Items for kayak safety.. and some you may not have thought about

Being prepared for your next water adventure and packing the right items for the uncertainty can be overwhelming. Ideally, what you bring along should reflect upon your paddle destination and the ability to understand and demonstrate proper usage.

In today’s blog we will explain to you some items which aid us during our travels – and might get you out of a sticky situation.

The PFD with safety items

The PFD: The ideal personal safety device. The ideal kayak PFD should fit well, and fit comfortably on the user. The arms and armpit area should have enough room to rotate without rubbing against your body. They should have a label within which reads USCG approved. Majority of recreational and sea kayakers use a type III, as these have the proper buoyancy and keeps one’s head above the water when floating. PFD’s with CO2 canisters are an option – however need manual operation to inflate the vest (kinda difficult to do this when not physically able to preform this task).

Here are a few ideas to keep inside your PFD while you paddle. 1)Whistle-one needs some form of signaling device when on open waters. It can be used to alert others of danger, or a means to get another’s attention. 2)Compass-great for getting directional guidance, especially when used in conjunction with a navigational chart. I had chosen one with a mirror attached, as I can then reflect the sun light if needed (only good during sunny days). 3)GPS-can be used to track your travels, offer navigation assistance, and positional data (really useful during rescues, or when one can not read a navigation chart). 4)VHF-your means to communicate to others while on the big waters, and get the rescue aid you, or others may need. 5)Light-this is a strobe light which can provide the ability for others to see you at night. 6)Personal Locator Beacon-when the worst-case scenario happens and you need help. When activated, it provides your GPS location to the search and rescue authorities, downside it is a one-way communication device (and they can’t talk to you). 7)Knife-sometimes you need to cut something, or someone free of a dangerous situation (think entrapment). 8)Grease pen-great for writing on laminated surfaces (like a chart), waterproof and never needs sharpening. 9)Nose plugs-for those who hate having water going up their nose when rolling. 10)Food and water-never know when you might need a little nourishment either for yourself, or others. (Not pictured – a laminated card with your name, blood type, allergies, and emergency contact information)

Navigation chart: Very useful item to plan your trip. One can see hazards, water depth, measure the distance, plan for alternate take outs, and verify your position using references – just to name a few. Laminate it, use the grease pencil to mark your trip,and tuck it under your shock cords.

Navigation chart

Paddle float: Used in conjunction with self-rescues, this aids the paddler to get back into the kayak. Place on the blade, inflate, secure and rescue yourself. They come as either inflatable (as pictured) or rigid. Store this in the same place on your kayak each time for quick access.

Paddle float

Bilge pump: Useful for getting large amounts of water out of your kayak, especially after a wet exit. Like the paddle float, store it on your kayak in the same location for easy access.

Bilge pump

Sponge: For getting those last drops of water out of the cockpit (or hatches), scooping up wet sand and dirt inside the cockpit, or cleaning off the deck/hull from water scum accumulation.

kayak sponge

Dry bag: Don’t want to get certain items wet…like clothes, electronics, or cookies? Place your items within, fold over the top a few times and secure the clips.

dry bag

Dry box: Totally waterproof and floats. Great place to keep your car keys, wallet, and phone safe and sound.

dry box

Dry bag with extra clothing: In the cooler months, I will bring along this bag in case I, or others get totally wet/cold and need something warm and dry to wear. It is packed with a fleece top, fleece lined/nylon running pants, wool socks, gloves, and a few pairs of hats -not shown is a microfiber towel. I leave the cotton at home.

dry bag with clothes

First Aid kit: One can put together a kit with simple items, band-aids, splints, bandages, electrical tape (waterproof tape), tweezers, ointments, CPR mask, gloves, or anything else which may come to mind. Never know when someone needs to stop a bleeder.

first aid kit

Stirrup Strap: Basically, a nylon webbing about an inch wide. Used in conjunction with or without a paddle/paddle float to aid the paddler to get back into the kayak after a wet exit. One end is placed on the far side of the paddle, slipped under the yak, and circled around the paddle shaft. The end with the loop dangles in the water, a foot slips into the loop. The paddler uses majority of their leg muscle strength to lift themselves into the cockpit.

stirrup strap

Tow Belt/rope: A device used to help assist an injured or tired paddler during the journey, get a kayak or the kayak and paddler out of a dangerous environment, or tow an empty kayak. The belt is fitted around the rescuer, and the clip on the other end is slipped under the deck line nearest the bow of the kayak being assisted. There is usually a quick release located on the rescuer’s waist to disconnect from the other kayak. Rope lengths vary in length, but are usually 50 feet – but can be daisy chained to make them shorter (as pictured).

tow belt

Contact tow: Aids a rescuer to maintain a closer connection to one who needs assistance (cockpit to cockpit). Can be used in conjunction with another rescuer who may be towing a second rescuer and victim. Or, used as a clip and get the person out of the danger area quickly. Typical length is less than 4 feet.

contact tow

Signal bag: Hand held flares, a mirror, and an air horn. Great tools to have on the water for both visual and audible signaling.

signal bag

Laser flare: When turned on, flashes S-O-S and has a visible range of about 3 miles at nighttime. Nice feature about these, they never burn your hands and stays lit until the batteries dies.

laser flare

Repair kit: Packed inside a water bottle are items to make simple temporary fixes to a kayak. Included is a 4 foot long semi-rigid twist tie, zip strips, a sheet of plastic, duct tape (wrapped around a marker), multi-tool, narrow shock cord (with fasteners), and a fiberglass repair kit.

repair kit

Bothy bag: These are great to use as a personal shelter from the elements. Once opened up, it creates a small dome-like tent. They protect you from the winds, rain, snow and the inside heats up rather quickly (especially great for a cold rain, or a mild case of hypothermia).

bothy bag


What items do you carry on your usual paddle trips? Are you prepared to rescue yourself, or others who may need your assistance? Take a class and learn how to use some of these items.


For the Paddler Within

Whether liked or not, weather will be a factor .


As paddlers, we must have a basic understanding of weather and weather patterns. Knowledge of simple weather predictions and forecasting will provide a safe and memorable paddle. Before heading out, it is always a good idea to obtain the local weather report – so there are no unexpected surprises. Where do you get this information? Local morning news, newspaper, internet, phone apps, and with some training, one can view nature’s signs. In today’s blog I will cover some basic cloud structures, weather patterns, and lore.

Let’s take a look at a weather map.

Here we see many different items which make up our weather. There are frontal systems, pressures, isobars and precipitation. I will explain what these mean, and how you can use these to your advantage.

Fronts – What exactly are fronts? These are boundaries between large air masses of different temperatures. These are represented on weather maps by colored lines – blue =cold, red=warm. A cold front is a high density air mass which moves towards and under a warm air mass. The warm air mass is pushed upward at a sharp angle causing moisture to condense rapidly. Heavy precipitation is often the end result. A warm front mass of air moves towards and passes over a dense cold air mass at a moderate angle, usually resulting in light perception.

Pressures – There are two different types, a high and low.

