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Is the Color of Your Helmet Important?

Is the Color of Your Helmet Important?

"Mark fu@k!n go get him!" Me: " I would if I could bloody see him!"

- Iceland 2010, Godafoss Waterfall

We were a group of kayakers ( all raft guides too ) Taking a day off and paddling the famous Godafoss waterfall in Iceland. 

For those who don't know of Godafoss, it is a horseshoe shaped waterfall with multiple lines. ranging from 3m to 12m in height. It is a popular tourist destination and the ultimate park & huck spot I would say. 

We had been warming up on the small 3m drop when we noticed 2 kayakers  on the opposite bank lining up to run the 12m drops. We watched the first kayaker run a the falls with a pretty clean line. The second kayaker ran the fall quite quickly afterwards and went deep in the landing. Counting in my head, I knew that once I had counted past 6 there was trouble. As he had failed to resurface, I felt the adrenaline starting to kick in and I took a breath to calm down all in the same second. Although we were not with the other kayakers we were their only possibility of rescue for at least the next 6 hours since there are not many water rescue teams in Northern Iceland. 

Both Myself & Karu a Nepalese kayaker jumped into our kayaks to try and help. The second kayaker had been missing for around 5 Minutes by the time we got to the bottom of the drop. I remember shouting to Karu as we paddle across the pool: "Don't rush in lets take care of each others safety first"

We both paddled to the PLS (Point Last Seen) and saw nothing. I looked up to literally see hundreds of tourist reaching for mobile phones to make emergency calls. I tried to remember what kit he was wearing I remember seeing a black drytop and a white helmet. ( Not much contrast with whitewater & black rocks. I could not get any type of visual reference.

Eventually we heard a scream from behind the drop as he jumped out from behind the fall where he was trapped. The panicked swimmer grabbed our kayaks and we towed him to safety  (phew) I was right white helmet & black drytop.

Bosnia 2017: The Blue / Green helmet is hard to see

Bosnia 2017: The Blue / Green helmet is hard to see

Working as a guide & safety kayaker over the years I have been involved in lots of rescues of swimmers both from rafts & kayaks. The amount of times I have said to my self I cannot see them mainly because of the color of their helmet. From my own experience I have noticed that there are a few colors that are hard to see in moving water. 

Least visible Helmet colors

  • White 
  • Black 
  • Brown 
  • Black 
  • Blue
  • Green 
  • Grey 

My question is why are the manufacturing companies still using these colors? I have found that the following colors are much easier to see and track when chasing a swimmer through big water:

  • Orange 
  • Red 
  • Yellow
  • Pink 
  • Luminous green / yellow.
IRF Workshop - Thailand 2017: Spot the swimmer

IRF Workshop - Thailand 2017: Spot the swimmer

Tara River 2017: Yellow helmet is much easier to see

Tara River 2017: Yellow helmet is much easier to see

For those that work around the emergency services we tend to know that the color of your helmet represents the level of your training. 

  • White = I/C or person in charge. 
  • Red = Technician level  trained. 
  • Yellow = Responder level trained.
Isere River, France: High water 2016

Isere River, France: High water 2016

A really good trend I am starting to see within the commercial rafting industry are companies using   different color helmets  for customers with certain needs eg 

  • Red helmets for non swimmers or nervous customers. 
  • Orange helmets for customers with medical conditions

This way guides & safety kayakers are able to help the above mentioned a little quicker in a situation if needed. Of course the color of the helmet is great during the day light but what happens if you get stuck out on the river once it becomes dark? How are you going to see your friends & customers?

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For a Few years now I have been providing students on my courses with branded SOLAS (Save our Lives at seas) stickers SOLAS material is highly reflective and recognized by coast guards and marine industries all over the world. Stickers can be purchased from www.artandsea.co.uk with your own custom design.

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Next time it comes to purchasing a new helmet take a second to think about not only the design but the color too. 

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