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The “experienced” kayaker

How many times have we read the phrase, “They were an experienced kayaker/paddler”? This seems to be a term used by reporters posthumously as they write an article of a paddler who was involved in an incident. The authors of the media release tend to receive this information from family members, onlookers, or perhaps the paddling partner who was also involved in the incident. Majority of these stories we read recount the tragic events which took place. The details seem to be constant, wrong boat for the conditions, improperly dressed for the elements, and not prepared for what they encountered.  The ripples of comments which go through respective paddlers and kayak instructors are endless. For most, we feel accountable – could we have made a difference? What can we do to in the future to educate the general public?

Social media stages numerous postings, pictures, and comments from the “Average Joe”, which display a large percentage of people who paddle incorrectly. These pictures show not wearing a PFD, paddles upside down, disregarding nautical rules, and improperly dress for the water conditions.  Those new to the sport, view these with eyes wide open and may use these as their reference tools for learning. What’s the harm in that, right? Well, many things. In the past years, I have joined many social media sites which focus on kayaking. My primary reason for joining these sites was to use these as informational resources for future paddle destinations. I am selective on becoming a member on some of the sites out there. Much like fact checking fake news reports, one should also ask pertinent questions when seeking specific paddling related topics. Manage to do a bit of research of the person posting, or even the main topic.

Let’s define the term, experience and then experienced:

Experience – as a noun, 1) practical contact with and observation of facts or events. 2) the knowledge or skill acquired by experience over a period of time, especially that gained in a particular profession. 3) an event or occurrence that leaves an impression on someone. As a verb – 1) encounter or undergo. 2) a feeling.

Experienced – 1) having knowledge or skill in a particular field, especially a profession or job, gained over a period of time.

What makes a person experienced, in this particular discussion – an experienced kayaker? An experienced kayaker is one who has logged many countless hundreds or thousands of hours in the seat. Paddled in conditions relative to the surroundings – in all aspects (paddling in winds existing from different directions, waves, various wave heights, wave direction, currents) and waters (open water, inland lakes, rivers, creeks, and rapids). They know limitations of both their kayak and themselves. There is apparent risk when undergoing any form of kayaking, and for majority of people in this sport, they understand this. Implementation of a risk assessment for your paddle adventure is a means in which those skilled in the sport, do not place themselves within a hazardous environment. A risk assessment focuses on many different aspects: paddler skill level, weather, type of water, known area of paddle, knowing your paddle group, and health conditions (just to name a few). Paddlers take these aspects and make sound and reasonable decisions for the destination in mind. This a continuous and ever-changing assessment during the paddle – as kayaking is never a static experience. For those who don’t understand this, should not call themselves, “Experienced paddlers”.

Understanding what limitations both you, your gear, and your kayak possess is a characteristic in experience. First timers in the kayak have many different ways in which they learn:

1) There is the hands-on approach – and just try (Doers)

2) The watch others/read procedures – and adapt to what needs to be done (Watchers)

3) Those who get ‘lessons’ from others – who may not be very proficient (Seers)

4) Then those who seek out professional training from a qualified individual.

Numerous times, I have been on the water and witnessed a variety of simple disregard to personal safety while on the water. I primarily paddle the open waters of Lake Michigan – and I have my go-to places I fully enjoy. As this body of water has its challenges, it also has many hidden factors which at times goes overlooked to the novice paddler. There are currents, [at times] rip current, various changes of water temperatures, off-shore winds, just to name a few. Encountering paddlers in this body of water without PFD’s physically on their body, kayaks ill-suited for large open bodies of water (lack of bulkheads, or float bags) which could quickly take on massive amounts of water from the waves, improperly dressed individuals who don’t understand about hypothermia, and lack of communication to others – should there be a need. I find myself conversing with as many of these individuals as I can. Attempting to plant a seed of knowledge, and hopefully make them think about their actions – and hopefully change their future paddling endeavors. Sometimes, this works – other times, I get shrugged off by the individual. One notable occasion happened this year. The air was around mid-70’s, water temp was 61, light off shore winds, waves about a foot. My buddy and I were dressed for immersion (had splash top, neoprene bottoms and boots), plus our usual open water gear – VHF, flares, first aid kit, cell phone in a water tight box, food/water, etc). We were playing with rescues (solo and assisted), and he notices a kayaker in the far distance – well off shore about a mile out. I suggested we go out and say hello. As we were getting closer, my buddy stated, “I don’t think he is wearing a PFD” – I commented, “Well maybe it is flesh colored.” The closer we get, my buddy then stated, “Actually, I don’t think he is wearing a shirt either.” We eventually intercept this guy about ¾ of a mile off shore. He was in a rec boat, no skirt, no PFD and wearing only shorts. He was in his early 20’s and muscularly built – as apparent from his arm paddling technique. We chatted to him for a long time, and almost blocked him from advancing anywhere on the water (not-intentionally – but reflecting back, guess we did). After a few minutes talking about safety on the open water, he was open to conversation. I had offered we paddle back to shore with him (as escort) and he generously agreed. Along the way, he reflected on his decision to paddle that far away from the shore, and realized that probably wasn’t the best idea – as he never really looked back behind him and see how far away he was from the shore. He also noted the off shore winds actually shoved him further out than he ideally wanted to go.

