Owner's Paddling Guide
Please read the safety
manual, rescue manual, this paddle skills manual and the manual to your Mariners
features before paddling it.
TRANSPORTING YOUR KAYAK
The T-grip handles
at each end of the kayak make it relatively easy for two people to carry a loaded kayak.
One person can 'walk' a heavily laden boat up the beach with these handles by alternately
lifting the bow and stern and pivoting it around the opposite end. Of course, you could
simply drag the boat by one end but you leave some of the hull behind each time you do
this (dragging a loaded kayak even a short distance can wear the keel quickly--avoid
this). The keel at the bow and stern will get the most wear from beaching, etc. If you
eventually wear through the gelcoat in these areas, be assured that the damage is cosmetic
only at this point. However, it is a sign you should be more careful in the future or you
could wear a hole through the laminate.
The U-bolt or the nylon rope of the T-grip make secure tie-down points
for ropes going to your car's bumpers or towing points. We highly recommend that each
kayak be well secured to its rack as well as at both the front and rear of the car. The
job of holding the boat in place should be done primarily by the ropes or webbing tying it
to the rack itself. Take care not to distort the hull on the rack. If you leave any kayak
distorted in some way for many hours, or through a heating/cooling cycle, the material may
take a set in that position. This is a cosmetic problem and usually doesn't hurt the boat,
but we suggest that you support kayaks at the chines (where the bottom turns into the
sides) or another stiff place such as the keel near the bow or stern to avoid distortion.
Use 1/4 or 5/16 inch solid-braid nylon rope for the bumper lines, it holds
knots better than other types. Tie the ropes to the bumpers with a Bowline knot. Fasten
the other end(s) to the kayak's grab loops, or better yet to the grab loop attachment, with
the Midshipman's hitch, which can be slid to shorten or lengthen the line as needed. When
taking the slack out of the end lines, be careful not to put too great a strain on the
kayak. Due to the leverage available, more sea kayaks are probably damaged by bending them
over racks than by all other causes put together, doubles are especially vulnerable. The
Bowline and Midshipmen's hitch are about the most useful knots ever devised. Learn them
and you may never need to learn any other knots. They are both very easy to untie as well
as tie. Knot diagrams are in the Mariner
Kayaks Users Manual.
If the rack doesn't have
secure cradles to keep the kayak from shifting to the side use two ropes in an
"A" configuration to tie each end of the kayak. If you make an "A"
using a single longer rope make sure you wrap the rope around the attachment point on the
kayak enough times so the kayak can't slip side to side on it (defeating the purpose of
CAUTION: Always tie the car end of the rope first. If you
are distracted and forget to tie the top you might drive off and then stop to investigate
that squealing noise that is telling you that you ruined the rope. Most likely you would
notice the bow rope was not in position before starting to drive. If you drive off with
the bow rope hanging from the bow of your kayak the rope may look (from inside the car)
like it is actually tied to your bumper but as your wheel rolls over it and reels it in
you will get a real good look at: 1) the bottom of your kayak, 2)a dent in your hood and
3)a fiberglass repair shop.
fasten a kayak to their rack many people use rubber straps with hooks. They are quick and
convenient, but we recommend using ropes or webbing-- if the bow rope should break or come
loose rubber straps may not be enough to hold a boat down, especially at highway speeds.
The results could be unpleasant for your kayak, the car and driver following you, your
insurance company, and finally yourself. Rubber straps make a fine addition to ropes or
straps because they can help keep the kayak from rotating. CAUTION: Rubber
bungies with hooks on the ends
are involved in many emergency room visits to an eye doctor. They can snap the hook back
in your face if they slip. Be careful and always keep your head to one side of the line of
fire when they are stretched.
against a hard and narrow bar of a rack can eventually cause a soft spot in the fiberglass
where it is abused. At minimum put lots padding on the bars of the rack. Padded form
fitting cradles are a good idea. They distribute the forces over a wider area. Carrying a
kayak on its side tied to upright bars (such as those available for the Yakima and Thule
rack systems) is also an excellent way of avoiding undue stresses in transport since the
seam is the stiffest part of the hull and therefore the least likely to be distorted. Pad
the bars under the seam with pipe insulation or the equivalent. When tying sea kayaks on
edge the bow and stern ropes may be off center to the same side so that tightening them
may rotate the kayak (or the kayak may rotate, loosening the lines). To minimize rotating
the kayak tie these lines to the opposite side of the car (with two kayaks the ropes would
make an "X"). If possible route the rope over the top of the kayak rather than
under it near its attachment point to the kayak. Tying the bows and sterns of two kayaks
together with a short rope may also help prevent them from rotating. Route the rope over
the higher side if the decks are facing away from each other (as is usually the case when
using a vertical bar)
GETTING TO KNOW YOUR KAYAK
delivery of your new kayak you'll first probably spend time simply gazing at it with
delight, admiring the fluidity of its lines, thrilling to the sun bouncing highlights off
the gleaming new deck, etc. etc. Soon enough it will be time to get it wet. Tie it on your
car and head for the water. Drive carefully now, obey the speed laws and keep your eyes on
the road! Resist the urge to stare at its reflection in the windows of every storefront
you pass by.
When you're first learning to kayak it's likely that you may capsize
sometimes. In fact, if you DON'T it's probably a sign that you are being too timid about
practicing your skills. So be prepared for a possible dunking and do your practicing in a
Before ever getting on the water it is important to practice removing the
spray deck several times to familiarize yourself with the procedure. Release the spray
skirt by grabbing the loop at the front of the cockpit and push it forward until the shock
cord clears the rim, then pull "up" and back.
To prevent panic and potential disaster it's a good idea to first
practice wet exiting with a friend standing by in shallow water. IMPORTANT!: Capsize first
without the spraydeck attached and 'wet exit' by slipping the kayak off like a pair of
pants. Some people like to slide straight out towards the stern, others find it easier to
"somersault" forward. If you have a sliding seat you should also practice
sliding the seat back and forth, first when you are upright to get the hang of it and then
when you are up side down (actually easier than when right side up!) Practice this because
wet exiting will not be as easy with the seat fully forward, particularly for larger
paddlers. Techniques for sliding the seat are covered later in this manual.
When attaching the spraydeck, make sure the loop at the front is outside the
boat, not tucked in where you can't easily get at it. Practice removing the spray deck a
few more times, then capsize and make sure you can remove it while upside down. Anytime
you tighten the spraydeck's shock cord or use a different spraydeck you must again test to
see that it is still easily removed from the cockpit.
Test alternate ways of removing the skirt so
youll have back up methods in case youve accidentally tucked the release loop
under the deck, or it tears loose leaving the deck in place. One possible alternate
release, if your spraydeck has adjustable shock cord, is grabbing and pulling the shock
cords emerging from the back of the spraydeck. Try getting your fingers under the shock
cord at the sides of the coaming (this is not likely to be easy) and peeling it off around
the front. Some shirts have enough slack at the sides that you can grab it there and pull
it away from the rim. Another emergency release is reaching down inside the waist opening
and shoving your fingers between the cockpit rim and the spraydeck (at the left side if
you use your right hand), forcing the shock cord away from the rim to break the seal and
lift up and slide your hand forward to release the deck. Please practice these techniques!
Become an expert at self rescue and group rescue skills. Until you do, paddle
only in company with experienced paddlers or stay very near shore and be proficient at
removing your spraydeck and "wet exiting" YOUR kayak. Heed Matts advice:
"I nearly ran out of air trying to exit the spraydeck after capsizing the first kayak
I owned. I was trying the same techniques that worked well with a different spraydeck and
cockpit I had used before, but they didn't work with my new kayak and spraydeck
combination. It was a frightening (and eye-opening) experience I wouldn't wish on anyone
else." Always retest safety procedures whenever you make an adjustment or change in
FLOTATION AND GEAR STORAGE
The first thing
that needs flotation is you. Get a comfortable PFD (personal flotation device) and always
wear it. You will want one that is short so the back doesn't interfere with the backrest
on the seat or be pushed up under your arms (and around your face) by the spraydeck.
For maximum safety and to facilitate any rescue that might become necessary,
you need as much flotation as possible in both ends of your kayak. There are a number of
ways to accomplish this, each with advantages and disadvantages. For extra security use
multiple flotation systems.
The simplest flotation system is a pair of large float bags in an open kayak.
They can remain inflated in the boat for long periods so they do not need to be reinflated
each time you paddle. You must check that both your float bags are in place and inflated
before each paddle. You should also take care to leave some room for expansion of the air
as the day gets warmer or if you plan to gain significant elevation. Be sure to let out
considerable air before driving over a mountain pass! Make sure you use float bags that
fill up most of the space behind the cockpit and in front of the foot braces. Often float
bags are made to fit the ends of small pointed river kayaks or two small river kayak bow
bags are used in the bow and stern (the idea being to allow some gear room in the back).
