These are the basic notes I have been using for the "beginners" group paddles. Despite being partly repetetive of the previous article I decided they may be useful for new paddlers who can't make it to one of these paddles, and could even be used a basis for people to set up their own group outings. Plus it's a great an opportunity to remind the more experienced people of some basic things expected of them that will make everyone's paddling safe and enjoyable.
Before you go
Before you leave home check the weather reports - forecast and current actual. Use the weather links at the bottom of the Paddlers home page. Better still phone someone in the area you are visiting. Not foolproof but learn to ask about the stuff that matters to us as paddlers - are there "white horses" visible at sea, is it a gale force wind, are the waves crashing over the sea wall? You get the idea. Notice I only really ask about wind and swell. Rain and sun are also valid criteria but I (should) have protection against both as a matter of course.
At the launch spot. Check the weather. Yes, I know I already said that but now YOU are looking at the waves, YOU can feel the wind and YOU can see the sea. Ask yourself "Do I feel comfortable with the conditions"?
While checking the conditions and waiting for fellow paddlers to change/arrive, use the time to do your warm-up stretches, set your pedals, and give your kayak a safety check, looking for wear and tear in cables and rudder, check seams and dings for sea-worthiness.
It's generally considered good practice to get into your gear and get your kayak ready to launch sooner, rather than hang around chatting. It gives you a chance to check your kayak and gear and then you are free to assist others. It's the done thing to offer to help lift and carry.
If you are just getting started then you may not have all the gear but you must have the basics - PFD, paddle leash, cell phone in a waterproof pouch (so you don't have to take it out of its protection to use please!) as an absolute minimum on an organised group paddle where the leader will have projectile flares. The advantage of an organised group paddle is the leader will generally have everything. On our beginners paddles I have the following in my PFD pocket: cell phone in Aquapac, cars keys in Aquapac, lip salve, knife, head torch, whistle attached to PFD, a couple of metres of cord, strips of Duct Tape, and my Capestorm Helium wind breaker. I have a 2ltr hydration bladder in the back of my PFD (please feel free to email me for further details of any of these items or to ask why?) On/in my kayak I have tow rope, pump with float, fog horn, first aid kit, additional floatation. Added to that I will generally have a dry bag on my deck with the days necessities - sun lotion, hat, snack, camera.
Briefing and Buddy check
Going to sea is considered a dangerous sport. You are responsible for your own safety you should not assume someone else is going to assist you or is even able to assist you. You should not assume that the fit looking guy with the confident smile and the know-it-all attitude knows anything at all - he maybe even less experienced than you. You are the one who must let other paddlers know if you are a novice, or are new to the area, or just feeling unsure. If you think a suggested route is perhaps to far for you, express that doubt out loud and make an appropriate plan (preferably the commitment of a buddie to turn back with you or a get out point) rather than being surprised on the water when you are out of options.
Most experienced paddlers will look out for you if you let them know beforehand that you may need some support. Quicker paddlers can plan a route that deviates from the more sedate paddlers, or simply goes further faster, but merges back with them ensuring everyone is happy and having fun.
If there is a paddle leader they will normally call the group together, outline a route, and plan for eventualities - like a get-out plan or a divergent group scenario. They will (or should) let you know if they think you are out of your depth or going on a day that will prove too testing for you. Don't let anyone push you past your comfort zone, that decision should be yours alone.
On the Water
Don't rush off - it isn't a race. Just head to the first meeting point. Introduce yourself to your fellow paddlers. Learn to paddle and talk - do not stop paddling unless everyone else has. If you are in the front, learn to glance back every minute or so - besides being a great stretch it ensures you don't lose contact with the group. It's also very encouraging for the paddlers at the back of the group who could be having a problem. Think about having a broken rudder or dropped paddle and watching as your fellow paddlers fade off into the distance. Not a pleasant thought is it? A whistle is useful for attracting attention under these circumstances, have you got one?.
The other side of the coin - and it's happened to me twice in group situations - where a front paddler has continued forward on their own, despite the main body of paddlers turning back because of worsening weather and weakened paddlers being unable to continue into a head wind. Afterwards the "leading" paddler has complained that he was left alone, completely ignoring the fact that it was his lack of attention to his fellow paddlers that created situation. In big groups it is very useful to be able to use your cell phone (or line of sight radios) to contact other paddlers on the water because you can advise the leading group of any course changes or a turn back.
The general idea is that you always have a buddy. No one paddler is left alone. This vital on long distance paddles where the group is more likely to be spread out. On good weather days the buddy can be line of sight. It is very important to buddy up in bad weather where having a helping hand nearby in the case of a paddler being out of their kayak or in need of raising the alarm in a worst case scenario is fundamental.
- Weather check before leaving home
- Check conditions at launch site
- Be on time - prepare quickly
- Safety check gear and kayak (should be done at loading and unloading)
- Warm up
- Briefing, Route plan and buddy check - voice your limitations and concerns
- On the water. Keep your position relative to the rest of the group.
- Be considerate to others using the sea.
- Have a great paddle