20 random kayaking questions answered

Kayaking offers a unique low-riding, gliding-close-to-the-water experience. It provides many unique opportunities, whilst experiencing wildlife and mastering new skills, as well as exercising for good health. Here are a few essential points to consider before taking the plunge – whether you’re able-bodied or have mobility issues. We look at a variety of paddling problems you might face from purchasing to safety to the environment.

Colorful Kayaks

1. Which kayak is right for me?  The new trend for paddlers is to own several types of boats to accommodate a variety of paddling environments. If you’re stuck in choosing between a tandem or solo kayak, you first have to determine what type of kayaker you are or wish to be? There are many types based on how they function on the water and their intended use. Knowing the basic kayak designs will help you select a size and design to suit your specific needs. Any good kayak retailer will help you with this.

2. Short or long?  Many Kayakers struggle with this. You might wonder why longer is faster (seems like it would have more drag, right?) or is longer more stable in choppy water? Hull drag is primarily caused by fluid friction and wave drag. At low speeds, friction is the dominant source of drag. Shorter boats have less surface area in the water, so generate less friction drag. Therefore at low speeds, shorter boats are easier to paddle. Avoid purchasing a shorter tandem to reduce the weight; it will be less stable than a longer tandem. The shorter a kayak, the less water it will displace, and thus the less stable it will be with two adults in it (esp. if they are heavier than average adults).


3. What if I’m on a budget?  Most first-time kayak purchases are based on price, obviously. Whilst the purpose or type of kayaking effect the cost as well, you’re unlikely to see any weight savings between Kevlar or a fibreglass kayak. Other factors to consider include types and materials used for construction (plastic, fibreglass, Kevlar, carbon fibre or wood). With recreational kayaks, you can often buy two solos for the same price or less than what you’ll pay for a recreational tandem with a rudder. But do your research!

4. Does size really matter?  For kayak beginners, size is a struggle. Always consider the weight of the boat, ease in and out of the water, portability, transportation and storage. Manufacturers make plastic tandems up to about 18 feet long; composite tandems 19-23 feet long. Whatever weight savings you glean from the lighter material can be wasted due to the added length of the composite kayak. Of course, size also depends on the type of kayak, as mentioned above.

5. Should I ride solo or tandem?  Tandem kayaking can be tricky if the two paddlers are sitting closer together and end up hitting each other’s paddles if their strokes are out of sync. But, if you’re paddling with a child in front this isn’t normally an issue. The best option when you are first getting into the sport is a solo kayak. But if you think you can purchase a recreational tandem and use it as a solo kayak as well, remember that you will have to lift and carry all that weight by yourself!

6. Do I need a rudder?  Rudders on any tandem kayak is a good idea. You don’t really need one on a solo kayak. They make a huge difference in controlling your paddling rhythm and preventing paddle-clash if your strokes get out of sync. 

Father and son carrying kayak along forest trail7. What about lifting?  Talking of liftin’, now that you’ve chosen your kayak you will have probably noticed that it is heavier than it looked! They’re usually anywhere from 45-100 lbs (depending on tandem vs solo). Tandem needs two adults lifting and carrying; solo kayaks can usually be managed on your own, except if you need help lifting it on top of a vehicle. It is easier for two people to make two trips carrying two 45-60 lbs solo kayaks than to make one trip carrying a heavy tandem.

7. What about my stuff?  Kayaks don’t come with much storage as you can imagine; you have to think of waterproofing whatever you take with you on the water. Short tandems have much less storage space than two solo kayaks. It may be easier to store some bulkier items in a tandem since it’s usually wider than a solo; the total cubic capacity is much less than two sea kayaks. Having an UltraDry 100% waterproof bag is the perfect storage solution. They are guaranteed so tight the bag floats and even handles quick submersions whilst remaining soft and flexible even in freezing temperatures.

8. Trailer vs car-topping?  If you have a taller vehicle, lifting a kayak or two every time can be a pain. A lot of kayak enthusiasts transport them on trailers. If that’s not feasible for you, always get help lifting if you need it!

Fun in the summer holidays.
Fun in the summer holidays.

9. Will I need a paddle-partner? Now that we’ve covered the main issues when buying kayaks, you will probably want to get out on the water with a few friends. It’s a bit obvious but make sure you know water safety and CPR. If you don’t trust your buddy to save your life, you probably shouldn’t be out on the water with them! Tandem boats are often referred to as “divorce boats” by kayak guides and instructors; quarrels can arise when the paddlers are just learning how to kayak. It is always much easier to blame the other person in the kayak for any troubles when you are struggling to learn a new skill. Another thing to consider with paddle partners is if you only own a tandem, you are limited to being on the water at the same time; if you’re a solo paddler, you can go kayaking any time you want.

10.  Is there a learning curve?  As with most new things, yes there is a learning curve. But it’s easy to overcome. In a solo kayak, you usually know right away when you are doing something wrong; less feedback in a tandem. In a solo, when you make a positive change in your technique, you feel the instant improvement. In a tandem – unless you’re on say, a river with a child in front leaving you the main controller – if the kayak is not responding as you wish, it can be hard to know whether the issue is you or your paddling partner, or both of you. Despite adjusting your technique, it might be harder to perceive the improvement on how the kayak handles when it takes a team effort.

