Trip Leader’s Responsibility [35]

By Ross Winters

To lead a group of paddlers on a day or weekend trip is one of the great thrills you can experience as others in the group put their faith in your skills and expertise. With this faith comes a responsibility. I have been paddling whitewater and sea kayaking for about 15 years now and in the last 5 years I have been leading trips regularly. Over time, I have learnt a lot (and am still learning) and it is only now that I really appreciate the dangerous nature of the sport which I love. Please don’t be fooled in thinking that sea kayaking is safe, I believe it is much more dangerous than white water kayaking as the dangers are better disguised (but that’s another article).

One of the reasons I paddle with a club, rather than by myself, is the safety margin that a group provides. But if you don’t stay together, or work together as a group, then you may as well save your money and not be a member of the club. Leading the group can be broken into two parts – One who co-ordinates all the land arrangements i.e. boat loans, carshuffles etc. – and on the water Trip Leader.

The on the water trip leader is normally the person in the group who has the most experience and has the ability to ensure that group works. Learning to lead trips is a similar evolutionary process to learning to kayak – you start out timidly and then slowly master the basics (paddling strokes, bracing, balance), before progressing to advanced skill like rolling.

The following It is not designed as a rule book, but as a list of things that I have found that I tend to do when I am leading trips so please use it as a guide only. Every one can lead trips and I hope this article will help you to take the next step and start leading trips


  1. The leader acquires some basic knowledge of the area, including likely hazards as well as exit points. There is nothing more disheartening than to be paddling along and waves start to break straight ahead on a bomborah you knew nothing about. Basic information can be gained from coastal maps and sea charts. Another good information source is the local fishing shop or co-op. Always identify possible landing sites that can be used if things don’t go as planned – before starting out – as it is nearly impossible to have a detailed look at a map in big seas
  2. The leader checks that people on the trip have the paddling ability to complete it safely. For people new to the club it is best to determine this well before the trip as it can be difficult to tell someone they can’t do the trip after a 5 am start and 4 hours of driving to the put in point. All trips that are advertised have a level grading and at the difficult end of the scale, it is vitally important to determine paddlers capability. If in any doubt about new paddlers’ abilities ask them to do an easier trip first to see how they perform.
  3. Details of the trip and expected finish time should be left with someone responsible who can notify authorities if serious problems are encountered. This could be a partner or other member. Don’t forget to contact them after the trip! Spending an unplanned night on a beach (or river) is a common occurrence and, I believe, part of the adventure of paddling in remote areas, so this should be no cause for alarm. Callout time should be left with the responsible home person, but as a guide call out times are a day for overnight trips and 4hrs for daytrips.

    If you have a portable marine radio, then a further precaution can be to notify the Coast Guard. But don’t rely on them as only limited details can be left and reception is not guaranteed.

  4. The leader checks that paddlers have the right clothing for safety. This is especially important for beginners. Buoyancy vest, correct fitting spraydeck, helmet or hat, secure footwear and appropriate clothing (i.e. thermal underwear, woollens, spray jacket, wetsuit) to stay warm in all anticipated conditions or the reverse for hot days, sunhat cream, spare water etc. Less experienced paddlers will often get colder than more experienced paddlers because they often timidly wait around while others play and explore, plus they tend to swim more often. Spare dry clothing should also be carried to increase warmth, or if a walk out is necessary. Beaches become very cold and windy places when you have to wait for a car shuffle. Most canoeing books detail appropriate clothing for paddling.
  5. The leader checks that paddlers have the basic personal safety gear. Boats should be up to scratch with decklines front & rear, grabloops and positive buoyancy (i.e. bulkheads and waterproof hatches and/or foam or airbags), and whistle. Should any delays be encountered, spare clothing, basic shelter such as a large plastic bag or reflective foil blanket and food make waiting more enjoyable.

    I never use to take basic survival gear on whitewater day or sea trip until about three years ago when I did a day trip on the Nymboida River. We were given some bad information about an access point that didn’t exist and spent a cold night sleeping by the river. I still laugh when I think of 12 hungry people dividing up a cherry ripe in 12 even portions as lunch on the second day. Since then I carry in my first aid kit (goes on every paddle) basic survival gear (thermal blanket, compass duck tape) and when I pack for a day trip, I always throw in extra food.