Small (river kayak size) float bags are inadequate for sea kayaks. You must have enough
flotation to not only keep the kayak afloat but to keep the cockpit above the water with
both you and a heavy gear load sitting in your fully swamped kayak. The Mariner Kayaks
store has float bags custom made to maximize the flotation for sea kayaks. With the open
system all gear is carried in waterproof bags and the kayak is loaded through the cockpit.
The float bags can be deflated as needed to provide room for gear bags. Smaller bags are
usually placed under the float bags to hold the gear weight low and in place. Larger gear
bags go near the paddler to minimize the weight in the ends of the kayak (affording a
drier ride and better control of the kayak). The waterproof gear bags (lofted by the gear
inside) also act as flotation. If you need to fill the whole boat with gear, the float
bags come out and the gear bags provide the flotation. In that case, roll up your float
bags and carry them with you in order to have flotation whenever your gear bags are left
on shore, such as on a day paddle from a campsite.
Make sure your gear bags fill as much of the kayak as possible. Using the
largest size gear bags that fit: 1) lessens the chance that they might slip out during a
capsize and rescue attempt, 2) minimizes the water that will need to be bailed, and 3) is
the most economical in cost. We designed and sell large cone shaped bags to efficiently
fill the tapered ends of sea kayaks. Two of these combined with two extra large
rectangular bags in each end provides adequate flotation for most single kayaks and most
people. Smaller gear bags are more likely to slip past the footbraces or seat if one end
of a flooded kayak is pushed down during a rescue attempt. One method of increasing
flotation and securing smaller gear bags within the open system is the Sea Sock.
For those unfamiliar with it, the Sea Sock is essentially a large bag made
with 'waterproof' material. It fits into the cockpit of your kayak and seals at the
coaming. You then sit inside the bag, separated from the seat, footbraces, and the rest of
the inside of your boat. The Sea Sock excludes much more water in a capsize than any other
system we have seen (with the possible exception of the pod--essentially a rigid sea
sock--but, with the disadvantage of requiring hatches that could become a source of
leaks). A Sea Sock should never be relied upon as the sole means of providing flotation
because you could have it open while fishing around for your lunch or a piece of gear and
then capsize. This would leave you with essentially no flotation just when you needed it
most (unless you can refasten it before righting the kayak). So gear should still be put
in waterproof bags and float bags used as a back-up for a Sea Sock. Float bags or
waterproof bags make a good back up for any flotation system including bulkheads.
Bulkheads sealed permanently in place aft of the cockpit and forward of the
footbraces also provide flotation. Bulkheads provide a little more buoyancy than even most
large float bags if installed near the paddler. Hatches in the deck or bulkhead allow
access to the space. The size of the individual gear bags is limited by the size of the
hatch they must be loaded through. Long items are more difficult to stow under the deck.
Bulkheads can create a stress-riser concentrating wear and damage where the hull is
prevented from flexing. A hatch cover on the foredeck may turn green water coming over the
bow into spray, giving you a cold salt water shower in steep head seas. If paddling solo
it is difficult to remove water from compartments that are flooding due to poorly sealed
hatch covers, leaky seams, or any other breach in the hull or deck. In fact, paddlers have
failed to notice they were sinking until a compartment filled so full as to throw them
seriously out of trim. (tearing a hole in a foam bulkhead is unlikely to allow a solo
paddler to drain the water into the cockpit area for bailing as has been suggested by
some--water does not flow uphill). One advantage of the open (no bulkheads) system is that
you find out very quickly if you are taking on water.
If your kayak has just one bulkheaded compartment make sure you use a large
float bag or big gear bags in the other end of the kayak. BOTH ends of your kayak must be
full of buoyancy. Backing your hatch and bulkhead system up with floatbags or watertight
gear bags in the compartments is a good idea even though not widely practiced. Watch the
video of the kayak leg of the Discovery Channels "Eco Challenge Australia"
race or read Doug Lloyd's safety column in the April 99 issue of Sea Kayaker
magazine and pages 22 to 42 of Paddle to the Arctic by Don Starkell if you need
A hatch and bulkhead system does not obviate the need to keep your gear
in waterproof bags. Words like 'watertight' are often used in advertising kayaks with
bulkheads and hatches. Some hatch systems we've seen leak at the seals or through their
deck attachments. Many kayaks that use vinyl extrusion in the deck/hull joint take on
water through the seam (even after they have been sent back to the factory and 'fixed')
Take advertising claims with a grain of salt and back up your bulkheads and hatches with
waterproof bags around any of your gear you don't want getting soaked. When your kayak is
not in use it is a good idea to remove the hatch covers so as not to permanently compress
the gaskets or stretch out the seals.
Once again, the purpose of any flotation system is to facilitate rescue. With
either bulkheads or float bags the amount of water remaining in the boat after a dump and
reentry will have such a deleterious effect on the stability and handling of the kayak
that it must usually be pumped out before proceeding. The addition of a Sea Sock to either
flotation system will limit the residual water to the point where pumping immediately may
not be necessary. We consider Sea Socks an essential safety device for double kayaks.
Doubles (especially ones with no center flotation) can easily swamp to the extent that the
smallest of waves are lapping over the cockpit rims. Even with spraydecks in place and
both paddlers frantically pumping it can take twenty or more minutes to pump out the
water. With Sea Socks enhancing the buoyancy the process of righting the kayak dumps out
most of the water (don't lay over the kayak to right it, as suggested in one text, unless
it is the only way it can be righted because this sinks your kayak deeper so the cockpit
will scoop up additional water as the kayak is righted).
Whichever system you use, you need to test and become familiar with it so you
understand its limitations and vulnerabilities. Then monitor it regularly and fix defects
as soon as possible. Test your flotation system and rescue techniques soon in a swimming
pool or at a beach. A more detailed discussion of flotation systems can be
found in the Flotation manual.
GEAR STOWAGE AND KAYAK TRIM
Even if your
kayak has "watertight" hatches and bulkheads we recommend your also place any
gear that shouldn't get wet into watertight bags as well. Our preference in dry bags is
the heatsealable urethane coated nylon ones with a roll down closure. The Mariner
Kayaks store carries them in several sizes and also makes a large tapered version
to efficiently store gear in the ends of kayaks with large hatches or those without
bulkheads. We have also had good luck with the heavy weight vinyl bags (18 or higher ounce
fabric) but advise you to avoid the lighter vinyl "stuff bags." They are easily
worn through especially when used in hand laid fiberglass (rough inside) kayaks. The
nylon/urethane dry sacks are the most durable, the lightest, slip into place the easiest
and are about the same price as the heavy vinyl ones.
CAUTION: If one or both ends of your kayak does not have a
bulkhead make sure the dry bags you put in last are large enough to not float out from
behind the seat or between the foot pedals.
When carrying a
lot of gear it is usually best to balance it so the load behind the cockpit weighs nearly
2 times as much as the bow load. The room taken up for legs and feet make the bow load
about 1-1/2 to 2 times farther from the center of buoyancy than the rear load. Therefore,
putting equal weight in each end would sink the bow much more than the stern. The heavier
the gear load the greater the percentage of that weight that should be in the stern. A
kayak will track straighter and broach less in following seas if stern heavy because the
stern keel is deeper in the water than the bow. Weathercocking in side winds is
intensified when a kayak is more heavily loaded. Placing the heaviest weight in the rear
helps decrease weathercocking. Even with the bow trimmed higher, turning a loaded kayak
into a strong wind is not nearly as difficult as turning an empty one can be. The added
gear weight prevents the ends from blowing around so easily. It is not necessary to carry
a balance scale along with you to pack your boat. Approximations are fine, I just put all
the heaviest bags, water, and fuel in the back and the lightest bags forward.
When loading a kayak, also make an effort to keep the heaviest items,
such as water, closer to the cockpit (but behind you) in order to retain as much
responsiveness to the paddle as possible. Separate your gear into bags containing compact
heavy items and bulkier lightweight stuff. Put the densest items (like water) just behind
the cockpit and the less dense bags out towards the ends and in the bow. With a small gear
load always fill up any space you are not using for storage with partially inflated float
bags to maximize flotation.
Just before entering any loaded kayak, check to see that it floats on
an even keel (side to side) or you will probably discover that it has a penchant for
turning towards the high side. Turn over a gear bag or move some heavy items, like water,
more to the high side.
THE FOOTBRACES AND PEDALS
should be positioned so that the, bottoms of your feet rest lightly on them when you are
sitting in the seat with your legs flat out in front of you. This way you can paddle with
your legs in a relaxed position but quickly brace yourself solidly in the boat by pressing
the balls of your feet on the pedal and lifting your knees up under the coaming.
The footbraces are adjustable to fit many different leg lengths. On fixed
seat models they adjust with a lever behind the footpad. Squeeze this lever toward the pad
to free the positioning pin and move the footpad to the desired location. Sliding seat
pedals adjust with a wing nut at the side of the seat.
like paddles that:
- Are light (especially in the blades for low swing
- Are strong and durable, Are well balanced (some
equate low swing weight with well balanced, what we mean is a paddle that doesn't rotate
until the heavy side is down if you release your grip)
- Are solid and predictable at stroking and
- Don't flutter, zigzag, or spin (slice a circle
around on its spoon shape) in the water.
