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Paddle your own. Introduction to paddling, kayaks, canoes and SOTs

By Peter Carter, Editor, Education and Safety Technical Committee PaddleSA

This resource is a PDF book created by Peter Carter based on the flatwater resources for the Paddle Australia Qualification Scheme. It contains the foundation knowledge for paddling on waters described in the Award Scheme Handbook as “areas such as lakes, dams, slow moving rivers, etc.” In other words, waters without rapids of any grade, surf, effects of swell, tidal currents greater than 1 knot, distances greater than 400 metres from shore, and being in the entrance structure to an estuary or embayment.

There are sections about kayaks, canoes, rescues, tips on weather, finding your way, hazards and risks, boat maintenance, knots, and much more! Click on the image below to download the PDF document.

Bookcover of Paddle Your Own

Packing your kayak for overnight trips

By Rob Bowen (April 2012)

The following is an extension on points contained in the April 2006 Splash article by Ross Winters “Packing Your Kayak For Overnight Trips” and an article from SeaKayak Australia “How To Pack Your Double Pittarak Sea Kayak”

What to take (in addition to normal “Equipment List” paddling items)

  • Only bring items that are absolutely necessary for day to day use.
  • One pair of wet shoes and one pair of dry shoes (avoid hiking boots as they are usually bulky and take up too much space.)
  • Remove all excess packaging from food where possible. Place as much as possible in snap-lock bags. More often than not you’ll be carrying all garbage until the end of your trip.
  • Avoid heavy food where possible e.g. canned food, glass containers, milks and liquid soups etc.
  • Bring some fresh foods that will last the first few days.
  • Variety of meals high in carbohydrates. There’s lots of dehydrated meals that just require water to be added when meal time comes, eg. Uncle Bens rice meals.
  • Bring lots of snack foods, e.g.. nuts, muesli/chocolate bars.
  • Water – work on 3 litres per day (covers drinking, cooking and washing) and allow for more/less
    depending on conditions and availability of water en-route. Carry excess water in (preferably)
    collapsible containers – i.e. water bladders – rather than hard plastic bottles.

How to package it all up

  • What are the sizes of hatch openings on your boat? For sea kayaks lots of smaller bags are better than a few large ones – for white water boats and canoes it’s often better to have a couple of large bags only.
  • Segregate your gear into its function as it makes it easier to identify what’s where when in camp, i.e. camp/cooking gear from clothing from food etc. Either colour code bags or label as appropriate.
  • Pack food and clothing into small parcels about the size of an AFL football. The largest bag should be your sleeping bag.
  • Clothes should be packed according to function, eg, gloves, socks, beanie together as they are items that will get/keep you warm; or separate top half of body clothing from bottom half.
  • Food can be divided up a number of ways, eg. Day 1 food, Day 2 food, Day 3 food and so on or you may wish to do it as Day 1 breakfast, Day 1 snacks, Day 1 lunch, Day 1 tea etc – you’ll find what best works for you.
  • Keep hard foods (cans) separate from soft foods (eggs, tomatoes.)

Water proof your gear

  • All items should be water proofed. Generally by using a number of (different sized) dry bags or by using garbage bags. There are lots of different dry bags out there in the market, from the transparent ‘plastic’ ones to various fabrics – I find the Sea to Summit fabric dry bags are durable and work well (and are more ‘dry proof’ than some others) and not as bulky as the plastic style ones. If using garbage bags (say for your sleeping bag) then double bag it with double elastic bands to seal it. These can also be placed inside a pillow case to help protect from tearing when packing.
  • I also use 2 or 3 plastic containers (the Goulburn Valley peaches in juice 1kg screw top ones) to hold things like my camp stove, matches, head torch, repair kit and spare parts.) Gas bottles and cooking pots are packed loose as is.
  • Sleeping bag – I use a synthetic/polyester sleeping bag which should still keep me warm if it does happen to get wet. I stuff it into a 13 litre dry bag just to be safe.
  • Some foods won’t have to be water proofed, eg. apples, oranges, sealed packet foods…
  • Take spare garbage and snap-lock bags.
  • Always work on the theory that you will capsize and it will rain – there’s nothing worse than setting up camp with wet gear and soggy food (and maybe the inability to dry it out.)

