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A Fluid Embrace: Seakayaking

We are heirs to a long and complex tradition, one without surviving masters – just students, evidence and memories.

John Dowd: Sea Kayaking

With a kayak we are able to navigate the great wilderness-across-the-road, in just a few minutes
departing our neighborhood to head into a remote landscape, water stretching to the horizon. Kayaking is the application of boat skills in a way that enables a person to safely negotiate this wilderness. And although you might be very close to civilization ‘as the crow flies’ when landing on a quiet beach, the nature of kayaking is that you somehow feel as if
you might be the first, or one of a few to visit.


As with tents, backpacks and bicycles, kayak performance and hence application is a product of variables. These include length, beam, keel, rudder, seats and material. Long kayaks are generally faster than shorter kayaks, wider kayaks are initially more stable but slower, and sit-on-top kayaks have an easier learning curve than sit-insides.

Sea kayaks are extremely sea-worthy craft, and depending on their length and a paddler’s ability
are suitable either for paddling around the harbor (recreational sit-on-tops), or around the islands (touring sit-insides/sit-on-tops). Ranging in length from 10 to 17 feet, the touring versions have watertight bulkheads with deck hatches for access. They are available in fiberglass (pricey but lighter and faster) or polyethylene (inexpensive and tough).


Much of the basic sea kayak technique is covered in the PDF article linked at the top of this page, but one can only learn so much by reading. We want to stress that this is just an introduction to sea kayaking and don't suggest that it can prepare you to paddle in the open ocean. For those who can kayak, , a few words on capsize drill and group signals have been pulled out on this page.

  Seakayaker Cave
  Seakayaker Beach


Relax! This is the most important thing to learn about capsizing. It is almost certainly going to happen in surf at some time if you kayak regularly.
If so, let your boat go and follow it back to shore.
Stay out of its way! If you fall out while landing, stay on the ocean side of the kayak. If beyond the surf zone and in deep water, immediately grab your boat and paddle, remaining in contact with both – you do not want them to blow out of reach.

If in deep water you now need to execute a self-rescue. If you have a recreational sit-on-top kayak, flip it over by pushing the side nearest you ‘over the top’ and away from you. Then park your paddle lengthwise in one hand on the far side, while grabbing the boat, and kick and hoist yourself onto the kayak, lying on your stomach across the boat. Now turn your face to the bow and bring a leg over the rear to slip into the seat. If in a tandem, let the stronger or most responsible paddler get in first, and then hold the kayak for the younger to follow.

Rely firstly on self-rescue and secondly on buddy/craft rescue. Please research and practice
self rescue in a sit-inside kayak.



Paddle Signals

It is useful to establish a series of basic commands before you depart. Do not rely on yelling.

1) If you want to ask someone if they are okay, move your right arm in a distinct up and down motion above your head, touching it each time. This asks the question “are you okay?” An acceptable response would be to raise a paddle into the upright position and move it back and forth.

2) To tell a kayaker or the group to stop where they are, hold your paddle above your head with both hands on the shaft, and elbows at right angles.

3) To call a paddler or group toward you, put your paddle down and lay both hands on your head in a distinctive motion. You may need to rely on a whistle to catch their attention. This can be the most useful signal when dealing with a less disciplined group.

Please note: This very basic introduction to seakayaking leaves much room for learning
and excludes information on navigation.

Please print the full guide from the link at top.