As the saying goes, ‘stranger things have happened at sea’…

All at sea… …so, when venturing out to sea in a small, ocean-going vessel with a group of guests of varying abilities and experience, if adequate foresight and planning are not applied things can go from smooth, ‘plain sailing’ to chaotic disaster in a split second. Jamie Barrett from Conservation Kayak describes a typical day in the life while focusing on the key safety aspects of open water group paddling.

Safety first

Our absolute priority is always the enjoyment and safety of our group, so there are obviously certain measures and procedures that we must implement before and during every kayak trip. We are somewhat at the mercy of the wind, weather and waves when it comes to ideal kayak trip conditions, so our planning commences a few days before the scheduled excursion. We monitor the weather regularly using various meteorology websites, a weather satellite imaging application and by observing from our veranda, which looks directly out over the area in which we do the majority of our tours. The ‘look out the window approach’ quite often being the most accurate measure.

VHF radio check If the conditions appear good we begin our day by meticulously packing the appropriate equipment to account for all eventualities. The most important safety items being: waterproof VHF radio, waterproof mobile phone, first aid kit, kayak tow lines, sufficient water and food for our longer trips. Once we have everything loaded up in suitable dry bags and coolers we make our way down to the marina, where the trip set up begins in earnest.

First aid kit check

Preparations

The kayaks are carefully taken out of our equipment room and each loaded with an equally-split share of the cargo weight. After the arrival and greeting of our guests we make sure that everyone has applied appropriate sun protection cream (this sounds a little over the top but the harsh Caribbean sun will toast skin to a crisp). We also offer the use of a rash guard. These are specially designed long-sleeved tops that shield the body from the elements and have a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of 50. Next we check that everyone has a water bottle to carry in their kayak during the expedition. We provide ice cold, filtered water to top up along the way – staying well hydrated is crucial when paddling in the tropics. Guests are also given personal floatation devices (PFDs) and we ensure that they are each fitted correctly, to guarantee their comfort and safety.

PFD and tow line secure! When everyone is vested up we move on to issuing the paddles. Consideration is given to the height of each guest so that they are supplied with the optimum length paddle – we pride ourselves on attention to detail!

Paddle waggle chat

Dockside brief

Journeying out to sea in any form of boat it’s always a good idea for everyone to know where they are heading. A clear and concise route briefing is given before departing, using a large map of the area showing all of the appropriate land and sea marks.

Briefing the guests

Route planner

Next we spend some time on the dock going through some kayaking technique. This is tailored to guest’s previous experience and includes essential tips to help them get the most out of the trip. We also mention the standard safety procedures for entering, exiting and re-entering the kayaks – both from the dock and from deep water.

Onto the water

After safely getting afloat we ensure guests are comfortable and in the optimum position for paddling – we help them adjust their seat and foot supports. Next is mastering a few control and steering techniques in the sheltered cove next to our launch before heading off on our adventure. As personal service and safety is our focus we ensure that we have a maximum ratio of ten guests to two guides on each trip. This enables us to provide the best possible care and comfort levels to each of our guests, as we often have groups with wide ranging degrees of ability.

Into the blue Along the route we continue to shepherd our companions under close supervision, whilst still allowing them the freedom to experiment and explore their individual kayaking capabilities. More detailed headings are given as we cruise across the water and we constantly monitor progress and fatigue levels.

Checking out the scenery We’re always ready to help out with advice and tips to help fine-tune technique and ensure a safe and enjoyable trip. If the need arises we are quick to assist those who require a little extra help by rigging up one of our specialised kayak tow-lines. These are worn around the waist of the guide and clip onto the bow of the kayak of the person who needs a tug. Our intention here is not to drag them, but to provide them with some ‘directional inspiration’ to help them on their way.

Finishing up

On returning to the tranquillity of Whisper Cove Marina, we help with unloading the kayaks and help paddlers back onto the dock after a fun filled and safe day out at sea.

Back to base This is a typical day in the life of Conservation Kayak and hopefully highlights some of the procedures and practices we put in place to ensure the safety of our groups. If you are thinking of heading off on your own trip then it will be worth considering some of the points raised in this article. That way you will stay safe on the water and have an enjoyable time during your trip. Conservation Kayak offers personalised, guided kayak trips that focus on the beauty of nature on the Caribbean island of Grenada. Our aim is to help conserve the environment by raising awareness and increasing appreciation of Grenada’s unique ecosystems. Pics: Conservation Kayak and Tez Plavenieks