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Wilderness Environ Med. 2010 Sep;21(3):208-18. doi: 10.1016/j.wem.2010.01.009. Epub 2010 Feb 2.

An analysis of sea kayaking incidents in New Zealand 1992-2005.

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The Travel Doctor-Tauranga, CentralMed, Tauranga, New Zealand.



The objective of this study was to investigate trends, medical problems, and contributory factors that occurred in 50 sea kayaking incidents in New Zealand between October 1992 and September 2005. There are currently very limited validated data available worldwide about the epidemiology of sea kayaking incidents. The research will raise awareness of how these events happened and their potential for serious harm. It will assist kayakers to manage their sport safely.


This was a retrospective epidemiological study of incident reports originally collected by Paul Caffyn for the Kiwi Association of Sea Kayakers (KASK). Variables investigated in this study were geographic location, month, year, participant demographics, incident severity, type of kayak and trip, environmental conditions, safety gear carried, medical problems, cause of deaths, and contributory factors. Tables and graphs were developed to analyze the results.


Incidents occurred around New Zealand throughout the year, often in rough seas in offshore winds. More people were involved in September. Fifty-six percent of incidents involved groups; 20% were overseas tourists and 72% were recreational private trips. Eighty-five percent of participants were male, mostly aged 24 to 39 years old, and 48% had little or no experience. The severity of incidents increased with time. Severity was lower for women. Severity was higher in calm conditions and light winds, when the capsized kayaker became separated from the kayak, and when a personal flotation device (PFD) was not worn. Fishing incidents had a higher severity and involved inexperienced kayakers. Human factors contributed to most if not all incidents and occurred more frequently than physical events. Where medical problems were reported, hypothermia and sprains were common. Collision with a powered vessel was often fatal. The study was limited because it was based on relatively small numbers, was unlikely to capture all incidents in New Zealand, and denominator data were unknown.


All incidents were complex events with many variables interacting in different ways and all had the potential to be serious and life-threatening. Human actions were more important than physical events and young men were most often involved. Staying with the kayak after capsizing and wearing a PFD may have reduced the severity of an incident.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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