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Risk and Your Responsibility for Safety and Guideline Info

Introduction : You are responsible for your safety

As the sport of outrigger canoe paddling is an ocean sport, it carries with it the inherent risk of physical injury and even death. People opting to take part in the sport through the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club’s (from here in known as ‘the club’) organised training sessions, events and races; free paddling session using club equipment; and using their own personal equipment stored at the club's facilities; note that they undertake such activities entirely that their own risk.

Accidents in boats can and do happen, the consequences of which can vary from the minor to the severe. The club is responsible for providing a framework to ensure that club equipment is seaworthy and a plan is in place to reduce the risk of accidents but it is the responsibility of the club members, their guests and development course members, to use their own common sense when assessing any given situation or incident in keeping with their own ability and experience.

All participants in the sport are responsible for their own safety and have a duty of care for their fellow paddlers. If at any point during a club organised training session; representing the club at a race, or during a free paddle session using club equipment, a paddler has a concern, or if they believe the coach, session leader and/or steersman is taking an un-necessary risk, it is the individuals’ responsibility to raise that concern. The coach, session leader, or steersperson is obliged to listen to that concern then make a decision using their judgment based on their own knowledge, experience and assessment of the situation to minimise risk and protect the safety of the boats crew and other members of the session. If the paddler still has a concern, then they are free to withdraw  from the session as soon as it is practically safe and convenient to do so.

The health and safety document use a risk-based assessment  to set policy. This is a live document with paddlers encouraged to update as new risks are identified.

The RHKYC Outrigging Section is committed to training and practice to minimize risk. All paddlers are required to be familiar with and comply the health and safety policy. You should always maintain a respect for your and your fellow paddlers’ safety.

Outrigging is an unusual water sport in that it is common for participants to not wear a PFD. The RHKYC OC steering committee encourage paddlers to wear PFDs. It is your choice not to wear a PFD. You need to understand this risk in the choice.

Safety training:

  • Regular
    • Huli (capsize drill)
    • Lifejacket/PFD use
    • Website
    • Regular safety emails
    • Steerers responsibility
  • Novice course


Unconscious paddler without a PFD:

An unconscious paddler without a PFD in fresh water will sink. Seawater is denser resulting in higher buoyancy but there are numerous drowning cases in Hong Kong waters in which the victim sank. Add the risk of Hong Kong's usual murky water the result is limited time for their crew mates to rescue the unconscious paddler. Every time you paddle an OC6/OC2 without wearing a PFD you are placing your safety in the hands of your crewmates if you do get concussed in a huli. On an OC1 the leg-leash will prevent your body from sinking but it is likely that you face will be in the water and you will drown without quick help.

The first action post huli is the head count (see Huli Recovery (Canoe Capsize Recovery)). Act quickly if a paddler is missing. All paddlers should be on the ama side of the canoe but first check to see if the missing paddler is safe on the non-ama side. Then check to see if they are trapped in the canoe. When going under the capsized canoe have one hand on the canoe.

Once the unconscious paddler is found the rescuer should immediately establish whether spontaneous breathing is present and, if it is absent, initiate mouth-to-mouth (see The usual sequence of events in a drowning).

The usual sequence of events in a drowning

Upon submersion, the victim holds his breath until forced to inhale. He gulps water. The water induces spasms of the larynx, which closes of the trachea to protect the lungs. Little water enters the lungs. With the trachea blocked by laryngospasms, no fresh air enters the lungs and the supply of oxygen begins to fail. Lack of Oxygen, anoxia, affects the brain within 30 seconds the laryngospasms begin to weaken with imminent brain failure.

The victim then inhales again, this time aspirating water into the lungs before a fresh spasm closes the trachea again but for a shorter duration. With each successive inhalation, more water is aspirated; anoxia increases, and laryngospasm duration decreases until they are finally abolished and the lungs are filled with water. In salt-water submersion, the brine in the lungs acts through osmotic pressure to remove large amounts of water from the blood. In three minutes, experimental animals loss 40% of the normal water volume in their blood. This over concentration of blood can cause heart failure. Additionally, seawater chemicals pass quickly into the blood stream through the lungs disrupting normal fluid balances. If drowning reaches this point, the chance of resuscitation is poor. While spasms are still occurring and protecting the airway, resuscitation efforts are more likely to succeed. Recovery is such cases may occur spontaneously. The International Life Saving Federation recommends the following:

The hypoxia (oxygen starvation) caused by prolonged submersion results first in cessation of breathing.  If this hypoxia is not corrected quickly, respiratory arrest is followed by cardiac arrest  at a variable but short time interval determined by physical condition of the victim, water temperature, previous hypoxia, emotional state, and associated diseases. If a paddler is not breathing you do not have time to take them to shore to perform mouth=to-mouth. In deep water:

Position the victim face up, extending the neck to open the airway. This can be accomplished by a single trained rescuer with the aid of appropriate lifesaving equipment (a rescue tube, rescue can, rescue board, bodyboard, etc.) or by two or more trained rescuers without lifesaving equipment. When performed in deep water, this is a difficult procedure, requiring extreme fitness, swimming ability, a flotation device and prior training. Do not check victim’s pulse or attempt compressions while in the water . These are difficult and inefficient, and will slow the rescue process.

Weak swimmer without PFD

This should not occur. If you cannot pass the swim test (2 minutes tread water and swim to and from the beach to the shark nets at Repulse Bay) then you should always be wearing a PFD.

