Although at the time of publishing this article air and water temperatures are still warm – and will remain for a few weeks yet – it’s definitely on the downward trend. For many this signals the end of their kayaking season with paddles and boats hung and stored away until spring next year. And yet, with a little prior planning and preparation this doesn’t have to be the case.
Off season paddling can provide some of the best sessions you’ll experience. Quieter waters, better conditions (e.g. more swell for those into surfing) and in some instances an increase in picturesque paddling vistas (glassy sunrise and sunsets can be amazing during down time months).
Here at Sitons we live by our advice and keep on scooping throughout the whole year. These few tips should keep you afloat and making the most of what’s on offer at this awesome time of year.
Choose your time wisely
When we say ‘choose your time’ we’re talking about the time of day specifically. During autumn, winter and spring the number of daylight hours is reduced significantly. Gone are those late evening paddles which does, unfortunately, reduce the amount of paddling options kayakers will have. With ‘school nights’ usually out it’s most likely weekends where you’ll get your paddling fix.
It’s imperative kayakers are aware what time sunrise, but most importantly, sunsets are likely to occur. From there a better put in window can be decided upon. If you’re planning on covering some ground then make sure you’ve enough light left to actually make it back to your take out. While there’s nothing wrong with paddling in the dark per se it will make things harder. Navigation, especially in open water, can be tricky and if things should go awry then rescue services will have a harder time locating your whereabouts.
Another point to consider is the actual weather. If you’ve waited all week for a session, arranged your scheduled accordingly and sorted out the necessary gear you’ll need there’s nothing worse than having Mother nature conspire against you. During off season months weather can be savage. If you’re chosen put in is looking off limits then there’s nothing wrong with canning it. Have a plan B in place (see point further down page) and all won’t be lost.
Pick your location
Having perused all available weather information – something that should be par for the course whatever the time of year – paddlers will need to pick the location for their session accordingly. It’s unwise to opt for open stretches of water, such as coastal venues or exposed lakes/loughs, when a whirling mass of low pressure is heading your way. A much safer option is to pick a spot that offers shelter from the storm but allows riders to still get a paddle in.
OK, this might not necessarily be what you had in mind, in terms of conditions you’ll be wanting, but far better to have some fun and not end up in a ‘situation’. Rivers, canals and sheltered lakes could provide much needed respite during storms and actually deliver far more fun paddling than you’d initially imagine.
Understand and know how to interpret forecast data
We previously published an article about this very subject which you can see here – www.sitons.com/articles/weather-game-interpreting-forecasts-your-local-spot/. As much as it’s wise to know what’s happening with weather conditions it’s also just as important to have a picture of how this will affect your chosen put in.
Not all spots are the same, which is an obvious point. In some cases certain weather phenomenon can be detrimental to your kayaking enjoyment even when initial weather data appears to be benign. As an example a moderate Nly wind, in the force 4-5 range (16-22 knots) will be offshore at Sitons’ HQ. While on paper this might not seem adverse it’s actually the complete opposite.
Paddlers creeping any distance away from the shoreline will find it increasingly difficult getting back to land. A head wind – even a light to moderate one – will create more resistance (windage) than you’d imagine. Throw an outgoing tide in the mix and the scenario is a recipe for disaster.
Wind and tidal current flowing in the same direction may appear benign – as in the water state looks smooth. In reality, however, the ‘flow’ speed is likely to be double or more – all moving in the wrong direction out to sea. Add the surface headwind to proceedings and you can see why this picture has potential to make a perceived easy paddle session hard work.
Be aware of and know tide times
The worst thing any paddler kayaking in a tidal areas can do is not know tide times. Tidal flows are some of the strongest forces in our world – being ignorant to their power is dangerous. For any kayaker heading out on tidal waters the times of high and low water should be the least amount of info you possess. Being able to identify how these in and out, side to side movements of water will affect you is the next step.
If you want to learn more about basic tidal info then check out the SItons article related to the subject here – www.sitons.com/articles/understanding-tides-basic-guide-open-water-sit-kayakers/
Maintain your equipment
Kit maintenance should be a few checks you undertake BEFORE each outing. Even in high summer it’s worth giving your gear the once over before heading for a float. Check all tie down points, bungee and hatches for leaks. If you’re embarking on touring missions then losing your essentials or getting them wet can spell disaster.
Seat fixtures should also be given inspection and most importantly check over your paddle. Wear and tear on the ‘engine’ will take its toll. Having a paddle fail while miles away from civilisation isn’t ideal. Another reason to maybe carry a VHF, know how to use it and perhaps a spare set of blades if they fit.
Wear correct paddling attire
Cold temperatures will zap any paddler’s strength and energy levels in a short space of time. In winter wearing inappropriate paddling attire could be life threatening. Hypothermia sets in quickly, and in many cases without the knowledge of the person it’s affecting.
In some instances it may be a drysuit (surface immersion suit) with full under layer being needed whereas at other times a wetsuit may be more applicable. Whatever your chosen type of paddling make sure you’re dressed for the job in hand.
Communicate plans with others
Effective communication with people on land is key during winter. In fact, at any time of year. Letting someone know where you’re heading, an approximate length of time you’ll be afloat and when you expect to be back is definitely a good idea.
For those undertaking particularly challenging routes it could also be worth informing the Coast Guard and other water authorities. But also have a plan B in place. Again, that you’ll communicate to others. If your initial paddling ideas fall by the wayside then all won’t be lost with a secondary option in the mix.
Know your limits
Finally, know your limits. Having turned up at your chosen put in, only to be confronted by more extreme conditions than you anticipated, it’s better to can it and live to fight another day – in some cases this final statement can be taken literally!