Friday, August 09, 2013

Sea kayak with Gordon Brown Vol 3 review.

I was delighted when a preview copy of this long awaited addition to the award winning Sea Kayak with Gordon Brown series dropped through the letterbox. This volume deals with: Handling emergency situations, Sea kayak navigation, First aid kits and Rolling clinic. In a break from the format of the first two volumes, this DVD does not include a journey component. In those volumes the journey illustrated techniques from the instructional part of the video being put into practice. The key chapter in Volume 3 is "handling emergency situations" and it would not be ethical to set up a real rescue involving the emergency services on such a journey.

Instead, Gordon Brown has involved the rescue services in exercises involving two sea kayaking emergency scenarios set in the remote Hebridean Islands of Scotland.

Film maker and sea kayaker Simon Willis has expertly directed and filmed these scenarios from just about every angle and perspective possible and the results are eye opening.

Handling emergency situations running time 46 minutes.
What is truly unique about this film is that each of the key rescue personnel. that describe the rescue scenarios from their own point of view (Coastguard helicopter pilot, Coastguard radio officer and RNLI lifeboat coxswain), is a sea kayaker!

Alun, Coastguard helicopter pilot and sea kayaker.

Anne, Coastguard radio operator and sea kayaker.

Murty, RNLI lifeboat coxswain and sea kayaker.

This film discusses best ways of alerting attention of the emergency services and concentrates on voice communication by VHF and electronic communication via satellite Personal Location Beacon with GPS. The limited range of hand held electronic VHF DSC and traditional rocket flares are discussed and I challenge anyone not to think very carefully before renewing an expired rocket flare...

... after seeing Gordon nearly lose both hands after firing one.

The emergencies were not set up with someone conveniently falling out of a kayak beside a lifeboat. The full time frame of real rescues were involved as the situations took place in remote areas and one was near nightfall.

The helicopter pilot and lifeboat coxswain each described the difficulty of spotting sea kayaks even at the close range provided by PLB GPS coordinates...

...and the film compares different devices for attracting attention at this close range.

The kayakers were all wearing dry suits with thermal insulation underneath but all became bitterly cold when they stopped paddling and were waiting for rescue in rafts. As a retired doctor, I was delighted to see how rescuers kept a kayaker, rescued from immersion in the sea, in a horizontal position to avoid post rescue collapse.

(Not doing this led to the deaths of many of those "rescued" by helicopters after a Baltic ferry sank.)

The post rescue debriefing involving Murty Campbell, the lifeboat coxswain and Gordon Brown was very interesting. Murty is also an experienced kayaker and volunteer coach who pioneered open crossings to remote, rocky outcrops which lie off the Outer Hebrides, far into the Atlantic. Murty thought that many kayakers got in trouble because they are in a rush to get into challenging conditions rather than gradually building up their experience of the weather and sea, preferably in a supportive club environment. Not everyone has access to a club like his excellent local Stornoway Canoe Club but, even for those who paddle in small independent groups, it is a point well made. Murty and Gordon both learned from these realistic rescue exercises. Murty was going to add SOLAS reflective tape to his kayak and paddles and Gordon was not going to fire a rocket flare unless carefully rafted up. He was also going to make sure he had even more accessible extra clothing as his hands got so cold he could hardly fire a pinpoint flare.

At the end, Gordon joked with Murty "It wouldn't be very good if you were rescued by your own lifeboat!" He then concluded by telling viewers "I hope the worst doesn't happen but if it does, you will be better prepared to help yourself." If the DVD just consisted of this film I would say that it would be a best buy but there is more and it is also excellent!

Sea kayak navigation running time 48 minutes.
This film is co presented by Gordon Brown and...

...Franco Ferrero, experienced coach and author of the definitive Pesda book "Sea kayak navigation". For example,...

...Franco uses excellent diagrams to explain tides and...

...Gordon follows up by teaching students how to allow for tides (and winds) on short crossings, both by empiric calculation then by using transits.

Then Franco explains how to use a chart and vectors to shape a course allowing for a tide, which is across your direction of travel and there is no transit. The film stops short of shaping courses on longer crossings where the tide will change during the crossing. Franco illustrates how useful smart phone marine apps can be for calculating tidal times and flows but warns of the need for paper back up due to battery failure. I was surprised that more mention was not made of GPS. This is now mature technology and its use is an important addition to our navigational skills. Maintaining a GPS bearing to an intended waypoint is one of the best ways of allowing for variable tidal streams and just about the only way of allowing for crosswinds, if no transit is available. However, Franco does refer the viewer to the book for more advanced navigational techniques.

As a footnote to the navigation film, I need to mention the filming of Franco's wonderful boat control... he manoeuvres tightly round the rocks in the beautiful north Wales coastline in his Quest LV, which most see as a directional touring kayak.

