How to protest from the water
ABOUT THIS TRAINING
In this manual, we will explore examples of kayaktivism from the 1970s to now and information on how to implement the action. This resource was originally made by 350.org and modified for NooWorld.
This training is an 11 minute read.
KAYAKTIVISM THROUGHOUT HISTORY
RISKS IN THE WATER
Before engaging in blockades, you should attend a full training session on the specific blockade you will be using. Organizers should be responsible for full action planning and looking at various options beyond the scope of this manual.
KNOW THE WATER
Water has carved rivers and shaped shorelines. In other words, it’s a powerful force. Some considerations to remember:
- If you are paddling on an ocean, when is the tide high and low? How could these tidal changes affect your action? What about currents? When do the currents ebb and flood and how could that affect you? Are there any dangerous areas like things like whirlpools, high waves or rogue waves, or submerged dangers that exist?
- If you are on a river, how fast is it moving? Is it high or low water? Are there any rapids or submerged obstacles that participants need to know about?
- Large lakes can also have currents. If you are paddling on a lake, make sure you know about these. The best tools for learning about a body of water at a glance are maps and charts. Maps show features of the earth above sea level, and charts show features below sea level. Maps will be the most helpful to rivers, while charts will be indispensable for actions on large lakes and the ocean. Charts are complex, but this is a good primer on what to look for. You can find charts online or at a local boating store. If you are planning an action on the ocean, it’s a good idea to find out about the tides and currents. Countries publish tide and current tables in different ways.
- How to read tide and current tables
KNOW WHAT ELSE IS IN THE WATER
In a kayak or a canoe, you’re probably the smallest vessel on the water, and that makes you extremely vulnerable. Some important things to consider are:
- Do you know what the local regulations for boating are?
- Are you just assembling a flotilla, or trying to block a ship from moving?
- What kind of natural hazards or other physical risks exists for larger vessels?
- If you are blockading a specific ship and it is underway/moving, can it stop before it would hit you?
- Have you taken things like undertow and water displacement into account? Large vessels create their own sea states that can be very dangerous and a small boat can be sucked under a larger vessel, or even into a large propeller if you are not careful. As a general rule, try to keep at least 25 meters between yourself and a moving vessel, and have rescue scenarios for what happens if things go wrong. A good way of measuring is to look up and see if you can see the bridge (where people steer a ship from) from where you are, if you can’t, you’re likely in a dangerous place.
Charts can also be helpful for learning about the movement of large vessels, but you may also want to invest in a VHF (Very High Frequency) Radio, which ships use to communicate on the water. A VHF radio can help you monitor ship traffic, speak to other vessels, and more. Operating a VHF radio requires a license and using one without it can result in a hefty fine. A cheaper, but less effective tool is the smartphone app and website MarineTraffic, which tracks the travel of large vessels around the globe.
HAVE A WAY TO COMMUNICATE
High winds, loud boats, and distance can make communication on the water very difficult, so in addition to vocal communication, make sure you have backup systems to communicate on the water.
- Radios. The most expensive option, but also the best way to make sure you can communicate complex messages. Make sure you get waterproof ones.
- Cell phones. Phone and text messages can be useful, but make sure that you have reception on the water and that every phone is in some kind of waterproof protective case and either connected to its user or connected to something that floats. Water, especially saltwater, and phones don’t mix.
- Whistles. Whistles are very loud, pretty cheap, and extremely reliable. They’re also useless if you don’t have a clear system for their use. We suggest using whistles mainly for emergencies, with two long blasts signaling someone needing help. You can use them for other things, but beyond a few signals, they become confusing, and if you are using them for key communication, make sure people aren’t blowing them for fun.
- Paddle and hand signals. The simplest and most reliable form of signals, but as with all signals, they only work if people know what they mean. There are no hard and fast rules for signals so customize them for what makes sense for your action.