  6. The Leader ensures that group safety equipment is carried. Tow ropes, first aid kit, matches & metho, spare paddles, tarp, map and compass, watch, whistle. These are only really needed when you don’t have them! These items should be easily accessible for quick use.
  7. Check the weather. Nearly every accident report I have read, I find that the weather or change in weather had a part to play in the accident. CHECK the weather report each day before leaving and if required alter you trip accordingly (let the responsible home leader know)
  8. Before getting on the water the leader briefs the paddlers on what to expect on the trip and his/her decisions about safety should be respected. This is the most important part of trip planning. As the leader, you have done all the above planning and know of problems you are likely to encounter – but know one else in the group knows unless you communicate it to them. Also identify where the safety gear is and the front and last person.

On the Water

  1. The leader takes into account the slowest or least experienced paddler and then sets this pace for the group. Some people may need more time to adjust to the conditions and approach a tossing sea with a degree of trepidation (read fear!). It is important to allow people to paddle the conditions at their own pace, ensuring they are not pushed into paddling conditions that are bigger than they can handle, simply to follow other faster paddlers. It can be hard to keep the faster paddlers with the group but it needs to be explained to “speed demons” that If the paddle is advertised as a beginners trip, then everyone should be paddling at beginners pace and not at racing pace- Another way is to pair up a “speed demon” with a beginner and get them to teach basic skills to them.
  2. The leader nominates a back person and keeps an eye out for him/her. The leader is normally in the lead and the last person (back person) is the second best paddler, then your other good paddlers spread throughout the group. The rest of the group keep within co-ee of the two. If any problems occur then help is close at hand. When conditions become bad, the distance between paddlers reduces, so as to maintain contact. If the distance reduces to a state where there is a possibility of collision, then it’s about time to think “should we be here”.

    I have found that group size of 4-10 people is manageable, If there is more than this number of paddlers, then split into small individual groups with each group having a leader and backperson.

  3. The leader ensures that no dangerous area like a gauntlet, tidal rip or surf break is run “blind”. Take at least 5 min to watch a “set” come through and see what is happening. It is easier to wait and see what is happening rather than trying to do a rescue. This is vital for when there is a big range of skills in the group. A plan of attack needs to be worked out and communicated to every one in the group. You would never paddle a grade 4-5 rapid without looking at it, but people don’t even pause to check out a nasty gauntlet or surf zone, when both can have the same level of danger! After a hard days paddle and the surf landing is all that is left between you and a cold beer, it is tempting to run things blind – But remember, the beer tastes horrible if you are doing fibreglass repairs at the same time!

    Remember when you are a leader, it is because you have the most experience and skills. If you get in trouble who’s going to help you? Play it safe.

    Last year while enjoying the sea caves at Jervis Bay, I went straight into a cave that I had been in many times before. I didn’t realise it at the time but the next set followed me in. A fair bit of scraping and bashing of the boat and me resulted, and I left that cave shaken but wiser.

  4. When the group is running a difficult or dangerous gauntlet or beach landing /exit, the leader directs proceedings. This includes directing experienced paddlers to a safe “catching” positions, whether it is on the beach waiting to catch boats and swimmers or if it is a good paddler who is waiting in the lee of rocks so he can help if things go wrong. Photography or videos should be the third priority!

    While most experienced paddlers love surfing and running gauntlets, beginners are afraid of these zones. By taking precautions it not only means that rescues can be done quickly and easily, but it also allows beginners to try more difficult situations knowing that if they make a mistake they will have help close at hand, Remember, swimming in the surf or in gauntlets is dangerous and even can be life threatening, so take precautions before the group is committed and always look after a swimmer first, then gear. If the surf is great you can always come back later.

  5. If rescue is necessary, the leader directs this quickly and safely, mobilising other members of the group into swift action. It is important for rescues to be effected quickly and someone must take charge to ensure everyone knows what they should be doing. Communication is the key. Two good friends I know, owe their life to their paddling friends quick action after they became trapped under water and stopped breathing. Team work saved their lives.

    Remember the whitewater rescue rule – when a person is underwater they will be of help for 30 seconds – after 2min you will need to resuscitate then up to 10 min when major brain damage has occurred. SO BE QUICK Hypothermia can be a problem when rescues occur for both the rescued person and the group if they have to wait around.