First Aid kits, running time 20 minutes.
The First Aid kits film is co-presented by Rowland Woollven who is both an experienced coach and a respected member of the Wilderness Emergency Medical Services Institute. He has also experience of handling a real life threatening medical emergency on expedition. In the film, Roland demonstrates the contents of various first aid kits suitable for on the water day use to full wilderness expedition use. I was delighted to see mention of dry iodine antiseptic spray, electrical and duct tapes, three of my personal favourites. He illustrates a number of procedures but both he and Gordon emphasise the film is not a first aid course. However, it is a great advert for going on one, preferably a course delivered in a sea kayaking environment. The film opens with the end of one of Gordon's sea kayaking courses when Roland springs a surprise on the tired students. He feigns unconsciousness and falls out of his kayak. It is the students' task to get him to safety and keep his vital signs stable and his body warm until professional help arrives. The film is a graphic example of what can happen when a medical emergency occurs in an untutored and unsuspecting group. The group went into "headless chicken" mode, with no one taking command and lots of conflicting ideas being put forward.

Once they got Rowland ashore, one person supported his neck as if he had a spinal injury (though there did not seem to be any history of trauma). Despite his "unconscious" state, no one put him in the recovery position in case he vomited and choked. Eventually, with prompting from Gordon, order prevailed and Rowland was safe and warm inside a group shelter awaiting the arrival of the emergency services. I am sure that all the participants in this scenario will have signed up to a first aid course and I am sure that it will trigger the same reaction in many viewers of the film. As sea kayakers, an unexpected medical problem in a remote place can be very frightening and even life threatening but I can almost guarantee that a possible medical emergency will be very low down the list of "what ifs" in most people's trip planning. As a retired doctor, I applaud this film and those who participated in it for showing the chaos of a sudden medical emergency in an unsuspecting group. It is much more effective in demonstrating the need for first aid training than showing a sanitised, well rehearsed, idealised incident.

Rolling clinic, running time 36 minutes.
This film is different from most rolling films, which demonstrate a variety of perfect rolls. Gordon sets the scene by saying "For me rolling is about being upright and breathing air. How we get there isn't that important." This film is not about developing extensive Greenland rolling skills but is directed at giving the touring sea kayaker a reliable first roll to encourage them to tackle more challenging conditions. The film bravely starts with 6 people who cannot roll and who have had either no previous rolling practice or, at most, one session. At the end of the session two out of the six can roll. The film demonstrates both forward and rear finishing rolls then analyses common mistakes, which students make in each. This is followed by very clear demonstrations of how to correct these mistakes. The film is designed to be an adjunct to your own practice sessions. You are advised to do these with helpers who observe and assist directly and also film, so that they and you can spot any mistakes hindering your progress. Aided by the DVD's clear menu system, you can then easily refer back to the appropriate section of the film's "fixes" chapter.

The session starts with land exercises designed to get students used to the feel of getting their lower bodies to twist the kayak upright rather than to use the paddle as a lever.

 In the water the demonstrations are very clearly filmed from a variety of different angles. The coaches observe the students initial attempts and advise them to develop either forward or rear finishing rolls to suit. I was pleased to see that in the initial stages, students were encouraged to come up on the same side as they went over on. I am sure that the full forward tuck and roll in (on the opposite side to which you come up) disorientates many learners. One of the things that might have been mentioned in the back finishing roll, is to sweep the paddle forward in a low brace position to give stability while raising the body off the back deck at the finish (as in the standard Greenland roll).

One of the coaches, Callum, actually demonstrates this several times in the film but it is not specifically mentioned.

Special mention has to go to the very clear menu system, which divides the rolling film into many parts. This makes it is very easy find and jump backwards and forwards to review and replay sections without having to pause, rewind and forward. This is the best implementation of navigation through a kayak rolling DVD I have seen.

You can watch a preview of the DVD here:

Volume 3, Sea Kayak with Gordon Brown v2 from Simon Willis on Vimeo.

Publication Date.
The Premier of the DVD will be at Paddle 2013, the Scottish Canoe Association annual show in Perth on 26th October. The DVD will then be available for purchase from selected dealers and directly from:

I am a friend of both Gordon and Simon and took part in the journey section of Sea kayak with Gordon Brown volume 2. I have therefore tried very hard to be critical and dispassionate but you will need to bear this in mind.