Packing your kayak

  • You need to balance your kayak; weight should be distributed evenly from bow (front) to stern (back) and from side to side. Keep the weight low and centred as much as possible.
  • Generally speaking pack small heavy gear up the bow and bulkier gear up the stern, heavier items as near to the bulkheads as possible.
  • Pack you gear into the storage compartments according to need, eg. pack a paddle cag at top of day hatch so it’s accessible while on the water if conditions become windy/wet. Your tent would be one of the last things you need at camp so is one of the first things packed into your boat. On the other hand, lunch should be easy to get to.
  • The narrow ends of the bow and stern should not be wasted – use these areas for things like tent poles, tent pegs, parts of your kayak trolley if yours comes apart into multiple pieces, folding stool, etc.
  • Feel around the compartments as you pack and fill up empty spots with small items.
  • All the gear should be secured against movement and loss.
  • Any remaining space in the compartments may be filled by inflating empty water/wine bladders (which serve as added buoyancy and would normally be fully inflated when paddling your kayak ‘empty’ while on a short day paddle.)
  • Water containers may be able to go in front of your feet in the cockpit and held in by your foot pegs. If so, ensure they will remain in place in the event of a capsize so they do not: 1) fall out and get lost, and 2) interfere with any rescues. Alternatively, there is usually room behind the seat/backrest to strap them in or you could also place in your day hatch (which is considered a ‘wet area’.)
  • Don’t pack too much gear under your kayak deck netting on top of the cockpit as it may get washed away, interfere with rescues and/or cause instability.
  • Ensure you have items like snacks and sun screen handy when paddling (refer paddling Equipment List.)
  • Make sure your hatches are on straight and fitted properly before hitting the water.

Marine VHF coverage in Gulf St Vincent and Encounter Bay

By Peter Carter (2022)

Several VMR organisations monitor Marine VHF in local waters:

SA Sea Rescue Squadron

  • Adelaide (SRA): Daily 07:00–19:00
  • Wirrina: Weekends and public holidays
  • Edithburgh: Weekends and public holidays
  • After hours (by arrangement): Fulham, Hallett Cove

Aus Volunteer Coast Guard (AVCG)

  • CG North Haven: Weekends and public holidays
  • CG Ardrossan: Daily 24 hours, and VMR American River: Daily 24 hours. If both are out, CG Operations may respond.

Victor Harbor–Goolwa Sea Rescue (VHGSR) Hours not stated

All monitor channel 16, with channel 73 as the working channel. VHGSR monitors the Channel 83 repeater, all others the Channel 80 repeater. Along the metropolitan coast, Grange marks the border between AVCG and SRA coverage.

Bear in mind that close in to cliffs, and with only 5W output, you may not be able make contact with these bases on Channel 16 or the Channel 80 repeater. In this case, try to move out to sea or relay through another station.

Coast Radio Adelaide (CRA)

The CRA system is based on 14 Government Radio Network towers and gives coverage along the entire coast, Lower Murray Lakes and Coorong. It monitors Channel 16 and its working channel Channel 67 24 hours a day: 07:00–19:00 by SRA at West Beach, 19:00–07:00 by Flinders Ports at Outer Harbor. In addition, the system is also monitored by Police Water Operations.

CRA is for emergencies only. It will not normally accept routine traffic.

There have been cases where vessels to the east of Backstairs Passage have called SRA on Channel 16 but have been beyond the range of SRA. They can be heard by CRA through the KI-East tower, and the CRA operator may suggest contact via Channel 80. If that is not possible, the CRA operator my act as SRA through the CRA system.

More information

Which boat should I buy? A guide for new paddlers

By Peter Carter (2018)

There is no such thing as a perfect kayak. There are some that go quickly in a straight line, others that spin on the spot, some you can relax in, others that threaten to throw you in at every stroke… Modern kayaks are specialised, and no one craft will do everything well.