When forecasters say a low pressure area or storm is moving toward your region, this usually means cloudy weather and precipitation are on the way Low pressure systems have different intensities with some producing a gentle rain while others produce hurricane force winds and a massive deluge. The centers of all storms are areas of low air pressure. Air rises near low pressure areas. As air rises, it cools and often condenses into clouds and precipitation. If the low pressure area is the center of a Northern Hemisphere extratropical storm, a steady rain or snow can fall to the north of the warm front as warm moist air from the south rises up and over the cold air ahead of the warm front. Showers and thunderstorms often fire up ahead of the cold front in the warm, unstable air. Usually, showers and thunderstorms ahead of the cold front don’t last long as the precipitation is ahead of the warm front. Due to the counterclockwise circulation around low pressure areas in the Northern Hemisphere, cold air will likely be found to the north and west of low pressure areas while warm air is most often found to the south and east of low pressure areas. Often, you hear a weather forecaster say that an area of high pressure will dominate the weather. This usually means your region has several partly to mostly sunny days in store with little or no precipitation. Air tends to sink near high-pressure centers, which inhibits precipitation and cloud formation. This is why high-pressure systems tend to bring bright, sunny days with calm weather. Air flows clockwise around a high-pressure system in the northern hemisphere. As a result, regions to the east of a high-pressure center often have northerly winds bringing in relatively cold air while regions to the west have southerly winds bringing in relatively warm air. Sometimes, high-pressure systems stall over a particular region for long periods of time and bring several days of sunny, calm weather with little or no precipitation. High pressure systems usually form where the air converges aloft. As the air converges in the upper-levels of the atmosphere, it forms an area of higher pressure and is forced to sink. The sinking air spirals outward, clockwise in the Northern Hemisphere, counterclockwise south of the Equator.

Winds on the Great Lakes – On this map, the wind is measured with the use of barbs. A short barb is 5 knots, a long barb, 10 knots. If no barb and just a circle present, winds are calm. Wind barbs point in the direction “from” which the wind is blowing. On this particular map, the majority of wind is coming from a western direction at a speed of around 15 knots.

Isobars –These provide indication on the amount of wind to be expected.


Isobars are lines that connect points of equal atmospheric pressure on weather maps. Isobars are similar to height lines on a geographical map, and they are drawn so that they can never cross each other. Meteorologists use isobars on weather maps to depict atmospheric pressure changes over an area and to make predictions concerning wind flow. The term “isobar” originates from the Greek, isos (equal) and baros (weight). Wind is a direct consequence of air pressure differences. The greater the pressure contrast over an area, the shorter the distance between isobars on a weather map depicting the area. Wind blows from areas of high to low pressure. The greater the contrast in pressure difference between two areas, the faster the wind will blow, so closer isobars on a weather map predict higher velocity winds.

Precipitation – (non winter months will be described) range from light green to purple – describes the intensity of the precipitation; light green relates to light rain – purple relates to intense storms

Some basic weather predictions are from the clouds which are present. Each type of cloud pattern provides indication of future conditions in the hours or days ahead. I will mention a few simple examples.

Good clouds vs the Bad clouds

Let’s look at a perfectly clear day. Little to no clouds in the sky and sunny. This would indicate no change of conditions.  On a partly cloudy, or partly sunny day, the clouds present are loose, fluffy, cotton ball clouds, which would indicate fair weather. These are called, Cumulus.  These are formed usually under 10,000 feet , or low clouds. If these clouds bunch up, form firm edges with definite shapes, this would indicate heavy showers will soon arrive.

One of the higher clouds (over 20,000 feet) is called Cirrocumulus. They look like rippled sand or fish scales. They are nicknamed ‘Mackerel sky”, they are considered an omen of bad weather (usually rain).

A Cirrus cloud is a high, wispy white cloud composed of ice crystals – which indicate short term good weather – often called, “mares tails”. These commonly bring winds the following day.

Some towering clouds which swell up to 60,000 feet – one called a swelling Cumulus – These are flat bottomed which have a growing, cauliflower-like towers, they often form Mid-day and precede the next type of cloud which will be covered, the Cumulonimbus.

The Cumulonimbus are towering storm clouds, which bring rain, sleet, hail, thunder, lighting and tornadoes. The top of the cloud is usually anvil-shaped. One should really pay attention to these and seek shelter when needed.



Fog – Fog can be considered a cloud at ground level. The processes forming it, however, are usually different from those that form clouds.  Like clouds, fog is made up of condensed water droplets which are the result of the air being cooled to the point (actually, the dew point) where it can no longer hold all of the water vapor it contains


Now, there are some dangers in which we should be aware- 

Thunderstorms. At no time should a paddlers be on the water during a storm. If a storm arrives suddenly, get off the water and seek shelter. Thunderstorms occur when large air masses rise quickly into the atmosphere, forming huge cumulonimbus clouds. Severe air currents inside the clouds cause water droplets and ice crystals to crash into one another, the friction between the particles creates static electricity within the cloud. Over time, opposite charges build between the top and bottom of the cloud, and the bottom of the cloud and the earth. When these opposing charges become intense, a gigantic spark occurs (lighting).

Winds – another potential danger to the paddlers. Winds is caused when air moves from an area of high pressure to one of low pressure. The greater the difference between the areas, the stronger the wind. Gentle breezes are usually dealt with, however, strong gusts and/or excessive winds may cause one to be pushed off course and into dangerous rocks or obstructions, and be exhausting to the paddlers. There are a few types of winds:

Head winds – these are winds coming directly at the paddlers – which equals resistance during a paddle

Tail winds – these are directly behind the paddlers, makes it easier to paddle.

Cross winds – these will come from either side and push one off course.

Fog– Usually is caused by warm air moving and cooling over water. This can disorientate the paddlers, obstruct recognition of coastal features, and placing the paddlers in harms way with larger vessels. Best to paddle close to shore , close to your paddle partner, turn on lights, and use either a fog horn, or a whistle to announce your location to other boaters – avoiding near misses. When paddling with a smaller group and seeking out a solo paddler, one can form a line. The basic principle with this: one paddler paddles near shore, the next in line paddles just far enough either to the left or right to the shoreline paddler to see them, the next in line continues this positioning. (much like walking hand in hand).


Forecast and Reports –

In order for a safe paddle, know what the forecast is for the venue. Obtain the local weather report by either TV, radio, or the paper. While on the water, tune into a 24 hour NOAA weather report on a VHF radio. Or, if you do not have one, listen to the weather station on the radio. There are smart phone apps in which may be helpful to plan the day. NOAA web page has information for digital graphic water conditions and advisories, which include water temp, wind speed and direction, and wave heights


Weather Lore:

A Logger was preparing for a fall town meeting and called the National Weather Service (NWS) to find out about the weather. He was told that the winter was going to be cold, so he included this in his report to the counsel. The logger began gathering fire wood.

The logger called back a couple of weeks later to make sure that his camp was prepared and was told that it looked like it was going to be a harder winter than usual. He passed the word to his people to gather more wood.

A couple of weeks later, he was finalizing his winter plans and called the NWS again, and was told that it was going to be terrible. When he asked why they thought that, the man told him, “We’re not exactly sure, but the local logging camp is gathering wood like crazy!”

The moral of the story? Don’t depend solely on somebody else to make your preparations! We have a few signs that can help you determine what the weather will be, and here they are:


Here are some sayings which may hold some truth:

When morning fog clears quickly away, expect a sunny day.

A sun-shiny shower, won’t last half an hour

Mackerel sky and mares tails make tall ships carry low sails.  (certain clouds are often followed by high winds) As mentioned in explanation of types of clouds.

