Top Tips for Safer Kayaking

Kayaking is safe to the extent to which you make it. If you are going on a kayaking trip, you can have a great dry time, throughout the day. Still, as is the case with all other sports, it is important to take the time to think about and prepare for some of the hazards that you are likely to encounter when kayaking.

Why not book yourself on kayak tours in Lagos and enjoy kayaking in the waters in this beautiful part of the world.

Real Vs. Perceived Risk

Real vs. perceived risk is a term used in professional outdoor and extreme sports for determining how to prepare and avoid real danger vs fear.

Perceived risk refers to how scary or dangerous a situation appears to be. For instance, rappelling off a 90-feet cliff is viewed as scary and high risk due to the fall factor and almost certain death in case of a fall. While we are aware that it seems scary, we know that the probability of being harmed is quite low due to the use of safety gear.

Real risk refers too how inherently dangerous something actually is. For example, driving a car is something with a perceived low risk but actually has a real high risk. People often don’t think much about the possibility of harm, but it is relatively high. Kayaking on a calm river has a low real risk and a low perceived risk while paddling in white-water rapids has a high real risk and perceived risk factor.

One of the most important lessons to remember is understanding and learning the real dangers associated with kayaking. So, no matter what trip you are going on, it is important to know how to properly manage risk and ensure your safety and that of those around you. Read on for some important tips for staying safe when kayaking.

Avoid Hypothermia by Dressing Appropriately

Hypothermia translates as low temperature. Simply put, it is a physiological reaction to the drastic increase or decrease of the core temperature of the body. Water is one of the fastest ways to decrease the core body temperature and extended contact with cold water drains body heat faster than either snow or ice.

Fortunately, it is possible to avoid hypothermia by wearing the right clothes, which could mean wearing a dry suit for extreme conditions or even a 4mm+ neoprene wetsuit, gloves, hood, and boots. If you plan to do just some recreational paddling, you should consider avoiding paddling in the colder months if you are either nervous about spending time on cold water or you are a beginner.

Instead, you may consider paddling close to the shoreline, wearing the right clothes, paddling with a partner, and always ensuring that you have spare clothes stored in a dry bag should you capsize and have a flask that contains a hot drink in your kayak and another one waiting in the car.

If You Get a Cold Shock, Keep Calm

A cold shock refers to when the body reacts adversely to a drastic temperature change. The whole nervous system gets overstimulates and stops functioning properly. Water even 15 degree C or below can have a severe effect on your body.

Wearing the right gear and not panicking is always the best solution. It is also important to acclimatize yourself with cold water prior to paddling, but ensure that you do that with a partner at hand and perhaps a buoyancy aid and safety line.

You can still be affected by cold shocks even if you know how cold the water is and panicking may worsen the situation. Swimming is usually the worst option in open, fast flowing water, so try floating, slowing your breathing and keeping calm before you attempt to climb back onto the kayak.

Avoid Sweepers

Sweepers are those low overhanging branches and obstacles that jut out into a paddling zone. You should avoid such whenever possible since they can be deceptively dangerous and may even cover strainers, which are obstacles similar to sweepers under the water that can prevent your kayak from passing through and may even trap you below the water’s surface.

It may be funny to limbo under low hanging tree branches, but if you have misjudged the speed and somebody is hit by a branch on the face, everybody loses their balance, and your boat capsizes. What you originally intended to be a laugh has quickly escalated into a real danger that may get potentially worse if the current pins the boat, you, or both you and the boat to a tree.

Avoid Strainers

Strainers can be quite dangerous since they are submerged trees that are harder to spot under the water’s dark surface. In the complex tangle of debris, you can easily find yourself caught in the undercurrent and it is almost impossible to fight the force of the current underwater because you are strained against the mesh of debris.

If you are ever unfortunate enough to find yourself in the unavoidable situation of hitting a strainer, you should lean into it. Avoid leaning upstream because this may cause the upstream edge of your kayak to tip down and perhaps even flip over, which is a worst-case scenario.

