Safety School Rescues

20 Second Sponsons

Paddlers have used 20 second sponsons for about 8 years around the world.

These are simply sponsons pre-inflated and secured on the back deck of kayaks.

So after capsize you simply clip on the nearest sponson (each Fastex clip near a sponson end, then shove the remaining sponson under the boat and clip it on.)

A 10 year old child can turn any ACA instructor into a FOOL in 20 seconds.

Clip, clip, the Fastex buckles and any kayak or canoe is stable enough to paddle fully flooded, to safety. The paddler gets warmed immediately. And the body core is out of cold water in 20 seconds. Plus Re-capsize protection.

1. The Instructor is still in the water.

2. The instructor denies the public re-capsize protection, even in a fully flooded canoe or kayak that can be paddled in 20 seconds.

3. The instructor kills people this way.

The Following Demonstrates Sponsons Not Pre-inflated and Stowed on The Rear Deck

1. Clip on far sponson first by reaching across flooded kayak, with legs still in water as shown below. Then swim kayak slightly sideways to easily reach remaining sponson. (All kayaks and canoes are flooded in capsizing conditions. One reason that sponsons are required for stability and paddlefloats kill people.)
2. Inflate both sponsons after clipping them on, keeping body out of water to prevent hypothermia. (Immersion time so far is about 30 seconds since this child first righted the kayak by swimming up on the overturned hull and grabbing far rim of cockpit. Flipping the kayak upright is not an option for many people, lacking the strength, especially in wind and waves.)  Anyone capable of Righting the kayak, requiring the ability to partly swim up on the overturned boat as above, is obviously capable of reentry. (The flooded cockpit ballast stability, coupled with sponsons, more than doubles the kayak's stability "Off the Chart", Seakayaker, Feb. 2000, p.33.)
3. This is the first time for this 10 year old climbing up on sponson here. Normally people use legs to swim up, and arms to pull across (gripping cockpit rim) until belly button is over the seat, then rotate into the seat and pull in legs, like sit-on-top kayaks with built-in sponsons. Paddle normally to safety with fewer stability strokes required, permitting more steering strokes in difficult seas.
4. Standing up is not recommended. Rescues that overturn kayaks and canoes risk bumps on the head too. The point is: Most kids can rescue themselves with sponsons the first time, staying out of deadly cold water. (The paddle is normally on a leash or secured under deck lines or bungies while clipping on and inflating sponsons. Awkward sprayskirts and pump failures cannot risk safety.)

The flooded kayak can now be paddled immediately to safety, warming the paddler, and with re-capsize protection.

Most people cannot rescue themselves with paddlefloats the first time. They require balancing instruction, while trying to pump out, not breaking paddle, flipping over again, and finally, precariously trying to retrieve the paddle from behind the cockpit. They Are Worse off than before capsize. What kind of safety instruction is that?

Kids have been killed at camps that teach paddlefloating instead of sponsons. The excuse is usually that the dead children should have rolled up or reentered and rolled up etc., although most adults can't roll reliably, even after years of instruction, great will, committment... Most aboriginal Arctic people didn't roll exclusively either (using more stable kayaks and floats). Those that did suffered "kayakerangst", documented first by Danish scientists, a form of post traumatic stress disorder. No wonder, without reliable back-up in cold water.

This girl would suffer serious hypothermia in only 15 minutes in this cold water. Camps can't afford wetsuits for all. But All canoe and kayak manufacturers can equip every boat with sponsons for $20 (economies of scale over 40,000). One kid=$20. Who could argue against it?

Instructors can focus on weather-reading instruction, wave and wind studies, outdoor education, paddling instruction, leadership and group supervision of child and adult paddlers. Sponsons permit less risky, forced surf landings, as noted in other internet websites. Fewer bracing strokes are needed for stability while using sponsons. More steering paddle strokes are possible, to help keep the kayak from broaching sideways and capsizing in the breaking waves . However, any surf landing can still be risky.

Canoes, Polynesia, Kayaks, Bill Mason and "The Perfect Storm"

Canadian schoolkids have long been taught about Polynesian canoes with those clever outriggers. Those outriggers stabilized otherwise very tippy dugout canoes, to allow human progress to other continents. (Torres Strait was always a tough crossing to Australia. Bering Strait was a land bridge to North America for a convenient length of time.)

