Here are some tips on how to have a good day on the water. It’s all about the planning and being aware of the environment you’re heading into. But perhaps the most important thing first up is to know your own ability and comfort level, and to judge each of these aspects with that in mind.
Check the weather forecast before all your paddle trips. There are many great weather sites out these days to help with your decision making on when and where to paddle. Some of our favourites are:
Check the forecast for the planned length of your paddle plus for the couple of hours after your planned return, just in case you are delayed. A decreasing wind forecast is a better for paddling than an increasing wind forecast. This way, if you get to the beach and it’s OK to go out you can be pretty confident it won’t get worse. Avoid paddling on days with an increasing wind forecast that is outside your comfort zone – if you get delayed you could be in trouble.
Check the wind direction and how it will affect your paddling destination. Will you have cover from the wind (eg paddling along cliffs that will protect you from the wind) or will the wind be blowing straight onto you? It’s good to have a few different paddling locations that are good in different wind directions.
Wind direction can also cause issues if it changes during your kayak. Generally, it's better to paddle into the wind then use it to help you back rather than tire yourself going out and then have to fight the wind on your return.
To get confidence, don’t go out in winds more than 10 knots when you are beginning and especially when paddling without an experienced paddler. As you gain more confidence you can start to test yourself in slightly stronger winds.
Consult marine forecasts to see how big the waves will be. Kayaking in bigger waves than you are comfortable with can cause you to capsize. Also be aware that on a kayak you are very close to the water so a half metre wave can seem bigger and more imposing than it actually is. An experienced kayak surfer may have no trouble riding a 1-2 metre wave. A novice kayaker should probably stay in water that's calm (no wind) or has small 30cm waves but be aware, even a "small" wave can upset a kayak if you're inexperienced. Only you can know what kind of waves you are able to handle.
Check with local outdoor recreation/boating/dive/kayak shops for inside knowledge on the area you will be kayaking in. If you are aware of currents in an area where you will be kayaking, you can also get the latest tidal current charts. It's easy to be caught kayaking in what seems to be calm waters only to find yourself in a current, and a spot of bother.
Check the temperature to ensure you are correctly dressed for comfort and safety. Broad brimmed hat and sun shirts for hot weather and thermals, fleeces and waterproof clothing for colder weather. Hot temperatures can also bring on an afternoon sea breeze. In places like the River Derwent in Hobart what is a perfect calm and warm morning can quickly become a rough and windy afternoon paddle.
A little bit of cloud and rain is not all bad for kayaking, as long as you are dressed for the weather. Waterproof kayaking gear will keep you warm and toasty and getting out in a bit of rain is a lot of fun. In warmer climates it can also be refreshing relief from heat as you aren’t getting baked by the sun.
Take note what the clouds, waves and wind are doing when you get to your paddling destination. Occasionally even with the best research before you leave home, the wind or waves may be doing something different to what was forecast. If it looks to be out of your comfort zone – don’t launch your kayak!
While you are on the water continue to be aware of what's happening with the clouds. Cirrus clouds are the highest clouds you'll see and can signal turbulence coming in the next day or two. If cirrus clouds develop wispy tails you can be certain of turbulence. Thicker lower clouds are signs of wet weather developing. Dark, rolling clouds with ragged edges on the bottom indicate thunderclouds and you should certainly get out of the water if these are heading in your direction.
Planning and preparation will always give you better chance of a brilliant day on the water.
17th Feburary 2017