- Don't leak,
- Don't transfer heat away from our hands,
- Require little or no maintenance,
- Have plenty of oval over a long area of the shaft
(providing better control with a looser more relaxed grip),
- Don't pick up and throw a lot of water around in
the air, or on us.
We are particular about the paddle we must lift and use
thousands of times a day.
Overall length is the major determiner of a paddle's "gear ratio."
We prefer short blades so we can paddle in a lower gear (shorter paddle) and still have
enough shaft length between the blades to clear the kayak's deck and completely bury the
blade during the stroke. The longer shaft between the blades provides more room to move
our hands around to either widen their grip spacing (which lowers "gears" even
more for accelerating or stiff head winds) or to extend the paddle to one side as desired
(for greater turning leverage--especially in strong winds). The shorter overall length
also lowers the swing weight and shortens the lever arm a strong wind can act upon.
There are some areas such as blade feather where knowledgeable paddlers disagree so we
stock most all the rational choices including left feather paddles (Warning: avoid
intermediate feather angles such as 45 degrees, while seductively nice to paddle with when
it is calm they become unmanageable tyrants paddling into a strong wind. The blade in the
air wants to dive down and the other lift up as you swing it forward. This problem goes
away by about 70 degrees of feather).
Paddlers who use unfeathered paddles should consider paddles
with smaller than average paddle blades for less resistance in head winds. For more
details read Matt's article detailing his paddle experiments in the Spring 1992 issue of
Sea Kayaker Magazine (p.39). Mariner Kayaks also has a flyer Sea Kayak Paddles from Mariner Kayaks describing the paddles we stock and why we chose them.
The spray skirt can be
worn either over or under your life jacket. We normally wear it over, which provides
easier access to the cockpit area and better ventilation. However, for heading out through
or playing around in surf (or in any rough water or even rain) put the spray skirt on
first and then the life jacket on top. This 'shingle effect' will do a better job of
keeping water out of the kayak. You also get a much better seal at the top if the shock
cord is pulled tight around your body rather than the PFD.
The skirt releases by first pushing forward then lifting up on the loop
at the front. Make sure that you or anybody who puts any spraydeck on your kayak practices
taking it off a few times and reviews the procedure for 'wet exiting' under water.
CAUTION: Always check to make sure the loop has
not been tucked under the deck whenever you put on a spraydeck.
Once you have become
confident in your spray skirt removal technique in a capsize, you may want to tighten up
the shock cord for more security against it being imploded by a wave or peeled off by your
motions during an Eskimo roll. To tighten, stretch the shock cord out and move the knot or
tie off another one. Shock cord loses some elasticity with age and use, so check on it (by
pushing down on the spraydeck with your hands) once in a while to see if it needs
tightening. Carefully check the stitching and security of the release handle each time you
put on your spraydeck.
CAUTION: Instruct a new paddler, trying out your kayak, on how to
remove the spraydeck and watch them do it. If the novice will only be out for a few
minutes on calm water it is probably best not to give them a spraydeck at all so they are
less likely to panic about being trapped underwater in a kayak and thereby help make it a
reality. If you do provide a spraydeck loosen the cockpit shock cord so that it will
release easily during a struggle from within.
DECK ELASTICS AND CHART CASE
The foredeck chart
holders can hold a compass, whistle, air horn, knife, tow line, sea anchor, fishing
equipment, or other gear you might want readily at hand. They will also hold a chart case
and, by the way, Mariner Kayaks makes an extremely durable watertight chart case for the
decks of kayaks that just happens to fit perfectly under the chart lines on your Mariner
Made of durable
airtight material, the Rescue Float Plus has two separate air chambers and inflation
valves. This is a safety back-up feature, as either chamber alone is more than sufficient
to do the job. A webbing strap and Fastex buckle at the top allow this device to
double as a water resistant gear bag or protective camera bag.
To attach to the paddle, slip it over the blade and inflate. The float is
held in place by the pressure from the air chambers on both sides of the blade. If you
have gear in the waterproof bag and don't want to open it up, you can attach it by
wrapping the webbing strap around the shaft and clipping it with the buckle.
The Rescue Float Plus also works as 'training wheels' for learning how to
Eskimo roll (a flat rigid foam board fastened to the paddle works even better). For roll
practice slip it over the working blade and inflate only one side, use it with the flat
side down. Complete instructions for all its functions are included with the Rescue Float
Plus. See Using the
Rescue Float Plus
becomes an enjoyable and safe activity through the mastery of basic paddling technique.
While there is no way we can teach you how to paddle in a few paragraphs, a quick run down
of the essential strokes will get you started and at least allow you to understand what
we're talking about.
A kayak paddle has two blades. (We're assuming you are an absolute neophyte
-- please bear with us here, later there will be tips for experienced paddlers that you
won't find anywhere else.) Each blade has two sides, one called the power side or FACE and
the other the BACK. Some kayak blades are flat, in which case the face and the back have
essentially the same shape. Most blades used for touring are curved or spooned so the face
is concave and the back is convex. If the blades are asymmetrical in shape the long side
of the blade was intended to be uppermost. This helps keep the paddle from twisting if it
is being pulled back during insertion at the start of the stroke. A few paddlers prefer
the outward twist using this paddle upside down provides but usually it just denotes a
All paddle strokes are
some variation or subtle nuance of just two basics, the FORWARD STROKE and the BACK
STROKE. In the forward stroke you are PULLING the face through the water to move the boat
ahead, while in the back stroke you PUSH the back side of the blade through the water to
move the boat backwards. Every other stroke is related to one of these by which side of
the blade is getting the job done.
The paddle strokes fall into three categories according to function. Motive
strokes move the kayak through the water, forward, backward, or laterally. Turning strokes
change the boat's direction. Bracing strokes are used to stop rolling motions and prevent
capsizes. For each forward type stroke (pull blade face) there is a corresponding back
stroke (push blade back) that serves the same purpose. While each stroke can be strictly
defined and given a name, in actual practice the strokes you use may combine some
component of several, depending on the needs of the moment.
All of the strokes and braces are the most powerful when you are pulling one
arm back as though your forearm is a rope tied to the paddle by your fingers and your
pushing hand pushes directly in line with your forearm and wrist. The paddle shaft, your
wrist and your elbow should all be in a straight line with your elbow leading (when
pulling) or pushing directly behind your hand much like making a straight punch. Any bend
or angle at the wrist (more commonly seen with the pushing arm) will weaken a strokes power and
effectiveness. Think of it as giving your strokes and braces an added punch. Worse,
bending your wrist either back or side to side can lead to repetitive stress injuries. To
minimize the stress on your wrists do not bend the wrist back to "control" a
feathered paddle (as is almost universally taught) and also hold the paddle with as loose
a grip as you can. With any feather angle your wrists should also not bend side to side to
follow the changing shaft angle throughout the stroke. In other words, the shaft should
pivot in your hand and not bend your wrist as it pivots. This is important whether you paddle feathered
or unfeathered. With any feather angle control the blade with the hand nearest the water
and relax the upper hand so the paddle can freely rotate in the hand that is pushing. This way
you dont bend your wrist when paddling feathered and you do not have to lift your
elbow out like a boxers hook if you paddle unfeathered (to take out the 45 degree
rotation you put on the blade by lifting the upper hand from your elbow). With any feather
it is more efficient to push with your elbow starting at your side and the key to doing
this is LOW HAND control. Tip: if you hold the paddle loosely between strokes the
rotating moment you put on it while lifting can be used to spin it a little further into
position without needing to bend your wrist at all. A good paddle will also make this
adjustment to the angle if necessary as the blade enters the water. If you have to
physically immobilize your wrists with braces or tape until you learn to paddle without
bending them, do it. They will thank you for it later.
FORWARD POWER STROKE: The stroke
that does the most to get you where you're going, and the only one that many sea kayakers
(particularly those with overly stable boats with rudders) ever learn to do with any
facility. To start, sit comfortably erect with a slight forward lean. Twist your torso so
the shoulder on the stroke side is forward. Extend the stroke-side arm and put the blade
in the water close to the side of the boat as far to the front as you can by rotating your
shoulders but without leaning forward at the waist. Draw the kayak through the water by
pulling power face with the stroke side arm in exactly the opposite direction that you
want to go. Let the paddle blade glide out sideways away from the kayak as you pull
straight back. Extend the upper arm and continue rotating that shoulder forward.
The greatest part of this stroke's power comes from torso rotation. The blade
should be snatched from the water by slicing the blade upward just as your hand passes
your hip. Transmit the power of the stroke to the boat through your stroke-side foot
pushing on its pedal. When paddling hard you are using your thigh muscles by alternately
straightening and flexing your legs at the knee. You are getting your calf muscles into
the stroke by bending your ankles as you push on the pedal with the ball of your foot.