  6. The leader keeps an eye on all members of the group and ensures they stay together as a group. On a trip to Montague Island I remember about 30? people charging down the beach and leaving for the 10km sea crossing. To this day I have no idea of how many people went on this trip, it might as well been an individual paddle not a club paddle. One paddler became very sea sick and required one paddler to support him while both paddlers were being towed. The scary part of this story was that over half the group didn’t know anything had gone wrong until they saw them land an hour latter. What would of happened if the sick paddler was the last in the group ? The point is that you paddle with a group to reduce the dangers.

    It is very hard to keep track of a group bigger than 8-10, so when their are a lot of people, break up into smaller groups (target number is 6) with a leader and back person.

  7. The leader knows when to quit. Gauntlets and beach landings should not be paddled in the dark when there are non experienced paddlers as it is difficult to see and judge the waves & other hazards. In addition, if someone gets into trouble you just won’t see them. Night paddling has a whole new set of safety rules and is not for intermediate paddlers. If you want an idea of what it can be like, blindfold yourself (quick release) and do a surf landing. If sea conditions become such that it can no longer be paddled safely due to wind swell or chop, the party should take the quickest and safest method out of there including finding some where to land quickly, then either walk out or camp the night. Hopefully everyone has the necessary gear for this -. Unexpected walk outs or bivouacs are part of the fun and adventure of kayaking, if you are properly prepared!
  8. The leader also has the responsibility to direct someone to land and walk out (or turn back) if it becomes clear that they will be unable to complete the trip in safety. This is one of the hardest things you will have to do as a leader, but remember, the safety of the group is only as strong as it’s weakest link. Of course it is better to ascertain someone’s skill level well before they get on the water.
  9. The leader sets the example and helps with moving gear & boats. We are lucky in Australia and we always tend to land on sandy beaches. But when you land on rocks or boat ramps with boat, paddle & wobbly feet at the end of a long day you are more likely to slip on rocks (could mean a serious injury), A helping hand reduces the chances of injury, especially when people are cold and tired. Many hands make light work.
  10. The leader lets someone know the group is safe. As the leader has already let someone responsible know the details of the trip, he or she should give this person a call. The purpose of this is not just to gloat over what a great trip they missed (don’t hold back, though, still do this!) but rather, to simply let them know the trip finished safely.

This not an exhaustive list so if you have any additions or comments please submit these to the editor so we can continue our focus on safety.

This article is based on an article that Danny Davis wrote for SPLASH , the monthly journal of the River Canoe Club of NSW about safety aspects for white water paddling, my experiences, and other NSWSK club members experiences. If it has made you think or argue over any of the points, then I recommend that you buy or borrow a book on kayaking safety that you can find in your local kayak shop or better still attend a proficiency course. The safety principals for white water are the same for sea kayaking, just different challenges & methods of adaptation

Training Notes [35]

Support Strokes

By David Winkworth

At our last “Next Step” Training Weekend, we covered support strokes in a skills session which included turning. Unfortunately there was a bit too much in the session for all paddlers to absorb so I thought we’d split up support strokes and turning and just deal with support strokes first. No matter what the skill in kayaking that you are learning, you will certainly benefit by getting out there in your boat and practising it. Now that we’re in winter, wear your warm gear and pick a sheltered spot to practise. Use water about a metre or so deep so you can brace up off the bottom if you go too far.

OK, what is a support stroke?…….It’s any paddle manoeuvre that you can use to keep your boat upright. Simple.

Let’s look at recovery first – that is…how can you best ensure that your support stroke finishes with your boat remaining upright?…The answer is : throw your head and upper body WAAAYYY back onto the back deck. Do it with effort and aggression! If you can adjust your backrest, back it off so you can lean further back..

1. Leaning way back

This leaning back is bringing all your upper body weight closer to the axis of rotation of your boat…and it’s making the work that your paddle has to do to support you so much less….so give yourself a break! (See photo 1 in my series of daggy pics)

Another way to support yourself is to use all the shaft – don’t think that your hands have to stay in one position Give yourself more leverage . Use all the paddle shaft! See photo 2. Experiment with what works best for you.

