Any elderly kayakers with limitations?

What happens to older kayakers when they lose safety skills, especially self-rescue? What adaptations have you made to things like loss of joint function? Have you changed where you paddle, with whom, etc.? Given up sea kayaking? Interested specifically in SAFETY considerations, not comfort.

Elderly means 65+ and/or have lost critical functions. I know there are plenty of active people in their 70s and 80s. Would like to hear from those who are experiencing critical limitations that have made you rethink how you paddle for reasons of safety.

Not there yet
but hopefully will be. Switch to Greenland paddle - easier on joints. No going out in shoulder season or when there is a chance of increasing wind and waves activity. No going out without full dry suit, unless it’s tropical temps in both water and air. Mostly paddling where you could swim to shore. Carrying PLB perhaps.

And, as the final option - trading your kayak for a square stern canoe with small outboard motor as the main mode of propulsion and oars for occasional workout. At certain age the most safe workout is light exercising in gym - with boat being merely means of spending time on water, not an exercise tool.

The only critical function loss has
nothing to do with paddling! Mainly, I sink “out of shape” faster at my age (68). So if I’m not sufficiently in shape when a trip opportunity comes, I pass it up. I don’t tolerate cold as well, so the longer and more difficult winter trips are “out.” Any new (to me) runs are prescouted very carefully for possible difficulties.

Even when I am in shape, I’m careful not to overdo my efforts on the river to avoid unnecessary injury.

Predictable stuff
I am 71 and still active in paddling and teaching. But I have backed off harder WW paddling because my reflexes and strength have diminished. Other things don’t seem safety related but are aging related – increased soreness at the end of a paddle, less stamina, decreased circulation in one leg leading to it going to sleep, all of which I have found fixes for. One of the smartest thing I did was switch to a wing paddle. It is easier on my joints than the GPs I have. Ibuprofen and vitamin C are your friends.

A great question!

– Last Updated: Aug-16-11 1:53 AM EST –

I'm 63 and have been noticing creeping limitations.

I think one of the things we older folks have to be aware of is the lack of understanding of our aging limitations on the part of younger paddlers. Last Fall, I posted an account of a bad whitewater swim I had. I have been active in water all my life, but this - among other things - was a wake-up call.

I described in that post how the cold water immediately sapped my strength, making it difficult for me to pull myself to safety after swimming 150 yards. During that time, I bounced over rocks, etc., and wound up with a significant shoulder injury - one that continues to cause pain and for which surgery is expected, based on MRI results.

The trainers in our group are younger people (most whitewater people are) who do not understand that aging involves a daily diminution of performance ability. I have had to put my foot down when they say I'm now ready for such-and-such river, or that I should be handling Class 4 by next year.

Because I was not completely aware of my diminishing capabilities (who really can be?), I suffered an injury that has curtailed much of my paddling activities over the past year.

And, though I soloed a plane in my youth, also a helicopter, after only several hours of training, I have yet to get a predictable roll in a kayak. My efforts likely contributed to my shoulder injuries.

This year, I have been munching-out on the pain-killers every time I paddle. How do they affect performance?

One member in our community, Jack L, sometimes takes some ribbing here because he has no interest in rolling. Actually, I would suggest he is looking out for himself in the best possible way - a way that does not result in his being shut out of paddling for exceeding his limitations.

I think it is important for those of us who are aging to be aware of our increasing limitations - and to not allow younger paddlers to encourage us toward exceeding our possible limitations.

Just because I was able to handle increasing whitewater challenges, and getting gung-ho about my increasing abilities, did not mean I was able to easily take a bad swim - which, by the way, was in rapids that were significantly below what I had been handling all summer.

I think this is a really good question because there is a need for more understanding in this area. The paddler demographic is skewed toward the older population - except for whitewater - and there is a need for more discussion on this topic.

It is not easy on the ego, to face diminishing abilities, but if we learn to take care of ourselves, accounting for growing limitations, I believe we can all paddle to the end.

There are worse ways to go than with a paddle in one's hands.

By the way, I am seriously considering buying one of those electric trolling motors for kayaks - not for whitewater, of course, but for my fishing SOT. That way, if I hit a wall with my shoulder situation, or encounter a need to return to the put-in more quickly than I can paddle (approaching storm, etc.), I have the motor.