11. Do I need special skills?  The great thing about kayaking is you can just do it, just hop in a boat and float a river… Or do you want to learn skills like edging, or how to roll your kayak? Tandems can be rolled but, learning to roll whilst in a tandem is hard! To be honest, you need both paddlers to learn rolling skills individually in solo kayaks first, and then you will need to learn how to coordinate your movements to roll your tandem. You will probably need a third or fourth person to stand guard too, as this can get tricky, not just regarding safety but physically assisting. If you’re a family, learning the skills together is recommended; there are plenty of courses and classes you can take.


12. What additional gear do I need?  When operating canoes, kayaks, row boats, surf skis and stand up paddle boards you must carry the minimum safety equipment for human powered vessels. When operating motorised kayaks and canoes, you must carry the minimum safety equipment for powerboats. All safety equipment carried onboard must be placed or located in a conspicuous and readily accessible position at all times. Maintaining or servicing your safety equipment ensures its usability. You will also need to waterproof your electronics like phones.  Like most outdoor activities, there is some specialist equipment and clothing you’ll need when taking to the water. Some basic kayaking gear is obvious – like a paddle – while some will depend on the weather conditions and the type of kayaking you’ll be doing and who you’ll be with if you have mobility issues etc. For the basic newbie, the range of kayaking disciplines and an array of equipment available can be baffling, so this might help: paddle, flotation device, dry bag/waterproof phone case, wet/dry suit….A good starting point to get hold of basic canoeing gear is your local canoe club or centre. As well as offering you advice on what to buy, members may have second-hand kit for sale and will be able to point you in the direction of a reputable retailer.

13. How can I be visible?  Since many human-powered craft sit low in the water, other boats may not see you. Obey the rules of the waterway that you are operating on. Be vigilant about your route and avoid shipping lanes, and always make sure you’re visible.

14. Will I need a flotation Devices?  Fit your Personal Flotation Device (PFD) with reflective tape and wear bright coloured clothing. It is also wise to add reflective tape to your kayak and paddle. Think like a cyclist: they want to be seen to avoid being hit; you want to be seen to avoid being left behind!

15. Can I night paddle?  Sure. Just remember a torch….carry a white light that’s easily visible to approaching vessels; and stay with your kayak if you fall out. A kayak is a lot easier to spot than a swimmer. Depending on whether you have a Sit on top (SOT) or sit inside (SINK), if you flip say midstream ina river, think can you wade to shore or swim pulling a swamped kayak? Senior Couple Kayaking

16. How much stamina does it take?  If you have kids, tandem kayaks can be a bit too deep and awkward in the cockpit for them, and they might need smaller paddles or they’ll run out of steam really fast! Most kids can begin paddling their own kayak somewhere between ages 5-8. Of course, they won’t have a lot of stamina at that age, but hooking up a towline to your child’s kayak as an assist is a good solution. If kids are not a stamina issue for you, or you’re not out with kids, do you have the endurance needed for a good kayak Regardless of whether you opt for a solo or tandem in this situation, I would strongly suggest that you buy kid-size paddles for any children in your family. It will greatly increase their paddling stamina.

17. Do I have the strength to paddle a kayak? This is a question only you can answer. By now, you should have had some training or instruction, and from that you can clearly discover your strengths and weaknesses; if you are unsure of your ability to paddle, keep practising, working your way up and building on your body strength, or if you can’t keep practising on your own, take a course to help. If you have any health issue, always check with your doctor first if kayaking is right for you.

16. What if I capsize? Kayaks are generally very stable, but if they do capsize, they fill with a lot of water and can make it much more difficult to perform rescues and re-entries. Once again, this problem is much more pronounced in the shorter tandems because the percent of the kayak that is walled off for flotation is much less than in a longer tandem kayak. You will have learned how to correct any capsizing in your kayak course or from your instructor or advanced kayaking friends.


17. What if I encounter wildlife that won’t leave me alone? Take a picture! Seriously though, you probably won’t be attacked by a seagull unless you’ve taken your picnic on the boat with you; and river animals like otters usually don’t approach. If you’re out to sea a bit further obviously take care of larger animals like sharks and dolphins. It helps to buddy up when you’re out that far, though.

18. How do I launch sites? most able-bodied people won’t have many issues launching their kayak. However, whilst there are no legal requirements for accessibility at “carry-down craft” launching sites, a launch area should have a firm and stable surface and not too much of an angle if you are disabled or otherwise needing mobility help. The use of mobility devices like walkers, canes, crutches, wheelchairs etc. in launching areas can be difficult at docks or where the surface is steeper. An excellent launching area for people with mobility issues is a boat ramp.
Wheelchair walk

19. Can I kayak if I have a disability?  Kayaking and canoeing are two activities that emphasise ability as well as attitude. Whether or not the paddler has a disability, a body that’s uncooperative on land has less issue gliding across the water. Medical issues can affect safety; therefore, completion of the medical information sheet by all parties is essential when taking a course. If you have mobility issues never go out on the water alone. And always have up to date safety gear and flotation devices. If you have a caregiver, make sure they know how to rescue you if you flip, and know how to contact the emergency services in case of a mishap.

20. Can I sell my kayak?  If you decide after awhile that the kayak you purchased wasn’t the best choice for your situation and you want to get something else instead, you will most likely find it easy to sell. Most people in the market for kayaks are looking for solo kayaks. It will probably take you longer to find a buyer for your used tandem and you will have to come down more on your asking price than if you were selling a solo boat.

The UltraDry Team.

Home of the Ultra Dry Waterproof Bag

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