You can take all the necessary precautions, but there will always be times when conditions take an unexpected turn, and you suddenly find yourself in rough seas. That’s why all paddlers need to be prepared for any eventuality.
If the wind suddenly starts to pick up, you will need to be up for the challenge and know how to adapt your technique to match the ever-changing conditions of the open waters. Here are some tips to help you prepare.
Prepare your mind
There are several ways you can prepare for a safe kayaking adventure, but perhaps the most important one is to prepare your mind. You need to be ready to embark on your journey with the right attitude.
Most of us go out there to enjoy the experience of connecting with nature on a relaxing, sunny day, but it’s not always like that. Paddling conditions vary, and there is always the chance of rough weather and seas developing without warning.
When that happens, the situation can suddenly become very challenging. You will need to be able to bring your full focus and attention during these times so that you can remain calm, make sound judgments, and carry out an effective risk assessment.
Besides being able to keep your focus, you also want to be able to relax so that your body remains flexible and supple, which is key to keeping your boat stable. Breathing exercises may be able to help you achieve a more relaxed state. Try breathing deeply and matching the rhythm to the pace of your strokes, dropping your shoulders to help relieve any built-up tension.
Preparing yourself physically and developing your skills for these potential challenges will help you feel more ready to face a variety of conditions. From calm conditions to moderate chop and swell, you want to ready yourself so that when the moment comes, you will know how to respond.
Get the right training
Sea kayaking is the real deal. Read as much as you want about it online or in books, but nothing will quite prepare you for the real thing like getting proper training from an experienced sea kayaker.
With the right training program, you will be able to learn much of the technical skills and specialized knowledge required to handle various kayaking conditions. The training you receive should cover what paddling techniques are best used depending on the conditions, as well as how to respond when something goes amiss.
Practice, practice, practice
Getting training is one thing, but to really allow these skills to develop you will need to practice, practice, and then practice some more. You don’t want to end up forgetting the techniques that could end up one day saving your life, so be sure to try these out every chance you get.
Don’t just practice in the same conditions each time, either. The whole point is being able to use these techniques when conditions take a turn for the worst. You don’t want to have to attempt paddling adverse conditions for the time when you’re out in the middle of nowhere.
If possible, try to learn how to deal with strong currents, winds, and waves near the shore with experienced paddlers around. That way, you can test yourself without having to take too great a risk. Having the shore nearby and help close at hand will allow you to get used to different conditions without facing too much fear.
Ideally, you should build things up slowly, not just go straight in when conditions are particularly bad. Ease yourself into it, so you can slowly build up your skills and your confidence.
Pay close attention to your timing too. The last thing you want to do while paddling in rough seas is to waste a whole bunch of energy paddling mindlessly. Time your strokes according to the waves so you can reserve as much energy as possible.
Mind the wind and the waves
Strong winds can be a real problem for kayakers. It’s not just the waves they create, but also the direct force of the wind that is problematic, as this is what pushes your kayak off course and makes it difficult to keep hold of your paddle. The two combined? Now that can be a real challenge.
When strong winds strike, take note of the direction of the wind and try kayaking into the wind. This will make it easier for you to go into the direction you want to go, by minimizing the influence the wind has on your kayak. Another benefit of facing the wind is that you’ll avoid being hit broadside by a wave, something that could easily cause you to capsize.
Of course, it’s not always that easy. Sometimes, the wind and the waves will go in different directions, in which case you will have to change tactics. In this case, you will need to watch the waves and keep them foremost in your mind. It doesn’t matter what way the wind is blowing, as long as you don’t run parallel to rough seas.
Again, the best way to overcome the problems that come with paddling in the wind is to get as much practice as you can. The more experience you have, the better you will be able to manage the situation.
Get familiar with your safety gear
All paddlers should equip themselves with the appropriate safety gear and know how to use it. You don’t want to be worrying about how to operate your gear while you’re trying to navigate rough seas.
If you want to be well prepared, carry and familiarize yourself with the following rescue gear:
- Paddle floats: If you end up capsizing, you’ll need some help getting back into the boat. If no one is close enough to assist you, then you’ll need to perform a self-rescue, for which you’ll want a paddle float.
- Bilge pumps: Once you get back into the kayak, you’ll need to empty the water that’s collected inside, and the best way to do that is with a bilge pump.
- Tow lines: Useful for assisting paddlers who are injured or tired.
- Paddle leash: These stop your paddle from getting away from the kayak and should be long enough the let a paddle with a paddle float be used as an outrigger.
- Throw bags: These can be used to help pull a swimmer to safety.
Remember, practice is essential, and this applies to using your gear as well as your paddling technique. It’s not just about knowing how to use your equipment but also practicing using them in combination with each other in difficult conditions. The more prepared you are for rough seas, the better.
Always have an escape plan
When bad weather strikes, you need to be able to adapt to the changing conditions and, sometimes, that means making changes to your proposed route. That’s why you should make a note of any other landing spots along the way that would make suitable exit points. Make sure you always have a Plan B.
Ultimately, when it comes to preparing for rough conditions, the same advice you likely received when you were first starting out still applies; take those lessons, practice your safety and paddling techniques often, and always try to go out with more experienced kayakers.