Oh! Going on your first kayaking trip! It might seem like you are about to face the forces of nature armed only with your paddle and a boat so small you might even be able to pick up with one hand. We know! But relax, we are here to guide you step by step. And hopefully, by the end of this article, you will have all the information needed to embark on your first kayak adventure.
It is important to start small! That means that on your first outing, you should not go blasting down any white water rivers or go paddling out into the open sea. Instead, we recommend you start paddling in a peaceful lake, beach, or a stream of water in a location near your home. Just make sure to carry the necessary equipment and follow all safety guidelines, also remember to check with the local authorities for any license or permits required.
Equipment and Accessories
Whatever type of kayaking you choose, there are essential pieces of equipment which you should never go without. These include:
- Personal Flotation Device or PFD for short: This is a type of specialised life vest. It has less padding in the areas around the neck and shoulders to allow freedom of movement for your arms. They also come covered in mesh panelling to favour breathability and comfort.
- Paddles are an essential piece of equipment as they are the means to move your kayak. It is important to choose the correct paddle size because if it is too short, you will be hitting your hands on the sides of your boat. And if it’s too long instead, what will happen is that you will add unwanted extra stress to your shoulders. As well as dragging your kayak in the water, which can be exhausting. This fact is especially important when paddling on touring kayaks, as these are harder to steer due to their longer length.
The width of your kayak, as well as your own height, will determine the right paddle length. Also, consider that paddles come with straight shafts (usually less expensive), and bent shafts (to improve ergonomics, which is a lot less stress on your wrists). As well as a range of different shaped blades.
- Float Bags: they are inflatable bags –usually placed in the stern- to keep your kayak from sinking whenever you fall out. And trust me, you are probably going to fall out!
- Bilge Pump: this is a handheld plastic pump. It’s needed to remove water from your boat both when you fall out of it and at the end of your trip.
What to Look for
Now we will be talking about some of the specific equipment necessary according to the type of kayaking you decide to practise with. Also, we have taken the liberty to mention some of the top brands and prices on kayaks so that you don’t go shopping blind.
Recreational Kayaks: recommended for paddling in lakes, slow-moving rivers, and calm ocean waters, think of them as the mid-size sedans of the kayaking scene, affordable, stable, and easy to manoeuvre through the water. And it’s no wonder they are so popular among novice kayakers.
Measuring around 9 to 12 ft these boats also have wide cockpits (26” to 30” width) that make getting in and out of it a lot easier. A variant of the standard recreational kayak is the sit-on-top, an excellent choice for fishing as it allows the paddler to shift around its seat. And also popular among kayakers that like to occasionally jump out of their boat and go for a swim.
While you can get your hands on a perfectly good kayak for as little as $140, if you are going to paddle more seriously, we recommend that you invest a little more. Paying around $500-$800 gets you a kayak that is sturdy, reliable, and comfortable. Some brands to look out for in this category include Old Town, Pelican, and Wilderness Systems rigid kayaks. And among inflatables, Sea Eagle kayaks are the go-to brand.
Touring Kayaks: meant to be used in the ocean and other open waters, touring kayaks are longer (12 to 17 ft.) and more narrow (22” to 25” wide) than their recreational cousins. This makes them more suited for experienced kayakers as they don’t feel as stable and take some getting used to.
Due to their ample storage space, touring kayaks are ideal for overnight trips or multiple-day expeditions. Also worth mentioning among touring kayaks are Performance (or Racing) type boats, which are even longer (15 to 18 ft.) and narrower (19” to 22” wide) to favour speed.
When shopping for a touring kayak make sure to check out the models offered by Wilderness Systems, Eddyline and, Delta Kayaks. These are among the Top Rated with prices going from around $700 – $2000 to as high as $6000 if you go for a more top-of-the-line kayak made from composite materials.
Whitewater Kayaks: these type of boats are short (7 to 11 ft. long), somewhat round with small, tight cockpits that keep the paddler safely tucked inside while gliding downstream, and are specifically designed to manoeuvre through fast waters as well as dodging rocks, trees, and many other obstacles.
Having mentioned the presence of rocks and other dangerous elements, we sincerely recommend the company of an instructor on your first paddling trips down the river. Also, keep in mind that as conditions are different on whitewater, it also changes the equipment you must have with you. So, aside from the usual, please make sure to wear a helmet, carry a rescue bag with some high-strength rope in it (around 50-75 ft. should do). This equipment is to keep yourself or your partner from any tight spots you might get into. And pick up shorter paddles to allow faster movement and changes of direction.
Prices on whitewater kayaks run around the $700 – $1500 mark. As for what brands to choose from, Intex, SunDolphin, and Riot Kayaks are definitely among the best hard-shells in the market. While on the inflatable side of the offer, make sure to check out Driftsun Rover’s lightweight kayaks made of heavy-duty PVC.
Your kayak is designed to require minimal maintenance. But just like any other valuable equipment, you really need to take good care of it. So a little timely review and tune-up will ensure it brings you a lifetime of enjoyment.
- Give your kayak an extensive check-up, inspect and repair all deck hardware, cables, buckles straps, and other moving parts for wear and tear and replace them if necessary.
- Review your hull and deck thoroughly at least once a year and make sure you get any deep scratches repaired.
- Never drag your kayak against rough surfaces, because this will cause unnecessary wear to the hull, invest in a cart instead. This will make it easier for you to get your kayak in and out of the water.
- Replenish perishables in your First-Aid kit.
- Inspect the paddles for damage, and apply silicone spray-lube.
- Wash your boat inside and out with some mild detergent.
As we mentioned, kayaks do not need that much maintenance. And just by making your own annual maintenance list and strictly following it, your watercraft will always be in tip-top condition. By doing so, you will avoid any unwanted mishaps on the water.
Contrary to popular belief, aside from the investment of the boat itself, kayaking does not have to be an overly-expensive hobby. And the best part of it is you can do most of the maintenance and regular repairs yourself! While you get to know every nook and cranny in your boat, it also helps in reducing costs.
Safety and Hygiene
Having covered all the equipment check-up aspects of the preparations, here are some essential points worth considering
- Always carry your mobile phone in a waterproof pouch, make sure that it is fully charged, and keep it close to you at all times.
- Pack your mini repair kit and even some duct tape, no one expects things to go wrong, but by being prepared, you can be sure that they don’t.
- Pack a “dry bag” with some essentials such as drinking water, hot drinks, snacks, a towel, hat/gloves, and even some spare clothes.
- Before you head out, check the weather, wind, tides, and water levels so you are prepared for the conditions you might face.
- Properly cover any cuts before you go paddling, as unfortunately, the water you are travelling on might not always be as clean as it seems.
- Make sure you wash your hands properly or use some antibacterial spray before eating anything.
Finally, always tell someone where you are going and when you expect to be back. Don’t forget to bring along your British Canoeing membership card, and more importantly, KNOW YOUR LIMITS! Never push the boundaries if you don’t have to. Paddle only in areas you know or are suitably experienced for. And with that being said, remember that the first rule of any paddling trip is to have fun, Safe Travel!.