Tag Archives | advice

5 reasons to: Wear Earplugs

Getting water in your ear is bad for you. Fact. Why risk this?

Surfers Ear

1. Prevent Surfer’s Ear

Surfer’s Ear (or Exostosis) is caused by your ear being repeatedly subjected to cold water & cold wind (perhaps by going kayaking?). Bony growths start to close the ear canal (see photo above) which can lead to loss of hearing, tinitus and further infections. Although this happens over time, do not think that just because you are young, you can get away with it… you won’t realise it’s started to happen until it’s too late. The first you’ll know is when you are struggling to make out what your mate is saying in a busy bar.

The only cure? An operation where they peel back your ear and literally drill the excess bone away.

Result of a Surfers Ear Operation
Post-op in his mid-20s! (See comments for full story)

That’ll keep you out of a boat for a few months…

2. Prevent Swimmer’s Ear

No, you do not only get Swimmer’s Ear by falling out of your boat! It’s a colloquial name for a nasty infection caused by water trapped in the ear – particularly dirty water (anyone for Holme Pierrepont?).

Swimmers Ear diagram

And guess what? Having Surfer’s Ear makes you more likely to get Swimmer’s Ear too!

3. Wearing earplugs can be cool and stylish!

You don’t have to look like a complete dork (though if this is your look, then go for it). Ear plugs come in whole range of styles, colours and sizes so you can get ones to match your eyes or your cag…

Funky Ear Plugs
Photo from surfplugs.co.uk

I chose really bright ones that float to reduce the chance of losing them. You can buy ear plugs in most good kayak shops and good swimming outlets. But for the best fit, you’ll want a custom mould from the NHS, a hearing centre or a company such as surfplugs.

4. YOU CAN STILL HEAR (so there’s no need to shout)

Many people say they don’t want to wear earplugs because they won’t be able to hear while paddling. Poppy-cock! I wear custom-fit ear-plugs with no vents and I can still hear everything I need to. Yes, I usually take one out while in direct conversation in the eddy, but that is mainly because I don’t like the sound of myself with them in! I can still hear people calling me and can certainly still hear whistles.

Sure, they can take some getting used to but wouldn’t you rather have slightly dulled hearing on the water than permanently damaged hearing throughout the rest of your life?

5. The best ones are FREE!

The NHS make custom ear-plugs (which they call swim plugs) through the audiology departments in hospitals. You can either be referred by your GP, or just call and make an appointment. Explain that you are a kayaker and that you constantly subject your poor ears to cold, dirty water – which is often propelled into your orifices at great force by rapids, waves and stoppers. They’ll soon have you strapped to a seat while they fill your ears with gooey cotton wool to make the mould!

When I got my most recent pair done, I was able to opt for floating ear-plugs. I highly recommend this option!

So, can you give me 5 good reasons not to wear earplugs?

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What’s in YOUR first aid kit?

A couple of weeks ago myself, Jon and Tom attended a first aid course for outdoor professionals to refresh ourselves on those vital skills. I thought I’d take this opportunity to discuss what I choose to have in my first aid kit on the river, and why. What you choose to take with you is a personal decision, but one worth considering.

What do I put it in?

I use a Lifesystems Compact First Aid kit pack. I find it a good size and fairly water resistant.

First Aid Kit

I put this inside a 10 litre drybag with a few extra things (I will come on to them later). I have clearly marked the dry bag as FIRST AID, so other people can quickly identify it in an emergency. You may want to purchase a sticker to put on your dry bag / peli case.

Inside the red pack…

If you open the pack shown above, you will immediately see 2 pairs of non-latex gloves. When an incident has taken place it is all too easy to rush in to try and help. Make sure you protect yourself and others from cross-contamination – WEAR GLOVES. Putting them here means you cannot forget!

Gloves in the first aid kit

So what else?

  • A range of hypo-allergenic plasters
  • Some stretchy sticky fabric tape (hypo-allergenic)
  • Micro-pore tape
  • 3 sizes of sterile dressings / bandages
  • A range of sizes of adhesive dressings
  • 2 tubes of sterile water
  • Face mask
  • 6 alcohol free antiseptic wipes
  • Triangular bandage
  • Ducktape
  • Scissors

I keep everything in little sealable plastic bags, just to give extra protection against getting wet:


I keep the ducktape on a bit of old broken pen. This allows me to store a good amount in a compact yet easy to dispense format.

Duck tape dispenser

Also in the dry bag…

I carry some waterproof paper, with a small IKEA pencil tucked in the coils so I can note down any details such as the casualty’s name, what happened, what treatment has been given, vital stats etc. Along with this I carry a little prompt card, cos even the most well trained can find themselves forgetting everything at the sight of a loved one in dire medical trouble. You can use these to record on, but I find that in our environment a waterproof pad is much easier. Pencils can withstand being wet, pens to write on laminated card don’t tend to like it.

Notepad and prompt sheet

Savlon spray is a great antiseptic that also handily dries wounds – very handy in wet environments. And Compeed is fab for blisters / rubbing – the Savlon spray can be used first to dry out the area. these are not essentials, but pretty useful I think.

Savlon and Compede

I also carry a “Blizzard Vest”, which is a like a big corrugated, hooded foil jumper that you can stick over anyone getting cold. It’s vacuum packed, and if you have to use it you can send it back to be re-packed!

Blizzard vest

If someone is injured they get cold really fast, especially outdoors. However, don’t forget that the rest of the group might be getting cold too. This is why I have another dry bag…

The other drybag…

I carry a separate dry bag for what I would call “group kit”. In there I have a group shelter, some emergency foods and spare clothing. The reason I have this separate is because there are some places I don’t feel it is necessary to carry these things, like at managed sites such as Canolfan Tryweryn. At these sites I would still usually carry a first aid kit though, just in case.

The call for help…

AquapacI cannot recommend strongly enough that every group take a mobile phone with them on the water. Put it in an aquapac and carry it on your person.

Yes, there isn’t always signal in the remote and mountainous regions we go to, but it’s usually nearer than the nearest payphone or house. And those things will be there whether or not you are carrying a phone – so why not? If you don’t want to be disturbed, just turn it off. If you are worried about damaging your expensive smart phone, buy a £10 handset and put a pay-as-you-go sim in it – just make sure to check the battery before you leave!


White water kayaking is an adventure sport – one which involves an element of risk and many risks of the elements. Hopefully anyone who goes paddling regularly can see that if something were to go wrong, you are likely to be a little way from help. In my opinion, all paddlers should attend a good first aid course at least once every 3 years. Rescue Emergency Care courses are good because they are not restrained by HSE First Aid at Work and are designed for people who will be operating in the outdoor environment. There is quite a difference between the potential seriousness of a broken leg in an office carpark and one beside a steep-banked river in Scotland in the middle of winter, for instance.

I hope you never need to use first aid; but if you do I hope you are equipped and trained appropriately. I’m sure your friends and family would hope the same.

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