Outdoor Safety Advice From Rescue Professionals

Camping & Backpacking / Paddling / ZZBLOG POSTS

Last February, I paddled alone down the Annisquam River. Shortly after launching my kayak, the US Coast Guard motored alongside me. I waved, but they did not wave back. Rather, they peered at me through binoculars, pointed at me a few times, and picked up a radio. Moments later they waved a friendly goodbye and motored away.

Weaving through chunks of ice and against a mild current, the Annisquam offered up an awesome afternoon. I paddled to the mouth, out into Ipswich Bay, and further to the open ocean. Just before turning back, a loud horn blasted behind me. I turned around to see that same Coast Guard boat, lingering about a quarter-mile away. They were watching over me and sent a loud, clear message suggesting I turn back.

I heeded their warning, but never got a chance to thank them for looking after me.


That instance got me thinking about professionals committed to helping people return home, especially when things go wrong. They’ve seen it all and I wanted to learn what they know—the stuff that doesn’t make it to the safety brochures.

Meet Mike Cherim and Christian Wilson, two rescue professionals (sea and land) who were kind enough to answer my questions about proper preparation and how to avoid meeting them in person during an emergency situation.  


Q: It’s the middle of the night and you hear there are hikers in the Whites who need to be rescued. Is there one piece of gear above all else that you hope they have with them?

MIKE CHERIM*: “Yeah, a sleeping pad. It is the number one piece of safety gear (hypothermia is the number one killer). If they have that along for a day hike I would be immediately reassured that they have a clue, and then some. I carry a 3/4 x 3/4 foam pad, even to little day hikes in the summer. Essential gear.”

Q: When you’re out patrolling and you see a kayaker, what do you look for? What helps you determine if they’ll be okay or if you should perhaps keep an eye on them?

CHRISTIAN WILSON**: “I often look at the kayaker/paddle boarder and watch how they handle their rig. Are they having a tough time maneuvering? How does the boat ride in the water (is it overloaded/is the load distributed evenly)? Are they headed for a busy part of the harbor or inlet? Are they easily visible to boating traffic? Just to name a few thoughts that fly through my head.”

Q: When you lead an inexperienced group of hikers into the wilderness, what’s the first thing you check for when you meet up at the trailhead? (That one thing you’re scanning for even before you’ve fully said hello).

CHERIM: “The first thing I look for is that they have the required gear. They need to not only have the gear, they need to know when and why it’s used and how to do so. That said, it’s up to the guide/leader to see to it they gain these skills if they don’t have them. We train as required throughout the day.”

Q: You’ve returned home from many missions. What’s the conversation like on the boat? Is there any recurring discussion like, “Man, I wish people…”

WILSON: “The one thing I stress to boaters and water sport enthusiasts alike is to know the weather. Intimately. The weather on the water can change in a heartbeat and can catch even the saltiest mariner off guard. Its important to know the water that you are enjoying, to know the weather pattern of the season you’re in. For example, summer on the Chesapeake Bay makes for amazing fishing and boating. However, fierce thunderstorms are known to race across the bay from West to East with very little warning. Boaters need to seek out marine forecasts for the water they navigate. They should monitor reports throughout the day and head warnings if advised.”

Q: Groups like HikeSafe, AMC, EMS, and USFS offer world-class advice to hikers. If you were given the chance to add just one more line to their manuals, what would it be?

CHERIM: “Practice with others. There are always people to hike with. Hire a guide, find an AMC hike, there are ways.”

Q: One last thing, Chris—In my experience, paddlers adore the Coast Guard. What’s the best way for them to show their support?

WILSON: “We love proactive, knowledgeable boaters. When I was at Station Channel Islands Harbor in California we had a huge kayak and paddle boarder fleet. We had these bright orange name-tag sized stickers that were “Owned by…” tags. They were waterproof and had areas to fill in owner name and contact information. When they blew off the docks, get set adrift from the beach, or however they end up taking their own unattended voyage they are easily identifiable.One of the hardest SAR [Search & Rescue] cases is a lone boat adrift with no one around. We will spend hours and hours conducting search pattern after search pattern all in the hopes of finding anything. All to find out that the kayak got loose from shore during a tide and the owner is at home eating popcorn and watching a movie with their family. We see that tag, make a phone call, and save a whole lot of headache.”


For United States Coast Guard Paddle Smart sticker info, Click Here

AVSAR Rescuers, evacuating on Mt. Washington's Huntington Ravine. (Photo from avsarnh.org)

AVSAR Rescuers, evacuating on Mt. Washington’s Huntington Ravine. (Photo from avsarnh.org)

*If you’d like to continue the conversation with Mike, feel free to reach him through his blog: http://nh-tramper.com

**It is important to note that Christian Wilson is expressing his experienced, personal opinions and not representing the United States Coast Guard in any way.




Justin Chase

Justin Chase is author of the New England journal: www.outdoorsbycracky.com


  1. January 24, 2014, 11:36 am

    Hi Darcy- Thanks for reading, and for taking time from your day to check in. It’s why we write this stuff!

    The sleeping pad is used for keeping a distressed hiker/climber off a hot/cold surface. Laying someone down on a cold slab, damp ground, or even a moderately cool/warm surface can make shock a real issue. A blanket can be simulated with extra layers, but insulating from the ground is serious stuff. It’s a also a serious sign that it’s a good bet the hiker packed other safety stuff as well. Mike’s right-always bring one!

    The best source for this type of info that I can think of is something like SOLO Wilderness First Aid course…


    Thanks again!

  2. Darcy
    January 22, 2014, 8:01 pm

    Sleeping pad vs. emergency blanket? If hypothermia is the issue, wouldn’t the emergency blanket work better (and be more compact?)

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