Drowned in irony – dehydrated with only water in sight

Quite paradoxically for kayakers, being surrounded by so much seawater exposes us to the dangers of dehydration.

A 5% reduction in the body’s hydration levels can result in a 50% reduction in paddling performance so, in summer months, an active sea kayaker should be drinking two to three litres of water a day as well as eating well – for dehydration is the loss of water, sugar and salts combined.


Symptoms for dehydration include thirst, dry mouth, lips and eyes, headaches, dizziness, lightheadedness, lethargy, tiredness and dark coloured urine. Dehydration can also lead to a loss of strength and stamina and is the main cause of heat exhaustion.

Another sign might not be such a problem to someone sitting tight in a confined space for hours – passing small amounts of urine infrequently (less than three or four times a day).

Little, often

Kayakers in an expeditioning group should stay hydrated and encourage other members to drink water frequently as some are better at remembering than others – little and often is the best method of hydration.

Octane tends to prefer the purification method of boiling water when in camp since we have time and fuel. Spare water is bottled for later use whilst paddling at sea. Once water is purified, by whatever means, a good way to incentivise regular hydration is by adding a fruit herbal tea bag to the water bottle for five minutes before setting out. This will give a fruity berry flavour to the water for the rest of the day.

Hydration drinks

Dehydration can be mild, moderate or severe, depending on how much body weight is lost through fluids. It should be possible to reverse dehydration at the early stages by drinking more fluids. So long as a sea kayaker eats well and drinks frequently there should be no need for salt tablets and branded hydration drinks containing sodium and glucose sugars.

Severe dehydration

If dehydration is left untreated, it can become severe. Severe dehydration is a medical emergency and requires immediate medical attention if a kayaker has any of the following symptoms:

– Feeling unusually tired (lethargic) or confused,
– Dizziness standing up that doesn’t go away after a few seconds
– Not passing urine for eight hours
– Weak pulse
– Rapid pulse
– Fits (seizures)
– Low level of consciousness


If severe or ongoing (chronic) dehydration is not treated immediately, it can lead to complications. This level of dehydration needs hospital treatment and the patient will be put on a drip to restore the substantial loss of fluids.

Salty excess

But don’t forget, whilst seasoning gastro campfire delights in the dark, not to use too much table salt. Excessive salt consumption causes hypertension and cardiovascular disease – thankfully neither can be caught from an overly seasoned arabiata and, even if your recipe tastes like a horse’s stable salt cake, the paddling group will probably last another night under the stars.

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