This is with regards to the recent Dragon Boat tragedy, where 5 paddlers were drowned in a freak accident.

The contention behind this debate is on whether the use of life jackets is appropriate to prevent an accident like this. From a short conversation with an ex-dragon boat paddler, 2 points were highlighted:

  • life jackets impede rowing
  • life jackets may not be appropriate at all times

With regards to the first point, a life jacket does impede rowing, which probably explains why it had not been made compulsory for such a long time. If you have not worn a life jacket before, you should try it – I’m not sure where, but you should try it.

After you have put it on:

  1. Try moving your arms in whatever circular motion you can thing of. How does it feel? Find a comfortable position where you can move in a circular motion without being obstructed.
  2. Now, imagine (or just use a mop) you are holding a paddle in a boat. Try paddling. If you have found a comfortable position paddling with the life jacket on, please drop me a comment so that this position may be proposed to the appropriate sports club.

The reason for this challenge is that… I suddenly remembered that I did try paddling a canoe in the past – not quite like a dragon boat, but it was hard to do it fast with the life jacket on. The alternative, of course, is to have a speciality built life jacket.

When I first blogged about the possible use of a life jacket, Tian Hong objected to my views in that it does impede rowing and is not suitable. Besides the comfort issue, there is another issue on buoyancy.

Looking back at the design of the pontoon (I saw an illustration on myPaper; but does anyone have the actual digital version?), which was a floating platform block with 2 concave sections at the bottom of the block such that it looked like an “M”, it may actually not help if the paddlers had worn life jackets – and this may have likely increased the casualty count to 10 (5 were carried by the under currents and swooped up to surface).

If you have worn a life jacket in the water before (wearing it on land doesn’t count), you’d know that the life jacket has high buoyancy in that it brings you upwards no matter how heavy you are (almost). So, if the paddlers had indeed worn life jackets, what could happen is that they could be buoyant under the platform, where the concaved areas are. If this is the case, then:

  1. It may be difficult for them to swim downwards to overcome the concaved section
  2. It may not be possible for the undercurrents to have swooped them out of the concaved section

On the contrary, if the platform was not designed with 2 concaved areas, then it might have been more useful.

So, if life jackets are no good, then what is? Well, rope, perhaps? No, seriously, I am not kidding. If there is a way such that each paddler is traceable from a rope, then there is more hope in finding them when they go under milky water. In an ideal scenario, you can just pull them out of the water – although the actual implementation of it is still a little iffy.

After much consideration, debate, confrontation and consolidation, I’m now working on the possibility of it now. If you are interested to contribute your ideas, do drop me a message at the contact page. =) While safety is of utmost importance in this sport and for that matter, anything that we do, I don’t see how we can compete effectively if all our dragon boat paddlers are wearing life jackets while the other teams are not.

Then again, I may have underestimated our national team.

Reader's Comments

  1. Alice | November 28th, 2007 at 2:36 pm

    I remember reading in history lessons years ago that in the olden days, fishermans actually do tie their children by ropes to their fishing boat for safety reason. This rope solution was actually used.

  2. Zhanzhao | November 28th, 2007 at 5:51 pm

    Ropes themselves CAN get snaggeg by something underwater, hence trapping the paddler. And there’s also the possibility of the rope itself getting snagged in a properllor (IIRC all the pacer boats are motorized = have propellors). And with so many paddlers onboard, the ods of the ropes getting tangled up with limbs is all that much greater.

    Plus thats also assuming the boat is afloat. If it was the boat that is getting pulled by the currents, all paddlers tied to the boat will get pulled.

    One person being pulled by the current. In this case, the best case scenario is that all paddlers hit the water prepared to swim for their lives, and they still have to drag the boat (which is still tied to them). Hopefully no one is to shocked to swim, they can co-ordinate their efforts, the ropes do not get tangled up….

    Yeah, they might detach the ropes, but under such stress, it is unlikely to be so easy….

    There’s no perfect solution… it will have to come down to sacrificing safety for speed. Because even if the vests hinder movement, at least the paddlers are safer. And if all paddlers are forced to wear vests, at least the playing fields are leveled somewhat.

  3. Ghost | November 30th, 2007 at 12:26 am

    I seemed to recall in my army days we use a type of lifejacket that is inflated by a gas catridge.

    When worn it is flat, we activate the jacket by pulling the cord and the jacket inflates.

    It has high mobility (if not the Army won’t use them) and use only when we fall into the water.

    I think they have both the manual and the automatic version.

    Is it too expensive for that kind of life jacket?

    Does anybody remember?

  4. Zhanzhao | November 30th, 2007 at 11:41 am

    The thing about the standard lifejacket is that it is “on” perpetually. So even if someone is in shock or stunned after falling into the water, the lifevest kicks in without having to manually activate the cartridge. Although it would be a good idea, especially maybe it can kick in after a certain distance from the craft, to simulate someone being thrown overboard.

  5. ASK » Dealing with bereavement | January 22nd, 2008 at 5:47 pm

    […] in Cambodia has left many shockwaves in our local community. The blogosphere has many tributes and discussions about how unfortunate this accident has been, to the victims’ families, friends and loved […]

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