This peddling action with your legs pivots your butt slightly on the seat adding to your
body rotation. This way you are sharing the work load over more of your body and using
bigger muscles in your legs and torso (rather than just smaller arm muscles) for power.
This stroke is especially effective when you want maximum power and efficiency. Most
beginning paddlers just use their arms and dont rotate much at the torso. One way to
learn to use your whole body more is to try to paddle while keeping both arms straight
through the stroke (except during the snatch of the blade from the water).
The Stroke Nazis may insist there is only one right way to do a forward
stroke (or a brace), and might not certify you as an instructor if you dont conform
in rigid goose step fashion to this or some other technique. I suggest you try the above
technique and add it to your arsenal of strokes but, I wouldnt say any stroke that
succeeds in moving the kayak the direction you wanted it to go is wrong and I encourage
you to experiment with all sorts of strokes (and while youre at it make up some of
your own). If the Stroke Nazis dont like it tell them you were certified by a higher
power to paddle any way you damn well please and have been ordained to change the way you
stroke at any time and for any reason or whim.
I find it valuable to switch to a different technique anytime Im tired
of using the same muscles over and over again. Even if the stroke I switch to is not as
powerful and efficient, if I can use different muscles and keep up the same speed (when
Im racing this is important) I get to rest the most powerful and efficient stroke
muscles for later use.
BACKWARD POWER STROKE: Motion
essentially the same as the forward power stroke except everything is in reverse. Power is
transmitted to the kayak through the back of your seat as you push the back of the blade
through the water to move the kayak to the rear. I find keeping the blade near the kayak
with a higher shaft angle works best for maximum power and speed with the least turning
moment. Tilt the kayak to control direction by lifting the knee in the side you need to
DRAW STROKE: Used to
move the boat laterally through the water. Put the blade in the water directly out from
the cockpit with its face facing you, and pull in toward the boat. As the stroke arm pulls
in, extend the other arm over the boat to the stroke side. Slice the blade sideways out of
the water, usually to the back. Get it out of the water quickly before the moving kayak
trips over it.
SCULLING DRAW: Does the same thing as
the draw but your paddle never leaves the water. As you pull the face toward the boat,
slice the blade side to side in quick, short sweeps. Keep the blade slightly angled (and
reversing the angle each time you shift back and forth) so that the blade continually
tries to 'climb' out away from the boat as you scull it back and forth. For maximum
efficiency hold the paddle as vertically as possible during draw strokes. Most paddlers
don't get their paddle vertical enough here.
FORWARD SWEEP: A turning
stroke essentially the same as the forward power stroke except the blade describes a wider
arc well out to the side of the kayak. The blade can be snatched from the water at any
point. For maximum effect, keep the blade in the water until it's well back toward the
stern, pulling strongly all the way. The kayak will turn to the side opposite the stroke
side, i.e. the stroke side will be the outside of the turn. The strongest turning effect
comes from pulling the stern over during the end of this stroke (STERN DRAW). Take care
not to leave the paddle in the water so long here that the kayak trips over it as it
BACK SWEEP: The reverse
of the forward sweep, push the back of the blade in a wide arc from the stern to the bow.
The strongest part of this stroke is at the start as you push the stern over (STERN
RUDDER). Alternating forward sweeps on one side and back sweeps on the other will spin
your boat about in place.
STERN DRAW: Same motion as the last
part of a forward sweep. Rotate your torso so you're facing the stroke side, put the blade
in the water well behind you and out from the boat, and pull the face strongly in toward
the stern. A useful stroke to control direction when paddling forward. It also can
forestall the initial stages of a broach when running with following seas, it pulls your
stern back into line without causing much loss of forward speed.
STERN RUDDER: The first part of a back
sweep. Rotate your torso to the stroke side, put the blade in the water close to the boat
at the stern and push or pry the back of the blade out and away. This is an easy way to
get a kayak to turn, but it has a braking effect, slowing you down so use it quickly and
sparingly. A very powerful turning stroke when you really lay on it, it is the stroke of
last resort when a broach must be dealt with firmly but be careful not to get the blade so
deep that you cant snatch it from the water before your sliding stern runs over it
The BOW RUDDER OR
DUFFEK is more commonly used by whitewater kayakers but is handy for sea kayakers
as well. Your paddle blade acts like a rudder near your knees or feet. While moving reach
forward like you are about to start a forward stroke but move your upper hand across the
centerline of your boat and touch your opposite shoulder with it. Tuck your lower elbow
into your side so your forearm angles out about 45 degrees. Bend your wrists back and
lower the paddle blade so it enters the water slicing forward with the power face facing
the kayak. Bend the wrists back further and the blade begins to move away from the kayak.
If you hold the paddle firmly, preventing the blade from moving away from the kayak, it
"rudders" the bow of the kayak over to that side.
CROSS BOW RUDDER strokes are another
way to do the same thing as the Duffek. They are more powerful but also riskier. With your
rear hand held low reach forward and across the front deck of the kayak with your front
blade. Immerse it in the water a foot to eighteen inches from the kayak with the blade
angling out ten to fifteen degrees. Like the DUFFEK the angle will try to pull the paddle
blade away from the boat but since you can't twist your body much more than you already
have something's got to give, hopefully it will be the bow of your kayak. Be careful not
to get too much angle on the blade and start by practicing at slow speeds. Be prepared to
let go of the paddle with the forward hand if necessary to prevent a capsize. This LOW
CROSS BOW RUDDER has the advantage of getting the "rudder" blade further forward
but the blade angle is hard to vary.
To do the less risky HIGH CROSS BOW RUDDER again reach across your deck with
the paddle blade that is normally on the other side of the kayak but this time keep your
upper hand about head high so the blade is located in the water in much the same position
as for a Duffek (but you are using the other blade). Use your arms and wrists to control
the angle of the "rudder." Increase the angle as you slow down and let the blade
move out further from the kayak for more leverage. When you have almost stopped
you can continue turning the kayak by pulling the power face of the blade back towards the
hull (this is the CROSS BOW DRAW--commonly used by canoeists). If you want to continue the
turn and paddle forward simply hop the deck with the blade and continue with a forward
sweep. If you want to continue turning and come to a stop (such as turning to come
sideways to a float, pier or stationary kayak) simply drop the upper blade to the water
and into a REVERSE SWEEP STROKE that pushes the stern further around and brings you to a
CAUTION: If you put the blade too far from the kayak at higher speeds
that extra leverage is more likely to just pull you over into the water rather than change
the direction of your kayaks considerable momentum. Start bow rudder strokes close
to the kayak.
All BOW RUDDER strokes
work best in kayaks with a lot of bow rocker. They work well in situations where you want
to pull up beside a dock or another kayak that you have been paddling toward. They are
especially effective when moving up a narrow twisting channel since you pull the bow
around the corner rather than swinging the stern wide, and possibly into the opposite
bank, to make the turn.
[NOTE: Turning strokes are all enhanced by tilting the
kayak. Tilting in either direction helps but tilting to the outside of the turn works best
because this not only lifts the ends of the kayak more out of the water (than when level),
it also allows the stern keel to skid more easily. The more you tilt the kayak (not
necessarily yourself) the quicker the turn. With practice you'll find you can lean the
kayak over quite far (like dipping the coaming in the water) by adding some bracing
component to the SWEEP strokes for security (e.g. high brace component on a forward
sweep.) Lifting the elbow to do a skimming low brace on the return before the next stroke
provides the security to maintain the strong lean between strokes. But we've gotten a
little ahead of ourselves so on to the next group of strokes so you can catch up.]
HIGH BRACE: Capsize
prevention. A high brace stroke is very similar to the draw stroke. The blade face starts
flat on the surface and you attempt to pull the face down into the water. Your weight
hangs from the wrist on the stroke side. Keep the elbow of your stroke arm bent about 90
degrees. Your elbow should be nearly in line with the direction of pull. Do not extend
that arm out too much! Doing so could possibly result in a shoulder dislocation,
particularly in surf. There is also a SWEEPING HIGH BRACE, quite similar to the forward
sweep except the face is almost flat on the surface (angled slightly to prevent the blade
from diving as it sweeps) and you pull down on it as you sweep. You can also sweep a high
brace the other direction, stern to bow. And as you have no doubt guessed by now, there is
the SCULLING HIGH BRACE, which you can lean on for a long time if you want to. It is
almost identical to the sculling draw except the paddle shaft is more parallel to the
water's surface, rather than close to perpendicular in the draw.
The LOW BRACE: Differs
from the high brace in that the BACK side of the blade is flat on the surface and you try
to push it down into the water. Keep your forearm in line with the direction of push. The
sweep version of the low brace is generally done stern to bow, as sweeping the other way
(bow to stern) feels awkward with the paddle in the low brace position. Most likely if
you've swept a low brace stern to bow and find you still need bracing you'll flip your
blade over quickly to sweep bow to stern in the high brace position. If you need to brace
quickly and the blade you need is in front of your body do a high brace, if it is in a
rear quadrant it's quicker to use a low brace.