2. An extended paddle shaft

The simplest support stroke is a slap support stroke….and that’s all it is…a slap on the water with the back of your paddle blade – hands and arms are above the paddle shaft. When you practise this stroke, make sure that your kayak is actually leaning over – many paddlers just keep their boat upright and slap the water. You don’t need to slap the water if your boat is upright! Agreed? Use the recovery lean back position to help yourself up too.

Let’s move on the low brace. This is a stroke you may use to steady the boat if you are beam on to low surf waves or to steady the kayak as a tug boat wake passes under you. Some important points for this brace are:

  • use back of blade – just rotate hands forward. Move hands along shaft if you like
  • hands and arms are above the shaft.
  • keep shaft close to your PFD – get on top of the paddle shaft
  • putting the blade 10cms or so under the water and locking your arms rigidly will give your boat great stability Try it!
  • Never never never never rest your paddle shaft on the cockpit coaming. If your blade is under the water and a wave rocks the boat you will easily snap the shaft.

See daggy pic No. 3.

3. The low brace, elbows high

Moving right along we come to the high brace. This brace is most often used in surf to support the kayak when it is beam on to broken waves. You can also use it to “pull” yourself over a wave about to break when you are beam on to it. It is an important stroke . It is also a difficult stroke to practise effectively in flat water because it requires water moving past the blade to support the blade and of course YOU!

The basics of this stroke are:

  • use face of blade – rotate hands back from normal forward paddling grip.
  • hands and arms are below the shaft
  • keep shaft close to your PFD and arms tucked in. Never let paddle shaft go
  • over your head. Serious shoulder injury could result in surf.
  • a good fitting cockpit is essential.

In practising this stroke, hold paddle horizontally with shaft about level with your chin, then lean boat over until paddle hits the water. Pull down hard and lean back. As you become proficient at that lean angle, raise “bracing” blade until it is pointing up at 45 degrees or so. See daggy pic No 4.

4. The high brace, elbows tucked in!

One last addition to the high and low brace is sculling which is just moving the blade back and forth on or in the water to increase support. Thus these strokes become known as “sculling support strokes”. Easy ain’t it?

For sculling to work effectively we need the leading edge of the blade to be tipped up slightly so that it is effectively planing through the water. Naturally the leading edge of the blade will change as the blade is moved back and forth.

We also need speed for the blade. Too slow and we get no extra support with the sculling motion. Also necessary is that the arc of the blade in the scull is no less than about a metre. Any less and the blade will not have the speed through the water to support you and you’ll go for a swim! Definitely a stroke for practice

With practice, you’ll be able to scull your boat right over on its side, lean back and pop up! See daggy pic No. 5.

5. The sculling high brace

Master these strokes and you have a reliable eskimo roll in the bag because a roll is simply a sculling high brace with lean back done from underwater! Amazing! See you at the Rock ‘ n Roll Weekend!

Shark Island [35]

By Yeuko Ogawa

As I woke up early in the moming I knew it was going to be a good day. Michael Maleedy came over and was ready to paddle to Shark Island. We put the canoe and the double on the car, and set off for Double bay.

We started paddling to Shark island meeting Carlos and Norm Sanders on the way, then dodging a few rocks we managed to land on Shark Island. We picked up broken glass and plastic bottles.

Some of the people who came to shark island were Kayak designers and other people were Kayak shop owners, as other people were Olympians, racers (white water, Flat water and out rigger).

As the day went by more and more people started to land on the island. There were over 60 boats there and 3 people in a canoe capsized. My sister and I were collecting the landing fee, every one else was talking or eating their lunches Them were people inspecting each others kayaks and sharing their experiences. The weather was great.

Larry Gray the Guest Speaker arrived, ate his lunch and spoke about his incredible joumey in the Northern Territory. Andrew Eddy spoke first then Larry and Norm Sanders (from Tuross heads, great place !).

Larry addresses the crowd

Larry Gray was doing his eskimo rolls, and has promised to show anyone how to roll at a workshop. We left early, because we had another appointment. We all had a great day. Hope to see you all again next year.

Larry in expert mode – this roll is with the paddle on the underside of the hull

An Horizon Filled With Adventure [35]

A Book Review

By David Cregan

Complete Sea Kayak Touring, Jonathon Hanson, Ragged Mountain Press. $41.95. Available from Go There! Do That! Outdoor Books, (02) 6230 4859.

