"Do I wear a helmet when paddling in current or not?"
"Do I wear a helmet for this rapid or not?"
The answer may surprise you!
I've asked myself these questions on more than one occasion while kayaking, canoeing, rafting, or stand-up paddling. These questions are good. Because it's not as concrete as a PFD. A PFD - it's as simple as wearing it if you're on the water. Just wear it. That's a rule of thumb, even if you're on flat water in a raft.
Are Helmets Necessary?
The answer is yes.
Suppose I go a failed roll with the wet exit. I hit my head on the bottom of the tire with no helmet and could only wait for help.
But if I wear a helmet, the helmet takes that force, transfers it around my head, disperses it, and destroys it. The helmet, in the process, prevents transmitting that force into your head and brain and results in a traumatic brain injury.
The helmet is an important part of water sports, especially on whitewater. Even if you are paddling in the current, you need to wear a helmet. The helmet will provide adequate protection for your heart and temple area. It must be buckled at all times. Your helmet will not protect if it is off or not buckled correctly and most accidents occur on the river bank, so keep it buckled until you are well away from the river.
How Helmets Work to Protect Your Brain?
Let's first look at how brain injury happens during a paddling crash.
The skull is like a bus, and the different parts of the brain are like passengers right next to each other. Imagine that a school bus hits a wall, smashing it right into it, the bus is crushed, and the passengers think about everything flying.
It's much the same in a direct head impact, a person's head smashes into something, and suddenly there's a mess of blood everywhere and inside the skull, torn tissue, and broken blood vessels. The damage is obvious. But suppose the bus driver somehow managed to panic stop the bus. It looks no damage on the outside, but inside they'd still be messed up, kids and their stuff everywhere, lots of cuts and bruises. The force from that panic stop would reach inside the bus and rattle the contents while leaving the bus unmarked.
The same has been seen in helmeted head impacts. If a severe impact overwhelms the helmet, the face and skull might look okay, and there might be no blood or fractures, but inside just as with the school bus, there's chaos. There can be stretched and torn neurons, broken blood vessels, and various injuries. Bleeding leads to more pressure inside the skull, damaging brain cells. Brain cells do not like to be touched by blood cells directly. These injuries can result in serious health and behavioural problems and even death.
But if the driver is really good, she sees the wall and applies the brakes firmly but carefully. The bus slows to a controlled stop just short of the wall. Now the kids remain seated and hang on to their books and backpacks when they get to school. The children can tell their friends and teachers about their close call.
It works the same for people wearing good helmets. When the helmet strikes, it stops moving almost immediately, but its thick inner liner allows the person to remain motionless for a while longer. The liner, as it is crushed, applies a controlled braking force to the head to slow it to a gentle stop. So long as the head is stopped before the hell, it runs out of the liner. The impact is softened to a tolerable limit. A truly protective helmet is constructed with a foam liner to cushion the head and a hard shell to prevent penetration. The hard shell spreads the impact force over a larger liner area, just like a thumbtack spreads the pushing force over the thumb. Having a good helmet on your head is like being on the right side of the thumbtack. Certified helmets protect the brain in low and high-energy impacts and assure you the same head protection.
How to Wear A Helmet?
A helmet will protect our temple and the back of our neck. But what we want is a helmet that's going to be adjusted correctly. So make sure we do it up at all times.
Take these steps in determining proper helmet fit:
- Always read and follow instructions provided by the helmet manufacturer.
- Measure the circumference of the head.
- The helmet should be snug around the head.
- The front edge of the helmet should sit one inch, two finger widths above the eyebrows.
- The pads should be snug, which means the helmet shouldn't move up and down much or rotate side to side. You shouldn't be able to slip the helmet off easily.
- The back of the helmet should completely cover the skin.
- Ear holes should be in the right position, roughly over the ear canal.
- No helmet fit should be rechecked annually by an adult.
- These steps apply to helmets for other types of sports, regardless of the sport.
The helmets are going to do no good if we leave them unbuckled. Remember to keep it on at all times. The helmet will only protect you if it is on and adjusted correctly.
So, if you are learning to paddle, wear your helmet. It's foolish not to do it.