Instructors offer professional training and share their experience to those willing to seek out better techniques, increase their skills, and learn how to become a safer paddler. The good ones will be able to provide you many different techniques and approaches which offer a safe, effective, and efficient outcome. They understand you may not have the talent on day #1 to take on something way above your capacity – and they will not place you in apparent harm, or make you do something you are not willing to attempt. Understandably, some of the things instructors have you to practice/demonstrate are for your well-being. An example of one of these would be a wet-exit with a skirt. This is can be a freighting experience for the first time. Having a veteran instructor by your side as one does this offers a massive advantage for the first-timer.  The instructor has many methods in which they can act upon if events turn south. Should one attempt a wet-exit without someone knowledgeable at the ready, there may be a terrible end result. Same can be said with paddling dynamic waters. Having a person who understands the water trail, it’s complexity and features; offers guidance, first-hand knowledge, and safety to the adventure.

Experienced paddlers are those who have taken precautions to ensure their life, and the lives of others are not placed in immediate danger, or that of the unseen. Prior to the adventure on the water – they plan. Information is gathered well before even leaving the house. Weather reports from several sites is collected, to ensure there is no surprise. The location for the paddle, if not known, had been researched fully. Water temperature reports and conditions are reviewed to ensure proper clothing will be worn and wave height or cfs is not beyond one’s capabilities. Upon location, the paddler surveys conditions, and if doing a river, will scout the entire river (or make planned stops to get out and visually scout). If new people have joined them in the paddling outing – they ask many questions about their paddling abilities. They ensure everyone has proper safety items needed for the trip. A paddle float plan will be constructed and initiated, and communication to loved ones has been made. While on the water, they collect data continuously and ensure all participants are comfortable. Communication while on the water is paramount – both to each other and others not in your group. If an event happens while on the water, participants understand and are competent for reacting and acting upon anything which may happen (capsize, medical issues, or needing to be rescued by USCG). After the paddling adventure, they ensure everyone is safe and sound, and all gear is accounted.

Yes, even with the best planning, and precautions taken to ensure a safe paddling environment – things do happen. Everyone can experience a bad outcome – no matter what your experience is. However, statically speaking, the person who did not take precautions, went well beyond their comfort level or didn’t seek additional training tends to be those mentioned in a posthumous news report. Before you claim to be an “Expert” or “Experienced”, be prepared to follow up your claims.

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

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.

Range

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….

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….

Planning a Kayak Trip

Planning a overnight kayak trip, what sources are available, and how to pack

 

Like most trips, whether by air or by land, most people have a destination in mind. Getting there is part of the journey. There is always some sort of planning, and ensuring you have the right items packed along – as well as a few extra things you really don’t need. Planning a kayak trip is very similar in ways – although some of your resources may be a bit unique. Today, I will talk about how to plan an overnight/multiple day kayaking trip, and just how to use the resources available to you.

 

Resources (water/charts/weather)

Before heading to a destination for a put-in location (the place one launches a kayak) – it would be best to see if it is indeed possible to launch from your “ideal” spot. One way to do this is to research your planned trip – use the web, ask fellow paddlers, or read some books about various destinations. More than likely, there has been someone who has done the trip you really want to do. “Scouting” a launch and landing spot is ideal and if you live close enough, much of this can be done while on land. For times where the water’s edge can not be observed by land (either because of elevation, vegetation, private property, etc…) using wither Bing or Google maps may assist you. Many times, one can zoom in and actually see where there may be obstructions in the water, rapids, or sometimes how low the water may actually become. One can also map out the distance along the route (Bing maps has this option if you right click on the map). If heading along the coastal waterways (Great Lakes or Oceans), and need an actual chart – a few pages to get you started are https://www.oceangrafix.com/search/map and https://www.charts.noaa.gov/ChartCatalog/MapSelect.html The second location allows one to download the image in PDF format which can be then laminated and placed on the front deck for use. This is assuming one can read a nautical chart, and understand what the symbols mean (that will be a future blog).

Great, you have got some information for the planned trip, and know the distance, the launches and landings, some possible hazards in the water, and also have talked to a few fellow paddlers who have first hand experience about this trip. That is one step out of the way, on to additional planning.