Complete Sea Kayak Touring by Jonathon Hanson joins the other great books on the sport by Dowd, Hutchinson, Forster, and Washburn. as an important additon to the home library.

Irrespective of how long you have been kayaking, the book is designed to raise your sea kayaking skills to a new level. It provides the new paddler with the perfect introduction to the joys of touring and discovering the pleasures of that bay just around the next headland. For the more experienced, it provides a primer for planning that trip to more remote or demanding areas.

Author Hanson has been exploring the North American coastline for many years from Baja to the Artic. For some time he operated a sea kayak touring company on Mexico’s Sea of Cortez. His writings have appeared regularly in Sea Kayaker and Outside magazines.

Complete Sea Kayak Touring offers a well-structured approach in its 218 pages covering Boats and Gear; Paddling Techniques; Seamanship; Navigating and Piloting; Travelling wit a Kayak; and, Camping and Maintenance. Each section is covered in some detail and provides comment, hints, and some very sound advice based on the author’s experience.

The photos are helpful, the illustrations good and informative. The book is oriented throughout towards the touring paddler interested in making safe, comfortable overnight trips. Complete Sea Kayak Touring is the book for paddlers of all levels; it will expand your horizons.

The book has recently been released in America and is available on direct import or through Go There! Do That! Outdoor Books. Mc Graw Hill will release it in Australia in the next six weeks.

The Old Sea Dog’s Gear Locker [35]

Over the years, the OSD has noticed that there is an awful lot of water just beyond the thin skin of his kayak, some of which creeps under his spray deck and joins him in the cockpit when given half a chance.

This is generally due to breaking waves, either in surf or rough conditions. In either case, it is a good thing to have some way to remove the offending moisture before it accumulates to the point where the kayak becomes unmanageable. Now, the OSD reasons, if things are bad enough for water to get in, he wants to have both hands available for bracing, and definitely DOES NOT want to remove his spray deck. These two considerations rule out deck mounted pumps, el cheapo portable bilge pumps, bailing buckets and sponges. (More about these items later.)

The OSD has arrived at the conclusion that the best solution is a non-electric, diaphragm-type bilge pump mounted on the forward bulkhead. The pump is operated by foot pressure and can clear a completely flooded cockpit after a re-entry and roll in about three minutes. The OSD can brace and paddle vigorously while pumping. Since the pump’s outlet is in the centerline of the deck, the ensuing spout of water is entertaining and decorative, as well as being useful.

Some bulkhead-mount pump enthusiasts insist on putting a spring inside the diaphragm for return, but the OSD spurns such hi-tech and expensive options in favour of a simple length of bungee cord and the inevitable olive cleat. (See figure 1.) Not only is an internal spring an engineering challenge, but the pump is less efficient due to more limited movement of the diaphragm.

The OSD mounts the pump high enough so that the outlet pokes through the deck, without the need for additional tubing. For the suction end, he runs a length of white PVC tubing to the low point of the hull. He puts a cap on the tubing and drills a number of small holes in the bottom of the tube near the end to pick up the water. The holes must be small enough to pass the scrutiny of Dave Winkworth, who is convinced that hordes of mangrove twigs are just waiting for the chance to plug the unsuspecting orifices. The cost for this type of pumping system is relatively cheap: $45 for a Taiwanese Hand Bilge Pump and $5 for the rest of the bits and pieces. (A word of warning–the pins eventually work out of the pivot points. The OSD replaces his with stainless bolts and nyloc nuts.)

Although the OSD (being a Luddite) shakes his beard in disgust at the thought, there is a more technological way to pump water out of a kayak. This involves electricity. The OSD sneeringly points out that electricity goes Phut when in contact with sea water and that batteries get flat. However, many kayaks, notably Mirages, are equipped with electric bilge pumps which seem to work admirably. These pumps are mounted in the hull, generally behind the seat. The battery is in a separate waterproof box. Another option is to make a portable, self contained unit, with pump, battery, switch, and outlet hose. Commercial operators use this rig to empty the cockpits of swamped doubles, and the batteries seem to last a long time before requiring recharging. Cost for the electric route is: $25 – $35 for a 400 to 500 Gallon per Hour pump, $39 for a 7 ampere hour, 12 volt, sealed, lead acid, deep cycle battery and $7 for a waterproof switch.