Christmas day on the balcony means Easter in the embers

Squirrels tail fluffy, winter will be blustery

Onion’s skin very thin, mild winter coming in. onions skin thick and tough, coming winter cold and rough.

Red Skies and Rainbows

You’ve probably heard the old sailors’ poem of “red skies at night, sailors delight; red skies in morning, sailors take warning.” This is actually a good indicator of what’s coming. If the sunset is beautifully pink, the sun is shining on dust particles being pushed by a high-pressure system, which brings warm, dry air. If the sunrise is red, a low-pressure system is often pushing moisture toward you. Not always accurate but something to pay attention to.

Rainbows follow the same pattern: if you see one in the eastern sky in the morning, there’s a good chance that you’re going to get rain. The rainbow is caused by the sun reflecting off of moisture and most storms in the northern hemisphere move east to west.

Squirrels and Birds

Are the squirrels having knock-down drag-outs in your yard over the dwindling supply of nuts? Are the birds attacking your feeders like they haven’t eaten in weeks? If so, there’s a good chance that a substantial storm is on the way. This is another great way to read nature’s signs to predict weather. Similarly, if you notice that birds are migrating early, you should follow their lead and be ready to bunk in early for winter too. Winter is coming early.

In the shorter term, if birds are flying high, you’re probably going to have a good couple of days. When the pressure drops, indicating an upcoming storm, it hurts birds’ ears and they fly lower to alleviate that. Animals sense changes in barometric pressure well in advance of weather events so pay attention.

Look to the Moon: If the moon has a circle (halo) around it, this is almost a sure sign that there’s inclement weather heading your way in the next 3 days or so.The closer the ring is to the moon, the sooner participation will occur.  If it’s clear and bright, you may also be getting some moisture because a low-pressure system has moved in and cleared the dust from the air.

If the moon has an orange hue or pale, there’s dust in the air so you’re probably going to see some good weather the next day.

Watch Your Cat Take a Bath

Cats typically lick their paws and swipe their eyes but they usually leave their ears alone. They’re finicky like that. However, cats’ ears are particularly sensitive to changes in pressure so if he’s swiping his ears, there’s a good chance that bad weather is imminent in the next couple of days.

Herd Animals Unite

Animals such as cows, deer and horses are pretty good at telling you bad weather is coming if you just pay attention. Cows in particular are good at predicting drought; you’ll notice a drop in fertility rate if the next year is going to be tough. In the short term, watch for herd animals to group together, typically facing the same direction. If you see that, a storm is likely near, they also tend to lay down just before a rain. .

Also, horses and cows have ears that are sensitive, similar to a cat. If you notice them trying to scratch an ear with a hoof more often than usual, the pressure may be changing and bring a change in weather with it.

Good Fishing, Bad Storm

If you have an absolutely spectacular fishing day, where your line gets hit every time it hits the water, you may want to plan your fish bake for inside instead of out. Fish are great at sensing changes in pressure and will feed heavily before a storm so that they can go deep to weather it out.

Watch Your Campfire for Rain

If the smoke from your fire rises without any significant swirls, you’re probably in for good weather the next day. If the smoke blows back down or escapes in swirls, there’s low pressure in effect, which means bad weather is imminent.

Get to know your local environment; when you do, you’ll start noticing patterns in the local animals and plants that are linked to the weather. Being able to read nature’s signs to predict weather can be an invaluable skill that may very well save your life, or at least your paddle trip!  Remember, you aren’t going to melt if you get a little rain on ya, no matter how sweet you think you are. Enjoy!

For the Paddler Within….

Cosmetic scratches making your boat look old?

how to fix the minor scratches in your fiberglass kayak

For those of us who have fiberglass yaks understand how beautiful they can be when they are shiny and new. Keeping them that way, can be a bit of a strain, especially if you really want to paddle frequently. I personally will have minor scratches which will appear wherever I have attached my back up paddles, Camelback, or other items I frequently place on my deck. Mainly this happens near my backup paddle, as I take them out of my paddle britches. Every once in a while, I will have to do a little maintenance and give that yak some TLC.

Today, I will show you a step-by-step process for getting rid of those minor scratches and making your yak better than before. There will be a few items one will have to obtain in order to make this happen, and I will suggest a few other items which speed up the process.


Step 1: Wash your kayak with either a dedicated marine soap, or car wash soap. Using a microfiber towel and a little elbow grease will really ensure you get it fully clean. Rinse with lean water, and let it air dry. A shaded place and a fairly warm day is ideal for this kind of work.

Step 2: After the yak is dry, assemble your items and ensure you have plenty on hand, as you may go through your fair share. Water will be your friend as you go through this nerve-wracking process. This process involves using sand paper on the fiberglass. But, not the traditional type of sandpaper one would use on wood products. This is wet-dry sand paper, and it is normally found near the automotive section, near the filler compounds and body work

.Depending on the depth of the scratch a variation of grit may have to be used. For scratches which have depth – and can be felt when one runs their fingernail across the scratch. It should feel much like feeling the edge of a dime I would consider this a minor scratch, and use the 400 or 600 grit paper. If it feels like an edge of a quarter, use 100 or 200 grit paper. For cracks and deeper gouges, this article will be of little use – as this is a more involved process. I had used the 400 grit for this project.

Word to the wise, work on small areas when sanding, only do an area of about one-foot square before moving on to the next area. I learned this mistake a few years ago and it took me a long time to complete the task at hand.

Step 3: Spray down the sandpaper with copious amounts of water, and/or spray the area you are going to work on. Begin to use small circles on the scratched area, and continue to spray.

When you do this correctly, the color of the fiberglass will ‘bleed’ – THIS IS NORMAL. Don’t panic!!! Just keep spraying some water on the area to get rid of the fine particles, and also give the sandpaper a good spritz from time to time, and rotate the area of paper you are using.

Step 4: Once you have roughed up the area with sand paper, the area will look hazy and dull. Rinse the area with water thoroughly. This will look very similar to the picture below.

Step 5: Grab an application cloth, or one can use the applicator which comes with most wax containers. I have two choices in which I may use, a rubbing compound, or a polishing compound. The Rubbing compound has more grit than the polishing compound. If one decides to use both on this project, use the rubbing then the polishing. Since there are micro fragments of fiberglass and other particles of material being removed with these two products, unsure you have a dedicated application cloth for each item.

Step 6: Once you have decided to use one compound over the other ( I went for the polishing one in this case). Apply this compound much like one would polish the car. I always think of that scene in which Mr. Miyagi states, “Wax on, wax off”. One may see a bit of the color bleed through onto the cloth during this process. It does a ‘soft sanding’ on the fiberglass.

Step 7: There might be a slight sheen to the area after this has been dried off – but you aren’t completed just yet. Time for application of wax (car wax works just fine). Same application process as the previous method – just be certain you are using a clean application cloth.

Step 8: So, it is pretty shiny after the application of the wax and the use of a towel. But why not up the game a bit more and put a real gloss on the deck? For the final process, I break out the electric buffer/polisher and a pad (once again use one specific for the wax). I may apply a fine layer of wax over the entire kayak a few times and then buff it out once I have completely done with the smaller areas.

Step 9: Stand back and enjoy the work which was completed. I usually have to do this process a few times a year, but really don’t mind. It gives me a closer perspective of problem areas, and I tend to check the deck lines and cords, and tighten up screws if needed. One thing which will make this process easier (which is clearly not what I did) is to remove the deck lines and cords – or replace them during this time. Otherwise, one will have to constantly move the lines and cords out of the way from the wax and the electric buffer.

