While out hiking near a lake or river, you’ve probably seen groups of people out kayaking on the water. It looks like a fun, relaxing new adventure. Do you love the outdoors and want to explore even more ways to enjoy it, but you have no idea where to start? Before you go renting or purchasing a kayak, there are a few things you should know, so you can get the most out of the experience while staying safe. Below, Ranger Mac will go over some details of kayaking for beginners to help you get started!
Don’t Rush Out and Buy a Kayak Immediately
A kayak is a big expense and requires quite a bit of storage space when not in use, as well as a way to get it to and from the water. If you’re just getting started, this is not an expense you need to make right out of the gate. There are a few better options for getting started with kayaking without buying your own:
- Borrow from a Friend - If you have a friend who owns a kayak, it’s a great opportunity for you. Your friend might be able to not only loan you a kayak, but also share some kayaking experience to help get you started.
- Rent a Kayak - There are many outdoor outfitters that rent out kayaking gear for the day or the weekend. Try to find an on-the-water outfitter, so you don’t need to haul the boat to and from the location. You’ll probably get the bare minimum when it comes to gear, but it'll give you a chance to get your feet wet (so to speak) and trying out the new sport.
- Sign Up for a Tour - This is great way to learn a few basics while renting your kayaking gear. The person giving the guided tour is an expert who can help you navigate how to use the kayak. These can be set up with your local park office or with an outdoor adventure company.
- Sign Up for Classes - This is another way to really jump in and learn your way around the water on a kayak. There are beginner classes that include kayak rental, gear, and a set amount of lessons with an experienced kayaker. If you plan to take this hobby seriously, paying for a class is your best option in the long run to learn the skills.
Even when it comes to kayaking for beginners, there are a few gear essentials for kayaking that will keep you not only safe, but also comfortable. Anyone providing you with a kayak should also be able to provide the following gear:
- Coastguard-approved personal flotation device.
- Paddle (make sure it’s a comfortable size for you).
- Bilge pump.
- Spray skirt (optional for warm/clammy days to keep water out of the boat).
You should also make sure to wear proper clothing:
- Swimwear or shorts.
- Short or long sleeve rash guard top.
- Neoprene footwear.
- Sun-shielding hat.
- Lightweight jacket or vest (based on weather).
- Spray jacket or rain jacket (based on weather).
For any other items you want to bring for personal use, it is a good rule of thumb to pack very lightly. Only bring the essentials, as you won’t have much extra room in the kayak. If you must bring electronics or other items that could be damaged from the water, make sure to store them in water-tight containers.
Adjusting your Kayak
Once you think you’re prepared to get out on the water, you need to make sure that the kayak is ready to go and that you’re comfortable in it. Here are a few steps to take before you launch your kayak into the water:
- Set your back and butt firmly against the back of the seat. If your kayak lets you adjust your seat angle, make it as comfortable as possible. For the best power and balance, you should sit as upright as possible.
- Place the ball of your feet on the footpegs. It’s easier to get out of the boat if the footpegs are able to slide.
- Make sure you knees have a firm bend on each side of the cockpit. This helps control side-to-side motion as the boat moves. Your fit needs to be snug, but not jammed, in case you need to get out of a tipped over kayak.
Safety Precautions for Kayaking
There are several concerns you need to be aware of and precautions to take for your safety while kayaking:
- Bring a Paddle Buddy - If there’s no guide with you, it’s important to have another paddler who can offer assistance if needed.
- Have a Togetherness Pact - Buddies who paddle off on their own are not much help in an emergency.
- Know your Limits - This goes for both distance and physical stamina. Don’t go too far from shore if you haven’t had rescue training and/or don't know how well your body will take to rowing.
- Hazard Research - Take the time to learn about the currents, tides, and any other important information about the water you’re kayaking on for the day.
- Pay Attention to the Water Temperature - If the water is below 60 degrees Fahrenheit, you need to dress appropriately for cold water in case the kayak capsizes.
- Check your Personal Flotation Device - The PFD needs to be tight enough to not come off but loose enough to not interfere with your breathing.
- Stay Hydrated - Bring plenty of water on your trip. It’s easy to become dehydrated while being active in the water.
If you plan on continuing with water activities, you should take a rescue class. These are great resources to learn about navigation, tides, surfs, and anything else that could cause trouble for you out on the water.
Kayaking for Beginners
Now that you have some basic guidelines for kayaking, here are a few extra suggestions before you go out on the water for the first time:
- Choose a small, calm body of water.
- Find a gently sloping, sandy area to launch your kayak. A hard, rocky slope will be more challenging.
- For lake kayaking, if there’s a breeze, start by paddling into the wind. Paddling into the wind at the beginning will give you a nice tailwind on your way back.
- Plan on taking a small outing. If you’re new to kayaking, it takes time to build up your endurance, and you want the experience to be fun, not debilitating. A good rule of thumb is to not extend a first trip for more than 2 hours.
- Bring plenty of water and sunscreen!
Whether you just want to test the waters once or think kayaking will become a new regular hobby, it’s important to know what gear you need, how to stay safe, and how to have the most fun while you’re out on the water.
Need more ideas for fun water activities for kids? Check out Ranger Mac’s blog on how to beat the summer heat and get your kids to play outdoors!