There is another electric pump which the OSD finds akin to perpetual motion or anti gravity. This one is powered by 3 “D” cells (flashlight batteries, the round ones.) It is waterproof and can sit behind the seat. The manufacturer, Atwood, claims that it will pump 200 GPH for 5 hours before the batteries go flat. (!) When the steel base plate is removed, the rest of the unit will float. Price: $106.

At the very least, the OSD recommends that all sea kayaks carry a bailing bucket or scoop and a sponge. Buying sponges (which seem to regularly disappear) can be expensive. The OSD keeps an eye out for old foam mattresses on rubbish heaps. He cuts the foam into blocks for roof-rack padding and sponges. The bailing bucket can simply be a 2 litre icecream dish. A better device is the traditional bailing scoop. This can be made from a plastic container (a 5 litre oil container is excellent) cut so that the handle remains for gripping. (Figure 2) It is a good idea to secure the scoop and the sponge to the kayak with a light line. (String, to you, Fishkiller.)

Another option is the $25-$35 portable bilge pump, a tube-type pump which requires two hands to use. It is better than nothing, but only just.

Of course, it is best to keep the ocean outside the kayak in the first place through maintaining equipment and developing bracing and rolling skills. The OSD observes that nothing lets in more water than a wet exit.

Pumps [35]

By Andrew Eddy

How did all that water get in there anyway?

Damn, it just happened, the unthinkable! You’ve capsized in the ocean, you’ve done a wet exit. Now that you’re in the water, hanging on to the kayak and your paddle, what are you going to do? You have choices: you can re-enter and roll; you can climb into the cockpit over the stern deck; you can pull out that paddle float, or inflate those sponsons, and put into action what you refined in those practice sessions at the lagoon and at the beach.

Regardless of the method that you use to get back into the kayak, you still have a flooded cockpit. When you are upright and in the boat, that water will still be there. It will slosh around, out of time with your motion. The same conditions that capsized you will still be there. With all that water moving around, inside and outside your kayak, you probably won’t have as much control of your kayak as you want. You must get that water out.

Some kayaks meet the Australian Board of Canoe Education’s guidelines on a ‘minimum volume cockpit’. This means that the kayak was designed and built to take in as little water as possible. Some designers take this to an extreme – there is one Australian kayak with a cockpit volume of only 80 litres – that’s 40 litres of water once your legs displace their own volume. Contrast this with kayaks that have 120 litres or more in the cockpit. That’s up to 80+ litres – the weight of another person – of water sloshing around your body and upsetting the kayak.

In some kayaks, it may be possible to empty the cockpit before you roll the boat upright, just by pushing the stern down in the water. Those boats may have a cockpit pod (like the Puffin) or a podded seat (like the Arctic Raider and its siblings) or a cockpit sock (like some folding boats). These kayaks have lower-volume cockpits. But if the kayak is loaded with gear, you won’t be able to empty the cockpit in this way. The kayak is already too heavy.

Try it with your own kayak; see if it is possible to empty the cockpit, by pushing the stern down, and then climb back in.

Now, how do I get that water out?

From the NSW Waterways’ Safe Boating Handbook:

“The following lists… minimum safety equipment …[for] boats 5 to 8 metres:

  • bucket – minimum 9 litres, with rope lanyard
  • bilge pump – minimum 45 litres per minute – optional”

Well, the Waterways regulation on bailing out a 5 metre boat doesn’t look all that practical. Try getting that two gallon bucket between your knees! Try storing it afterwards! There must be a better way of getting that water out.

From the Australian Board of Canoe Education:

“Some means of removing water is required, and it must be capable of ‘hands off’ operation.”

It would be best to be able to get the water out:

  • while you are in the kayak
  • with the sprayskirt on, so more water doesn’t come in (remember the breaking waves that capsized you?)
  • while paddling out of the area to somewhere calmer, or at least staying upright and bracing against that next set of waves or the wind.

Table 1 discusses the different equipment available for emptying the cockpit (and other flooded compartments) with the good points and the bad for each piece of gear.

So, how do other people do it?

Within the Sea Kayak Club, different members use different combinations of gear. Many members are well-equipped; some are able to look after themselves and help out their companions when they’re in difficulties.