A new book "The Canoe in Canadian Culture" (eds. Jennings, Hodgins, and Small) doesn't quite understand the magnificent and seaworthy history of kayaks and canoes. But it comes close to the Haida canoes and Aleut kayaks, with trade routes over thousands of miles of ocean, matching Polynesian adventures without sailpower.

Page 51 (fig.3) shows "Prehistoric kayak models. Old Bering Sea with double floats", described on page 50 as hunting floats but in the many references to David Zimmerly's QAJAQ, Kayaks of Siberia and Alaska: "If just one baidarka is caught in a storm, then two large inflated bladders are sometimes tied to its' sides. (Davydov 1814:203)"(p.34) Another kayak model with "two sets of double floats fore and aft...Of the two cockpit depressions, the foreward one is small suggesting that a boy sat there." (op.cit., p.53) Good to see this emphasis on safety, from prehistoric times to the nineteenth century, especially for kids. This double float technology also permitted open sea trade routes.

The canoes of the Haida (Nootka etc.) had double floats: "Just across Queen Charlotte Strait...forty Kwakiutls perished...In very rough seas inflated bladders or sealskin floats were tied to the sides as stabilizers." (p.122, Michael Poole, Ragged Islands) Many 19th century missionaries wrote about these "sponson" floats.

It is comforting in these busy, modern times to reflect on canoe and kayak design as thousands of years of common sense. Canoes and kayaks cannot escape natural threats. Wind can arrive suddenly without clear warning. Canoes and kayaks cannot normally outrun these threats, so they have used strategic floatation for thousands of years, to survive in much colder waters than Polynesia.

In his film "Waterwalker", Bill Mason bails his well-loved canoe, grounded safely, full of water on the beach; after the Lake Superior storm forced him to swim for his life in freezing waters. The canoe was just fine on its' own. The "ton" of water inside created massive ballast stability. The canoe full of water became "at one" with Lake Superior and landed safely. In order for a paddler to also ride safely in the flooded canoe, strategic flotation inside and sponson floats outside are required. Just like Haida canoes and Aleut kayaks in storms.

This is a simple, school science lesson: buoyancy and force of gravity, using a canoe as a teaching device, to illustrate the wisdom of aboriginal designs.

"The Perfect Storm" is an exciting new film based on Sebastian Junger's bestseller. In the book, p.99:
"Boats want a big righting moment. They want something that will right them from extreme angles of heel. The righting moment has three main implications. First of all, the wider the ship, the more stable she is. (More air is submerged as she heels over, so the righting arm is that much longer.) The opposite is also true: The taller the ship, the more likely she is to capsize. The high centre of gravity reduces what is called the metacentric height, which determines the length of the righting arm. The lower the metacentric height, the less leverage there is with which to overcome the downward force of gravity."

The Haida, Aleut, Polynesians and schoolkids (instinctively) understand that a narrow boat is much more likely to capsize if hit sideways by a powerful breaking wave, no matter how much lead ballast or water is inside. This is common sense at a fundamental level, like Bill Mason's red canoe, knowing rightside up on its' own.

Picture Bill's canoe (without Bill) sideways on the slope of a big breaking wave. The powerful force of the wave hits it and pushes it sideways of course, and down the wave slope under the force of gravity. Canoes and kayaks with paddlers, but without the buoyancy of "sponson" floats, have no means to create a sufficient righting lever in emergencies. Water inside makes them unstable and un-useable. Add sponson floats and the righting arm protects against the inevitable water inside. In fact the water becomes neutral buoyancy ballast, to lower the boat in the water, for easier entry as well as a lower centre of gravity.

The first kayak with built-in sponson floats, designed by a trained naval architect with an impressive background, recorded "off-the-chart secondary stability", Seakayaker, Feb.2000, p.33. Many companies are now designing boats with this in mind. I prefer more traditional canoes and kayaks myself, but we all change sooner or later.

 (The "ton" of stabilized water and precious cargo are easily paddled to safety. Secure hundreds of pounds more of watertight expedition packs and you have created a canoe as seaworthy and stable as any kayaks and canoes that have crossed the Atlantic and Pacific. You are immune from swamping and protected from capsizes in storms, due to the powerful ballast/sponson stability couple.

Just like Lindemann's 10 inch cork sponsons on his Atlantic crossing, no-capsize canoe. The sponsons above are orally inflated in 6 puffs, and allow easy righting and re-entry if ever capsized, an advantage over Polynesian outrigger concepts. The Haida, Aleut and other North American Tribes deployed inflatable floats to ride out Pacific Ocean storms. These yellow sponsons have successfully crossed part of the North Atlantic (not recommended).  Why does the canoe and kayak industry have serious safety problems?

