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bucket head & the plastic cranium band

Posted Oct 19 2007 12:00am
Derrick on river
Keep on playin’ our favorite song,
turn it up, while you’re gone.
It’s all I’ve got when you’re in my head,
and you’re in my head, so I need it.
- queens of the stone age

For years there has been the occasional battles around here to create a helmet law for motorcycles. To this point the opposition has always been strong enough to hold off the laws. In the mean time of course there are plenty of examples out there why people should wear helmets when on motor bikes. Same goes for bicycles of course. Again, there is evidence out there that helmets make a difference. Now I don’t normally wear a helmet on a bicycle unless I’m on mountain trails. Then of course, I’m always wearing one. I’m sure there are others out there who feel you are totally irresponsible to ever ride a bike without one.

In paddling of course we can have very similar debates. In white water, it’s not hard to see why you should wear a helmet. Fast water, big rocks. . . There of course is plenty anecdotal evidence that helmets save lives. But what about sea kayaking?

These days, the safety conscious wear helmets not only for surf launch and landings, but also in tide races, in classes and even sometimes near shore in general. And you can certainly imagine situations where a helmet could save your life. Especially in classes where you have 17 foot spears flying around you at high speeds. Even in rescue classes where you are falling in, lifting and dropping boats, towing etc., Of course on the other hand most people do not wear helmets. Not yet. Anecdotally, I’d be more concerned with rib protection for surfs myself. Usually that’s right were that wayward bow goes.

The world of course is full of danger. Some of it can be mitigated. If there is evidence that people are actually being hurt or killed for lack of safety equipment, then by all means make a law. But you do have to be careful with how far you go. The only way we can find the line really, is by looking at the evidence. “Inherent danger” is a way too open ended reason to impose things on others. Look at it like this; On a calm sunny day a paddler is always at risk of being hit by a boat or jet ski. I think it would be fairly easy to find evidence that in many cases a helmet would have reduced the injuries in these collisions. If you accept that, then just the inherent risk says kayakers should always wear helmets. I mean, you just never know. Most would say of course that the probability of you being hit by a jet ski is pretty low. However it could be argued that it’s not such a low risk as to not wear a helmet anytime you enter the water. I’m not sure I accept that but. . .

There are times when sea kayaking that wearing a helmet seems reasonable. Surf is a great example. However, I wonder how many head injuries have actually been the result of surfing? Still, the risk is palatable. Wearing a helmet in surf is a prudent choice. When I batted the bow of a kayak away from my ear in Wales, a helmet seemed reasonable, though to be honest i never did put one on. In rescue classes, in calm conditions wearing a helmet never crosses my mind. Of course there is risk there as well. Are there any numbers? I’m willing to guess the actual number of head injuries in sea kayaking is quite small.

Personally I don’t come down on either side of the issue. I’ll wear a helmet when I see a higher level of risk, but I don’t wear a helmet every time I leave a beach either. For myself it’s an issue of personal judgment in each situation. Yet, I know too that there are plenty of people who would not agree with my assessment in each situation, and there are plenty of people who lack good judgment. Maybe the safest answer is to always where a helmet when kayaking. . .

What do you think?

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