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North Texas Outdoors Message Board › Introduction to Kayaking for the Novice (and a reminder to the Expert!)

Introduction to Kayaking for the Novice (and a reminder to the Expert!)

A former member
Post #: 171
Kayaking / Canoeing / Water Craft:

Those new to kayaking or canoeing will find it to be a sport that can be both relaxing and adventurous. However, to avoid a potentially hazardous situation you should familiarize yourself with the following before ever getting on the water or even putting the boat atop your SUV!

Preparation is key:

When I first bought my kayak I wanted to jump in the SUV and drag it to the river and that is what I almost did! Take a course, or at least buy a book, that will teach you key elements such as the proper way to secure your boat to your vehicle (which can save a life or at least your boat), how to enter and exit your boat, gear you should take, self rescue techniques, and general boating maneuvers.

Know your environment:

Boating can be a different experience depending on the body of water that you are on. A lake can be calm and enjoyable one moment and in the next a wind storm can produce white caps that can capsize your craft possibly leaving you stranded far from shore. I was kayaking on Lake Ray Roberts in search of Bald Eagles (which I saw, awesome!). Suddenly, a windstorm came up and I had to beach my craft for several hours before returning to where I parked my car. Now I carry a NOAA weather radio with me, especially when I plan to get away from shore.

Rivers are ideal for boating but always check with the river authority to determine the flow and the release of water from any local spillways or dams. Remember, knowing weather conditions upstream is just as important as knowing the weather in your immediate boating area. Once I was camped on an island in the middle of the Brazos River and a storm many miles upstream produced enough flow that they began releasing water from the dam in anticipation. We lost a couple of canoes since they were near the river and had water in a tent. When camping always pull your boat and gear as far up on the bank as possible and tie it off to a tree when possible.

Temperatures on a river are generally colder than when you are higher up on the banks and during the colder months can create a hazard of hypothermia should your clothes or sleeping gear become wet. Using water tight tote bags or even large re-sealable paint buckets is ideal. Also, when a dam is near, water coming out of the bottom of the dam is going to be much colder than the surface water.

Water Safety:

Knowing how to swim is a must when kayaking or any other activity on the water. You never know if you will be caught in some rapids, the flow increases suddenly because they let water out of a spillway or there is a storm upstream that sends a sudden burst of water downstream. Life preservers are good but when you are caught in a situation where you have to get to shore you have to feel as comfortable as possible in self rescue in case no one else can get to you and be able to assist when someone near you is in trouble and needs help. You absolutely must learn how to swim before getting out on any body of water or else it puts not only you but others with you in harms way if the unthinkable does happen. This cannot possibly be stressed enough.

Purchasing a Kayak:

I recommend not buying an inflatable kayak. They are slow and you will have to work twice as hard to keep up with anyone that has a hard shell kayak. Also, they do not appear to track as well and the wind plays havoc with them. I would suggest renting a kayak a couple of times to see what kind suits you best.

Checklist (Basic Items):

You never want to carry too much on a trip because it is going to be that much more weight you have to pull. Having a lot of weight is also horrible for those unlucky enough to have to portage their craft in areas where water flow is less than ideal or there are obstacles that pose a hazard. When packing for a trip throw everything into the middle of your garage, then go through it and determine if you “really” need that item or it is just something that is going to slow you down.

Suggested Items:

Note: Store items in a water tight bag or reseal-able bucket. Pack it in, Pack it out!

-Vehicle Tie Down Straps / Bungee Cords / Snap Ties
-Flashlight / Backup Light / Small Camp Lantern (if needed)
-First Aid Kit (Bandages, Alcohol Prep Pads, Tweezers, Burn Ointment, Itch Relief, Neosporin, Aspirin)
-Water Proof Sunscreen / Aloe Lotion
-Insect Repellent (Summer)
-Snake Bite Kit (Summer)
-Knife / Multipurpose Tool
-Machete or Bolo Knife (for cutting wood and clearing a path)
-Food (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, Snack)
Note: pre-packaged dehydrated hiking meals are ideal and light weight
-Mess kit (small and light weight, usable on both fire and gas stove)
-Eating utensils if needed
-Plenty of Water (Katadyn Water purification system as a back up?)
-Matches (in water proof container) / Fire starter paste or bricks
-Small Gas Stove (in case of wet weather)
-Blanket (Wool if winter) / Wool socks (extra pair)
-Foil Blanket (For emergency hypothermia treatment / signaling medical personnel)
-Camping Gear if needed (Temp rated sleeping bag and pad / Tent / Extra tent stakes / Repair Kit)
-Toiletries (TP, Toothpaste, Toothpicks, Foot Powder)
-Sunglasses / Gloves for paddling
-Hat / Towel to cover neck
-Floatie for Glasses (if you wear them and they might fall off)
-Long Sleeve Shirt
-Pocket Mirror (For Signaling)
-GPS / Compass / Whistle / Air Horn / Emergency Flare / Strobe / Chemical Lights
-Laminated topographic map of area for emergency hike out (
-Cell Phone / Weather Radio / Small Camera (stored in a dry box)
-Laminated Emergency Phone Number List (River Authority, Coast Guard, Marina, etc.)
-Life Preserver / Self rescue kit (if necessary)
-Extra paddle secured to your craft
-Orange re-sealable paint buckets for storage (if canoeing)
-Large industrial size trash bag, 2 smaller trash bags / Zip Lock Bags / Dry Bags
-Hiking shoes and carrying bag should there be an emergency and you have to ditch the boat

Know your people:

Finally, know the people you are going with (it is always ideal to have at least one person with you when boating). You could meet them for the first time on a trip but as a group you should determine who is a novice and who is an expert in the group. No one wants to look stupid in front of strangers so encourage your group to be open about questions on boating advice and safety procedures. Novice boaters should have a more seasoned boater leading and following. Everyone should have a life preserver and at least one member of the group (preferably all) should know CPR and water rescue. It is sad but I worked with a guy who went swimming in Lake Ray Roberts with some buddies. He was not a good swimmer and once he reached a drop off he panicked. His friend went to save him and he ended up drowning him because, in his panic, he pushed him under water and choked him. Water safety is no joke! When rescuing someone always approach them from behind never allowing them to latch onto your neck or shoulders, even if you have to temporarily push them away. Take them with the palm of your hand under the chin and with your other arm swim them to shore. Knowing CPR is a must for anyone who engages in activities in and around water.

Be Safe, Have Fun!
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