Another group of bracing strokes we should mention here are the ESKIMO ROLLS. The
variations are numerous, but they all accomplish the same thing: quickly righting a
capsized kayak while the paddler remains seated in the cockpit. Although Eskimo rolls are
easy to do, they are unfortunately not always easy to learn how to do. Many people who
take up sea kayaking never bother, preferring to go out only in easy conditions or with a
group for reassurance and rescue possibilities. And it's true that unlike whitewater
boating, capsizes while touring 'flat' water are rare occurrences. Nonetheless, having a
reliable roll in your repertoire of strokes so broadens your paddling horizons that you
should make the effort to develop a reliable one as soon as possible. You'll find that
when you're no longer worried about a capsize you will be much more aggressive about
learning to use the other paddle strokes effectively.
The best way to learn to roll is with an expert instructor or at least the
coaching of another paddler who already knows how. There are whitewater and kayak clubs
all over the country, many rent pools in the winter months for rolling practice. Also,
there are getting to be more and more paddling schools around, who will be glad to teach
you to roll for a fee. It is much more difficult, but possible, to teach yourself how from
written instructions. You'll find instructions and hints for the easiest to learn rolls in
our brochure Kayak
Rescues that Work. If this is the only way available to you,
TRY IT. Rolling practice is also good bracing practice.
GETTING TO KNOW YOUR KAYAK
forward for a while. How well can you keep this boat on course? Most novices have some
difficulty at first, unless they're paddling really stiff-tracking kayaks (in which case
they have difficulty turning--even after they've become experts). Generally the trouble is
that by the time they become aware that the kayak has picked up some yawing motion (the
stern moving off line) it is too late to stop it with their as yet undeveloped correcting
strokes. In a short the problem just disappears as the new paddler becomes attuned to
what's happening. If you are wandering around or seem to be drifting consistently to one
side (and are beginning to wonder if it isn't the kayak) here are some things to check:
Is your stroke the same length and power
on both sides of the kayak
Is the paddle blade perpendicular to the
direction you are pulling? (Often novices don't have their blade perpendicular on one
side. They can't pull as hard on that side without the paddle diving. To prevent the
paddle diving they don't pull so hard on that side instead of what they should do, which
is, checking the blade is perpendicular to the line of the pull.)
Are you rocking the kayak side to side
with each stroke? (This can make a kayak turn more than it normally would, causing an
increase in zigzagging with each stroke. If you only rock to one side but not the other
you will keep zigging but not zagging. Rocking only to one side is a great technique to
apply later to control weathercocking but for now its best to practice holding the kayak
on an even keel while you paddle One paddler we know lifts water at the end of the right
hand stroke. To compensate for the downward pull on the right he leans to the left.
Although it was inefficient, he paddled a relatively stiff tracking kayak this way for
years without noticing it. When he got a more responsive version of the same kayak his
tendency to lean left made him believe his new kayak turned right. (Note: The best
handling kayaks turn readily when you lean them but if you haven't yet gotten your body
tuned into that method of control you will at times lean the wrong way causing the kayak
to veer further off course rather than turn back on course.)
Are you paddling in a breeze from the
side or waves from the stern quarter? Most kayaks have some tendency to turn into a
side wind or sideways to the waves, many do so quite insistently. Test for this by turning
so the wind or waves are from the opposite side. These conditions sell a lot of rudders.
Later we will let you in on some little known techniques that will allow the paddler of a
kayak with moderate weathercocking tendencies to "Just say no" to rudder
Check to see that your kayak is on
an even keel when you are sitting centered in the seat. Adjust the gear load or your
position side to side until it is level.
- Are your paddle blades both the same distance from your
To help get your body accustomed to
tilting the kayak for control, try carving some turns. Get up some speed and then tip the
kayak by lifting either knee (right for a right turn, left for a left) to the kneebrace
and cocking your hip to that side. Keep your torso vertical to maintain balance, at least
until you're confident enough with your paddle technique to lean out on a stroke for even
sharper turns. Continue paddling with a normal forward stroke. A responsive kayak will
begin to describe a nice turn. The more you tip the kayak the tighter the turn. With a
little experience you'll find course corrections can be made effortlessly with a slight
lean, without even changing your stroke. Of course, for even quicker turns you can use
sweep strokes on the proper side.
Most kayaks tend to turn to some degree when leaned. (Since we like this
feature the kayaks we design have this characteristic enhanced in several ways.) You can
carve turns while continuing to stroke evenly on both sides by simply tipping the boat to
the side OPPOSITE the direction you wish to turn. To turn left, tip the kayak to the
right. To turn right, tip left. (note: this is opposite to the way most beginners expect,
you are leaning away from the direction of the turn not banking into it). Once the turn is
initiated with the paddle a responsive kayak will continue to turn (even if you stop
paddling) as long as you maintain the lean and are moving. To stop the turn put the kayak
back on an even keel and paddle away on your new heading. To maintain the lean between
strokes (all on the same side) skim the paddle just over the surface in a low brace
position as you bring the blade forward for the next stroke. This low brace return is easy
to do, just lift your elbow up and forward, until your forearm is nearly vertical. This
sweeping low brace provides security to maintain even a radical lean.
Practice at first while at rest on calm water, holding the kayak steadily
tipped up at as much of an angle as you can manage without using your paddle for support.
You may see this technique referred to as a 'knee hang'. One Mariner customer described it
this way: "It makes me feel like the boat is an extension of my body -- NOT like I'm
just an engine churning away tromping on the rudder pedals and running the paddle like
paddle wheels. It's really nice not having a rudder."
Whenever you've got your kayak in the water and your paddle in your
hands, spend some time practicing ALL the paddle strokes. Do this every time you take your
boat out. And remember, your progress will be faster once you have learned to Eskimo roll.
HANDLING DIFFICULT CONDITIONS
downwind with a following sea can be a chore, (it can also be exciting racing with the
waves and surfing along at high speed once you are an expert if you have a well designed
kayak). This is always one of the trickiest conditions for novices. If you find you are
having trouble and you would be in some danger if you capsized, slow down. As your bow
drops, indicating that you are on the front face of a wave, brake using low braces or
reverse stroke positions. That way the wave won't surf you involuntarily. We suggest you
practice following seas whenever you get the chance (in a safe place). Surfing boat wakes
is one way you can practice under otherwise benign conditions.
All boats, as they begin to travel nearly the same speed as the waves, tend
to broach (turn sideways to the waves) because the surface of the water is moving FORWARD
on the upper half (crest) and BACKWARDS on the lower half (trough) of each wave. The
trough is therefore pushing the bow back and the crest is pushing the stern forward, and
the boat ends up at right angles to the direction the waves are moving.
When the waves are steep, stern mounted rudders and skegs are often of little
help in overcoming a broach because just when they are needed most, the wave crest lifts
them clear of the water to dangle uselessly in the air.
Once most kayaks have started to broach they begin to skid sideways down the
wave as gravity takes over. They skid to a stop as the wave passes them. The resulting one
armed struggle to keep on course plus the extra effort of accelerating a heavily loaded
kayak up to speed every time you lose control and skid sideways to a stop can be very
exhausting as well as infuriating. Mariner kayaks are designed with hard chines and lots
of keel in the stern quarter in order to prevent the sideways skid.
If you want to ride the waves and take advantage of their energy to help you
along it will take some practice. Catch a wave by paddling at close to the speed it is
moving. The wave begins to overtake you and your kayaks bow drops into the trough as your
stern is lifted by the wave you want to catch. This is the time to accelerate quickly with
hard quick strokes. You will feel the wave and gravity take over much (or even all) of the
effort of moving the kayak along. It is then up to you to keep the boat on the most
favorable line for taking advantage of the wave. Heading straight down a wave is the
easiest but still usually requires constant attention. Once you've gotten the feel of it
you can move along at the speed of the waves if you remain vigilant and make correcting
strokes quickly before a broach has gone too far. A stern draw at the end of the power
stroke usually works best to control broaching since it doesn't slow you down much. A
quick stern rudder stroke is more powerful at stopping a broach but also slows you down,
often enough to cause you to lose the wave. Once you've caught a nice steep wave a little
braking action won't hurt. If this is the case you can often quit paddling and control
your speeding kayak with stern rudder strokes.
When angling across a wave face you'll feel the boat wanting to turn more
parallel to the crest. Forestall this broach by leaning into the wave and taking broad
sweep strokes (ending with a powerful stern draw) on the wave crest side of the boat. If
you get into an attitude where this is not enough, try a solid STERN RUDDER on the trough
side. Make it quick so as to slow the boat as little as possible. Be careful not to plant
the paddle too deeply if you are sliding sideways because you could skid into your paddle
tripping the kayak over it. The sport is trying to stay on each wave as long as you can.
Eventually the wave diminishes or you lose it somehow, it passes under you and you sprint
to catch the next one.