This third volume is a superb addition to the previous two volumes of Sea kayak with Gordon Brown and like them, it deserves to win more awards. I think the Handling emergency situations film is unique. I am not surprised that this film has come out of the UK. Recreational sea kayaking started round the fabulous coastline of the UK in the middle of the 19th century and so perhaps it is unsurprising that the UK now has so many coaches of Gordon Brown's calibre. However, there can be few places on Earth where a coach has such close working relationships with rescue helicopter pilot, coastguard radio officer and lifeboat coxswain, not to mention film maker. The fact that they are all sea kayakers is extraordinary and adds a unique synergy and chemistry to this outstanding and thought provoking film. The other three films on the DVD are each outstanding and original in their own right and the combination of all four make this DVD a must have for sea kayakers of all abilities. Lastly the frequent smiles and the Hebridean scenery make sure that this is not a dry technique DVD. This is sea kayaking fun (with Gordon Brown)!


  1. A cracking review, Douglas. The "Handling Emergency Situations" chapter caught all my attention. I also was happy to see that Murty Campbell had the victim raised by two straps horizontally, and that hydrostatic shock was mentioned.
    There is lot of stuff to learn: I never heard of dry iodine antiseptic spray -it seems far more practical than a Betadine solution-; the advantages of red over orange flares, how to check that one is inside a shipping channel. Many other bits that I've heard are very well shown: How clearly the helicopter can home in on the VHF signal when the radio transmits; the hazards of rocket flares; how fast does cold set in at night; and so on.
    Simon's script and editing are very, very good.
    Was the rolling clinic shot in the Glenmore Lodge's swimming pool?

    1. Thank you Wenley, I am not sure which pool was used but I would guess it would be Portree or Stornoway.

    2. It was Kyle pool

  2. Great review Douglas, I'm really looking forward to Volume 3, there seems to be just so much of real life use for just about every paddler.

    Kind Regards

    1. Thank you Ian, in comparison, some other recent DVD content on rescues etc is very thin, despite slick production.

  3. Fab review Douglas,

    I've got to admit I'm a huge fan of the series so far, loved the first two DVDs and after reading your review I can't wait for the 3rd!

    There's a lot of info on web about rescues and what gear is best for what situation, I've been lost in it all but the value here is seeing from the Coast Gaurds view as well and that for me is something I'd like to see... without actually being in the need of a rescue lol

    1. Lee you will enjoy watching this thought provoking Volume 3. :o)

  4. I suspect I may be one of the "headless chickens" you refer to. I don't know for certain as I haven't seen the new DVD. If you encounter an unconscious person, and you do not know the reason for their condition, it is clearly negligent not to control their cervical spine. The recovery position is not appropriate unless it is certain that there is no chance of neck injury.

    1. Hi Iain

      It is very good to hear from you. I very much apologise for putting it so bluntly and causing you offence. However, as I said in the review, "I applaud this film and those who participated in it for showing the chaos of a sudden medical emergency in an unsuspecting group".

      I, like you, have been a "guinea pig" (in vol 2 and also a 5* assessment) for Gordon. One of Vol 2's successes was showing a real rescue when one of us guinea pigs accidentally capsized. If the film shows us falling in (or not managing a medical emergency scenario perfectly) that is not a criticism of us. It just illustrates the need for appropriate training. The voiceover on the DVD introduces the clip as follows: "They are safely on land but no one is too sure what to do now. No one want's to take charge of the situation.There is a world of difference between first aid course in a classroom and those that confront candidates with realistic scenarios."

      I know only too well what a situation like that is like. I have experienced a real medical emergency on a sea kayaking trip. I fell on an uninhabited Hebridean island and ruptured the ligaments on the inside of my knee. My foot was pointing backwards, my knee cap was round the back of my knee, my lower leg was white and cold indicating the artery carrying blood to the lower limb was blocked. I was screaming in agony and our group was in chaos. There was no mobile phone reception and no VHF reception. We were three hours flying time from either Prestwick or Stornoway helicopter bases. All three of my companions vomited and two fainted. One was a veterinary surgeon who specialises in orthopaedics one was a qualified kayaking coach, who had recently completed a two day first aid course. When I needed help most, I had to help myself. To save my lower limb I had to twist it back into place on my own. So I know very clearly why Gordon advocates that first aid training in a real environment is required. Only then will people be prepared to do some good when an unexpected emergency happens. I have no doubt that all of you on that session will have learned a great deal from it, just as Gordon and Murty learned from the night rescue scenario involving the lifeboat.

      "The recovery position is not appropriate unless it is certain that there is no chance of neck injury." This is a very dogmatic statement.

      In the DVD example you were with Rowland on flat water, so it is extremely unlikely a head injury or a neck injury were part of Rowland's problem. (By the time he was manhandled onto the kayaks and ashore, a fractured cervical spine would have resulted in severe spinal damage anyway.) You may be more qualified in first aid than me but I did work for 4 years in accident and emergency medicine up to registrar gade. I have lost count of the number of unconscious and dead patients who arrived at A&E over those 4 years after aspirating stomach contents into their lungs because no one wanted to move them into the recovery position. The vast majority of unconscious people will not have a cervical spine injury (and if there is no history of trauma it is even less likely) but all are at risk of dying from aspirating stomach contents.