Understanding the type of water conditions will be an item in which you really need to be concerned about. Both large bodies of water (Great Lakes and oceans), and moving water (rivers/creeks) have their own dynamic responses to the environment – and are ever changing. These changes can happen hourly, or within days. Paddling in water in which is above your comfort level is dangerous, especially if you are not mentally or physically ready for what lays ahead.  I will provide some information where you may obtain certain water conditions (both rivers and open water locations).

For the river kayaker – American Whitewater  provides a quick viewing summary for the level of the water (Red – low water, Green – running water, and Blue – high water), as well as normal classification type (Class ! being the lowest on the rapids scale). Click on your state, and view the rivers – this is an alphabetical listing of most, if not all the rivers in each state.

American Whitewater water level

Another site which is helpful is  a site from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Once selecting your state and the desired river, a graph will load, displaying the past and current water levels (and one may see how it compares to flood stage).

NOAA charts

For open water (Great Lakes will be described here) I like to glance at the NOAA page to see trends, current, and what they have predicted – although I have found the accuracy not the greatest (about 75% accurate). It does have many options in which one may view (winds, waves, current, surface temps) – as well as place the data in an animated state.

NOAA Great Lakes

 

I really like the following site for data – as I first became aware and used this for about two years now, and have found the predictions (for about 6 days out) to be at least 90% accurate, and for the actual hour of paddle to be 98% accurate. Although it doesn’t have the data for the currents, like NOAA – the information WindFinder  provides has exactly what I need, and I CAN trust it, completely! When going to the main page, just type in a city – once there, click on forecast for detailed information (one can save the location as a favorite, and quickly navigate next time)

Windfinder

Great, now you have a destination, planned out the route, and know what the weather and water action will be like. Ensuring you have the right kayak for the right trip is yet another essential key component for a safe trip (please review my blog  http://tinyurl.com/yy4gng6v to ensure you have the right yak for the right water).  I will be referring to packing a sea kayak, and some items to bring along for an extended trip in the following paragraphs.

 

Packing yaks

When planning on what to pack – think about if you really need it, or will use it during your trip. There are essential items in which you will need, depending on your route, location, time of year, water temp/air temp, and length of trip. Kayak tripping is much like ultra-light backpacking – keep it light and well balanced. Since there are numerous items on the market, the intention of this blog is not to inform you which item is better than the other – but please do your own research around either kayak or backpacking specific items. Don’t under pack safety equipment or rescue items – and have them easily accessible. Food and water filtration devices are wonderful to have along and will provide you the energy and nutrients needed throughout your journey. Cooking items can be a challenge, as there are various items and systems out there to choose. If attempting to safe room and weight, dehydrated meals might be a good option – just as long as one has access to water. Clothing should be lightweight, yet warm – synthetic is a way better option than cotton. Sleeping gear should include your tent, sleeping pad/mattress, and sleeping bag. Dry bags are key items to place all your items into – to ensure these do not get wet. The bags serve a dual role: storage (both inside the yak and in the tent) and transportation of the items (from yak to camp site)

Packing that Yak.

Packing the items in the yak does take time and some prep work. I like to lay out everything next to my yak at home on the grass and divide it all in two fairly equal weight groups, so the yak is balanced. For the items which I know I will not need until I get to the actual campsite, and I will tend to pack these items first into the ‘nose’ of both the bow and stern. For safety related items, I will place these into the day hatch, and let my fellow paddlers know what is in there (usually the first aid kit, repair kit, flares, smoke, etc….) I tend not to place anything on my deck, except for my spare paddle, compass, chart, and camelback water bag, as I reserve this space for preforming kayak assisted rescues.

Once I preform a dry run packing the items in the yak a few times and figure out what works, I will then place all these items in dedicated IKEA-like bags, and place them in the car. When I get to the launch spot, I will bring the yak down to the water’s edge, then bring all the bags, packing the hatches with the dedicated bags. When arriving to the campsite, it is just a reverse process. When possible, I try not to drag (or carry) a loaded yak up onto the shoreline (unless the landing spot is really not an ideal unloading zone because of terrain, waves, or winds). If I must, I will aid the assistance from someone else to help carry each other’s yak up onto solid ground.

Yes, there is a bit of research and planning for overnight trips with a kayak. When done correctly, and time and time again – you learn what works, and what doesn’t. Even with the best packing, sometimes Mother Nature places a damper on the actual camping experience. Although this reduces the fun factor, it allows one to make a mental note of that ‘one item’ which may have all the difference for next time. I was on a multi-day paddle trip years ago and our group decided it would be best to each carry a Duraflame log over to the island (and these are not a lightweight item). I fortunately had space, and agreed to carry one. It was actually nice to have these items a few days later, as the evening rains made most of the tree branches difficult to light on fire for our evening camp fire. I have adapted this notion to a smaller fire starter, as well as reduced the weight – it is still nice to have the ability for a  camp fire, even with a light rain. It makes all the difference… as hopefully these tips did too..

 

For the Paddler Within……