Be Green. Or Yellow. Or Blue

By Tom Neale, 7/26/2007


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Kayaks stored on deck of Chez Nous
I’m yellow. My kayak, that is. So is Mel’s. When we got them we wanted them to be very visible, and green doesn’t make much sense from that perspective. But kayaks do make a lot of sense when you start thinking about helping out the planet and also having fun and being on the water. True, most of them are made from one type of “plastic” or another that comes from petroleum, but, short of swimming naked, I can’t think of a much greener way to enjoy the water.

We keep ours on the deck of “Chez Nous” so that they’re with us wherever we go. We carry them upside down to present as little windage as possible. Usually we lash them securely. We learned this lesson early. Kayaks are light and, during our first trip south with them, one went airborne in a moderate squall. The only thing that saved it was that we’d tied its bow line to a hand rail. But tying it down comes easy once you get your method established and keep some lines handy for the purpose.

More and more boaters are taking kayaks along on their larger boats as another form of fun. They’re also great for the kids (if they’re properly trained and supervised). It gives them something to do, a good way of having fun on boating outings, and a sense of freedom from the adults as they paddle around close to the mothership while you’re keeping an eye on them.

It’s important to take measurements and carefully scope out the configuration of the place where you’ll store your kayak on your boat. Storing it in the wrong place can put holes in it, impair your vision, hinder docking or anchoring and lots of other things that aren’t particularly fun. So when you go to the store look not simply for what turns you on but for what you can store well and launch well from your boat. They come in all sorts of sizes and shapes. Usually the size and shape is because of some design purpose (such as speed or stability) other than storage on a mother ship, but if you go to a knowledgeable dealer, they’ll be able to tell you what that’s all about.

Kayakers Who Aren’t Boaters

1. We travel thousands of miles a year on our 53’ motor sailer and we’ve noticed that kayaks on the waterways are proliferating like an algae bloom in the summer. A serious problem with this proliferation is the number of people using them who don’t have a clue about boating.

2. Typically we’ll be in a narrow channel of a waterway, with current and wind. We’ll encounter a bevy of happy kayakers enjoying the world, spread out over the entire channel, oblivious to the fact that anyone else is there or that larger boats may have issues of maneuverability. The kayaks can travel on the side in shallow water, but they’re in big boat water.

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Our kayaks are of the “sit on top” variety. Others call them “ocean kayaks” and various other names. Basically, they’re enclosed and you sit in a cavity on the top. You can surf with them, flip them and even accidentally launch them upside down and water won’t get inside as long as the hatches are sealed well. This sounds uncomfortable compared to the types which have you sitting inside, but they’re very comfortable and for our uses it’s the only way to go and, in my opinion, they are safer.

Be sure you buy one with a strong place to attach a bow line. We have a bow line rigged at all times. It’s needed for hooking up with the mother ship, launching, retrieving and towing. The taller your hull the more of a problem launching can be, because you don’t want the kayak bobbing around and banging into your hull. But modern kayaks are usually light enough so that you may be able to just gently slide it down stern first. If there’s a chafing problem on the gunn’le, a towel placed there can help. You may be able to simply throw it over, with the bow line tied to your boat. The real fun comes with getting into the kayak.

These things are notoriously tippy. Boarding them from a swim platform isn’t such a big deal, although you’ll be surprised at how much of a deal it can be if you aren’t fairly agile. Getting into them from a high freeboard like that of “Chez Nous” is a “whole ‘nother matter.” The trick is that, no matter what point you’re boarding from, you really do need to step in the center of the thing laterally and at the most stable point fore and aft and keep it upright as you lower your back side into the seat, stretch out your legs, grab the paddle and untie the bow line. Obviously, having someone on deck to help is a great benefit, but then that someone will probably have to get aboard theirs with no one else left on deck.

Our method is to load our kayak while it’s on deck (more on this later), place the paddle on deck at the gunn’le where we can reach up and retrieve it once we’re in the kayak, and then to lower ourselves down while hanging on to stays and the gunn’le. Usually this keeps us dry and the kayak upright, but not always. Of course we have a boarding ladder rigged in case it’s needed. You’d be surprised at how hard it is to sit down in a tippy kayak without supporting yourself with something external to the kayak. Some people even have trouble getting into them from a beach. But practice and experimentation can solve most of these types of problems and give you a lot of laughs in the process.

Kayaker explores Ft. Lauderdale

It’s best to practice getting into your kayak on a beach before you start using it. That’ll give you a feel for its stability and how it handles your weight and where you can place your weight. Know up front, that unless it’s a very unusual kayak, you’ve got to keep your weight in the middle. On ours, it’s best to climb or step in to the place designed for you to sit, and carefully adjust the body out from there.

First, learn how to get back into your kayak in deep water if it flips. With help standing by, deliberately flip it while sitting in it. Do this at first in water that’s’ shallow enough for you to firmly touch bottom if you need to but also deep enough for you swim or float without touching the bottom while you’re learning to get in without help from the bottom. You may be surprised at how difficult this is at first, without flipping the kayak again and again. Practice until you’re very proficient at this. Techniques will vary with the kayak, your body weight and dimensions, your strength, whether there are waves (practice in waves) and other factors. And always remember that you need to keep your paddle from drifting away.

The need to board from deep water is yet another reason why we like a “sit on top” kayak. If you turn it over, you don’t have to worry about emptying it of water. Get training from qualified people as to all aspects of usage and safety. This isn’t for people who can’t swim well. Keep in mind that, as you get into the sport more, you’ll be venturing farther and farther from your big boat or the beach and the chances of something going wrong will get higher. Also, the wind can really push a kayak along and you’ll need the strength to paddle against wind and current.

Our kayaks have a cavity in the stern for carrying a scuba tank and a couple of water tight (kind of) hatches where we can store things. We’ve never carried scuba tanks, but we’ve found the tank cavities to be great for carrying other gear and we like them. The gear you carry depends on what you’re doing but, as a minimum, we carry a handheld VHF radio, water and flares. We put the VHF and flares in a waterproof Pelican container although there are other types of containers suitable for this. Our handheld VHFs are of the type which use disposable batteries. I prefer these because we can carry spare batteries. You can’t recharge a rechargeable battery while you’re in a kayak. Taking and wearing a life jacket goes without saying. We attach an ACR WW-3™ whistle to each. Needless to say, the more safety equipment you have the better, and you must be in compliance with whatever laws there are in your jurisdiction. Also take into consideration the type of boat you’re in and what you’re doing. All gear should be securely tied on or stored in closed compartments.

Kayaks are great to have aboard. They’re a fuel free way to extend the pleasures of your boating, to get in some good exercise and to explore places you’d never be able to get into with the mothership.

Copyright 2004-2008 Tom Neale