Sea kayaking is an exciting sport for anyone curious enough to take up the paddle. Whether your paddle is simply an extension of your arm or whether you can count your sea adventures on one hand, sea kayaking is a safe and enjoyable leisure activity – as long as you have learnt the basic skills and can identify potential hazards. The thrill of sea kayaking comes from interpreting and reacting to the ever-changing levels of potential hazards – wherever your paddle takes you.
You see, the best sea kayaker is not the strongest person with the largest muscles – each sea kayaker faces the rawness of nature’s strength. In the mighty sea even the strongest will eventually tire if they fall into poor conditions. The best sea kayakers are prepared, and know how to spot potential dangers. This enables them to accurately compare the danger they see with their own abilities, helping to avoid entering situations they cannot deal with.
So how do you prepare for your adventure?
You need three things before you dip your paddle into the water: adequate skills, knowledge of hazards, and safety equipment. You should be able to swim and have practiced with your safety equipment before you leave the shore. You should have an emergency plan of action (and a backup plan) to prevent panic if you do capsize or become separated from your group.
Beginner sea kayakers should find a more experienced friend to paddle with. The best way to become a better kayaker is to gain experience and learn from someone who knows their way on water. If you are setting out in a group with more than three members, chose a leader and have them make the decisions out on the water so there is no disagreements and no one branches out on their own or gets left behind.
Practise capsizing in shallower water and exiting the kayak with the spray deck on. Can you do this underwater with your eyes closed? Make sure you can remove the spray deck using a number of different methods. Listen to the weather forecast before you set out and always stay alert for new dangers. Be aware of any rolling surf near the shore that may catch you and force you to capsize.
Make sure your equipment is neither damaged nor worn out. Get a life jacket that you find comfortable and wear it when you are in the water or paddling. Make sure your spray deck fits tightly onto your cockpit and that the cord hasn’t become worn or loose over time. However, beginners shouldn’t use a spray deck until they know how to take it off.
Make sure you have a lot of secured flotation in both ends of your kayak – if it’s only at one end the kayak can become vertical meaning re-entry in the water is pretty much impossible. Never ever lose grip of your kayak if you are capsized. A kayak blown in the wind can travel much faster than you can swim! Always carry repair kits with duct tape for your kayak and paddle – a first aid kit is also a good idea.
Bring a bailing device – draining a kayak of water when you are out from shore is not possible. Pack equipment which can be used for signalling if you get into danger; a set of flares, a distress flag or a hand-held foghorn is usually sufficient. Consider bringing a spare paddle, a pump, and orienteering equipment, like a compass and chart, depending on how far you intend to go.
Always prepare for hazards and always stay alert. Hypothermia, unexpected gusts of wind, string wave hazards, landing in surf without a helmet on, currents, entering fog and crossing the path of other watercraft are the basic hazards a sea kayaker should be aware of.
Once you have become familiar with the hazards, the equipment needed and you have mastered some of the basic skills there is no reason people of any age can’t enjoy the view from the cockpit of a sea kayak. The whole experience is breath-taking; each trip is a new adventure and new challenges are presented. What are you waiting for? Grab your paddle this summer and get down to the shore!
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