This section of area took nearly 30 minutes to completely make look fairly new again. The time to complete a whole yak is a case by case situation – but shouldn’t take more than 3 hours when done correctly. There is nothing like paddling around with a show stopper finish on your kayak, and making heads turn. Have pride in your yak and make it last for years to come.



For the Padder Within…

Getting rescued by the USCG (training)

USCG rescues

Last week, I covered how to use a VHF and what steps it takes to call for help. This week will be a continuation of the process, and what it actually looks like from a kayaker’s perspective.

A little background to this training: A few years ago, I had organized a joint training mission involving a local paddle club and the USCG. Our training proceeded with a pre-brief with members of the Coast Guard and the paddle club members who would be on-water.  Safety was our main concern during the day, and we had a code word which would be used, if the Coast Guard were truly needed elsewhere. During the planning – it was understood we would not use flares, no PLB, or actual electronic rescue devices (for concerns of citizens believing this was truly an emergency) and would transmit the Mayday call via VHF channel 72.  All four kayakers were ACA level 3, and higher coastal instructors – had numerous safety/rescue devices, PFD’s, clothing suitable for immersion, sea kayaks, and skill sets appropriate for the conditions/environment.

The four paddlers launched from an alternative site because of time constraints and proceeded to head out past the pier head. Moments into the paddle, we realized this would not be a flat water and smooth training experience, however would add to the realism of a rescue. Conditions were: waves 2 ½ to 3 footers, nice rollers from time to time, winds constant around 15 mph from the ESE, Air temp around 75, water temp mid 60’s. We paddled about a mile away from the pier head, and just within viewing for the folks on Neshotah beach. We weighed out the options to either conduct the training away from the beach and attempt to maintain our position, or face additional broaching waves and winds which may have increased the safety factor.  We chose to conduct a safe affair. Our scenario involved one kayaker getting ‘injured’, losing consciousness and fracturing her arm as a power boat ran into her and ejecting her from her yak.

During the post-briefing of all the members involved, here are a few interesting noteworthy topics we encountered and will be perfecting.

  • While one VHF is worth the weight of gold during any paddle adventure, two or more is best. I could transmit the Mayday, however could not receive CG replies. Luckily, we had three VHF radios with us. I could not imagine just how any paddler could signal what kind of emergency they may have without communication.
  • As mentioned, our ‘victim’ had been hit by a power boat, knocked unconscious, and ejected from her yak. The decision to keep her in the water and maintain an open airway was a personal choice – for the fear of C-spine injury and further injury, we did not attempt a H.O.G (Hand of God) rescue, or place her on the decks of the two other kayaks. The kayaker who rescued the swimmer, had to store his paddle, and hold onto the shoulder straps of the PFD of the swimmer. Her face was away from the oncoming waves. It was somewhat unbalanced for the rescuer to maintain center balance of his yak, as broaching waves and winds continued. The third yak clipped on a tow rope to get the swimmer’s yak out of the way. Even if we did do a H.O.G. rescue on the swimmer, the CG would have to once again remove the injured kayaker from the kayak (as they manually hoisted her onto the CG vessel). There was an option for the CG to use a dive team and stokes littler to extract an unconscious swimmer.
  • Once CG boat arrived, swimmer had to be passed off to the crew, and lifted out of the water. Additional information of accident was provided, and swimmers known medical history provided (which was unknown) – although this would be normally known for a professional outfitter group paddle, or if your friends who you paddle with normally share that kind of information. Might be best if we all carry some sort of ICE (In Case of Emergency), brief medical history, and meds somewhere on our person/inside a pocket of the PFD.
  • Ideally, the rescuer and swimmer stay together and await the CG rescue boat. If additional kayakers are in group, CG desires the rest to stay out of the immediate area of swimmer and rescuer.
  • With conditions present, would it have been wiser for a second person to stabilize the rescuer by rafting up? What would the situation be had it only been two paddlers, one being a swimmer, and the rescuer still had to make a VHF call, maintain contact with the unconscious swimmer, and stay upright? In flat water with no conditions – I would expect there is a totally different response and outcome.
  • As noted, there was no use of flares, PLB (personal locator beacon), or other electrical devices. We did use a laser flare, paddles and hand signals to dictate our location. Although we did not have orange smoke to mark our position – this may have been a great option for a daytime rescue. Air horns and whistles would have been impossible to hear, since we couldn’t even hear the sirens of the Coast Guard boat. Once again, thinking how this could be accomplished with a solo rescuer.
  • Towing an empty yak (from the rescued kayaker) with an extended rope can be problematic with conditions. Although this worked well, the empty kayak had a mind of its own – Careful attention and adjustments were made to the length of rope once passing the pier head and conditions decreased.


Another aspect of a rescue is working with a helicopter crew. A couple of years ago at the East Coast Paddle Festival (Charleston, SC), I had also taken part in a similar training exercise. This one was involving a USCG rescue helicopter, and talking to the crew as they were trying to “find” us. We communicated with them via VHF, and vectored (help guide them into our position) the helicopter to our exact location. When they were close enough for visual confirmation, we used a various assortment of visual ques to pinpoint our location.

Both aspects of training provide knowledge only gained from actually conducting this practice. As a kayaker, one should always seek knowledge about what could happen – and how to effectively take actions in the worse case situations. Hopefully you will never have to enact any of these rescues as a real world emergencies. But, understanding this process may make it a bit easier.


*** Personal note:  A BIG thanks to all who made this training special *****

For the Paddler Within…

How to make that all important call

Using a VHF radio (or otherwise called a marine radio) can be a lifesaving device for when you really need help on the water. Understanding how to use it and who to call may just save your life.

VHF Hand held radio

What exactly is a VHF radio?

It is a communication device for boaters. It is a means in which boaters can communicate with harbors, locks, bridges, marinas, other boaters and summoning rescue services.  For seagoing vessels, these radios are permanently mounted, for kayakers – these are handheld devices. There are several makes and models available to the public, finding one which works best for you is a personal decision. Many Marine hand held models are waterproof – and some actually will float.  Besides making calls, many of the models will have a weather channels, providing pretty accurate condition reports.Mainly used by kayakers who hit the open waters (Great Lakes/Oceans or any water monitored by water rescue services) – this should be an essential piece of equipment before heading out.

How do I use it?

Since each model is slightly different from the next – the basic functions are quite similar. It is always best to fully charge your VHF before heading out to the next paddle destination. As well as recharging it after you have returned. The battery life varies, but based on personal experiences can last for at least a week (unit turned on, moderate use during a 6-hour paddle day, and then turned off when not used). If possible, bring the charging base, or extra batteries to ensure you have enough juice for the trip. There is normally a knob to twist the unit on/off, and there is usually a ‘chirp’ heard as it powers on. There are numerous channels to use if you wish to communicate with others in your kayak group (once you pre-arrange this channel with each other during the pre-launch brief). Majority of regions within the US have specific channels which can be used freely by civilians – and others which are either commercial use, or predetermined agencies. Follow this link for channels in your area. Once a channel has been established for communications, bring the speaker towards your mouth and push and hold the transmit button, clearly and calmly send your message, release once done. Much like using a walkie-talkie.

