Advice for beginning paddlers -- required gear, knowledge

6:44 a.m. on May 6, 2010 (EDT)
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I'm thinking about becoming a paddler -- I've dabbled in flat-water canoeing over the years and always wanted to do it more. Now I'm on the verge of diving in.

What do I need to do first?

What should I not do?

All advice welcome.

8:58 a.m. on May 9, 2010 (EDT)
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Well first off you will need a paddling platform of some sort (canoe, kayak, raft, inflatable version, some use small flat bottom john boats without an engine of course). After that you need paddles, life jacket or similar pfd. I personally use a co2 version that is otherwise just a canvas vest you are wearing until you take a dunk and it activates (takes a good 2-5 second submersion for most to avtivate, or you can do it manually). What you need to do first before you head out on a trip is to research the body of water. Lakes/ponds dont take alot of research for the most part, however streams and rivers do! You need to make certain of the river conditions before you set out. Most average paddlers can not read the water well enough to see if a waterfall is coming up for example. Read about the proposed route , contact the areas ranger station etc. You want to know if you will be experiecing rapids, or calm water, any sections you should bypass due to skill level or dangers such as a waterfall or extreme rapids (class 4,5)

You also want to have the correct type of watercraft, well it helps some. For example I have a mad river canoe, which does ok on calm water though a tad unstable, but is designed to be good in fast moving water. Whereas a totally flat bottom canoe or john boat is great in flat/calm water but more unstable in faster waters.

Besides having a watercraft, paddles, PFDs, and a map of the body of water, all you need otherwise is all of your normal camping gear . Make sure that your gear is tied in! And I highly recommend using dry bags for gear, or at least use some trash bags. Nothing stinks worse than tipping your canoe and having all your gear soaked. And if its not tied in, i hope it floats. DO NOT SQUEEZE THE AIR OUT OF A DRY BAG----this way they will float when you take that unexpected dip. If I am staying with the canoe the entire trip and not stashing it somewhere to continue on foot I will bring a hard sided cooler to enjoy some fresh foods. I just freeze some meats etc, add ice and only open it to take out that days meal and it usually lasts me 3-4 days in summer, fall winter i can get a week plus easily.

Make sure anyone that goes with you knows how their PFD works!!! Oh, I almost forot, I recommend a helmet if your doing alot of rapids.

Hope this helps some, I do alot of paddling so if you have any other questins feel free to ask.

4:54 p.m. on May 10, 2010 (EDT)
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You absolutely need :

kayak, paddle, good fitting PFD, and a whistle (by law in some states), and water shoes that won't come off your feet

The rest depends on what kind of water you are on, how long you will be out, and what the weather is.

Hot, sunny day---water, sunblock, hat,

wilderness---emergency kit with first aid, map, compass, matches, and lots of etc. and bug spray

night--a light is required, at least somewhere in the boat (by law)

Beginners should be cautious about going out alone.

Do not wear cotton, even in the summer.

Find a way to hook gear to the boat or put it in the hatch.

Cold water/weather requires specialized clothing (paddle jackets, wet suits, neoprene boots, etc. ) Your feet will be in the water at some point.

Whitewater needs a helmet and something to keep eyeglasses on your face. Eventually you will need a spray skirt for serious whitewater III or over.

Get some instruction before you venture out into the ocean. Sprayskirt needed here also.

I'm sure someone else will think of more.....

6:37 a.m. on May 11, 2010 (EDT)
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For many types of paddling, a willingness and readiness to get wet is essential. I see an awful lot of people doing all kinds of acrobatics to get into their boat without getting their feet, never mind the rest of their bodies. But for me, sea kayaking at least is as much an in-water as an on-water sport, and that's obviously even more true with whitewater. Except at the colder ends of the season I always try to do at least a couple of practice rolls, braces etc. as a part of every outing, and even if you don't have a roll yet there's something to be said for doing a wet exit and reentry, not just for the practice but for attitude training. Wet is good! Wet is fun!

11:02 p.m. on May 19, 2010 (EDT)
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Big Red is correct, Tom. A willingness to get wet is a prerequisite. You will go for a swim, and the understanding that it is part of the game, helps you accept it. I kayak occasionally, but I mostly paddle canoes, both for long expeditions and short, adrenaline punching whitewater. As with any sport, getting the right gear, the right instruction, and friends to paddle with are important.

There is a lot to learn, and canoes are less intuitive than kayaks. Why? Kayaks these days, at least the touring kayaks, often will have a rudder. That, plus two paddle blades make it easier to paddle in a straight line. Canoes don't have rudders, and usually are paddled with a single blade.

Canoes have the ability to carry more gear, and they are still the standard for longer trips. They are more versatile in that a tandem canoe can be paddled solo, while a tandem kayak becomes very poorly balanced if you try to paddle it solo.

Wind is more of a factor with canoes than kayaks.

The bottom line is get out and paddle something, safely and with some instruction. Our continent is full of waterways that can get you into places a trail won't, so expand your wilderness connection and paddle.

August 30, 2014
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