Now I see all the gear-heads are paying attention!!!! And good for you, there are a lot of things you can get and feel good about. Anyhow, here we will mostly cover the essentials, the required, and fly fast over the rest as your pile of possessions will get bigger as you paddle more and more.
The Safety Equipment Required By Law
- Pumps and bailers: either a hand pump, or an inside foot-pump (it doesn’t come for free but can be installed), a bailer (go empty 60 liters of water with a bailer and tell me about it), or even a sponge (just to finish the job, and tie it securely on your boat). The hand pump is the usual answer, and you’ll get to use one soon. Pumps have to float by themselves or they won’t be there when you need them most.
- Paddle-float: made of foam or inflatable, they help you get back in your boat by forming, when joined to your paddle, a pontoon that stabilizes the kayak.
- Throw bag: 15 meters of buoyant line, Even though we don’t use it too much as kayakers, it’s required by Coast Guard Regulation. You can always tie your boat with it when you’re having lunch, or make a tow-line with it if necessary.
- Audible signaling device: called a whistle, or you can go all out with a trumpet-type copper foghorn, it’s noisy all right!
- The PFD: Or Personal Flotation Device. No, it’s not a Life-Jacket, feel free to research. The PFD must be worn at all times when on the water, even if it’s a sunny day! What do PFDs do for us?? They keep us afloat, they limit the loss of heat from our body core (in and out of the water), they absorb shocks, and some of them look really good!!! Have you ever seen people carrying their PFD on the back deck of their kayak? Try on a windy day to capsize, hold on to your boat, your paddle and put your PFD on and you’ll quickly see why it’s not a good idea. Come back and share the experience with us please.
- The flash-light: at night, all boats are required to have a light, including kayaks. Making ourselves visible to other vessels is important. Kayaks can be hard to spot even during day time. So at night, the bigger our light, the better our chances of being seen.
The Safety Equipment Not Required By Law
Not required by the law, but lots of good ideas here. Your safety equipment should match your skill level, so we will keep it simple here.
- A spare paddle: especially if you go on your own, loosing or breaking your one and only paddle could mean a slow and painful way back!
- A compass: especially for foggy areas, and you’ll need to be efficient at using it.
- The paddle leash: it keeps you and your paddle together at all times; that’s a good thing. Anyhow, it sometimes gets in the way, so try it out for yourself.
- The sprayskirt: of course you don’t need to wear a sprayskirt to go sea kayaking, that is if you go on calm days for a couple hours. Can the sprayskirt be considered a piece a safety equipment? Well, if you go kayaking in the rain, the wind, or in the waves, it definitely keeps the inside of your boat dry, it limits heat-loss from your body, and if you capsize and are able to right yourself up without exiting the boat (there are different ways to do that, and we’ll cover some of them in the course), then you definitely saved yourself a great deal of energy and heat!
- The towline: since you’ll learn how to use one during the course, you can carry it and be ready at all times. To help a tired friend, or a sea sick paddler, it’s good to have!
And in another chapter we will talk about VHF radio, cell phone, flares.
Main Paddling Equipment In More Details
A few things to consider for the paddle: length, weight, shape of the shaft and of the blade.
The length will depend on the height of the paddler, how wide his boat is, and his paddling style (high or low angle, have a look at the picture below). Generally, a 220cm paddle will satisfy most paddlers, at least to get you started.
Shorter paddles are for more aggressive paddlers, designed for strokes and short sprints.
For touring, a longer paddle is easier on the paddler.
HIGH ANGLE: shorter paddle with wide blade
LOW ANGLE: longer paddle with thin blade
The weight is really a matter of comfort. The average paddler performs 1 forward stroke every 2 seconds. That’s 30 strokes a minute and 1800 strokes an hour so the weight you’ll be moving does make a difference in the long run. I won’t get into details. Carbon fibre paddles are the lightest paddles on the market, followed by fibreglass, plastic, wood, and aluminium.
The Shape Of The Shaft
The shape of the shaft is a minor detail. Straight or bent shaft, you’ll need to try and decide for yourself (nobody agrees about that one!).
The Shape Of The Blade
The shape of the blade symmetric or asymmetric, wide or thin?
Have a look at the paddle blades (below) and find out what is what! Nowadays you’ll rarely see symmetric blades, so we’re left with the models 3 and 4. Notice how if viewed from the side the blade is not flat, but closer to the shape of a spoon.This shape allows the paddle blade to grab more water and add power to your stroke.
