in kayaking? Will you make go, no go decisions based on weather, water temps, wind and waves, who’s going?

And then think about the last time you went up on a ladder or the last snowstorm you drove through because you wanted to get home to be ready for work, or the last time you powered up a circular saw without reading the instructions or putting on safety goggles.

Risk Management Slide


  1. I surf at times with this guy:

    As he says. “It isnt NO fear, it’s KNOW fear” Risk is assesed on a basis of ability & belief… however yo get some guys who base this risk assesment on ‘if I do make it’ rather than “if I don’t’

    I would NEVER do the stuff he does. But the world needs folk like him.

  2. While at the Paradis Marin (http://www.campingparadismarin.com/pages/paradispag.html) last week, a couple of campers watching kayaks on the St-Lawrence Seaway (water temperatures of 40 def F in summer-time) asked me if it was safe to kayak so close to all the whales.

    I asked how many kayakers had been injured/killed by whales in the area in recent history (none in years) versus cyclists in the area (two in less than a week). It was simply to illustrate that we take everyday risks for granted (we develop “risk tolerance”) while we shy away from risks that we don’t understand (we have “risk aversion”).

    Risk is simply a function of probability (chances of something happening) and consequences (what happens when the risk becomes reality).

    I wouldn’t be surprised if studies showed that there are more accidents that occur from people who misjudged risks than from those who confronted risks that they had assessed. If you know something bad can happen, and you understand how it might happen, you can take steps to minimize the probability of occurrence and/or minimize the consequences. However, if you ignore the risks or don’t understand how the risk might materialize, then no mitigation is put in place to reduce the probability/consequence.

    The complicating factors are not the risk themselves nor our ability to deal with them, it’s those “other” issues that cloud our judgment and lead us to do things we shouldn’t. Things like “I have to get home today because I’m working tomorrow” or “my buddies are waiting for me to meet up with them at the next camping spot”. How many people really allow themselves a “wind-day” and make use of them when conditions warrant staying put? Probably the minority of us as we all try to “push the envelop” and “discover new frontiers”.

    We all thrive on risk, it what keeps many of us going. To keep going though, we have to be careful and sometimes a bit lucky.

  3. A few years ago up in Rossport, ON I was talking to some guys who were diving the Gunilda, a famous wreck about 250’down. After telling me about 2 hr dives with 12 minutes on the bottom, special air mixtures, the bend, etc., I suggested that they were nuts. “Were you the guys out by the Battle Island light in the 5′ seas in those skinny boats? Ya’all are the ones that are nuts!”

    Risk is situational and experiential. Image in the blog looks like fun to me, suicide to others.

    • Awesome Dave!

      Yeah, risk is definitely relative.

      The stats are definitely out there that kayaking is by far the least risky thing you’ll do on any given day!

  4. I think the riskiest thing most Americans do in their life is drive a car. Or take a shower.

    I read somewhere that you’re more likely to die from skiing than from sailing. I’m pretty sure for ocean pastimes, though, the fear is like the fear of flying. Sure, you’re much, much, much more likely to die in a car crash…but car crashes (and ski accidents) come in a rainbow of levels of severity. Plane crashes pretty much only come in one flavor: You Die.

    So all anyone can think about when we’re out on the water is the risk of drowning (nevermind hypothermia). Even though you can also get into a variety of trouble on the water ranging from comical to life-threatening, being in an “alien” medium (water, up in the air), telescopes the imagination to the worst-case.