Emergency channels

Channel 16 is the channel to use if needing to make an emergency distress call. Normally, this channel should be monitored while on the water – as there may be important messages by the Coast Guard, or other boaters who need assistance. Traffic (communications) on this frequency has top priority, and should never be used as a ‘party line’.

Channel 9 is used mainly for ship to ship and ship to coast communications.


There is limited range on all VHF radios – and depending on many factors (transmitter power, topographical features, and your antenna height. VFH’s are basically a line of sight communication device – if there is any kind of interference between the two, the signal may not be heard. This may mean one may need to move to higher ground, or move out from a secluded cove to be able to transmit/receive.

How to communicate

VHF mayday sticker

If needing to transmit on channel 16, there are a few simple procedures to ensure you have proper procedures – and using proper lingo terms for the situation. Each one of these is repeated three times – to get the attention of other boaters.

Pan-Pan: This is a call in which a vessel is declaring an urgent situation which is not an immediate threat to either the vessel or the people on board. Examples of this, in which you may hear is: lost of navigational equipment, mechanical issues, need a tow, or any other non-life threatening emergencies.

Sécurité: This is an informational broadcast message (usually a USCG message to boaters), with additional information provided on another channel, which will be provided by the issuing department. An example of this could be a dense fog advisory, and vessels will alert others as they leave or enter a narrow channel or harbor. Or this could also be used to alert other vessels of large floating debris at a specific location.

Mayday: This is for serious events which suggests a potential loss of life, or a life-threatening situation.  This will initiate immediate response by the Coast Guard and other agencies. Falsely reporting a Mayday, or using this channel as a open “chat channel” is strictly forbidden – and yes, they can triangulate your location if you abuse this channel.


Hopefully, there will never be a situation in which you will need to activate a Mayday call. Best advice I can provide to you is, practice making this call at home (without turning on the VHF) with another person. Print out the blue USCG form above and laminate it and bring it with you. Work with the nearest USCG station on your radio calls, or find groups who train with the USCG during joint missions. In one of the upcoming blogs, I will show a video how I had worked with a local USCG as we called in a Mayday and a “rescue” during a training mission.


For the Paddler Within….

Trip report – The Horicon Marsh, Wisconsin

Paddle destination: Horicon Marsh (southern aspect)


Launch/Land locations:

Horicon Marsh put in

Launch – Green Head Road N8600 Green Head Rd, Mayville, WI

Land – One Mile Island Trail Head and parking 204 N Nebraska St, Horicon, WI


Type of environment:

Hoircon Marsh

Did you know Horicon Marsh is the largest freshwater cattail marsh in the United States? The marsh itself covers approximately 32,000 miles – majority of it is water. There are several small islands throughout the area – some are easier to walk upon than others (depending on water height/recent rain). The put in at Green Head has a rather large parking area – more like a dirt road with ample parking on the side of this road. This is a dead-end road, and there is a cul-de-sac which makes navigation with a trailer a bit easier. The launch has a gradual grade into the water, and you may need to get your feet wet. This section of water is the Rock river, and following it west will eventually lead you into the Horicon. One may see some smaller boats with trolling motors through this section of river, although rare. Traveling along this stretch, the trees and vegetation is pretty numerous and offers nice protection from the winds. As one exits this forest of trees, the water area opens up and the scenery changes dramatically. Didn’t really notice any current while on the water, until nearing the take-out area near Horicon. It was fairly gentile as it flows south towards the city. The take out at One mile Island, is slightly tucked away on the western side of the main channel. This parking lot is rather sizable and can hold easily 40+ cars. Total one-way distance is about 8 miles.


Horicon group leaving

One of the biggest hazards is the size of this place, and the ever-changing water levels throughout the year. This can be a unique maze, if one decides to venture away from the main flowage. I would highly recommend downloading this navigation map to aid your progression. A compass, GPS, or other tracking device will also be helpful. There are landmarks one can see from the seat of the yak – but the marsh can act as a cat tail maze at times. Once one gets nearly midway in to the marsh, a water tower in Horicon can be seen and can be used as a general reference point. Best suggestion I have is to go with someone who knows that marsh VERY well – or even go with the Horicon Marsh visitors center – as they offer guided tours throughout the year.

The navigation map provided displays the paddle route one should take, there are marked signs on this path, however at times can be rather difficult to see.

If it is a windy day, or chances for a breezy day – some may find it a challenge doing this route. The cat tails and scattered islands only offer slight protection.

There are the occasional tour boats which follow the main channel going north to south – these may be a good reference point to follow, should you need to find your way to the take out.

Horicon Marsh


Abundant wildlife in all aspects. So great in fact, during water fowl season approaches, hunters enjoy this place. Depending on the time of year one paddles this area will dictate what is seen and heard. The times I have gone – there was migration of spring birds and other water fowl moving into the area, and at others, the cat tails were very tall and plentiful – at times obscuring distant views.

Horicon Marsh

Skill level:

If with someone knowledgeable about the area – this is a great beginner paddle when conditions are perfect. If going the entire distance from Green Head to Horicon, this may be quite the workout on windy days. Although there are a few islands in the heart of the marsh, majority of them have a solid ground (look for very established trees) and can be good resting place. Because of the chance for facing winds, and distance of this paddle, I would not recommend kayaks shorter than 10 to 12 feet.

Horicon Marsh

Other notes:

Definitely check out the Horicon Education and visitors center while you are there. There is such great information about the geological design of the marsh, how the marsh was used throughout the years, the mistakes humans learned when they attempted to change the landscape, and what the future of the area holds.


For the Paddler Within….

How to be a conscientious kayaker

As the season opener approaches here in the Northwoods and more kayaks are seen on the roof racks – let’s remember we are ambassadors of the water. We share the waters with humans and nature. The ability to return in the future to these destinations is everyone’s responsibility.

typical boat launch

Upon your arrival to the water destination or boat launch, ensure you are parked in the correct location and not taking up a boat trailer spot. Some boat launches have launch fees – which may or may not affect you, the kayaker. Read the postings for their descriptions of what craft warrant a fee. Some boat launches I have been to charge innertubes, and inflatable rafts the same fee as a power boat. Personally, I do not understand how a inflatable raft can deteriorate a boat launch like a 3000 pound power boat.. but that is for another debate. If you really like that body of water, majority of fee based locations have an annual rate (which is much more cost effective). Boat launches act as a first come, first serve basis and there is a unload/load process which is commonly understood to all. Since you had paid your fee, you have as much right to use the ramp as the next person. Try to launch and land as quickly as you can – but always ensure you are safely doing that. It is best to convey to the fellow boaters your intentions to come in and use the boat launch.

oh no hazard

Besides the normal obstacles and obstructions on the waters (piers, strainers, rocks, etc..) there are other concerns are on the waters. Folks fishing – When possible, make verbal contact with the person fishing – and try to see where the line is in the water. If able to stop, wait for them to reel in the line (if you know you will be very close to the end of the line), pass quickly and let them know you just say a big fish just upstream. Hunters (waterfowl) are a bit more difficult to see – being they are usually camouflaged and hiding behind those blinds. One of the more notable signs of these folks out and about would be the constant gun shots – or decoys floating around (why is that duck just sitting there???) If you believe you are near one of the blinds, stay clear. If you accidentally come up on one (especially paddling along the shoreline) change your heading away from them.