The most popular combinations are:

  • a high capacity (350 gallon-per-hour or more) electric pump together with a sponge or bailer
  • a foot pump and sponge or bailer
  • a yabby-pump type of bilge pump and a sponge or bailer

Check the pros and cons of each. Think about what can go wrong with each, the spare parts you might carry. Think about how they might work in rough conditions.

Owners of folding kayaks are especially restricted as to the pump system they can use. They’re limited to portable electric pumps, ‘yabby pumps’, bailers and sponges. Some of these boats are sold without a cockpit sock, so the whole kayak can flood in a capsize. Try bailing out 700 litres of water in big waves!

The last thing to consider is: how would you deal with a hole in the hull? Rocks and other peoples kayaks can do some spectacular damage. Many paddlers, who never expected to damage the kayak’s hull at sea, have had to deal with holes, and leaks, in their boats. In some instances these people have been well off-shore. It helps a lot to have secondary buoyancy behind your bulkheads. Flotation bags, gear in dry-bags, inflated wine-cask bladders are all good options for excluding some water from the kayak’s compartments. A roll of duct tape comes in handy too.

My typical belt-and-braces approach is as follows (copy it or chuckle, as you wish):

  • an Arctic Raider, with its podded seat – somewhat-reduced cockpit volume
  • a foot pump, mounted in the foot plate – this will empty the cockpit in about three minutes from the start of the re-enter-and-roll, meanwhile I’m outta there …
  • a sponge, for the mud
  • a ‘yabby pump’ for the rest of the group, or to empty my own hatches
  • flotation bags in the bow and stern, gear in dry-bags
  • a roll of duct-tape and a Chux, to dry the fibreglass ready for patching

Now I can paddle and relax. Provided that the kayak isn’t broken in half, I should stay afloat and get back home OK. What about you?

Table 1: Pump Systems and Their Features
Type Pros Cons Notes
  • simple, handy
  • can move large volumes of water, with the right wrist action
  • you can bail out a friend in need
  • required by law (!!)
  • can be hard to get a 9 litre bucket between your legs!
  • any bailer can be hard to use in a small cockpit
  • requires an open cockpit – no sprayskirt- you must bail out water while waves are washing in
  • you can only keep one hand on the paddle – maybe enough to stay upright, but not enough to get away from trouble
  • useful last-ditch back-up to a pump system
  • “Made in Australia from recycled materials” – use a cut-down plastic juice-bottle with handle
  • car-wash sponges work well simple, handy
  • can remove that last bit of water, sand and mud
  • you can sponge off a friend
  • only moves small volumes
  • requires an open cockpit – you must sponge out water while waves are washing in
  • you can only keep one hand on the paddle – maybe enough to stay upright, but not enough to get away from trouble
  • good as a supplement to a pump system
  • dirt cheap – $1.50 or so
Hand-operated pump, i.e. “yabby pump”
  • cheap
  • you can pump out a friend in need
  • you can pump out a flooded compartment other than the cockpit
  • use one to cool down your friends at sea or at the beach
  • they don’t float – until you glue on closed-cell foam and a lanyard
  • requires an open cockpit – you must pump out water while waves are washing in
  • you can’t paddle at all, and may have trouble staying upright while you use both hands to pump – you will need the support of a friend
  • useful for helping out others in the group
  • $25 or so – no excuses!
Deck-mounted hand pump, e.g. Henderson Chimp
  • you can pump with the sprayskirt on
  • someone else can pump you out while you raft up
  • can move a good volume of water
  • do not need to be fitted for the paddler’s leg-length
  • some methods of fitting allow you to pull out a hose and pump out someone else’s boat
  • low maintenance
  • hard to leave at home
  • require one hand off the paddle – you can brace, but not paddle out of danger
  • some models or fitting locations require the paddler to twist around in the cockpit, reducing stability
  • some models, with detachable handles, allow you to lose the handle!
  • may require custom fibreglass work
  • an old style of doing things, popular in older British boats
  • from $50 to $150 for the pump – add fitting costs
  • requires fibreglass work to recess the pump into the deck, therefore they are potentially expensive
Foot pump
  • mounted on the forward bulkhead or a foot-plate can pump with the sprayskirt on
  • can move a good volume of water
  • you can brace, and paddle out of trouble, while pumping the cockpit out
  • low maintenance
  • hard to leave at home
  • needs to be fitted to the boat
  • needs to be fitted to the paddler
  • from $50 to $150 for the pump – add fitting
  • highly recommended for low maintenance, ease of use, and efficiency
Fixed electric pump some models (eg Rule 1100 gph)
  • can move enormous amounts of water out of the boat, very quickly
  • even the smaller 350 gph pumps are very effective
  • you can brace, and paddle out of trouble, while pumping the cockpit out
  • fairly easy to fit
  • hard to leave at home
  • requires some maintenance – occasional checks for corroded wires and terminals
  • batteries need recharging before trips recommended for high volume and ease of use
  • a complete system could start at $80, including all hoses and fittings, battery charger extra
  • highly recommended
Portable electric pump
  • portable
  • hands-free – pump while you paddle out of trouble
  • you can pump out someone else’s boat – one model even fits into the small VCP and Henderson hatches
  • some run on D-cells
  • you must open the spray skirt to set the pump up, and open the spray skirt to switch the pump off
  • the commercial one, with D-cells, pumps slowly – but surely!
  • you must check the batteries
  • they don’t float until you remove the steel base-plate
  • the commercial kinds are not especially expensive
  • or make your own
  • highly recommended
Dinghy self-bailer
  • simple to fit
  • cheap
  • can move a good volume of water, especially with a vortex generator plate and while under sail
  • you can brace, and paddle out of trouble, while pumping out the cockpit
  • ineffective unless paddling fast – upwind you might sink anyway (or at least get very wet feet)
  • you must open the spray-skirt to turn it off
  • as soon as you stop, the boat floods again
  • surf lifesaver’s boats stopped using them in preference to electric pumps

