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Sea Kayaking Equipment

Paddle once at sunup. It's worth the early start.
C. Addison

The Basics

Sea kayaking is a lot different than running the rapids of whitewater kayaking. It is usually peaceful and serene, like a hike in the woods or a walk on the beach. It does require more strength and endurance than a casual hiking, but the right technique makes all the difference.

A typical sea kayaking trip might consist of investigating a 15-mile strip of coastline. As a sea kayaker you'll want a boat that is easy to paddle straight (tracks well), is fast and requires as little effort as possible. Sea kayaks are around 17 feet long and designed for speed. On the other hand a whitewater kayaking trip might consist of running a 3 mile section of a river that is full of rapids and eddies. The whitewater kayaker wants a boat that is very easy to maneuver. These boats are much shorter, around 10 feet long.

The most incredible thing about sea kayaking is how close you can get to animals. Most wildlife don't fear kayaks, yet. And because kayaks only draw about 3 inches of water you can go practically anywhere there's water.

Sea kayaks are much more stable than whitewater boats. This makes the learning curve shorter. A novice can immediately participate in the sport. As you get into the sport you'll hear a lot of people talk about the dangers. Sea kayaking can be dangerous. However, most of the danger lies in not using your common sense. Many people cross open bodies of water. If anything goes wrong when you're 2 miles out, you could be in real trouble. A sea kayak has no engine, so you must rely on your own ability. This is the key, only take part in a trip that is at your level and ability. You are responsible for your own safety. Also, there are lots of safety devices, which you must be familiar with and have on you at all times.

You don't have to cross the oceans to enjoy sea kayaking. Exploring hidden shorelines and inlets is a wonderful way to spend your day. Because you're close to shore it's much safer. There are a lot of weekend trips you can take that combine camping. Most sea kayaks have waterproof bulkheads (compartments) that you can store overnight gear in. Check out the section to find clubs and organizations that organize these trips.

Your First Paddle

On your first day, you'll need to get a feeling for the boat and the proper paddle stroke. Even though sea kayaks are more stable than whitewater boats, they're still rather tippy. You'll want to become comfortable with the natural movement and rolling motion as the kayak goes over the water. If you consider yourself a novice on the water, your first day should be very safe. Use a beginner kayak, which is more stable and unfortunately slower. Make sure the group leader knows that you're a beginner and that you're participating in a beginner level trip. Stay together with the group. Staying close to an expert kayaker means that there will be help close by if you get into trouble.

Getting into trouble for a beginner doesn't always mean capsizing or flipping over. Trouble can be getting into currents and waves, and in the way of other water traffic. Keep in mind most other boats can't see you because a sea kayak is so low to the water. By being close to an experienced kayaker, they'll be able to point out trouble spots. It's also a good idea to ask a lot of questions. Why not learn from their experiences.

On a beginner trip the leader should start off by demonstrating how to correctly paddle. There's a proper way to hold the paddle and a proper paddle stroke. The proper stroke utilizes all your upper body muscles, instead of just your arms. If you're using only your arms, you won't be able to complete the entire trip. You'll be too tired.

Most importantly, dress appropriately for the weather conditions. If the water is cold be prepared for a possible swim with a wetsuit or drysuit. You must always wear a life jacket. Make sure the beginner trip provides life jackets if you don't have your own.

For colder days wear a farmer john style wetsuit, waterproof boots, full waterproof gloves, fleece top, warm hat, waterproof jacket or dry top, and a life jacket. For warm days, you'll want to wear quick drying shorts, booties, thin open fingered gloves, tshirt, a hat to protect from the sun, a light dry top, and a life jacket.

The other key piece of equipment for kayaking is called a skirt. It is a device that like a skirt secures around your waist and then flares out to cover the boat's cockpit opening. The skirt is designed to keep water out of the boat. A cold weather skirt is made of neoprene and a warm weather skirt is Nylon. Both sea kayaking and whitewater kayaking use skirts.

Regular Trips

Now that you're hooked, it's time to improve your skills. The best way to do this is to take pool lessons. You probably didn't flip the boat on your first day out. In order to be fully prepared and comfortable, you should practice capsizing and wet exits in the pool. Make sure you do this with an instructor. Being upside down in the boat can be disorientating. The pool offers a safe environment in which you can perfect all your safety and rescue maneuvers. Know these well before you need to use them in the open water.

Usually the pool lessons are taught in whitewater boats. Sea kayaks are just too big to get into most pools. It can be an advantage to use whitewater boats. Because whitewater kayaks are less forgiving and more difficult to control than sea kayaks you're skills will improve faster. You'll also get a better feel for how to maneuver kayaks.

Once you're committed you'll want your own boat. Don't buy a beginner boat if you're goal is to do long day trips and over night trips. You'll grow out of a beginner kayak almost immediately. Look for an intermediate boat with a good design or shape for the conditions you'll be kayaking in.

It's important that you fit snuggly in the boat. Pros refer to this as wearing the boat. A proper fit helps you maneuver and control the boat. There are fit kits available to properly fit your boat to you. Try as many boats as possible before you buy one.

Long Distant Touring

The more you kayak the better your boat handling skills will be. Long distant touring will expose you to rough conditions including strong currents, high winds, and steep waves. Because weather conditions can change rapidly on the water, you'll need to be prepared for the worst. As an expert you'll be prepared with strong boat handling skills; the ability to navigate; read charts, weather conditions and water movements. Your reactions will be automatic.

It's important to perfect your boat handling skills so you'll always be in control. If you've stayed with your pool lessons you can probably Eskimo roll a whitewater kayak. The next trick will be to roll your sea kayak. This is important for conditions where an assisted rescue isn't possible.

The profile of an expert kayaker is someone with several boats in their garage. Most people keep their first boat, which makes a perfect boat to take friends out in. If you haven't already checked out the ultra sleek fiberglass boats, after a couple of long trips you'll be convinced that you need one. They're light, fast and beautiful.

Now that you're an expert, stay an expert. Take your safety precautions seriously and always use your common sense.


  • Never expect another boat to get out of your way. Firstly, they probably can't see you. Secondly, they are twice you're size and will crush you. It's a simple term, tonnage. Stay clear.
  • Don't just follow someone else's lead. If you're not comfortable with the situation don't do it. You are responsible for your own safety.
  • For all trips be fully prepared with water, food and all your gear.


  • If you need a wetsuit, a farmer john style without sleeves is the best. A full suit is too restricting in the arms and will make it difficult and uncomfortable to paddle.
  • A waterproof wide brimmed hat works well to keep the sun off your face and your head dry if it rains.
  • Bike gloves are light and provide enough protection from blisters during warm paddles.
  • Always wear something with sleeves. The life jacket and constant paddling motion will chaff under your arms.
  • There are great accessories for sea kayaking including waterproof map bags and deck bags to keep the essentials handy.
  • Always keep a few energy bars on hand. As in mountain biking, if you begin to feel thirsty and tired you're already dehydrated. On a strenuous trip you need to regularly hydrate yourself.
  • There are no bathrooms out there, so go before you launch.
  • Your waterproof bulkheads should provide floatation for your boat. However, if there's any kind of leak they may begin to fill with water. As a safety precaution keep float bags in the bulkheads when your not using them for gear.


  • Use your common sense.
  • Only participate in trips that are at your level. Plan your trip. This includes checking currents and weather conditions.
  • Have all you safety gear including a whistle, flares, strobe light, bilge pump, paddle leash, and paddle float.
  • Ensure your safety gear is in good working order for every trip. Your flares should be replace periodically.
  • Periodically check that your bulkhead compartments are still waterproof.

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