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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……