Are you a beginning kayaker? Here are eleven mistakes brand new kayakers sometimes make that can, at minimum, take the fun out of your first kayak trip.
Worst case scenario, these can lead to injury or death, something none of us wants to think about.
1. Don’t Choose Big Water for Your First Kayak Trip
Unless you’re going to stay right along the shore and you’re in a protected area without wind or waves, don’t take your first kayak outing on big water! The Great Lakes and the ocean come to mind right away. But this can include any large lake that can produce large waves in stiff wind.
For your first outing you’ll have a lot more fun and be much safer on a small, calm lake that’s warm enough for swimming.
Once you have some experience, know self-rescue skills and have your paddle strokes down, then you can start to venture out on bigger water.
2. Don’t Start Out on a Busy Waterway
Opt for a small lake that doesn’t allow motor boat traffic—like at a local park—if you can. Then you won’t have to worry about other boaters seeing you (or not) or about dealing with boat wake.
If all your choices have other boat traffic then avoid busy weekends, or choose early in the day or later in the evening when there are fewer people out.
3. Don’t Kayak on a River You’re First Time Out
A river’s current means hazards you need to be aware of, things we don’t see when kayaking on calm lakes.
Even slow-moving rivers host potential dangers, so unless you’re with another kayaker who has river experience, don’t make your first kayak trip a river trip.
4. Don’t Start Out Kayaking in Cold, Blustery Weather
Kayaking is a great way to get outside, but if you’re a beginner, you’ll enjoy it so much more when it’s warm and sunny, with just enough breeze to cool the air a bit.
If you choose a cold, blustery day for your first try kayaking, the wind and waves will make it harder. It’ll also make it less enjoyable. And most beginning kayakers don’t have the proper gear to stay warm and dry in nasty weather.
5. Don’t Choose Water with a Steep, Rocky or Mucky Shoreline
Getting in and out of a kayak takes some practice and strength. Make it easy on yourself and choose water with an easy shoreline for your first few times out.
If you’re on a shoreline that’s steep and covered in rocks or muck, you’re at a disadvantage right off the bat. Once you can enter and exit easily, then you can take on rougher shoreline conditions.
6. Don’t Sign Up for a 4-Day Expedition
If you’ve never been kayaking before, try a one or two-hour kayak trip first. Be sure you enjoy kayaking and can sit for long stretches. It looks easy—and is easy on calm water with little wind or current!
But paddling all day or for several successive days is a different animal. Take it easy in the beginning so you’ll know you’ll enjoy your time on the water, and that your fitness level matches your enthusiasm.
7. Don’t Fail to Wear Your PFD (Life Jacket)
While kayaking is a very safe activity, anytime you’re on the water there’s risk. Even if you’re a strong swimmer, always wear your PFD in a kayak.
No one plans on an emergency happening, and if you’re in that situation it’ll be too late to put your life jacket on. Keeping your head above water is just one less thing you’ll have to worry about in the event of a capsize when your PFD is on.
8. Don’t Assume Nothing Bad Will Happen
Chances are nothing bad will happen…but safe paddling means being prepared for emergencies. As we said in #7, emergencies are unexpected, and they can happen without warning.
Besides wearing your PFD, stick close to shore for your first kayak outing or two. Be within swimmable distance, especially if you ignore #2 and become separated from your boat. A whistle is part of every paddler’s emergency kit, so you can get the attention of anyone else nearby.
Once you decide you’ll become a kayaker, you’ll want to put together your own paddling emergency kit.
9. Don’t Fail to Bring Sunscreen, Lip Balm and Water
Even if it’s an overcast day, you can get major sunburn out on the water. So use sunscreen on any exposed skin, including skin that may be covered by a wide-brimmed hat but can still get hit by the sun’s reflection on the water.
Don’t forget lip balm and plenty of water. Bring a dry bag to keep all these items in one spot. You may want to include some snacks, too.
10. Don’t Wear Cotton Clothes
Once cotton gets wet it won’t dry for hours. The best paddling clothes are made of quick-day materials like nylon.
Wool is a better option than cotton, as it retains its warmth even when it’s wet. Wet cotton just makes you cold, which can feel great on a hot day—but can be miserable, and even dangerous, in cold weather.
By the way, a capsize isn’t the only thing that can get you wet. There’s also rain, wave splash and paddle drip.
11. Don’t Kayak in Cold Weather without a Wetsuit
In case of a capsize, even strong swimmers can lose function within minutes in water temperatures below 60º F…even while wearing a PFD.
For your first kayak trip, don’t go in dangerously cold conditions—the air temperature or the water temperature—unless you’re with an outfitter that fits you up with the right gear for those conditions.
Once you decide kayaking is your thing, invest in a wetsuit to add that extra layer of protection for cold water and weather.
Kayaking is a wonderful sport and easy for beginners to get into. Give yourself a break and be smart when you start out, and you’ll have years of fun on the water in your future.
What kayak paddle questions can we help you with? Contact our friendly Customer Service team today: 715-755-3405 • [email protected]
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