Fortunately, it is possible to avoid such by educating yourself as well as the rest of the paddlers in your party on how to identify them. Scout ahead for treacherous runs and watch out for such. You should also carry a cutting tool with you always that’s tethered to your buoyancy aid to help you get out of tricky situations.

If You Capsize, Stay Calm

In the water world, an undercut refers to an area of the bank, mud banks, or rock ledges on rivers that create a large shelf and create a hollow depression under water. A swimmer that’s submerged may get trapped beneath a solid shelf under the surface of the water. Undercuts are typically not visible from above the water and when you find them it is almost always too late.

Always wear your buoyancy aid and paddle with a partner when kayaking. If you ever get trapped once you capsize, try and think and feel your way out of the situation. Keep your cool. If you are heading to a new area that you might not be too familiar with, paddle with somebody that knows the river to avoid finding an undercut accidentally.

Carefully Navigate Weirs

If you don’t know this, a weir refers to a man-made river obstruction for managing river levels in areas where a full dam is not appropriate. The hydraulic, which is a self-circulating water current that traps submerged swimmers in an unending re-submersion cycle is deadly monster that lives on a river’s downstream. It might appear shallow and easy to navigate, but you should not be deceived.

The best advice is to avoid weirs altogether. Paddle around weirs and treat them with respect if you don’t want them to get you. Pull ashore and portage around weirs. It is never worth it to take them on. If you ever find yourself facing a hydraulic, relax and swim outwards and adopt a ball shape where the current flows out of the repetitive cycle hoping to be spat out. Keep in mind that with all hydraulics, simply because the water does not appear to be “boiling” the danger may still be lurking deep below the surface.

Wear Sun Protection, Even During Winter

Sun protection might not seem as important as winter comes along, but it is still possible to get windburn when the sun burns you but the cold wind makes you think it isn’t hot enough. Autumn is usually gray and cloudy but winters can be clear and bright, so never forget to protect the face. Excessive exposure to the sun may lead to several health issues including heat exhaustion, heat stroke, and even dehydration. You will need to take care if you’re enjoying kayak tours in Lagos, Portugal or somewhere equally as warm and sunny.

When you are paddling, there’s usually little to no shelter from the sun. Beware of the reflected sunlight from the surface of the water since it can lead to more problems besides those previously discussed through a lack of clear vision. During summer, it is advisable to wear sunglasses, a wide-brimmed sun hat, lightweight pants and long-sleeved shirts, and sunscreen. During winter, you typically wear a full-body wetsuit, which means that you only have to apply sunscreen to the face, but sunglasses and a hood or woolly hat on the suit can be beneficial too.

Ensure That Your Buoyancy Air or PFD Fits

What you may refer to as a life jacket is actually known as a Personal Floatation Device (PFD) or buoyancy aid since it won’t save your life but rather simply helps you stay afloat. Understanding how the buoyancy aid works and making sure that you buy the right size is critical to improving your chances of survival. Ensure that the PFD is rated for the proper weight and size for the job. Have somebody check the fit by placing 2 fingers under each shoulder strap and lifting firmly. The shoulder straps shouldn’t slip past the ears.

Avoid Wearing Items Around the Neck

It is advisable never to wear items around the neck such as lanyards, necklaces, or map cases since they add to the danger. You obviously don’t want to capsize and have something around our neck get caught too. Find other solutions to carry your kit such as a pocket on the PFD, a dry bag, or tether things to your kayak. If you wear glasses, you can avoid wearing them if possible, otherwise, invest in a tether that does not sit around the neck.

Hopefully, you have gained some new and insightful tips about safe kayaking. You need to educate yourself on the sports to ensure that you have a great fun time on the water.

About the Author

I'm Rodney Heaton and I love hunting in the wild. In the past, I was in the military for over 5 years. After that I became a licensed hunter and a mountain guide.