USCG navigation rules

Power craft at speed, have restrictive movement. They need to have some time before making quick positional changes. We on the other hand, can maneuver and swing our kayak in a different heading in a fraction of the time. As a paddler, one should have their head on a swivel when sharing the waters with power boats – and be aware of their surroundings at all times. Power boats may not see a single kayak in the distance, it is your responsibility to make directional changes first to avoid head on collisions. Paddling with friends in a group makes it easier for others to see you (since you are now a larger element).  The USGC sets the nautical rules of the road, and with other agencies enforcing the rules. Rules regarding kayaks are location dependent and change based on location – inside a harbor, in a channel, vs the open water. Let’s explore passing other vessels – and getting passed. There is a hierarchy of vessels and a ‘pecking order’ in which we are suppose to give way (to change direction) to avoid collision with another vessel.  Which kinda look like this: kayaks must give way to sail boats, which give way to power boats, which give way to Military or law boats – which have the ultimate freedom. Overtaking (the process in which a boat passes one from behind) may be done from either side. Normally you may hear a blast from the boat behind you, this signals they will be passing on the left – two blasts mean they will be passing on the right. I can’t say I have ever had this happen to me, either the river was wide enough, in a no wake zone, or I was close enough to shore. If there is a boat coming head on in front of you, the most common scenario is for boat boats to turn to starboard (the right) and pass the other.

boater safety tips

Inside the harbors and channels they follow a specific rule: Red Right Returning. These are marked with floating red and green objects, which can be either a buoy, can, panel, or nuns). Traffic flows to the right within this channel. Crossing a marked channel is much like crossing an intersection (although there is no crosswalk sign or button to push). When one comes upon a channel, slow or come to a stop, look both ways and all around you for any vessels, if none cross the channel with a quickness. When with a group, paddle together and try to stick together as a single unit (makes you a larger visible object.

leave no trace

While on the water, please do your part to ensure our waterways remain healthy. Follow the leave no trace process by not littering, pick up floating debris when you come upon it, and don’t litter – preform a small role in the big process. This notion applies to both water and land. If you are like me, I do a little kayak camping from time to time. I like think I am a ninja kayak camper….. Nobody knew I had been there, but yet I was.

canoe portage

There isn’t always public land along the water for us to get out or land wherever we want. Private property should be respected, even if it isn’t clearly marked by signs. If there is a need for a portage, look for portage signs, and follow the path. There are special occasions for getting out on private property – if there is an injury, damage to your kayak which needs immediate attention, or seeking safe harbor (when weather conditions could result in either of the two). The kayaker should attempt to make contact with the owner and notify them of the situation. Most owners will be more than happy to assist and have a better appreciation for you.

Swim area marker

When landing your kayak (if it is a location from your put-in), pay attention to the arrival location. There may be a dedicated swimmer section attached to a public beach. This area would be well marked and usually roped off. Attempt to bring kayaks out of the way of fellow beach goers, if possible, place the kayaks on a grassy area and off the beach. Everyone will be happier to share the beach with each other.

boat clean up station

After landing, there may be some unwanted passengers still on your kayak – I am talking about invasive species. These are non-native aquatic plants and animals which can be accidentally transported and introduced to other bodies of water. Once introduced in to different waters, they are nearly impossible to be eliminated. Ways in which one can assist the spreading is to remove these prior to leaving the water. Drain as much water as possible, use a sponge to wipe of the hull. When available, wash your boat at a  fresh water cleaning station, or to really kill these guys, a mix of bleach and water (one TBSP to one Gallon of Water) sprayed on the kayak will do them in. It is best to let the kayak fully dry a couple of days before placing it back into another body of water.


Being a responsible boater is everyone’s responsibility – either powered by gasoline or by granola. Be observant, predictable, and respectful. Enjoy ever river and be a ninja kayaker.


For the Paddler Within….

Getting the paddler’s itch?


Frozen rivers and early season kayaking #silentwake

As the spring thaw FINALLY shows up in the northern states, paddlers of all levels want to hit the water. Many of these paddlers, have no concept of the dangers of early season kayaking. Every year, we all hear various news reports of poor decision-making instances or worse yet, fatalities. Majority of these recorded kayak related events happen to paddlers who don’t have the knowledge, the safety gear, or the proper kayak. The most dishearten aspect to these occurrences – it could have been avoided. Today, I will cover cold weather-related injuries and proper paddle clothing for the late winter/early spring season.

Let’s take a look at a typical day these problematic events take place. It’s early March, the snow is melting, the rivers are up, ice is slowly leaving the launches/shorelines. The air temps are in the 40’s bright and sunny day, little winds, and calm waters….. So, where is the harm in that? Well, as mentioned in a previous blog about trip planning – one also must take in consideration another other factor – Water Temperature. Without proper paddle clothing, cold water can and will KILL. Even with the proper paddling clothing, one can feel the chill of the water – but it extends the survival time and increases chances surviving the cold water. This is assuming one has a 100% effective self-rescue technique, or their paddle buddy can provide an assisted rescue – and has practiced these rescues in this type of environment.

How cold is too cold to paddle and what should I wear?

That is really best answered with this thought perspective – dress as if you WILL have to do a wet exit, and be in the water for at least 10 minutes. Plus, the additional time paddling back to your car – or a place to get out of those wet clothes. One of the best items to extend your paddling season – as well as survivability – is to wear a dry suit. Dry suits are basically a full body suit which has [usually] latex gaskets at the neck and wrists. These are designed to be fairly tight against the skin – and act as a water barrier from touching the rest of your body (or one can think of them as a human sized Ziplock bag). Dry suits work by keeping the water out and off your body – but offer no real insulating properties. To help insulate, one wears base layers (think fleece-like materials, Morino wool, or long johns made from polypropylene).  One way to grasp if you are going to be under dressed for the water temperature is to actually stand chest deep in the water you are going to paddle. You will quickly realize if you are under dressed, for the conditions – but close to the shoreline to make adjustments before you paddle. One can over dress for the occasion just as easily – frequent stops or a slower paddle pace will aid in the heat build-up (along with consumption of hydrating fluids).

Cold weather paddle gear #silentwake

Dry suits will offer the protection to your core body and most of those vital organs… but, what about the hands, head and feet? There is numerous specific paddling clothing out there for the cooler weather. Many scuba dive shops have these items in stock. Materials made out of neoprene is usually the first choice to offer protection from the water, since it has some repelling factors (the skin can still get wet and cool – but it offers a level of protection). There are thickness levels from the lowest 0.5 mm (65 to 75 degree water), 6 mm (water from 45 to 50 degrees) and upwards to 10 mm (scuba cold water dives). As the thickness increases, the more protection they offer, but mobility is restricted. For some ideas of what to wear besides a dry or a wet suit, may I offer reading this?

What happens if I do fall into cold water?

Cold water injuries can happen in any water below 60 degrees. Living in Wisconsin, the water in smaller inland lakes, and rivers will may reach 60 degrees around May (sometimes), Lake Michigan usually gets to that temperature early July, sometimes late June – Yes, there have been ice floats in the waters on Memorial Day. This is all weather dependent and many continuous days above 70 will aid in warming that water.

What are some types of Cold weather injuries:


  • Chilblain is a non-freezing injury that can occur after 1-5 hours in cold-wet conditions when skin temperature is > 32°F/0°C. The most commonly affected areas are the dorsal surface of the fingers, but the ears, face, and other exposed skin are also areas of occurrence. There are no lasting effects from chilblains.