All hulls from ships to kayaks tend to turn into the
wind when moving across its direction. Once I was testing a kayak that weathercocked about
twice as fast as a kayak being tried by a friend. While I wasn't even aware of the
weathercocking (until we stopped paddling at the same time in order to compare our
kayaks), my friend was having difficulty staying on course although her kayak turned into
the wind very little. The difference was that she normally used a rudder to compensate for
weathercocking (and didn't have one) and I almost never use a rudder but compensated
unconsciously using other means. To combat weathercocking use techniques that require the
least effort first and only add techniques that require more energy if the easier ones are
not totally effective.
Here are some techniques to counteract
weathercocking listed in the order I would usually apply them:
- Use kayaks that don't weathercock much (like Mariners)
so you have less need to compensate. We have trouble getting enthused about kayaks that
strongly weathercock so don't sell them (even if they have a rudder--because if you must
angle the rudder more to compensate for weathercocking you are adding considerably to your
kayaks total drag). I'd place using the rudder at an angle to compensate about eighth or
ninth on this list of easiest to hardest compensating techniques.
- Add windage to the front of your kayak
or reduce it at the stern. Adding more keel in the stern also helps (kayaks with
adjustable skegs can do this). Many Mariners have a seat that can be quickly adjusted fore
and aft while sitting in the cockpit. Moving the seat (and weight) changes the kayaks trim
and adjusts the windage balance and the underwater lateral resistance balance between the
bow and stern. For example, as weight is shifted back the front of the kayak lifts higher
to both add windage and reduce the amount of keel in the water at the bow. This weight
shift sinks the stern keel deeper in the water increasing its resistance to being blown
sideways and also reduces the windage at the stern. If your seat is fixed you can still
add weight in the kayak behind you with nearly the same effect. You could also add more
windage to the front by taking a light bulky bundle (maybe from the back deck) and put it
under bow deck cords.
- Pack the bow light and the stern heavy. Do not load the
kayak heavily in the bow because this increases weathercocking. Even if level trim is
maintained a gear load increases weathercocking.
- If you use the turning effect of a lean, rather than
paddling harder on one side, to turn the kayak and stay on course, the same technique can
compensate for weathercocking. Let the kayak rock to the side you are stroking on when
that side is opposite of the direction you want to turn. (Note: this is opposite of the
way you lean to turn a bicycle.) Next return the kayak towards level, but no further, when
taking the next stroke (on the side you wish to turn toward). ROCKING the kayak with every
second stroke like this is almost effortless. If the kayak is not overly stable rocking it
only requires a slight shift of weight which is easily done as part of reaching forward to
start the stroke. This is so natural to do that many kayakers unconsciously rock their
kayak toward each stroke they take. This isn't the most efficient technique but if done
evenly each turn cancels out the one from the previous stroke, as they zigzag along. The
trick for them is to inhibit their automatic lean in the direction they want to turn.
- Rocking uses less effort but is not quite as effective
as maintaining the TILT to one side while paddling normally. Both techniques work well
with most kayaks. Not only does this method not require paddling harder on one side to
turn or compensate, but there is no need to drag a rudder at an angle through the water
which adds considerably to the already increased resistance of just having the rudder in
the water (up to 10% at 3 knots--with no rudder angle at all). These rocking and tilting
techniques favor Mariner kayaks because they turn readily when leaned, have lower initial
stability (to lean easier) and greater secondary stability (for a secure feel while
- ROTATE your torso to face about 15 degrees into the
wind. The kayak stays pointed across the wind. Paddle as though you are going in the
direction your torso is facing. Although the strokes are still even in length and power
the stroke into the wind has a slight stern draw component. A stern draw compensates for
the stern blowing further to the side than the bow (weathercocking) by pulling the stern
back in line.
- If the waves are substantial, TIME your strokes so you
are stroking to windward whenever the bow rises up to catch the wind. You will be helping
the wind push your bow at a time when coincidentally the kayak is also freer to pivot.
- Add more power to the STERN DRAW component of the stroke
to windward. Note: this is the first technique in this hierarchy where a stroke on one
side takes more energy than the stroke on the opposite side.
- WIDER, LONGER, & MORE POWERFUL SWEEP STROKES
on the side to windward are the next lines of defense.
- Shift the paddle in your grip so the upwind shaft is
longer than the downwind side. This adds extra turning leverage to your upwind strokes.
- Take extra strokes on the upwind side of the kayak.
(Note this is the first technique listed that changes the stroke rhythm to something
besides alternating strokes to each side of the kayak.)
- As a last resort a braking stroke (reverse sweep or
stern rudder) on the downwind side of the kayak will pivot the bow back downwind. Try to
avoid braking strokes, unless you want to slow down, because more energy will be required
to accelerate the kayak back up to speed.
Repeat after me: Rock, Tilt, Rotate, Time, Stern Draw,
and Wider. Memorize this and try them the next time you think you need a rudder.
The loose reins technique:
Depending on a number
of factors, certain courses relative to the direction of wind and waves will be more
difficult to stay on than others. If the course you want happens to be on a difficult
angle, don't feel you need to slavishly keep the nose of the kayak pointed directly at
your selected target unless you're in a thick fog and trying to hold a compass course. For
example, say you're trying to keep a course in a following sea quartering from the right
at just the angle at which the boat has the greatest tendency to start into a broach.
You're applying a lot of correcting strokes to try to keep on line. Forget it! You will
use less energy in the long run by zigzagging back and forth and averaging a course. What
was a struggle now becomes fun. In a quartering sea that is overtaking you this happens
quite naturally. You carve a slow broach until the wave passes and the crest swings your
bow back again. This requires very little extra effort, so don't waste a lot of energy
fighting the waves to keep the bow exactly on course in this common condition. Even when
in crossing seas from behind (which is perhaps the most difficult condition in which to
hold a course) it pays to give your kayak a little of its own mind and let random
variations in direction cancel themselves out rather than fighting with each one. Correct
for the big direction changes and a general tendency to turn one way rather than fight
each small deviation off course. Maybe we should also promote the loose reins technique as
a philosophy of life.
If you tack (jibe?) often enough, a group of paddlers can stay together even
though their various kayaks each prefer a different course. [Note: the paddler having the most trouble in the group should
be allowed to paddle the course easiest for them to maintain (within reason) and have the
other paddlers follow their lead. Unfortunately this is rarely practiced, the expert
'leader' picks a course more suited to his or her kayak and the others must follow on a
course that is more difficult for them at the same time they are struggling to keep pace.
The "good" leader waits for them to catch up and when the stragglers arrive he
takes off again. Hes well rested and again gets to pick the course best for him.]
PADDLING IN EXTREME CONDITIONS
Unless you have the certain ability to deal with the situation if you capsize you have no
business playing around in conditions 'over your head'. Even if you have expert skills,
it's just good sense to do your 'rough stuff' practice in a safe location, that is, near
an easy shore toward which the wind is blowing, and in the company of expert paddlers who
are willing and able to help you if necessary. Be aware of the dangers of hypothermia and
take appropriate precautions against it. (Read the Sea Kayaking Safety booklet.) Remember, in 50 degree water you can quickly
become too weak to help yourself. In order to limit heat loss when it finds itself
surrounded by cold water, your body cuts off the blood supply to the muscles in your
extremities. The lack of blood quickly makes your limbs very weak.
You can't paddle
forever in calm conditions. Sooner or later you'll get caught by surprise and have to face
the wind and waves, so you must learn how to handle them. One of the greatest advantages
of a kayak over canoes and other human powered craft is its ability to survive really
rough conditions and high winds. Don't paddle out into the midst of a howling gale right
off the bat, however. Start practicing your technique in moderate conditions, and as you
become convinced of your ability to handle that, move up to tougher environments in
Fit and practiced paddlers can control kayaks in a heavy blow. Those lacking
strength or good technique will have difficulty turning into a strong breeze. We've found
it possible (although difficult) to turn an average sea kayak into a steady 40 mph wind
with 50 mph gusts. In these conditions it is difficult to stay pointed windward or to make
headway because much of the time the paddle cannot be used effectively since you must hold
it down to avoid having it ripped from your grasp by the stronger gusts. Far less trouble
is experienced (except with the paddle) after putting 100 pounds of ballast into the
Normally waves by themselves, even really large ones, present little problem
for any kayaker with a reasonable sense of balance and the ability to paddle brace once in
a while. It's a stiff breeze that is the real annoyance, making maneuvering a chore and
sapping your spirit if you're trying to make headway into it.
Kayaks are most affected by the wind when lightly loaded. The boat sits
higher in the water, presenting more surface for the wind to catch, and the relative lack
of mass in the ends means the wind must overcome less inertia to blow it about. All kayaks
are more comfortable in stormy conditions if loaded with gear or other weight. Stability
is increased, rolling and pitching motions are slowed, and the added mass towards the ends
keeps them from being blown around.
