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Cape weather can change in a heartbeat, as a SUP paddler soon discovered when he was swept out to sea on 18 January near Rooi Els. Thankfully, he was rescued, despite forgetting to switch on his SafeTRX app.

If not for the keen eye of a bystander on land, a SUP paddler who was swept out to sea in windy, turbulent conditions near Rooi Els, might not be alive today.

“It gets difficult to locate people out at sea, especially a single person sitting down on a SUP,” says NSRI coxswain Brian Gosling from Station 9 (Gordon’s Bay), who was involved in the rescue mission. “Think about it: you have a person sitting on his SUP, which is about one metre high, between swell sets that are five metres high, so he is hidden behind the swells most of the time, and every now and again he comes into view. With windy conditions being as rough as they were that day, a lot of white horses were present, making it difficult to spot a person… and this all while the boat [rescue vessel] is moving, with wind and water in your eyes…”

Against the odds, the paddler was spotted, and it became evident that he was making no progress trying to get back to shore against winds that were rapidly increasing in strength, sweeping him out to sea.

Members of the public linked to the eyewitness went down to the Rooi Els slipway, where they encountered friends and family of the paddler, who were not aware that he was in any difficulty.

A friend of the paddler then called the NSRI, reporting his friend to be in difficulty.

Rescue craft “Spirit of Surfski” was launched, and several Station 9 crew sped towards the estimated location of the paddler, all the while cognisant of the increasing wind speeds.

Sight of the paddler had now been lost, however it was briefly re-established by NSRI Kleinmond, which had sent a rescue vehicle to an elevated position. The sighting confirmed that the paddler was drifting at speed, most likely nearing the currents that would sweep him towards Cape Point, making swift action imperative.

A search pattern was establish as soon as “Spirit of Surfski” arrived in the viscidity, with Station 10 (Simon’s Town) crew prepped to assist, and helicopter pilot and NSRI Station 42 (Kleinmond) commander Schalk Boonzaaier standing by in case aerial assistance was required.

After an extensive search lasting roughly an hour, however, the paddler was eventually found, clinging to his board, further out to sea than initially assumed.

“He was in good spirits,” says Brian. “He was dehydrated, exhausted and hot, patiently sitting on his SUP, waiting for assistance. He was very grateful and thanked all services involved in coming to his aid. He was very relieved to be reunited with family members waiting for him back at the beach.”

What is perhaps most remarkable about this incident, is that the SUP paddler’s ordeal could easily have been avoided had he activated the SafeTRX app already on his phone. He chose not to, as the weather was much calmer when he’d entered the water.

“If he had activated SafeTRX before he went out to paddle it would have made it a lot easier for us to find him, even if he did not activate the panic button,” says Brian. “Our Emergency Operations Centre [EOC] can see on their side where a person with an active SafeTRX is. As soon as we received the callout, the EOC would have tracked him and shared his live location to us on the vessel so that we could head directly to him, instead of initiating a search pattern. Activation of the panic button immediately notifies the EOC, along with a location, allowing for immediate and accurate response.”

The SafeTRX app is free and can be downloaded from Google Play or the Apple App Store. The app offers a safety checklist, a log of up to 20 trips and weather condition updates, as well as active tracking and an emergency panic button that will alert the NSRI and rescue services if you should find yourself in difficulty.

Don’t leave shore without it!

Find out more here.

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