Sunday, December 4, 2016


Communication is a key skill in paddling (and all aspects of life).  There are many means and needs for communication on and off the water.  One is to check in with someone.  Sometimes, a paddler has taken a spill, is swimming, or is just a little bit spaced-out.  A common way to see if that person is okay is to use signals.

When using the okay signal on the water it is a question and answer.  One gives the okay sign and if the others are okay, they give the okay sign back.  Close up, we use the universal hand signal for okay.

This tells us a couple of things.  First being that the person is okay.  Second that maybe they really are or aren't okay.   If the person is slow to respond or doesn't make a clear okay sign, we need to investigate a little bit further.  When someone doesn't make a clear okay sign, they could be a little bit shaken or could possibly have issue that they are unaware of.  For example, one of the signs of hypothermia is a decrease in fine motor skills.  If they aren't making their index finger touch their thumb, hypothermia could be a concern.

From further away, we use one tap or a fist on the head.  Again, we make sure that we close off the "O."  The fist on the head forming an "O" is a universal sign for okay among the US Coast Guard and other Search and Rescue teams.

From larger distances or when view may be obstructed by swells or waves, we make a big "O" over the head with both arms meeting above the head.

Many paddlers use a tapping motion on their head to signal that they are okay.  This is often understood in the boating community but is not universally recognized.  It also can look like a signal for help.  We encourage paddlers not to use the head tap but to make closed "O" with a fist on the head, a hand signal, or arms overhead.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this post Cate. I generally give the 'thumb up' instead of the universal hand signal. I was taught, and use, the tapping on the head for "Okay" and this is what I have been showing newer paddlers that I have encountered to use. I was not aware of the sign of using your arms overhead to make the 'O'... I am gonna make efforts to change from tapping to the fist on the head...