Only in my 50s BUT.
I paddle with people that I had to learn and re learn alternate rescues. The scoop rescue and the stirrup rescue are great problem solvers. For me, I do a re entry roll.

If you are going with others and most especially if you are the go to person a good rescue for everyone can be critical. That said good judgment will keep you out of trouble in the first place.


– Last Updated: Aug-16-11 3:34 AM EST –

With bum back, arthritis, jumper knee, loss of muscle, and lousy balance, I went back to more stable, shorter and lighter surfskis. The same for OC-1's: shorter and lighter. I now wear a pfd too, and spend more time brushing up on my technique based on the latest info I can find. Yes, I had to re-learn how to paddle using longer, lighter and narrower canoe paddles, but shorter and wider kayak wing paddles. Use paddles with more flex in the shaft too.

I’m 72…
with spinal cancer (a nuisance), but actively paddle every week, mostly ocean, bay, and lakes. As a concession to safety I now paddle my SOTs more often than my SinKs, surf launch in milder conditions, and always wear my PFD and carry a VHF, which I confess I didn’t always use to do.

A bigger problem for me is getting the boats on and off the van roof.


Angell, thanks especially for your comments on rolling. Whenever I bring this up I hear, “I’ve taught 80-year-old ladies to roll! Anybody can roll! Age has nothing to do with it!” My instinct based on past experience is that it only takes one second to cause a shoulder injury that can be permanent, and that rolling has a high potential for causing such an injury in an older person when the joints are already compromised.

Being rescued requires essentially the same joint flexibility and strength as self-rescue. So if self-rescue, being rescued, and rolling aren’t possible, that indicates a radical safety change for an older person.

Depends on the approach

– Last Updated: Aug-17-11 10:36 AM EST –

It is less difficult to damage anything learning the usual layback roll with a GP. There just isn't any time that weight is being used, even if the roll is executed badly, similar to what happens at moments with a big arse Euro blade and an approach that comes closer to elements of the C-to-C.

But I suppose unless you have tried it, it's not easy to see.

I’m pushig 70
and have had both hips replaced. Looks like I’ll soon be selling my excellent paddling, good-for-all-waters Caribou simply because I need something with a more generous cockpit and in the sub-40 pound range. The Epic 16 comes close but I don’t like the rudder system. The Placid Boat Works Rapid Fire might be the ticket though I’ve never paddled it or any other solo canoe.

build/have built?
A good composite shop should be able to modify the cockpit on a composite boat. Other lightweight options might be building a skin-on-frame or stich & glue with a custom cockpit.

Don’t know about NH, but in the SE,
it’s not easy to find a “good composite shop.” They mostly work on powerboats and Corvettes. I’ve laid up an entire kayak rim, but it’s not easy. It’s time consuming, detailed work.

Modifying the 'Bou’s cockpit
would change the character of the boat. The Caribou is an excellent sea boat and, with the exception of the Mariner Coaster, the best wind-wave surfer that I’ve ever paddled. The ocean cockpit with its well-fitted thigh braces helps a skilled paddler control the boat. And the boat weighs 50 pounds; I want some thing 40 pounds or less.Not a huge cockpit, just something where I can pull my knees up now and then.

One suggestion
Might be good to plan on using a stirrup for re-entries. I know someone who did this for his not-old-but-pudgy wife.

As I get older, injuries are more likely and take longer to recover from. I have become more conservative about having lots of “margin” from both the physical/endurance and safety standpoints.

The good part is that judgment only gets better, and I know what works for my body better than I did when I was 25.

Warming up, which was always important for me, is even more important now. Also, cooldown.

Let people decide that for themselves
Inevitably there must come a time when a person decides, “I just no longer have whatever it takes to roll a kayak.” Strength, coordination, balance, technique, whatever. Or “I have limitations or injuries that make rolling unwise.”

It’s important to respect an older individual’s decision that rolling or reentry is impossible or unwise, and not pressure a person to try some other way of doing it. It may be terribly difficult for YOU to damage anything, but let people make that judgment call for themselves.

My question is about how people adapt once they know they’ve passed that point.