MAKE SIMPLE PLANS
Make your action as safe as it can be to achieve your goals. Make a Plan B….and C, D & E, if you think you might need it. Have agreements on when you will turn back based on increases in the human, weather, or sea state risks. Design the plan both for your own physical blocking/offensive goals — and for the visual imagery it creates — and that it fits into the overall logic of the campaign. (Is this the right time to escalate? Does this escalation make sense to people not intimately involved in the campaign?) Especially if there isn’t a history of water-based actions in your area, start with small, low-risk actions and work your way up as you develop an understanding of the water, the police, and your targets. Don’t deploy all your technology at once. Leave room to escalate during the action, if that is appropriate. When planning paddling trips, guides will consider 3 key risk factors, and using this model can also be helpful for direct action on the water. These factors are:
- Human risk. Ask yourself, how skilled or well trained are the people that you are taking onto the water? What other vessels are you going to be paddling with or around? What do you know about how the police where you are taking action respond on the water?
- Weather. Is it going to be calm or windy? If there is wind, is going to make paddling easier or harder? Will it be working with you or against you, and at what times in the day? Will it be sunny and hot, which raises the risk of dehydration, or rainy and cold, where hypothermia can become an issue. What kind of weather would keep you onshore? Remember, the marine forecast can be very different from the forecast on land.
- Sea state or water conditions. Are the waves and swells big enough to tip paddlers? How strong are the currents and could they be a factor in your action? If you are on a river, how fast is it moving, and are there any rapids you need to be concerned about?
- Scout. Spend a lot of time getting to know your location and the water that you’re planning to paddle on. Unless it’s extreme circumstances, your action should never be the first time you’re paddling in an area. Get clear on the different roles. A good support team is essential. People who are not wanting to risk being part of a blockade are needed to help out other logistics, paying attention to safety, talking to media, and more. This is especially true during an action on the water when food, water, and media access are going to be limited by how close you are to a shoreline. If you can, have at least one support boat with a solid crew. By thinking through your action and the context in which it will take place, you can develop some scenarios to help you predict how things will go.
Before you go implementing your plan, take advantage of the experience of others, through training, or on-site support. Everyone does it for the first time once. And the more experience you have, the more responsibility you have to support others in an appropriate way. For actions on the water, seek out experienced paddlers or guides who may have important, specific knowledge. Oftentimes, local guides and paddlers are also the kind of people with a vested interest in protecting the bodies of water.
PRACTICE! PRACTICE! PRACTICE!
The more you practice, the safer you will be and the more effective your action will be. Some specific skills to know and practice:
- Kayak Wet Exit. Flipping over in a kayak can be scary and dangerous if you don’t know how to get out, especially during an action. Practice wet exits to make sure you are comfortable in case of a capsize. ○ How to Do a Wet Exit
- Rescue. Eventually, someone may end up in the water. Drowning, hypothermia, and other risks are real, so knowing a few simple rescue techniques and practicing them can go a long way to making sure your action is safe and effective. ○ Here are two key examples of rescues ○ Kayak T-Rescue ○ Canoe T-Rescue
- Towing. Paddling is tiring, and there’s a good chance someone might not be able to get back to shore under their own power. ○ How to Tow
- Plan a media strategy and execution. Make sure your message gets out and that your action logic is as transparent as possible. Remember, the further you are from shore, the harder it will be to get media to the frontline of your action. Make sure that you’re producing photos and videos, and if you can, have a boat to bring journalists out onto the water. Don’t let communications be an afterthought.
- Dress for success. Make sure that your appearance helps carry the tone you want to set for your action, and is appropriate for the conditions that you are paddling in. In the South Pacific, shorts and a t-shirt may be enough, but in the Pacific Northwest, the ocean can be cold enough to cause hypothermia within minutes if you fall in. Dress comfortably, but appropriately. Have your support people around with layers changes of dry clothes if it gets cold or someone ends up in the water.
- Have the right gear. Different kinds of boats will be the norm depending on where in the world you are, whatever the case, make sure you have the right equipment for your action. In some places, this may mean specific equipment each boat needs to be on the water, like rope, an extra paddle, and something to bail out water. The authors of this guide strongly recommend wearing a Personal Flotation Device anytime you are on the water.
- Stay hydrated. Bring more water than you think you will need, and make sure your support people can get water to you. You can’t drink the ocean and many places where you may be taking action could be dangerous to drink the water in.
- Know the legal risk. Maritime law and port regulations vary all across the world and can carry significant legal risks that may exceed similar actions on land. On top of this, many jurisdictions don’t have a good legal precedent for this kind of action. Make sure you reach out to a lawyer, get a clear sense of the legal risks for taking action on the water where you live, and work together to come up with a plan to minimize those risks.
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