Everything is not better when heavily loaded. Acceleration is slower
and a wider kayak may become too stable to lean to turn without considerable
effort involved in tilting it. Also, once the kayak begins to turn all that
mass out in the ends of the kayak tends to keep it turning and it takes
longer for the things you would normally do to correct that yawing motion to
be effective. For instance, once a kayak starts to broach, the
yawing momentum, as well as the forces that caused the broach in the first
place, must be counteracted . Once your corrective methods start bringing
the kayak back towards your desired course the new momentum of your
correction will tend to swing the kayak beyond where you intended unless you
anticipate this and begin correcting for it well before you reach your goal.
Where the kayak, when unladen, may stop turning just by ending the tilt that
drove the turn, a gear laden kayak may well require another tilt to the
opposite side to begin counteracting the yawing motion. This needs to be
done well before the momentum carries the ends past your desired course.
goal is to have gradually killed all the yawing momentum of the last turn
just as your kayak reaches your chosen direction. Because of the delay in
responding, paddling a heavily loaded kayak in rough conditions takes
planning several seconds ahead rather than just reacting to the moment. By
planning a whole lot further ahead for this condition you can make things easier
for yourself. Loading twice as much weight in the stern than in the bow will
help keep your gear laden kayak more neutral (leaving you with a kayak that is
easier to control). If possible, adjusting your seat or backband further back in the cockpit will
also help minimize yawing motions in a following sea and because of the
added mass in the bow this stern heavy trim does not have nearly as deleterious effect
on your ability to turn upwind as it may have had with an empty or lightly
A kayak of shorter length and less windage will be easier to control in a stiff wind.
A more maneuverable kayak can turn into a stronger wind but (other things
being equal) may also tend to yaw quicker in waves. A good balance between turning
and tracking is desirable because too stiff tracking not only makes turning
into a strong wind more difficult, but it also makes it harder to
correct a broach once it has begun. A kayak that is too maneuverable will
tend to have tracking, weatherhelming and sudden broaching problems.
There are many tricks to help any
kayaker increase the wind speed in which they can control their own kayak. Expert paddlers
find that, as the wind gets stronger and stronger, the limiting factor is often not the
boat's readiness to maneuver but the inability to use the paddle effectively while trying
to keep it from being snatched away.
Tether your paddle whenever you are out in a blow. If the paddle should blow
out of your hands retrieval is easy. Without one you could not turn or "paddle"
into a wind to retrieve your paddle using only your hands. If no one else was handy to get
your paddle for you, you would need to quickly retrieve and assemble your spare. Deploying
your spare (or your friend) might not be quick enough to avoid a capsize due to the rough
conditions (and your inability to brace effectively without a paddle).
There are now several commercial tethers on the market. However, we still
prefer the homemade ones we make from about forty inches of natural rubber 3/16 inch shock
cord (stretches to twice its length) and a strong nylon clip. We fasten the nylon clip to
one end with a figure eight knot which won't pull through itself (like a simple knot can
in shock cord). The other end is tied to the paddle in such a way that it doesn't slip
back and forth in normal use but can be slid along the shaft if desired. We roll up the
shock cord on to the paddle shaft and clip the clip to the shock cord to store it when it
is not in use. It is very light weight, always ready for use, and doesn't get in the way
much, drag in the water or get tangled up (like the necessarily longer nylon cord version)
or clatter around on the deck much when you use it and tangle with itself (like some
"phone cord" type ones do). The stretch of the shock cord (and for self-rescues
the ability to slide the knot along the shaft) allow radical strokes, Eskimo rolls and
self rescues to be performed without detaching it. The clip can be quickly detached from
the kayak for conditions when your kayak could be rolled over and over possibly tying you
into it with the cord. At under $2 for the materials this homemade tether is cheap
CAUTION: Be sure to remove
the tether before paddling into any condition like surf or rapids that can tumble the
kayak around and possibly tether you to the kayak. This isn't just idle speculation, one
well known paddler was tumbled back to shore with her (nylon cord) paddle tether tightly
tying her thigh to the kayak.
It is important
to practice turning into strong winds to develop good technique. Keep the shaft of the
paddle at a shallow angle, particularly if you use feathered blades, to give the wind less
blade area to catch. Be especially careful when bracing downwind with an unfeathered
paddle for the same reason. Paddle hard across the wind using powerful sweep strokes to
the downwind side. Use a forceful stern draw near the end of each sweep stroke to pull the
stern around as quickly as possible. Hopefully, the kayak will describe a wide arc that
slowly brings the bow into the wind. If you are also in steep waves, as is often the case
in strong wind, you will find that you make progress in the wave troughs and loose it when
your bow protrudes into the wind at the crests. Your kayak is freer to pivot at the
crests--in milder condition you can speed up the turn by pivoting the kayak on the wave
crest but a strong wind can blow you around easier as well. Set up to stroke especially
hard on the downwind side to hold your bow against the wind as it rises off the wave.
Quicker turning kayaks have an advantage because they can turn further between crests.,
Shorter kayaks and those with a narrower bow profile do better because they have less area
and less lever-arm for the wind to act upon.
Paddlers practiced at bracing can speed up a turn by leaning their kayak
strongly to the outside of the turn. This lifts the ends of the kayak more out of the
water and angles the stern keel to more easily skid around. Paddle forward on one side
only. Return the downwind paddle blade for the next stroke by skimming it forward in the
low brace position. This will allow you to maintain the lean and also keep the upwind
blade low between strokes. Try extending your paddle on the downwind side for greater
turning leverage (as well as offering less leverage to the wind on the upwind side). Do
not use reverse strokes on the upwind side (as you would to turn in place) unless you lack
turning room, they will only slow your speed, decreasing the weathercocking effect that
was helping you, and thereby hindering turns into a high wind. Practice this turn in calm
conditions until you can do it powerfully and quickly.
Here is how to practice. At first just lean a little unless you want to risk
getting wet. As your bracing skills increase (and once you have learned the point where
your kayak capsizes) increase the amount of lean. Tilt the kayak with your knee, but try
to keep your center of gravity above the kayak by bending at the waist so your upper body
remains relatively vertical. Be careful to not let your kayak's skidding stern quarter
bump into the paddle at the end of the (stern draw part of the) sweep stroke. The kayak
can trip over the paddle. Remember, after completing a sweep stroke you can maintain the
kayak's tilt while bringing the paddle blade forward for the next sweep stroke on the same
side if you lift your elbow up and forward to bring your forearm nearly vertical into the
low brace position. Swing the blade forward for the next sweep stroke by just skimming the
water's surface in this low brace position. Just drop your elbow to put the blade into
position for the next sweep/high brace/stern draw combination stroke .
Below are some turning times (in seconds) that Matt (180 lb.) tested, Time
yourself and practice until you can come close or beat the leaned times.
The first 2 columns are 360 degree spins with the kayak 1) level, 2) leaned
strongly but without dipping the cockpit under, Columns 3 and 4 are the same for a 180
degree turn at cruising speed using only forward sweep strokes.
Although it also significantly helps
spins, notice the much greater effect leaning has on turns at speed. Practice to improve
your leaned turns at speed. Lighter weight paddlers should have an edge in turning times
because they don't sink the keel as deep (but they will be at a disadvantage in high winds
as more of the kayak will be exposed to the wind.
Matt has tested over one thousand other kayaks. If you'd
like to know his times for another kayak model you own call Matt at (206)-367-2831
or e-mail him at <email@example.com>.
Matt's articles on paddling in strong winds in the Summer and Fall 1992 issues of Sea Kayaker
Magazine may also be of interest.
CAUTION: Ocean surf is hazardous to both you
and your kayak. We recommend you stay out of it unless you are willing to take on serious
risk, are a strong swimmer, have a strong kayak, are wearing a good helmet,
a good PFD and are
very familiar with the surf environment. Wear a wetsuit, drysuit or both to prevent
serious hypothermia during what could be a very long swim. Never paddle in the surf without competent
paddling buddies who you know will both look out for you and are prepared to risk a rescue!
For those of you who choose to ignore the
above warning we reluctantly supply the following tips in the hopes that they might make
your folly a little safer. Before we get any further into this discussion we'd better run
down some of the numerous hazards you should be aware of if you plan on venturing out in
the surf in a kayak. This is only a list of the major ones we are aware of, there are
probably dozens of others you should know about that we don't know about either.
Ocean kayak surfing is life on the edge--it is very risky, shoulder
injuries and dislocations are not uncommon, more serious injuries or drowning is a
possibility. Ocean surf is whitewater, sometimes huge whitewater, and paddlers who have no
experience handling a kayak in powerful hydraulics should not expect to have much success
staying upright at first even in relatively mild surf. Even surf kayaking experts often
find themselves upside down when the surf is large. A bombproof Eskimo roll is a
prerequisite in all but small practice surf. If you become separated from your boat you
may find it difficult at best to make much progress swimming towards shore, if you're in a
rip current you could be heading out to sea. Hang on to your paddle! It may help you reach
safety. Practice swimming on your back using the paddle for propulsion (the motion is the
same as your kayaking back stroke), you may find you can move faster than otherwise
possible. If caught in a current taking you out to sea and no one is coming to your rescue
swim to the side of the rip that is less likely to be feeding the rip with along shore
flow (that could carry you back into the rip when you again swim toward shore). For this
reason also angle away from the rip as you swim for shore. I wear a farmer john wetsuit
inside a dry suit. You never know how long you may have to be in the water so hypothermia
is a major danger if the water is cold.
