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7 Steps to Improve Your Sea Kayaking Skills

September 10, 2011

If you are a sea kayaking buff, loving to get out onto the water and paddle around your local area, there are ways to improve your skills, make your paddles safer and more rewarding, and to increase your stamina for longer paddles. Over my paddling years, I have kind of stumbled onto some things. But when I got more serious about improving my skills to be a better paddler, (really just to keep paddling as my body aged!), I took up a long-term course of action to be a bettve done, and still do over the course of each year.

1. Learn how to pack your kayaks  for stability and safety.Believe it or not, the way you pack your kayak can make a significant difference in its stability. Even to just add weight into it usually increases stability. Increased stability means it is more safe. Take along a set of extra clothes, a shelter of some sort, a bit of food, a stove and matches or lighter, extra water, and a way to signal for help. These items are then in your kayak in case a sudden weather change makes you land and strands you. The weight of these items should be packed evenly from left to right and from front to back, maybe with a slight extra in the back to raise the nose a bit. If the weight is kept as low as possible, then you will be more in the water and more stable.2. Improve your paddling skills.Every time you go out paddling, try practicing a particular stroke that you find difficult. Practice the sweeps and draws, as well as the braces, each and every paddle. Get more instruction, if necessary, to learn more strokes, and just to have someone watch and help you with the movements you need to perform the stroke efficiently. A good way to improve your paddling skills is to join a group of river kayakers and play around in the smaller, more responsive boat. You have to use your core body strength and motion more in a river kayak which helps develop the habit of body to do it in a sea kayak.3. Learn a variety of rescue techniques. If you are a regular kayaker, you need to be able to get back into your kayak if you capsize. This is really critical. If you can do a cowboy scramble on to the back of your boat, your are doing great. If you can do a paddle float rescue, great. If you can re-enter and roll, or just roll back up on your own, then you are totally awesome. Many kayakingcenters and universities offer instruction to help kayakers with rescues. If you are lucky, then you can do it in the warmer water of a pool. Many smaller town and most cities have someone offering pool sessions for kayak resuce.4. Paddle some challenging areas, but with a safety net.If you haven’t paddled in currents or small surf, then challenge yourself to go do it. Take along some friends who know what they are doing to give it a bit of a safety net. If you are in real life challenges, you will better remember what you have learned, so challenge yourself and practice your skills in the challenge.5. Learn some weather prediction skills.One of the biggest dangers on the water is sudden wind changes. Wind can make kayaking very difficult to impossible at times. Learn how to view the clouds and what they mean. Pay attention to the stories from your area about what to look for for wind or for rain. Get licensed for marine radio to listen to the forecasts and be able to communicate to other mariners about the weather. Local kayak centers often provide short courses in the local weather patterns and what to look for.6. Learn and use navigation skills.Start learning how to read nautical charts and use a compass with it. Take these things out with you on your kayak and begin observing the islands and rocks that are in front of you, matching them to the chart information. Practice taking bearings and setting courses. Pay attention to times and chart distances you’ve travelled to begin estimating your speed and location. If you happen to be out on a really rainy or foggy day, you will thank yourself for practicing these skills. Learn how to use the tide tables to calculate your nearest tides and currents.7. Learn to rely on your kayak and yourself.Plan your routes and write down these float plans to give to someone before you leave. When packing your kayak, think through the placement of things to make sure you have needed items at hand. Try to set yourself up to be able to reach everything you need with minimal interruption and compromise of your stability. Watch ahead and around you and think through what may be under the water or around the corner or, coming fast down the passage you are in.If you are thinking about working on any one of these steps each time you paddle, your skills will improve and you will be more comfortable and more confident in the water. These are all essential skills for being a good paddler, and developing them only helps you to get the most out of your paddles. By training, preparing, and learning, you can improve your kayak abilities, giving you greater options on where and when you can paddle. So, follow the steps and get out there and enjoy the water.
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