Roger Cox: kayak safety film might save your life

Gordon Brown's produced the video. Picture: submitted
Gordon Brown's produced the video. Picture: submitted
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Even though it’s about ten years since I saw it at the cinema, the film Open Water still gives me waking nightmares.

Loosely based on the true story of American scuba divers Tom and Eileen Lonergan, who were left bobbing helplessly in the middle of the Coral Sea because the crew of their dive boat failed to do an accurate head-count at the end of the day, it was made on a micro-budget, yet manages to be far more terrifying than any Hollywood slasher movie.

There are no white-knuckle action sequences and no flashy CGI – just two people up to their necks in water (Daniel Travis and Blanchard Ryan – both excellent) becoming increasingly scared as they realise they’re alone and nobody’s coming to rescue them. Then it gets dark, and you don’t see anything at all. You just hear what they hear: sinister splashes getting louder and more frequent as sharks move in for the kill.

One of the points the film really hammers home is that the ocean is an awfie big place, and that once you get yourself lost in it you’re going to be all-but impossible to find. There’s one agonising sequence in which the two divers try to attract the attention of nearby sailing boats. The boats aren’t that far away, but the pair are so low in the water that their frantically windmilling arms are hidden by the waves, and their cries for help aren’t loud enough to be heard.

Then, in the final reel, when the folks at the diving company realise what’s happened and raise the alarm, we get to see what the pilot of a rescue helicopter sees when searching for people lost at sea: a vast expanse of blue textured by thousands upon thousands of little dark blobs. Most of these blobs will be the troughs of waves, a few might be floating debris, and perhaps one in a million will turn out to be the thing you’re looking for. Or maybe not.

I was reminded of Open Water the other day while watching Handling Emergency Situations, an excellent new kayak safety film made by Ardnamurchan-based Simon Willis’s Sunart Media, in association with HM Coastguard and the RNLI. Starring Skye sea kayaking guru Gordon Brown, it’s only eight minutes long, yet it’s packed with vital information about what to do when things go pear-shaped on the water. Crucially, it shows you what a rescue looks like from the point of view of everyone involved: the stranded kayaker, the skipper of the lifeboat and the pilot of the coastguard helicopter. (The good news: capsized kayaks are easier to spot from the air than scuba divers. The bad news: not much easier.)

Brown demonstrates the correct way to raise the alarm by mobile phone, VHF radio and by firing flares, and also how to let people know where you are, whether that’s by using personal locator beacons to send co-ordinates electronically or by using visual aids such as strobes and laser flares to guide rescue teams to your location as they approach. If the Lonergans had had just a single item from this kit list, and known how to use it, they might not have become the subjects of such a chilling film. You can watch Handling Emergency Situations for free on YouTube and Vimeo or download it from or A full-length, 45-minute version will feature in the forthcoming DVD, Sea Kayak With Gordon Brown: Volume 3.

Members of Scotland’s paddlesports community are in for a busy few weeks. Today and tomorrow, the Bells Sports Centre in Perth plays host to Paddle 2013, the Scottish Canoe Association’s annual bash, featuring talks, workshops, film screenings and a Tay descent for anyone who’s feeling energetic. Then, from 9-11 November, the seventh Storm Gathering symposium takes place in Oban, based at the Kilbowie Outdoor Centre. The programme includes sessions themed around safety, seamanship and skills development. Intermediate sea kayaking skills or above are required, according to the blurb, but “the ability to wrestle a walrus is not necessary.” Sighs of relief all round then.

Paddle 2013,; Storm Gathering,