Separated from your canoe

This can occur after a huli when the paddler removes their leg-leash and a wave or strong wind catches the canoe. There has been occurrences when a paddler was separated from their canoe with their PFD and mobile attached to the canoe.

Lost/broken paddle

Paddles do break and/or get lost. Every canoe must have a spare paddle. On an OC1/2 the spare paddle is strapped to the iako. On an OC6 the spare paddle is either under the steerer’s seat or strapped to the iako.

Collision with another boat

The steersperson is responsible for the boats' safety. They need to be aware of boat traffic around the canoe (including behind). Do not assume power boats will give way. If on a converging course change direction early so that the other boat can see your intended course and as necessary change their course. Commercial traffic including ferries, trawlers and cargo ships are not required nor likely to change their course.

The Hong Kong Marine Department designates traffic separation schemes and principal fairways . Crossing these shipping lanes is similar to crossing a train track with frequent freight trains. The guidelines state don’t impede the passage of a large vessel in these shipping lanes. Canoes should cross the perpendicular to the shipping lane with the aim of minimizing the time in the lane. The speed limit for vessels in the Lamma Channel is 15knots. At this speed a cargo ship will cover 462m in a minute. Always pass to the stern. Remember when planning your crossing to look for traffic going in both directions.

See for guideline for boaters.

Hitting rocks/Mooring buoys

There are numerous rocks visible at low tide on our paddling routes. When training stay wide of headlands. Know the high risk areas of North East of Middle Island, hippos off Western side of Middle Island, rocks on South East side of round Island.

It is difficult for the steerer in an OC6 to see small objects directly in front of the canoe such as mooring buoys. Seat 1 should keep a look out and give early guidance to the steerer. When avoiding an object in the water turn to the left as turning to the right may result in the ama hitting the object.

If you are in an OC1/OC2 and are likely to hit a rock turn the rudder so that it breaks off rather than punctures the hull of the canoe.

Getting lost

Even with their ‘eyes in the boat’ new paddlers should become aware of key landmarks. There is no reason in Hong Kong waters to be out-of-sight of land. That said much of the coast line, particular of the offshore island look similar. When visibility is poor (fog/pollution) stay close to shore. All paddlers are recommended to install Hydrographic Office eSeaGo app . Once installed download the offline nautical chart of Hong Kong waters. This app is excellent for planning routes.  The app tracks your location on the charts.

Extreme weather

  • Poor visibility
  • High winds
  • Waves
  • Lighting

Sea changes

  • Paddler in the water hit by the canoe/support boat
  • Broken ribs
  • Injuries getting on support boats


Swamping is when water in the canoe results in the boats waterline being too low for bailing to exceed the water being brought in by waves. Once swamping occurs the only solution is to paddle or tow the swamped boat to calmer waters.

The key is to avoid swamping:

  1. Use skirts unless the wave forecast is calm. See Wind guru or HKO South China Coastal Waters forecast .
  2. Bail early. Seats 3 and 4 should bail when there is 1cm of water in the canoe. An OC6 is 16 x 0.4 m, 1cm of water is 64 litres = 64kg.

Steerers need to know the safe landing zones for an outrigger. Much of Hong Kong coast is rocky. On the Southside safe landing zones are limited to beaches and some slipways (i.e. Middle Island).


Hong Kong seawater temperature varies between 17°C (December/January) and 30°C (June/July/August) [see]. This is warm but below the normal human body temperature of 36.5-37.5°C. Hypothermia occurs when the body core temperature drops by 1-2°C below normal body temperature. Prolonged immersion in the South China Sea can result in hypothermia. Hypothermia is also possible in the winter months. For winter paddling start with warm layers including a water and wind proof top.


Dehydration occurs when you use or lose more fluid than you take in, and your body doesn't have enough water and other fluids to carry out its normal functions.  If you don't drink enough fluids when you're exercising vigorously and perspiring heavily, you may end up with a heat injury, ranging in severity from mild heat cramps to heat exhaustion or potentially life-threatening heatstroke. The symptoms may include:

  • Extreme thirst
  • Less frequent urination
  • Dark-colored urine
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion

It is best to start hydrating the day before strenuous exercise. Producing lots of clear, dilute urine is a good indication that you're well-hydrated. During the activity, replenish fluids at regular intervals and continue drinking water or other fluids after you're finished.


Cuts usually occur when launching. Always wear shoes. Cuts can result in serious infections. Clean immediately with fresh water and seek medical attention if they become infected.

Injuries from outrigging

“Outrigger canoe paddlers report a high prevalence of musculoskeletal injuries and illnesses related to their sport. The shoulder and back were the most common sites of injury. The rib was the most commonly fractured bone. Paddling may also predispose to such environmentally related conditions as heat illness, injury from sea creatures, and perhaps skin cancers. “

A Survey of Injuries and Medical Conditions Affecting Competitive Adult Outrigger Canoe Paddlers on O`ahu Hawaii Med J. 2009 August ; 68(7): 162–165.

Slipping on hardstand

Be careful near the waterline. When launching canoes move slowly when near the waterline.

Moving boats

  • Back strain
  • Hitting others while carrying a boat
  • Standing on unsteady stools/ladders when lifting a boat onto the racks
  • Slipping or falling on the slipway whilst carrying boats. Particular care should be taken near the waterline.


(Remarks: click here   to get a pdf copy.)