Preventing a kayaking trip from becoming an epic

Whilst some might return without incident after venturing into remote and wilderness areas without training or practice, occasionally others don’t pull it off. Get the elements working in favour of the expedition and the two can work in harmony.

Winds, tides and currents can conspire to make progress difficult and that’s why Prior Planning and Preparation Prevents Poor Performance.

Changing conditions

However even the best plans must be adaptable – if the wind changes to blow with force against a current, surface conditions may change dramatically and this may warrant a change in course or the postponement in reaching an objective.

Venturing to offshore islands requires skills such as dead reckoning however, when kayaking along the coastline in good visibility, navigation is a simple task of matching passing features to corresponding positions on the chart.

Some factors to consider along the route are weather change, tide, currents and boat traffic – failing to note these factors however might well result in your first epic.

    1. Paddle speed – is the objective achievable in the planned time frame?
    2. Group experience – all must be prepared to paddle at the speed of the slowest
    3. Weather conditions – how do they affect the route to destination?
    4. Direction and strength of tidal streams – how do they affect the route?
    5. Route safety – are there overfalls, is there ferry traffic, what are the hazards?
    6. High water and low water – times? Does this affect the route?
    7. Route and expedition duration – consider kit list and kayak packing
    8. Camping – where is the best location to land?
    9. Mainland contact – do they know required emergency procedures?
    10. Cellular – what are your means of communication?
    11. Plan B – what if the ETA or route changes?


Plan for change

This is by no means a comprehensive list but it does raise some of the important issues. Whatsmore, the plan must be adaptable because whilst tides and currents are entirely predictable, the weather direction and intensity is prone to change – if they work in tandem expediting the plan will be cinch and if they conspire against you…

Paddling speed

An estimate of average paddling speed enables you to plan an expedition that is achievable and that each paddler is comfortable with. However, the average speed of a sea kayaker is no exact science as it is reliant upon: boat type, fitness, load, conditions, experience and capability.

For the sake of expedition planning a novice kayaker might average 2 knots in calm conditions, the leisurely pace of an experienced kayaker might average 3–4 knots whilst top speeds in short distance sprints in an un-laden sea kayak might be 5–6 knots speed through water (as opposed to speed over ground).

Down time

For every six hours paddling I build in two hours down time and, in the western isles of Scotland, this allows for unwelcome weather conditions that don’t allow a kayaker to continue the course.

So, for every four complete days paddling, plan for one fishing from a rock, laying lobster pots, reading a book, making repairs or simply walking the cliffs and enjoying coast. It is of course possible to have a week of millpond seas or a week of gales but 2 to 6 is a sensible average.

Paddling distance

A kayaker with no experience and a bad technique will be finished after two miles of paddling. However, with a couple of days on the water and a few tips this can quickly be improved to about eight miles in calm conditions. A kayaker with a few weeks experience should be able to further improve this to about 12–15 miles per day.

Experienced paddles will easily cover 20 miles per day and there is a marked step between these two stages – this paddling requires fitness, technique, practice and experience. There are some very fit and experienced paddlers who will do double this and they are using the best of kit and are at the top of their game with regards to fitness. These distances are of course dependent on tides, winds and currents and, in the right conditions of a following sea and a favourable current, a novice might do about 15 miles in three hours.

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