  • Frostbite accounts for the largest number of injuries each year and occurs when tissue temperature falls below ~28-30°F. Frostbite can occur suddenly due to contact to cold metal or super-cooled liquids such as alcohol, fuel or antifreeze or can develop over time due to prolonged cold exposure. Frostbite is most common in exposed skin such as the hands, nose, ears, and cheeks but can also occur in the feet or in the hands while wearing gloves due to inadequate insulation and reduced skin blood flow.


  • Hypothermia is defined as a body core temperature below 95°F/35°C. Hypothermia is usually characterized as mild, moderate, or severe, based on body core temperature. Hypothermia occurs when heat loss is greater than heat production. This can occur suddenly, such as during partial or total immersion in cold water, or over hours or days, such as during extended operations or survival situations.


  • Vigorous shivering is typically present. Shivering may decrease or cease as core temperature continues to fall.
  • Onset of hypothermia is typically associated with the so-called “umbles”, the grumbles, mumbles, stumbles and fumbles that increase as cold affects muscle and nerve function.
  • Symptoms of hypothermia consist of confusion, sleepiness, slurred speech, shallow breathing, weak pulse, low blood pressure, change in behavior and/or poor control over body movements/slow reactions.

Stress upon the body:

Let’s understand what happens when a paddler falls into the cold water. There is a simple concept called the 1-10-1 rule, which is the current thought process among instructors. The first thing which will commonly happen is a cold shock reflex – a gasp from the mouth and the escaping of precious oxygen. We all have been there, when the water temperature in the shower goes from warm to bitter cold. We jump back, shriek, and say a few choice words. Instinctually, we move away from this, and luckily, we are in an oxygen rich environment while in the shower. However, many times when one falls into the water it is not intentional and preparations to hold your breath are seldom. Within the first minute, your body reacts violently to this immense temperature change. In order to conserve the vital organs, the body works in overdrive. The brain reacts by releasing various chemicals into the blood steam. Blood vessels begin constricting to the extremities. Hyperventilation (excessive breathing) takes place to aid the increased heart rate which is attempting to pump the blood to your body. If one is not wearing a life jacket (which aids in keeping your head afloat the water), the amount of energy expended -attempting to keep your head above the water- during this initial minute can enhance preexisting health problems (heart/lungs/circulation).

If healthy enough, had previously practiced cold weather wet exits (controlled environment), and wearing proper paddle clothing/life vest- your chances for surviving increase dramatically, However as I mentioned previously, even with this proper clothing, one can still feel the coolness of the water, but at least we are not completely wet and cold. After that initial one minute of cold shock, your body goes into survival mode. This is your window for getting back into the kayak. If alone, whatever solid self-rescue skill you have, you must pick that one – this is not the time to test out a new rescue. Concentrate on the task at hand, make this quick and effective use of your time. The longer you are in that cold water your ability to concentrate, effective use of your fingers, arms and legs decreases. If you can not get back into your kayak after two attempts, call for help! If the shoreline is close enough for a two minute or less swim – swim to shore without your kayak. These are critical minutes before the body goes into the next stages. If paddling with a buddy the dry one must remain calm, provide clear, concise, and simple instructions during an assisted rescue.

Depending on what paddle clothing you are wearing, water temperature, and how long you have been in the cold water will dictate your survival rate. Hypothermia will begin shortly after that second stage (the 10-minute window). If separated from your kayak (or you can’t see it) get into a fetal position to help conserve energy and loss of body heat. A person has approximately one hour to remain conscious before extreme hypothermia leads to death.

Once able to rescue yourself from the above, seek warm shelter, get out of the wet clothing immediately and into dry clothing. If needed, seek additional professional medical attention. When paddling with friends – have them help you get out of those clothes and warm up. Have a buddy system ‘group hug’ to increase the body heat of the victim.

Early season paddling can be just as enjoyable as any other time of the year, when extra precautions are taken. Taking those precautions are not totally infallible, but offers additional time and protection when in the elements – and future experiences on the water.Stay safe, my friends.


For the Paddler Within….

The Skeg and Rudder Explained

Kayak group

So many kayaks….

As you look at different kayaks, you may notice something a bit different with each of them. Some kayak models you come across may have a device on it which you may know of the name, but do you really know what it is used for – or how to use it? Today, I will be covering the difference between a skeg and rudder.


What do they do

To fully understand the dynamics of how these two function. Let’s first get a little technical with understanding basic physics as they act upon kayak hulls. Painting a picture of the paddle environment: calm winds, still water, no current, no waves. As a kayak sits still on the surface of water – there is equal pressure exerted along the entire hull. Since there are no opposing forces (mother nature/movement within the kayak), that kayak will continue to remain [almost] perfectly still. When we paddle forward, we are basically trying to ‘fly’ a kayak, with the water being our sky (might be a reason we sit inside a cockpit). Many laws of physics were used when designing kayak hulls as well as airplane wings – there is similarity between the two designs. Much like a taking off from a runway, in order to get that plane in the air it works by four main forces: Thrust (our paddle power), Gravity (the weight of our kayak and ourselves), Lift (high and low pressures on the hull), Drag (that wake the kayak produces). Active paddling creates all these forces directly upon the kayak hull. As we move forward on that calm water, the bow creates a high-pressure force upon the hull. The water passes under us and breaks surface tension, and creates a low pressure and turbulence at the stern. This can be clearly seen at the stern as it creates a wake, and at times, some bubbles can be seen. This has a reverse effect when one paddles backwards – the low pressure will be placed upon the bow, as the high pressure is now at the stern.

Without opposing forces at play (winds, waves, current) and with a really great paddler in the cockpit – with the ‘perfect’ paddle form and paddle stroke- that kayak will track [mostly] perfectly straight. Let’s throw an opposing force of wind into play on that same lake. The winds have pick up to 10 mph from the north, and we are paddling to the west. Without any change in our paddling technique (paddle stroke, edging, or shifting our weight) the tracking of that same kayak tends to veer towards the direction of the wind. What is going on here? This is called weather cocking. This is a perfectly natural effect which most, if not all kayaks will have. Remember that low pressure you are creating when you paddle – imagine this as a slight anchor dragging your stern, with wind this becomes more noticeable and apparent. When you stop paddling into this wind and come to a complete stop, eventually your kayak will rest with either the port or the starboard side facing the direction of the wind.


Differences between the two

So, how does one manage maintain directional control when there is a wind? One can either work strongly against an opposing force, work with that opposing force to your benefit, or just give up and go home. Personally, I like to work with the opposing forces and work with nature – mother nature and the water will always win, as she is the boss!

Which brings us back to the topic at hand. The skeg and rudder assist the paddler in maintaining a straight paddling direction. There is a slight mechanical difference between the two and what actions they can perform. Both are located near the stern of the kayak, and are manually deployed by using a mechanism attached to either cables or rope.

