We’d like to welcome you to sea kayaking with a word of caution. It can be a safe and rewarding activity if common sense prevails and certain precautions are taken. Before you put in for a day’s paddle, check that you have the following:
- a kayak in good, serviceable condition, with plenty of secure buoyancy, fore and aft
- a paddle
- a spraycover that fits your boat
- a personal flotation device and whistle
- clothing suitable for the conditions
- a bailer or pump
- an accessible spare paddle, min. of 1 per group
In any but the most benign conditions, also consider:
- an accessible flare pack
- a flashlight, (even if you are only planning a daytime trip)
- self-rescue aids
- rain gear, and extra clothing in a waterproof bag
- a minimum of 25 feet of tow line
- charts and tide tables, current tables if appropriate
- a compass
- a knife
- matches or a lighter
- first aid kit
- a weather radio
Without wishing to alarm anyone, we want to make it clear that sea kayaking is an activity that demands sound judgment and caution. This is always the case, no matter how experienced you are. Not surprisingly, your most vulnerable time is when you have mo
st to learn, as a beginner.
Here are some basic cautions and precautions to help you through the early stages.
THE GREATEST SINGLE DANGER TO SEA KAYAKERS IS HYPOTHERMIA.
COLD WATER KILLS.
LEARN ABOUT HYPOTHERMIA.
- Thoroughly familiarize yourself with your boat.
- Start gradually in moderate weather, close to shore, with an experienced companion. Experiment with strong winds only when they are blowing toward shore.
- Develop your paddling skills, including turning and bracing.
- Learn and practice a self-rescue method appropriate for you and your boat, including deep-water re-entry.
- Practice a group rescue so you can help others.
- Make a habit of carrying safety equipment. It will be easier to carry your safety equipment if you keep it stored in one bag.
- Leave a float plan. Let someone know where you’re putting in and when and where you plan to return. Leave a full description of your car.
- Read all you can on the subjects of sea kayaking, weather, oceanography and cold water survival.
- Get a weather forecast each day you are out.
- Avoid paddling alone.
- Be sure you are using a boat for the purpose for which it was designed.
- Like any mariner, you must know the principles of navigation and seamanship.
Make sure you are familiar with how to deal with the following situations which can occur in open water. Consult local experts or available literature for additional information on these important subjects.
Avoid paddling when whitecaps are visible until you thoroughly appreciate their effect.
1) upset a kayak
2) make it difficult to turn
3) create unmanageable waves
4) prevent you from holding a course
5) slow you down or stop you
Fog can result in sudden and total disorientation. You will need a compass, but you may gain some orientation from sounds of beach surf, bells, fog horns, etc., as well as from steady wave and wind direction.
You will encounter two principal types of current on the sea: reversing tidal current and continuous ocean current.
Strong current can aggravate conditions caused by adverse weather, particularly when current and wind are opposing. They can also cause difficult eddy and wave conditions even on utterly still days, from the sheer force of the flow.
1. Read your chart to help identify danger points.
2. Use any available information to estimate slack or favorable current and time your passage or crossing for that period.
3. Paddle in current under controlled conditions to familiarize yourself with its effect.
4. Exercise caution when the current and wind direction oppose each other.
Topography affects wind and water conditions in shallows, beach surf, headlands, cliffs and river mouths.
Shallows: Waves steepen and break heavily on shallows. Avoid those areas when waves are large or strong currents are forced to flow over them.
Surf: Waves steepen and break on beaches and shoals. Generally, try to avoid landing in surf with a loaded kayak. Avoid surf on rocky beaches.
Headlands: Conditions are frequently more difficult off headlands with increased wind (funnelling), accelerated current and re-bound waves. Seas become chaotic.
Cliffs: Cliffs limit landing sites and can cause chaotic rebound wave conditions.
River mouths: Difficult wave conditions occur when a river outflow runs against the waves.
Watch for power boats, ships, tugboats with barges and all other watercraft. Make yourself visible and never assume you have been seen or have the right of way.
With the exception of the tides, large lakes pose most of the difficulties and dangers of the sea. Waves, however, are steeper and more likely to break than on the sea.
The basis of safe sea kayaking is sound judgment, self-responsibility and technical competence. Join a club, take a class, read books and/or consult local experts to learn all you need to know about the sport. Remember that where you paddle, others will follow.
Leave your campsite as you would like to find it.