Canoe and Kayak magazine is confused about flotation, p.36, July 2000: "...any successful rescue is a kayak that will float high enough to allow the occupants to re-enter when it is swamped" You want the kayak to float stable enough, not "high enough" which only makes it hard to get back in p.143, "Playing It Safe". )

Kayaks and Canoes are thousands of years old.
Modern experts do not understand them.
  • Kayaks and Canoes are always vulnerable to natural forces that can fill them with water.
  • It is intelligent to protect against inevitable water inside kayaks and canoes.
  • Strategic floatation of canoes and kayaks has permitted ocean-crossing capability throughout history.
  • Haida canoes and Aleut kayaks used strategic floatation to create trade routes over thousands of ocean miles. This floatation included "almost sponsons" to survive ocean storms.
Create ballast stability from water inside. The BALLAST BUOYANCY COUPLE using sponsons is the genius of aboriginal canoes and kayaks. (Modern experts die from ignorance of canoes and kayaks.)
Human Life Worth $20 

>As you would probably agree, simple emergency stability for flooded kayaks and canoes in order to rescue victims from cold water, is the most foolproof safety.
> Unfortunately the American Canoe Association (a very fine organization) and others, recommend instruction for children and adults that is misleading. Rolling omits the fact that few experts worldwide claim a "bomb-proof roll", even after years of instruction and practice. This is not safety for the public. 

> Paddlefloat inventor Matt Broze (associated with Sea Kayaker
> magazine) states the roll is failure-prone due to dozens of variables...
> water different from pool practice, "a loaded kayak", any changes at all from pool practice in fact.
> However, among others, he regards the roll as superior to the unfortunate paddlefloat rescue, that suffers from even more variables, causing failure .
> "To use a paddlefloat, a certain amount of instruction and practice is
> needed. But with Sea Wings, I simply told my volunteer how to snap the four buckles, inflate the sponsons, and climb back aboard...without any problems.
> Even my larger, less agile friends were able... whereas a paddlefloat, even in calm conditions, is not...something everyone... How often have you seen...only to capsize again...trying to free their paddle from the
> bungies...
The stability they impart to a kayak after reentry is Sea Wings' greatest strength...In a real emergency, the circumstances that capsized you haven't gone away simply because you have been able to reenter your kayak. With Sea Wings, even a waterlogged boat is stable enough to be paddled away..."(Seakayaker, Winter '93, p.34)
> A group of school kids on a trip without sponsons cannot be stabilized adequately. Each boat needs emergency sponson stability. Four students  died "rafting up" in the UK.
> Young children, (carefully supervised for dangerous weather hazards etc.) can easily deploy Sponsons in 2 minutes. Sponsons were used by
> experts crossing the North Atlantic (partway), Lake Superior, Bering Strait, Bay of Fundy, Cape Horn, Beaufort Sea, etc.