The skeg is a stationary item – meaning, it does not move in any other direction other than up (stowed) or down (deployed). The skeg can be adjusted in its depth in the water when deployed. A fully deployed skeg will provide the best forward tracking abilities, however decreases lateral adjustments made by the paddler. For the paddler who wishes to have tracking as well as more directional control and adjustments – deploying it half way or not fully deploying it will provide this outcome. The directional control is up to the paddler as they either edge, change paddle strokes, or shift their weight.

skeg stowedA skeg deployed

The rudder is usually mounted on the top deck of the stern. It has two positions – either stowed, or deployed. When deployed, direction is controlled by pushing on the foot pegs (or tipping your toes forward) on the same side one wishes to go. Pushing on the right side fully will place an angle onto the fin and creates resistance within the water – pushing you in that direction. A constant pressure on both feet will keep the rudder straight.

the Rudder


When to use them

When is the best time to use them, and how does one use them to assist when paddling? Best rule of thumb to know is when traveling with the wind in your face (and that is the direction you wish to go) leave them stowed. Like I had mentioned before, the kayak loves to be paddled into the wind, and will be drawn towards that direction. For winds to your back (downwind), deploy your skeg or rudder to maintain that straight line. For broaching winds (from the side), one may want to find what degree/depth in the water works best for the skeg. When using the rudder, a slight continuous push of the foot peg on the side the wind is coming from will keep you straight.

When launching and landing, it is highly advisable to stow these BEFORE you get close to shore. They can be damaged by the shoreline, can injure people, or can injure you if there are breaking waves and you become separated from your kayak.


It is clearly your decision  to have a kayak with a skeg, or a rudder (or both), or if you wish to use them while paddling. A skeg will maintain your course and provide the paddler the ability to play with boat control. A rudder can be used as a tool to help grasp the directional control abilities of the kayak without heavily relying on paddler skills. Whichever one you choose, experiment with them – find out how they can assist you in your paddle experiences.


For the Paddler Within….

Transporting and storing your kayak

One of the realizations you may have experienced when you bought your first kayak was – OK, now how am I going to get this thing home? Depending on where you bought your kayak, the staff there may or may not have assisted in your dilemma. If you haven’t bought a kayak yet, but are thinking about it – this blog is intended to assist in your thought process how to move it from one place to another, as well as what do I do with it when it isn’t on the car?


Types of carriers:

foam and saddle

This is a combination roof system – on the driver side, there are foam blocks which can be used in conjunction with crossbars, or stand alone and placing them directly on top of the roof. If there are no crossbars or luggage rack on top, one would further secure the kayak by running straps over the kayak, opening the doors, and securing the strap on the inside (placing the strap through the buckle and tightening it down). Besides the foam block, there are inflatable pads which may be installed. This isn’t recommended for long distances, or highway speeds, as movement to the yak could result. But, for the person on a budget, or just starting out – these foam blocks can get you started. On the passenger side are saddles which “hug” the curvature of either the hull or deck.

3 times the carrier

Shown here are a triple saddle carrier for a larger truck – based on the width of placement, narrow kayaks were transported. The rear hull would rest on a pair of these. There are matching saddles pairs on the front of this carrier.


This is an example of J-hooks. The kayak would be placed on edge, with the cockpit facing outside, with the majority of the hull resting on the more vertical bars.

For the above systems, (except the foam blocks) there are three main parts. The crossbars, the kayak support, and the mounting hardware (to either the existing luggage rails – or to the inside top of the doors, when there is no luggage rails). Each roof rack system is unique in the regards to which vehicle you have, and some kayak supports fit certain crossbars (round, square, or wing style). Three more common companies which specialize in roof rack systems are Malone, Yakima, and Thule.

For kayaks which do not completely fit inside the bed of a truck, there are truck bed extender T-bars which look like a field goal, and slide into the hitch. Securing the kayak within the bed is easy on the T-bar (much like a cross bar on the roof). The end of the kayak which is inside the bed may slide side to side, so a way to minimize this process would be to creating an X (with ropes or straps) over the deck and securing the ends to the bed of the truck. If your kayak sticks out way beyond the end of your vehicle, depending on your state laws, a red flag must be placed on the end of the kayak.

mega kayak trailer

This is a kayak manufacture company trailer above, not something the ‘average Joe’ would have in the back yard, but shown to illustrate how each single kayak (or canoe) is individually secured to the crossbars. Trailers make it easier to load and offload the kayak from near waist level, parking may be a challenge at times. The named companies above also carry dedicated kayak trailers. Extra credit if you can correctly guess how many this beast of a trailer can carry.


How to secure the kayak:

The main goal when securing your kayak to your vehicle is to ensure it doesn’t dislodge and become a hazard for others on the road. Whether you have a kayak you can place in the back of the truck, on top of the car, or on a trailer – a tie down will be used. Majority of main tie downs used will either be ropes or straps. When using ropes, they should be secured on both ends of the carrying device (truck bed, trailer frame, or roof carrier). Straps which have rubber/plastic ends covering the metal buckle reduce the risk of damage to your vehicle when the strap is thrown over the vehicle (or a strong wind blows the strap around). Ratcheting straps should not be used, as over tightening the strap can cause damage to both kayak and/or car. Bungee cords offer minimum support and security, and should not be used as a primary means. The overall effect one is achieving is to secure the tie down to the main base and the kayak is under the tie downs. For added security, bow and stern lines attached from the kayak to the vehicle aid in slight side-to-side movements of the kayak, when placed on the roof. This is extremely helpful for traveling at highway speeds, windy days, or getting passed by a semi-truck.

Shown below are examples how to wrap the strap around the support crossbar – and a close up look of the buckle cover, which is not over the buckle to better illustrate the method. For the remaining extra strap, I normally place the tail end inside the car and tuck it in the visor or grab bars. When I know it is going to rain – I will wrap the tail end around the support bar and tuck the end into itself. When carrying yaks on a trailer, I fully secure the tail ends, so they do not flap around as I drive.(Note: I place pool noodles on the trailer bars to reduce damage to the kayak).

car rack with strap  kayak trailer kayak trailer

Storage of yaks

Storing your kayak when not in use, one has many options to choose from. The main principal is to keep the hull off the floor, off hard surfaces, and placed on something soft. There is a term called, “Oil-canning”. This happens mostly to plastic kayaks which have been placed upon a firm edge (such as a 2×4 or metal bar). The edge imprints itself into the weight of the plastic kayak, leaving a lasting impression. Removing this oil-canning can be a daunting task, but sometimes placing the hull upwards and letting the sun warm up the plastic will sometimes ‘pop’ up the indentation.

pool noodles

Kayaks, when not in use, should be stored out of the sunlight to increase their longevity. For a cheap method of storage (if you have the floor space) is the purchase of two thick pool noodles. Place these directly on the floor, and then place the kayak on top of the noodles. For those who which to be a bit more creative, 2×4’s cut at an angle and secured to an exposed wall stud with the noodle attached to the 2×4. Various designs can be found for PVC kayak storage racks on the web. They are effective, if build correctly. For those who have a taller celling, and the floor space is a bit tight {in the garage} – there are slings which will lift your kayak with the aid of a pully system. These usually have straps which are about 3 inches in width, which do not add a pressure point to the hull. Ropes or thinner diameter cords shouldn’t be used as the main supporting element, as they will create the undesired oil canning in long time storage. Much like a roof rack system (J-hook), there are wall mounted, or free-standing kayak storage systems which are outstanding and well worth the investment.


Transporting your kayak, and storage solutions doesn’t have to be a painstaking process – Just something in which needs to thought about before you get your kayak. Some of these systems will not break the bank, but you usually get what you pay for. For those of you wondering, that large kayak trailer carried 96 kayaks and 12 canoes, but that is a story for another day..




For the Paddler Within…….