CAUTION: Never, NEVER, kayak in the surf with the paddle tethered
to your boat! Imagine your leg or arm lashed to a tumbling kayak. Imagine strangulation!
Make sure all lines are well secured or remove them.
In certain kinds
of surf your boat will be vulnerable to damage if you aren't careful. Damage could be
serious if you come out of the kayak and it gets tumbled around with a lot of water in it.
Using a sea sock is strongly advised to keep the boat as buoyant as possible. If you're
surfing on a gravel beach or sand mixed with gravel and shingle, expect your boat to get
well scratched. Lightweight Kevlar kayaks will fold up and be destroyed in big surf.
Kevlar is very strong at absorbing a hard blow but the thinner laminate will fold
more easily when a breaker lands on it or when it comes down after jumping a wave.
Lightweight sea kayaks are also more prone to spitting out bulkheads due to the air
pressure from a collapsing deck.
If your kayak has a rudder take it off or (if it is the kind that flips up
onto the deck) at least strap or tape it down onto the back deck. Even small surf is hard
on rudders. All those sharp edges on a rudder can be hard on you as well so once you are
swimming stay away from the back of your kayak and never grab the rudder cable where it is
exposed because it can cut you to the bone.
In larger surf stay away from your kayak period. In any surf
never let your kayak get between you and an oncoming breaker
(and don't get between the breaker and your kayak). The kayak could run you
down (or you could be thrown into the kayak), resulting in dire consequences
CAUTION: To protect your
shoulder, always keep your elbow close in at your side when high bracing! (Read that last
sentence several times). Keep your
bracing hand low and in front of you and be prepared to release your grip on the paddle if
you cant keep the wave from lifting your elbow up or back. Actually when skidding
sideways in front of a large soup simply flopping your torso into the wave is often brace
enough, even just the paddle blade can be too much when the wave is jumping up and forward
as it dumps. Even if you throw your body sideways into it as far as you can without using
the paddle a dumper might still roll you over with it when it breaks.
Some paddlers claim you should only use low braces in surf due to the
shoulder dislocating potential of a poorly performed high brace. I disagree, a good friend
of mine tore his rotator cuff doing a low brace in moderate surf. If your blade is not
close into your hip on a low brace the upwelling water in a breaker can push your arm back
and up (without leaving the option of letting go of the paddle as you have with a high
Hopefully you managed to get your lungs full of air just as all this started
happening. If the surf is large you will be totally immersed in this mass of foaming white
water for longer than you might like.
Playing in Surf
Gently Landing Through Surf
You've made it
out through the surf, caught your breath and are considering catching a wave. Point your
bow towards shore and keep your eye on the waves marching toward you. Larger sets usually
occur with a fairly regular rhythm. Position your boat at the point where the waves are
steep enough to surf (only experience will tell you where this is) and line up so the
waves are dead on your stern. When 'your' wave is next, ACCELERATE! Don't waver in your
commitment here, dig in and sprint! Your stern will get picked up and the next thing you
know your kayak is sliding merrily down the face, accelerating to exhilarating speed. Keep
the nose of the boat pointed straight down the face by simply tipping the kayak to one
side or the other to correct your line, or use a stern rudder stroke. A light touch is
required, too much braking and you will loose the wave. Of course, if you are about to be
surfed by a big one about to dump violently a lot of braking (or full reverse) is called
for. If you are not lined up straight down the wave it's likely the kayak will broach.
When surfing a typical sea kayak with long narrow bow sections it's a good idea to
deliberately broach before the wave gets steep, to avoid pitch poling or spearing the
bottom. Once the bow is buried on most sea kayaks it is unlikely that it will surface
again until your body has passed over it. ENDO! Once, you begin to broach tip the
shoreward edge of the kayak up and brace into the wave as described earlier and ride it to
shore. Actually you may not have much other choice since once you are sideways it is very
difficult to turn back out to sea until the "soup" is very small.
You've made it back out through the surf zone again successfully? Great. Get
in position lined up outside the zone where you've seen some good break happening and grab
one. Keep the kayak lined up as before as you gain speed and the wave steepens, then apply
some stern rudder to start your boat moving at an angle to the wave. (Too great an angle
before the wave is steep enough means you lose the wave.) Left or right depends on your
observation of this particular surf. What you want to do is put the kayak right at the
shoulder, the steepest part of the wave, and slide across the face just in front of the
break as it advances along the crest.|
At such speeds, turning the kayak becomes a slow process at best. When
traveling high above its wave speed, a displacement hull's bow rises and its keel at the
stern sinks deep into the water, locking it on course. So don't expect to be cutting back
and forth like the surfers on their little boards. You're in a sea kayak, so maneuvering
and getting off of a wave requires planning. On the ideal wave you slide left or right in
front of the break for a while and then simply run off over the shoulder when you reach a
part of the wave that's not steep enough to break.
If you see the wave getting ready to section in front of you, consider your
options. If your angle is not too close to parallel with the crest you may be able to
point the bow more towards shore and run for a while longer below this new break. Success
here is more likely in slowly spilling surf. If you're high on the wave and want to try to
exit, plant your paddle and your torso in the wave, tipping the boat on its edge. This
will effectively slam on the brakes and the boat will pivot around this 'anchor' to point
bow seaward. Hopefully, if you started this process soon enough the breaker continues on
If a wave quickly steepens and dumps there's often nothing to be done but
lean forward on the deck and tip yourself into the wave to avoid spin cycle in the Maytag.
Remember to keep any paddle brace close to your body! As the wave diminishes or passes you
can carefully extend the brace as needed.
There are endless things to learn about surf and surfing. Start out in little
stuff to get your basic skills together, then seek out progressively larger waves as your
confidence increases. The ability to handle a kayak in such conditions will greatly
increase your margin of safety in any situation you might encounter at sea.
Coming in through surf requires caution especially with
a gear laden kayak. In shallow water it's possible to spear the bottom with your bow and
damage the kayak. A steep beach with heavy dumping 'shore break' makes it difficult to
jump out of the boat and haul it out of the way before getting thrashed by the next waves.
Avoid landings on this type of beach, the aggravation and risk isn't worth it.
Strategies for surf landings vary with the size and frequency of the waves
and the character of the beach. Sometimes you can get in through fairly sizable stuff
without even getting wet. Sit outside the surf line for quite awhile and study the surf
beat so you know you'll be heading in with the smallest waves. The ideal situation is to
catch a wave outside the break area, ride it for a while and then 'put on the brakes'
while you're still able to slow down and let it pass under you. Next race for shore right
behind the broken crest, hopefully staying in front of the following wave until it's too
small to cause much trouble.
If you waited too long to slow down and can no longer back off the wave, do a quick stern
rudder stroke to throw the boat into a broach. (Not at all hard to do, unless you are
facing straight down the wave because when a broken wave catches you at an angle
suddenly push your stern around for you.) If the wave has yet to break you will be moving
at a good clip across the face of the wave. With luck you'll be able to cut back over the
crest before it breaks. Sometimes you can use the passing crest to pivot the kayak's bow
back towards the beach and even have the crest pull you along as it breaks just in front
of you. If the wave breaks before you manage to get off, just brace into it and let it
push you the rest of the way to shore.
When you're coming in with a heavily laden boat, particularly if the waves
are breaking close to shore, the last thing you want to do is tumble in end
for end. This will likely be very hard both on you and the kayak. If you
can't avoid the surf altogether the safest thing to do is to begin to turn broadside to the
waves before they break,
brace in to them with a careful high brace, just as the breaker pushes your
stern the rest of the way around, and then hold that brace letting the
breaker push you in sideways.
CAUTION: Upon reaching the beach, don't step out on the side of
the kayak the undertow current or breakers may soon move your kayak towards.
Avoid landing through breakers onto beaches littered with boulders or
swimmers and waders.
CAUTION: (One more time for emphasis) Bracing
into a breaker can result in shoulder injuries or dislocation. During a high brace keep
your elbow as close to your body as possible. When doing a high brace into a breaker the
up-welling of water in the wave can lift your shoulder right out of its socket if your arm
is in a vulnerable position. Be prepared to let go of the paddle if your elbow is forced
up away from your body. Never use a high brace in the stern quadrant, this is dislocation
territory. Using only low braces is advocated by some kayak surfers. However, a rotator
cuff injury can be caused by the wave over powering a low brace and forcing the arm too
far back and up. It is easier to let go of the paddle, if necessary, during a high
brace. Pleases use caution with either brace
and remember to always wear a
helmet when paddling in surf.