In general, wide blades are for aggressive paddling, whereas thin blades are preferred for touring. The advantage of the wide blade is that you will gain speed faster from a stopped position. However once paddling, you will be going the same average speed but working a bit harder (as you are moving a bigger volume of water with each stroke for the same result).
The sprayskirt is made of two parts. The deck, which is the part that covers the cockpit and slips around the coaming, and the tunnel that goes around your waist.
There are two materials used to make spray skirts, neoprene or nylon (or a mix, neoprene deck and nylon tunnel). Neoprene is more elastic, so the fit is better around the coaming and is more waterproof and durable. It will also keep you warmer. So a nylon spray skirt is pretty good for summer as you won’t cook in your kayak, they weigh less and are a lot cheaper.
Neoprene is still my favourite, with the half and half option for summer coming a close second.
Sprayskirts come in different sizes, to fit the coaming and to fit the paddler!
ATTENTION: at the front end of the skirt is THE LOOP, usually yellow (safety colour for it’s high visibility) and it’s the part you use to free you skirt from the coaming when performing a wet-exit. So make sure it is outside and easily within reach before you leave the dock. Check your friends’ loops as well!
Clothing And Accessories
Now that could be a long paragraph!!! Let’s say, breathable and waterproof, you can’t go wrong.
The main question I want to cover is: do you dress for air temperature or water temperature?
It depends mainly on the conditions, are you going alone, are you going to challenge yourself a little or are you going for a relaxed paddle with a few friends? Is it a sunny day, when your clothes would dry in 5 minutes, or one of those chilly, breezy, overcast mornings?
Dress according to the weather and the degree of risk you are planning to take, a bit on the too-warm side, and always bring a complete set of dry clothes.
That takes us to accessories:
- Dry bags. There are millions of them out there.. Just make sure you don’t buy the biggest one you can find as they won’t fit in your hatches too well.
- Deck bag. Nice way to organize the deck in front of you. It’s a waterproof bag, strapped to the bungies, to store your sunglasses, water bottle, camera, lipstick..
- Hats! Hats, sunglasses, sunscreen. Overlooked pretty often, they’ll make your life nice and enjoyable on any sunny day. Avoid sun-stroke, sun-blindness and nasty sunburn, and paddle in style!!! On cold or rainy days, waterproof hats, hoods, or neoprene hoodies will keep you warm and a bit more dry.
- Pogies: an alternative to gloves, they come in pairs too. They are attached to your paddle and you just slip your hands into them so they don’t freeze. A must in winter.
- Shoes: Wear whatever you like as long as they fit in your cockpit (my hiking shoes don’t). Your footwear should have strong soles so you can walk on anything when you reach the picnic spot. If they dry fast it’s even better. Reinforcement on your heel is good, avoid zippers because they don’t behave well with salt-water (except the ones designed for marine use of course) and make sure they’ll stay on your feet no matter what (swimming, mud walking.).
- The Knife: make sure you have it handy, on your PFD, and that it’s an anti-oxidant steel blade or it will rust really fast. Do you need one?? It’s up to you!
- The Reflective Tape: buy a roll and cover yourself, your boat, your paddle and your buddies so they glow in the dark! Some reflective tapes are radar reflectors as well..
To resume this chapter, for the novice paddler it is important to concentrate on the basic safety equipment. It will keep you safe of course, but also give you confidence and enjoyment. A good PFD makes all the difference and knowing how to use your paddle float correctly and without hesitation is a basic skill to master.
Investing in a good sprayskirt and a light paddle will help you have effortless paddling experiences, keep you dry and warm and so comfortable.
Comfort is important as it helps you relax, save energy and keep you fresh to make intelligent decisions when the time comes.
Everything else can wait a bit. Equipment should match the skill level of the paddler and trying different models is the only way to decide which gear you like best, what works for you, what you are able to use correctly or not.
Simple equipment that is easy to reach is usually best to start with. When you perform a rescue it is in an emergency situation, under a bit of stress, possibly in a challenging situation that started the whole incident. So simple is good, seeing as efficiency and speed using your equipment is of utmost importance at that point.
When paddling in wet or cold conditions, clothing becomes safety gear as well. Being cold, tired and stiff can be a liability and lead to problems that are preventable. Prevention of hypothermia and cold hands should be in the back of your mind.
Now to be a bit less serious, shopping for equipment is fun! It can look good, feel good, and please ask lots of questions before you buy to ensure you’re getting what you want. Like any sport, kayaking starts at home when you load your bag full of gear and start feeling excited just looking at your PFD and grabbing your paddle.
Ahhhh, the smell of neoprene.