      With very best wishes, Douglas.

    2. It is a dogmatic statement, and I stand by it.
      I also bear the scars of previous experience. In the days before paramedic training, I came across an unconscious man, flat on his back but breathing steadily and reeking of drink. There were no obvious signs of injury. As the ambulance crew picked him up there was an audible clunk and his head rolled back. That was the moment his spinal cord went.
      My argument is that if someone is unconscious for unknown reasons it must be assumed that there is a possible neck injury until proven otherwise. With a stabilised neck and several first aiders present an immediate log roll is perfectly possible, if required.
      If there are any A+E consultants reading, it would be good to get their views.

  5. Douglas, The account of your knee injury gave me pause.

    1. Wenley it was a bit nippy. However, it was not something that someone with one or two days first aid training could have done anything about. I used my medical knowledge to put my leg back together. A first aider could have removed me from a place of danger and contacted the emergency services.

      While I was working I used to give talks to a wilderness and emergency medicine meeting at the University of Edinburgh. After recounting the tale of my knee, a hardened WEM technician, sitting at the front, fainted and fell off his chair onto the floor. I went over and put him in the recovery position, then continued where I had left off.

  6. "I was pleased to see that in the initial stages, students were encouraged to come up on the same side as they went over on. I am sure that the full forward tuck and roll in (on the opposite side to which you come up) disorientates many learners."

    I so totally agree, I love the fact that you said it out loud!!! (Though in written words, of course.) ;)

    Can't wait to see vol. 3 myself. Good review, thanks.

    1. Thank you Maria, last summer I got two teenagers rolling in one session in the sea. I didn't bother with the prepared tuck at all. I think you will enjoy the DVD very much.


  7. They really are a great series of videos although I lament the fact that this latest video is not available for download unlike numbers 1 and 2. Since the failure of my DVD player it is just not worth buying another one. My computer doesn't have one either so I purchase all my films and videos such as this online either direct from websites, from Google Play or the iTunes store. So in order for me to watch this third DVD which I want to do I'd have to buy a DVD player also.

    1. Hi Jonathan, I hadn't realised that Vol 3 was not available as a download. I will mention your post to Simon.

  8. Hi Jonathan,

    True to his word Douglas mentioned this to me.

    There are a couple of reasons Vol 3 is not yet available as download and probably won't be until next year, 2015.

    The main reason is that if we make this instantly available as a download, physical kayak stores won't stock our DVDs. Apparently we'd take away their USP - which is to say if the customer wants this product today they go to the store and buy it rather than waiting for the DVD by mail.

    We sell a lot of DVDs through kayak shops and we want to support them - in Europe and especially in the US where they account for a large percentage of our sales.

    As time goes on and more films are available for download, this situation will change. But for the moment at least, with our highly specialised, niche, low volume product, we've taken the decision to support the stores in this way.

    In time Volume 3 will probably be released as a series of downloads. Unlike the first two Volumes, this one consists of four separate films, so I expect these will appear as separate downloads.

    However, in its current format, The Rolling Clinic is designed to work on DVD, exploiting the interactive ability to jump to specific chapters. I currently feel I would want to re-edit and perhaps shoot additional material for this before releasing it as a Download. I'll look again at this later in the year.

    We've investigated iTunes and it's still designed for mass market productions. We'd have to go through a third party who would charge a small fortune to place any film on iTunes and we would make a hefty loss on the volumes we sell. (Free podcasts are different - see our

    I am investigating other formats - perhaps we could release the entire series in full HD on a memory stick for example?

    So I'm genuinely sorry you don't have access to any DVD player anywhere to play or rip DVD because it will be quite a while before Volume 3 is available in another format.

    Phew - that was longer than I intended!

    1. Wow thanks Simon for the in-depth reply. :).

      In many ways I am in between technologies as is the industry. I know the cost of DVD creation from my work and also when working with adventure motorcyclist friends who have produced them. I don't think I can wait a year especially as my appetite has been whetted with the trailers so I think I will just buy a portable DVD player for those occasions when no other option is available. After a quick check they are only £10 more than the DVD itself.

      I'm not one for ripping DVD's from friends because I know how much work goes into these productions and the returns are slim.

      Google have a system called Chromecast which has yet to officially reach our shores but it essentially streams your own films from Youtube, your hard drive and the movies you have bought on Google Play to the Dongle that plugs into the USB port on modern and wifi enabled TV's.

      Thanks again though for providing the reasons behind the distribution model of the third DVD in the series.