Read Angell’s post again and see if it makes sense to you. It makes total sense to me—especially “not allow younger paddlers to encourage us toward exceeding our possible limitations.” When you can no longer walk, sit, get up out of a chair, lie down, or raise your hand without pain, things change. I believe that kayaking can continue in those conditions, but in a different way.

A stirrup reentry requires exactly the same joint flexibility as without a stirrup. It’s easier to get up on the deck than to move from the paddle float into the cockpit. Your hip joints have to open wide enough to have one leg in the cockpit and the other over the paddle float. Arthritis causes joint swelling, bone spurs, and frozen joints that can severely reduce range of motion.

Aging and doing anything
Rotator cuff surgery on a blown shoulder is a minimum of 6 mos (to get back in your boat) to one year of strength and endurance (paddling effectively). It’s a long time to pay for learning to roll, but I did. As we age, we take longer to heal for any injury. It makes sense to choose our risks carefully. But along with choosing risks carefully, it is critical to stretch, lift and do balance exercises on a regular basis–use it or loose it comes to mind. We are all different and make our choices accordingly–exercise, diet, lifestyle, etc–and it all makes a difference. The god of aging knows no favorites. Not for the feint of heart.

Age and reality
Mobility and flexibility added to a shorter range of motion creep up as we age. Internal problems can also appear as I found out today. I do agree I listen to what my body is telling me now, than when I was a lot younger. I carry sponsons in the kayak. They make getting in and out of the kayak easier than the paddle float and add beam so you won’t go over again. I haven’t really used them in a real situation, only practice. I watch the weather and the surface conditions more and just don’t go if it doesn’t look right. There is always tomorrow. Tom

A lot of good points . . .

– Last Updated: Aug-17-11 1:22 AM EST –

A few things I've done over the past nine months since the injury:

The shoulder injury added to existing comparatively minor back pains, to the extent that I didn't even try to paddle the touring boat this year - it's even more difficult to get in and out of the cockpit. The whitewater boat - easier to enter and exit was used minimally, and I have used the SOT fishing kayak just to paddle.

The SOT is easier to get in and out of. If the boat were capsized, it's much easier in self-rescue: you just climb back into the SOT.

Another thing I have been considering, respecting aging, is paddle design. When I began paddling whitewater last year, I had been paddling for years with touring paddles. By the time I was able to afford a whitewater paddle, I had done some river trips with a longer touring paddle. I allowed myself to get talked into a much shorter paddle than I think would have been ideal for me.

Beyond the fact of being used to touring paddles, these longer paddles have more moment per stroke, considering the paddle is sweeping farther out from the hull than a shorter paddle. Thus, less effort is needed per stroke - which puts less strain on an older person's frame. Granted, there are good reasons for shorter paddles in whitewater, but I found myself having to make more rapid corrections: strokes and braces, closer to the boat and requiring more effort than with my longer paddle.

This is to say, given that I will be able to return to whitewater after healing the shoulder, I may get a longer whitewater paddle.

To reinforce other's comments here, I do have a VHF marine radio for off-coast use and always carry a first aid kit. Having had a DVT after a stent placement, I carry a sealing "pillbox" (small waterproof tube with a gasket screw-on cap) on a chain with my car keys. It contains two nattokinase capsules (a natural clot-dissolving agent) and this stays with me when I'm paddling.

Finally, I decided that just attending classes of touring boat rescue techniques is not enough. As in the whitewater training, when I am better, my wife and I will get out in the water and practice rescue techniques with our touring boats until we have them down as good as possible.

I would not want to be in a predicament like the jet skiers I encountered a few weeks ago in the middle of a Kissimmee lake. I was with my brother in his powerboat and we were headed in to shore with a fast-approaching storm behind us. On the way, we encountered a couple of young Latino guys - one in the water beside a capsized jet ski, the other sitting on his jet ski beside him and both looking confused about what to do next, unable to respond to our questions.

I thought it would be worth it to try a sort-of "reverse" T-rescue and had my brother throttle back and approach the jet ski amidships. I hung over the bow and grabbed the side of the craft. My first effort was to no avail: it seemed really swamped, but then it was easily righted on the second effort. To my surprise, the water drained out; he got on and started it. We continued on our way and I hope that kid learned whatever it was he needed to know to avoid getting himself into future trouble.

As an earlier poster stated, one thing we older folks should have going for us is better judgment with increased wisdom.