It’s size and shape that control performance. Other things being equal, which they won’t be, a longer
boat will be faster, a shorter boat slower. But the shorter boat will turn more easily. A boat with more rocker, the lengthwise curve of the hull, will turn more easily than one with a straight keel. A wider boat will have more initial lateral stability, but a less stable boat will often be more comfortable in a sea. All design is compromise.

Then there is the question of materials. Most recreational kayaks are of rotomoulded polyethylene, a material that can be moulded into complex one-piece shapes. These kayaks are tough and resilient, bouncing off rocks without too much damage. They do tend to be a bit heavier and slower.

Composite craft are made of a fibrous material such as glass or carbon fiber embedded in a resin, polyester (cheaper), vinyl ester or epoxy. These materials are lighter for the same stiffness and therefore produce a slightly faster boat, but one less forgiving of harsh treatment. Being hand made, they are more expensive.

Several manufacturers use a vacuum moulded thermoplastic material. This gives a light craft with a good finish, reasonably tough, and intermediate in cost.

Here are brief details of three classes of kayak.

Touring Kayaks

These are generally between 3.5 and 4.5 meters in length and 60 to 65 cm in beam. The smaller craft, often known as day touring kayaks, may have an aft bulkhead only, unlike the longer boats which will have two, bow and stern. Many will have deck lines. Some of these kayaks come with rudders, which are really an unnecessary complication on boats this size. Rudders are not for steering, but to control directional stability when running downwind. Learn to paddle without.

Touring kayaks are meant for inland waters, so if your aim is to paddle the Murray backwaters, Barker Inlet, and the occasional foray on to a calm sea, these are for you. They’re also ideal craft for learning the skills so a touring kayak is a good choice for a first kayak.

Touring Kayak

All the major manufacturers have at least one in their range, with prices ranging from about $1500.

Whitewater Kayaks

Whitewater Kayak

Here the emphasis is on manoeuvrability, not speed. The short length, 3 to 3.5 m,Here the emphasis is on manoeuvrability, not speed. The short length, 3 to 3.5 meters, flat cross section and lots of rocker suit them to rapids or surf, not distances. As a first kayak you will find them frustrating at first although you will learn some boat control skills quickly.

The diagram shows a river runner kayak, relatively large. Freestyle boats are smaller. Recently on the market are crossover kayaks, essentially large creek boats with bulkheads and retractable fins that make them usable for playing in coastal waters

Sea Kayaks

This is where you do not rush out: prices start at $3000 or so. There’s not just the boat but all the equipment that goes into it: hands-free pump system, compass, spare paddle system, paddle leash, tow system, sail rig… Then there is the choice of rudder or retractable fin, one with many moving parts, the other with only one but some loss of stowage space.

At a length of 5 to 6 meters, these boats are designed to run straight in rough water, to be controllable with the cockpit flooded, to be easy to roll and be rescued.

Several manufacturers now offer shorter (circa 4.5 meters) more rockered boats for playing about in coastal areas. Good fun, and capable of day trips, but not for long expeditions.

Sea Kayak

You can use sea kayaks on inland waters but they do tend to be cumbersome in narrow creeks.

Paddles and other gear

One item you must have is a PFD, often known as lifejacket. You want a Level 50 or 50S PFD designed for paddle sports. Obviously it must fit properly and be comfortable: you will be wearing it for hours at a time. A few pockets can be useful. Buy a PFD first while you’re still trying boats.

The choice of paddle will depend on the choice of kayak. Short paddles go with short kayaks, and also with shorter people. With a day touring boat a paddle about 210 cm will be plenty long enough, while for a sea kayak 220 cm is a better length to start experimenting. Two-part paddles are more convenient for transport, and allow adjustment of feather angle and limited adjustment of length.

Materials, and prices, vary. The lighter the paddle the better, since you will be holding it for hours on end. Cranked shafts can help reduce loads on wrists.

Then there are items of clothing, waterproof bags…

Welcome to kayaking