If you’re looking for a new way to explore the seas (although it probably should be close to land if you’re a first-timer) then sea kayaking might just be your perfect paddling pastime. There are a number of different types of kayaking, and it’s worth exploring all the options before you make a decision, so why not read about them in our PLAY article on the subject?
Sea kayaking is certainly one of the most rewarding ways to spend a day on the water, although once you’ve confirmed it's the one for you, there are several things you’ll need to know and get prepared before your first trip to the water. In this article we’ll look through the essential equipment and information, so your day can be as smooth a paddling as possible (even when the weather isn’t).
Equipment you'll need
Before we get into essential equipment for sea kayaking beginners, it’s important to note that with your first foray into the pastime, it may not be worth purchasing a kayak straight off. Whether you borrow from a friend or rent from a shop nearby, it’s mostly about developing your skills as a sea kayaker, not spending money on a demanding exercise you realize may not be for you. When you make your first sea kayak purchase, you’ll want it to last you, and picking up that you realize doesn’t actually suit your kayaking style, or you’ve already outgrown it. As you do begin to develop your sea kayaking from a beginner's status, looking for a kayak that is a good middle ground and fulfills the type of kayaking experience you are looking for.
- A kayak. While Sea Kayaking beginners may not necessarily need a top of the range vessel when they are just starting out and should be okay with a recreational or touring kayak. However, as a beginner, it’s certainly worth knowing what makes a good sea kayak. They tend to have a higher cruising speed, a larger carrying capacity, and typically covered sit inside designed decks and the chance to add a spray skirt to keep you dry, which provides more comfort for long days out on the water. Sea kayaks are also often of a longer build to ensure easier straight-line paddling, and usually include a skeg or a rudder. These are fin-like add-ons that sit below your kayak and improve your track abilities and paddling in strong ocean currents and heavy winds.
- A paddle. Another important part of your sea kayaking experience. Without it, you’d just be stranded at sea, sitting on a kayak. Paddles for kayaks differ from canoes as they have blades on both sides, and a middle grip so you can circulate when paddling. Similar to the actual kayak, a beginner can start with a reasonably priced entry level paddle, with a plastic handle and aluminium shaft. However, as you start to develop your sea kayaking skills, you’ll want a paddle that works best with your technique, and causes you minimal fatigue. Find the perfect paddle with our PLAY article on the subject.
- Safety equipment. If you’re choosing the sea kayaking option, it’s vital you either purchase or rent a well fitting buoyancy aid. The very nature of kayaking does mean that you will end up in the water, regardless of your ability. The fact you will also be in the sea, which can be massively affected by changing currents and weather, makes it all the more important. The minimum requirement when sea kayaking is to wear a beginner’s buoyancy aid, although to be safe and secure, you’re better off with an intermediate standard. Why not check out what’s on offer in our buoyancy aid range? It’s also definitely worth your while to purchase a helmet when sea kayaking, whether you’re a beginner or a pro.
- Additional. While some of these can be classed as essentials and others will depend on how long you plan to be out on the water, they’re items that a smart sea kayaking beginner would bring along with them. Sea kayaks generally have good storage capacity, so there should be no reason why you wouldn’t be able to bring most of these with you (if not you can bring a waterproof container). The first of these is a bottle of water. Sea kayaking can be tough work, and you need to stay hydrated as much as possible, so having a bottle of water will be a great help. Also, depending on the weather, sun protection is so important. Whether this is in the form of lotion, sunglasses, a hat, keeping your top half covered to avoid burning, or all of the above, the sea is one of the most vulnerable places you can be in terms of feeling the effects of the sun beating down on you. To keep your energy up, bringing snacks (such as dried fruit and granola bar), is another great step for a day out on the water. It is of course wise to bring a first aid kit, just in case an accident should occur.
River Kayaking vs Sea Kayaking
On the surface, they’re fairly similar. However, once you’ve tried both, the differences between River and Seek Kayaks will be clear. First of all, the Sea Kayaks are much more narrow and made to go straight, whereas River Kayaks are shorter and flatter which means quicker turning, as to handle river bends. Sea Kayaks do sometimes feel like they could capsize at any moment, but in reality, they’re much better at dealing with windy conditions and choppier waters, and you’re less likely to spend time falling into the water. Kayaking down a river requires far more maneuverability, and because of this is built to be easier to ‘edge’ into turns.
Not just the design of the kayaks that make the activities different. It’s also an experience. With varying speeds and tempos as you go, River Kayaking is described as an adrenaline sport, and involves different levels of paddling, whereas having to work with and against the waves, means that Sea Kayaking is seen as more of an endurance-based activity.
Key Tips for Beginners
We’ve already discussed the types of safety gear that are essential for all sea kayakers, whether you’re a beginner or not. However there are a number of other safety aspects to the world of sea kayaking that beginners should be aware of before they set off for the water. It’s important to remember that while none of these are here to scare you off, they’re vital to think about to ensure you and your sea kayaking group have both a safe and enjoyable experience.
Although solo Sea Kayaking certainly exists, it is not something we would recommend for beginners. By going in a group, you not only have a lot more fun and can give each other tips on how to improve, but it does mean you can support each other if one of you falls in and can come to group decisions if the weather takes a turn. Also, even when you go in a group, make sure you let others know that you are off to the water, and bring a fully charged phone, so you can both contact people and be able to be contacted.
Weather and Water conditions
All safety precautions are a must, be when it comes to sea kayaking (or any sea-based activities), this is more than a must. It’s a double must. Sea kayaking can be a workout when the weather’s good, so it’s certainly worth checking the forecast before you head off. If it looks like there’s a chance of the weather turning, it’s time to call off the kayaking trip, especially if you’re a beginner. Get used to checking the weather conditions every time you plan to head to the water, and you’ll be able to approach the water with the necessary confidence.
Practicing on a river
Although they are different (see our River vs Sea Kayak section), as a beginner, it may well be worth going for a river paddle before you head out to the sea. This will be a good way of getting your paddling technique down a tee and means that when you do finally head to the salty sea water, your muscles and techniques will better adapt to what may be a tiring experience. It should also mean as a beginner you’ll be more used to falling out of your kayak, and in turn, finding it much easier climbing back in. It may sound strange, but in terms of your development on a kayak, being used to getting wet and being able to quickly get back on board is an underestimated skill.
If you aren't hugely interested in spending time paddling along a river before you hit the sea, but also want to get your technique correct early on, it’s worth seeing if you can get lessons. Spending a day with a professional instructor will both get your paddling skills up to a good standard, and be able to take you out and show you the ways of the water.