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Learn Kayak Rescues

Been paddling all summer and you are ready now for learning ways to get back into our yak from within the water, as well as some kayak games? You have the skills to paddle your kayak around objects, can paddle hours on end, and aren’t worried about falling out of your kayak…….But, what happens when you do? How are you going to get back into your kayak if you are too far away from the shoreline? What happens when your paddle buddy falls in – and you don’t know what your next step is going to be? Need to be more proficient in your kayak abilities? This is the session for you !

In this session, we shall learn how to perform both self and assisted kayak rescues. You will learn, understand, and practice numerous ways to get back in your kayak, should you ever experience a wet exit. For the types of rescues which will be involved, please visit

Owners of touring and sea kayaks are welcomed to bring their own yaks for this class – if you are uncertain if your kayak fits into this category, please give us a call and inform us of the make and model of your kayak. Some recreational kayaks may work for this class – but it is much more proficient with kayaks suited for adequate on-water rescues. Since we will be in the water for majority of this session, you should be comfortable with getting wet and performing wet exits. (Yes, you will be asked to preform a wet exit).

Our location for this training will be within a quiet body of water, where your feet will be able to touch the bottom (for starting out), and then we shall move to deeper water when the comfort level increases. Located at Leonard Yahr Country Park, this lake has a sandy beach, numerous picnic tables, clean bathrooms, and drinking water. The area surrounding the lake is mostly wooded and has a hiking trail. Located just a few miles outside West Bend, this Park does require a park pass (which can be purchased at the via Washington County, or one can visit their web site to pay).

Maximum class size is 10.  There are sea kayaks and gear to the first 8 who require these items.

Please also register for this to ensure there is availability.

Three to four hour rescue class- Cost $75

Kayak Sampler

Are you fairly new to kayaking, interested in paddling in a sea kayak, or just want to have a comfortable,easy, and short distance paddle? Have we something for you.

The Kayak Sampler is a shortened paddle trip, on the smaller lakes near and around West Bend, and Port Washington, WI. These smaller lakes provide as an excellent starter body of water for the first time paddler or someone with less time available. The events are two hours long (with about 15 to 30 min on shore orientation, including adjusting your kayak). These are designed to offer an exploratory paddle experience along the shoreline. We shall be present on water with you to ensure safety and offer very basic refinements to make your trip easier for you. This is not intended as a class or lesson like our other services we provide; however they’ll be just as much fun!


The paddle trip will start at Waubedonia park and we shall paddle up the Milwaukee river towards the Mill, and return where we started – total distance about 2.5 miles. There are no power boats along this stretch, an occasional angler may be seen.


Kayak and gear included in the price.

Please also register for this to ensure there is availability.

Class limited to 5 participants. Cost $30

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

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….

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….