(These crossings would be suicide to undertake with a roll and paddlefloat, and are not recommended, even though much safer with sponsons.)
> People deserve the best safety. Unfortunately The American Canoe Association (a fine organization) has not yet recommended sponsons. Even worse I fear that they instruct children in rolls and paddlefloats, that have already killed many  adults. Of course no expert can rescue heavy, loaded open canoes or kayaks by lifting them out of the water to empty them, leaving kids in killing cold water while attempting this.
> Capsizing conditions haven't suddenly gone away either, just like rolling and paddlefloat myths. The stability of canoes and kayaks must be tranformed by sponsons.
> Denial of sponson safety for kayaks and canoes, at $20 for each $2000 kayak, (the patent allowing economies of scale at 40,000) is indefensible,  and kills people.
> It is obvious that strategic buoyancy attached and inflated in 2 minutes, even by young children, can permit paddling of a flooded canoe or kayak to safety, with body core out of cold water to escape hypothermia deaths.
> In 1994 I corresponded with Rear Admiral Roncesveilles, head of the US Coast Guard,  and his counterparts in the UK (Capt. Thompson), and the Canadian  Coast Guard (Ms. Kathi Sandiford)..
> Capt. Thompson wrote to me after 4 school children were killed in the Lyme Bay tragedy, (the powerboat did not arrive in time). More recently  2 guides were only able to bring to shore one lad at a sports camp on Lake Rosseau (2 hours north of Toronto.) The other lad died. A group of school kids on a YMCA trip were treated by ambulances that were waiting, after a large powerboat happened upon the scene and called by radio for help, while plucking the kids from the water.
> The authorities did not act due to the extreme feelings among so-called "experts" who want to teach dozens of different rescues, apparently in an exhaustive effort to market their imaginations. All of these many rescues confuse the public regarding practicality and reliability. All of these rescues cannot  stabilize canoes and kayaks so paddlers don't recapsize and die.
> One comprehensive rescue that stabilizes kayaks and canoes, SPONSONS, has the best chance of reliable public safety.
> It is important to recognize authors Harrison, Dowd, Hutchinson, Stuhaug, Ramwell, Foster; and the magazines: Sea Kayaker, Wavelength, Atlantic Coastal Kayaker, and Anorak ("A Major Development in Kayak Safety"), who first heartily endorsed sponson superiority for 2 years, before being threatened by advertisers who saw sponsons as as threat to their instruction revenues, and endorsed  paddlefloats (that were never used in thousands of years due to deadly flaws.)
> Canoe and Kayak Magazine's Beginner's Guide, Year 2000 offers confused advice: wide kayaks can be "dangerous" and narrow kayaks can be "dangerous" while admitting that wider sit-on-top kayaks offer stability and performance advantages. They don't Acknowledge SPONSON buoyancy built into all sit on top kayaks for stability in both large waves and calm water!
> Sponsons are the major safety concept in the history of canoes and
> kayaks. This is due to the BALLAST/BUOYANCY COUPLE: the inevitable water inside a kayak or canoe after capsize, (that is exhausting and often impossible to remove), stabilized by SPONSONS, to become neutral buoyancy water ballast.
> The heavy weight lowers canoes and kayaks in the water, reducing exposure to winds and breaking waves, as well as facilitating reentry.
> In 1956 Dr. Lindemann crossed the Atlantic in a heavy dugout canoe with 10 inch wide cork sponsons nailed to the hull. Inevitable water inside added more water ballast. In 1957 he crossed in a wide, heavy Klepper kayak having built-in sponsons, filled with drinking water and food ballast. Only sponsons permitted survival.
> Dr. Lindemann, a physician, made his trips to save lives, by publicizing the dangerous idea of drinking seawater for survival in life rafts. Now instructors advocate no sponsons for survival in canoes and kayaks, resulting in needless deaths among children and adults.

> The American Canoe Association and others are not aware that rolls,
> paddlefloats and dozens of other rescue myths and delusions create serious risks to public safety, and do not constitute common sense knowledge of safety facts.
> I hope you can help. The US special forces military kayaking evaluation is somewhere...

The Canadian Canoe Museum has a Haida dugout canoe that is 
highly unstable for modern canoeists who still do not understand the Haida use of Sponson- like animal skin floats and ballast load for open ocean.

Expert canoeists and kayakers die needlessly on wilderness expeditions by not deploying inflatable sponsons, like the Haida and other tribes for thousands of years.

Modern school children are mislead and endangered by ignorance about canoe and kayak safety.

Canoes and kayaks are cheated of seaworthiness due to ignorance in modern canoe and kayaking circles, (while trying to sell bogus ideas that were never in historical use.) 

(Kathleen is sitting on the rear deck because the kayak is half full of water. The water ballast/sponson couple makes it hard to re-capsize, and  it is easy to reenter because the kayak is lower in the water. All safety schools should be honest with kids in kayaks and canoes.

Paddlefloats kill people because there is no stability provided in capsizing conditions. Paddlefloats can't tolerate flooded kayaks, making it impossible for many to re-enter; or upon re-entry, no re-capsize stability like sponsons is provided, so they recapsize and die in cold water.

Kids as young as 7 the first time can clip on one sponson, pass the remaining one under the kayak, and inflate both after they are clipped on, in about 2 minutes. Leave the cockpit flooded to provide stability while they paddle to safety. )

Teach kids how to be safe in kayaks and canoes. Use the finest examples of seaworthiness from aboriginal people, who established ocean trade routes using inflatable floats. Don't cheat kids of the magnificent history
of kayaks and canoes in human development, world-wide. Think about it. Send me an Email with any questions. Thanks a lot. Tim

Back to Index Page

Contact Tim Ingram (
Georgian Bay Kayak Ltd.
231 Gordon Drive
Penetanguishene, Ontario
Canada, L9M 1Y2
(705) 549-3722
Page last updated February 27, 2006