President’s Report [35]

By Norm Sanders

Like many sea kayakers, I’m a bit of a loner. I enjoy the solitude of paddling quietly along a cliffed coastline in the morning before the wind comes up. Strangely, I also get a kick out of kayaking in company with others. I guess that’s why I’m in the NSWSKC. Of course, I could simply paddle with a small bunch of friends (some would say there is a very good reason that the bunch is so small, I wouldn’t know.) Anyway, I feel the club has something unique and worthwhile to offer.

Firstly, there are the training sessions. I would probably still be paddling about in Tuross Lake if Arunas Pilka hadn’t organised a surfing weekend at Pebbly Beach some 4 years ago. Then there is the opportunity to meet new people — like the recent Shark Island paddle coordinated by Kenji Ogawa. It was great to be one of the 65 or so kayakers at the gathering.

More difficult to define is a feeling which I guess would come under the heading of group cooperation. I really noticed this aspect on the recent Royal Banquet paddle. When we left Bundeena, the wind was forecast to be Northwest to Northeasterly, great for a run down the coast. However, when we reached the open sea, the wind proved to be Southeasterly at about 10 knots. About this time, one of the party remembered that he had left his car unlocked. Arunas Pilka, the trip organiser, accompanied him back to Bundeena while the rest of us paddled on.

The wind picked up as the day wore on. Several of the party were helped along by tows from the stronger paddlers, who had stayed close by. Upon arrival at the beach, everyone cooperated to help those who were less experienced in the surf. Next day, conditions were even worse and we pulled out at Stanwell Park after a slog into wind and wave. By that time, we had developed into a group and the cohesion was enjoyed by all.

I was very impressed by the grit of the individual paddlers, most of whom had participated in NSWSKC training sessions and were now getting a chance to practice what they had learned. All in all, I think that the weekend was a good example of what the club is all about.

Last issue, I editorialised about the need for having respect for the sea. There was a tragedy at Narooma recently which drives the point home. Over the long weekend, four men attempted to leave the harbour in a runabout. They were warned not to go, and no-one else tried to cross the bar that day. However, they had planned to go fishing, and were determined not to miss out merely because of dumping 3 meter waves. Inevitably, they got trashed and the boat sank. Two men died, two made it to shore. None were wearing the PFD’s which were in the boat.

Senior Constable Peter Vaughan was quoted as saying that people spent a lot of money going on holidays and insisted on going boating in almost any conditions. “They have to realise you don’t get many second chances,” he said.