Beam seas; newbie needs advice

Hi everyone,

I had the pleasure of visiting Vancouver Island a couple of weeks ago. I was lucky enough to get a day for paddling in Clayquot Sound with one of the local guides.

Unfortunately I ran up against the limits of my skills when it came to waves from the side, aka “beam seas” (I think that’s what they’re called). More than once I found myself deliberately working to keep my center of gravity above the boat as the wave moved under me.

My guide got me through it admirably, and I ultimately didn’t capsize but I did have to alter course somewhat to stay in more protected waters.

His advice was that people are most vulnerable to capsize when they tighten up, stop paddling forward, and speed up their paddling cadence. Instead he encouraged maintaining the paddle in the water at all times; that the forward paddle stroke itself lends stability like an auto brace. Also, slow down the cadence, and keep the hips loose.

This did have a measurable effect, and I felt somewhat reassured, but still had a few hair-raising moments when I felt my balance point get out a bit too far.

I realize that most of my paddling has been flatwater and that recently I’m seeking out “textured water” for fun and for advancing skills. Facing waves head on is so far not especially difficult. Following waves not bad for the smallish waves I’ve been on so far. Beam seas seem to be the next big hurdle for me.

So…what advice can you give me? Any websites, books, vids that you can direct me to? Personal experiences or learning breakthroughs?

BTW, my usual kayak is a Perception Eclipse, 22.5" beam, but very flat hull. On the guided tour I rented a Seaward Cosma; 23" beam but I think more V-hull shaped. I’ve had these tippy episodes in both.


misc suggestions
do sculling braces with your eyes closed on bumpy water, make sure your forward stroke is releasing and not turning into a canoe stroke deep and next to the hull past your hips, breathe.

primary vs. secondary stability
It is possible that you were just feeling the differences between the boat shapes, and their primary and secondary stability (but this is just a guess on my part - I have never paddled either boat).

Primary stability could be described as how tippy the boat feels. Secondary stability is how likely it would be to actually flip over. These are different.

Perhaps the Seaward had low primary stability, so felt tippy. Where you are used to a boat with high primary stability.

Seat Time - Rebounding Waves
Go looking for trouble. We have a fun and friendly spot where waves rebound off a sea wall, the waves don’t have a huge amount of energy but they create confused seas, clapotis, haystacks and it’s fun just trying to stay upright. Just stay loose and dance with the waves. The boat will know what to do. Use your paddle to brace but try to go with the flow… maybe it’s a Zen thing but you need to relax and become one with the ocean, boat and paddle.

Start by practicing in small surf zone right at the line where small waves break, sit and let the waves hit you and just keep the boat upright without using the paddle in the water. Move to bigger and bigger waves, use your paddle and practice flipping on purpose when a big wave hits you, then you know your limits and will be very comfortable in non breaking waves.

If the boat didn’t have a rudder
get a boat with a rudder.

Let the “purists” do their thing without one.

I can and do paddle all day long without mine, but in strong quartering winds, I want mine, and would not own a boat without one.



To get more seat time…
If you mainly have flat water around, try to find some big motor boats. Sit sideways in their wakes. Even try it with your eyes closed sometimes. That can help you feel the waves better. But, of course, always be on the lookout for boat traffic.

“seat time” and balance
Seat time is simply time in a kayak. In your case it would be time in beam seas in a kayak.

Balance is sometimes a hard concept for guys to master. As Peter-CA mentioned kayaks have initial and secondary stability - secondary being what keeps you from capsizing. Secondary stability can also be thought of as how stable your kayak feels while it you are edging it. You will want to play around and discover the secondary stability of your kayak. This usually involves sculling, low bracing, or holding onto the bow of another kayak with your hands to keep from actually capsizing.

The second part of balance is how you naturally try to balance yourself. Most guys balance themselves with their shoulders, most girls balance themselves with their hips. If you have a bigger upper body, very broad shoulder, or (from my observations) lift weights a lot then you carry your balance in your shoulders much more and the transition to balancing with your hips could be a bit more difficult. Sit in your kayak and rock/wiggle your hips from side to side. The kayak should rock from side to side easily, but your shoulders/arms/head should not move. You can have some one watch you and let you know if you are moving your upper body.

JackL - I am not sure you where you were going with the rudder comment. Both kayaks the OP paddled and felt tippy come with rudders (I assume they were actually fitted with rudders and in use but they may not be the case). Either way, I don’t believe a rudder provides much in the way of adding stability in beam seas.


– Last Updated: Jul-21-08 9:07 AM EST –

you can learn how to control your boat with a paddle--your guide gave you excellent advice, you followed his instruction and it worked--time in your boat in wind and waves will solve your problem of tightening up--if you feel more comfortable you could take a lesson or two in paddling in wind.

Using the forward stoke as a bracing stroke in beam seas works for me---or you could trade in your skeg boat for a ruddered boat but I suspect this wouldn't cure your nervousness in beam seas---don't worry--practice and time does that.

it sounds like you’re doing everything
right and only need more exposure to the same conditions/experience: Weight/center of gravity over the boat, loose hips, relaxed, forward momentum or one eye toward bracing. One thing you might do: work a whole bunch on/develope a reliable roll. That does a number of things: puts your mind to rest in case you do capsize; but more importantly it makes you familiar with that liminal “twilight” realm and developes a better sense of balance. “Dr” sounds like you’re a doctor; get one of you doctor friends to lend you his nice clean warm heated pool and spend a lot of time discovering where the edge of your balance point is. Of course instruction is good. If you don’t have it, check out EJ’s bracing and rolling DVD. Visualization helps a lot in other sports; think about what the wave does, pulling you your boat out from under you on the way up, then the other way on the way down. In the end, it may just take seat time: letting your butt and inner ear become familiar with like conditions. Paddling them a lot.

Eclipse has a rudder

watch the horizon
I got a great tip once from a fellow paddler when I brought up powering over and through breaking waves and finding myself falling through the air out of balance on the other side. Occasionally I could hold on with a brace when I hit the water. Occasionally I’d roll back up. He said his BCU coach told him to watch the horizon and it seemed to work well for him. I was amazed at the simplicity. After that, when I’d find myself a bit airborne, I’d look at the horizon, my hips would stay more relaxed somehow just by doing that, and the fact that my kayak might be leaning to one side or the other when I came over/through/off the wave seemed to simply lose all relevence. This technique works well for me in a beam sea as well. Something to try.

More of the same
If you could find an area where boat wakes throw a large wave and play in shallow water it would be ideal - like along a river. You would feel safe yet able to experience the waves. One thing you can try is as you paddle, lean a bit to the side of the stroke and see how the regular paddle stroke acts like a brace. Then do it on the other side. Then lean a little more on each side. Do that in shallow water and you’ll get the feeling of how the paddle stroke is your brace - as your guide told you. Just by playing in waves in a safe environment you’ll be amazed at how large of waves you can sit in comfortably and paddle in.

It does for me.
and I thought it just might for him.



The cabie was asked:
How do you Get to Carnegie Hall? His response: “Practice, Practice, Practice”

Oh Both these boats sea cock pretty badly so that may be part of it.

A rudder or skeg can help or can be a nuisance: If it works and you know how to best use it it can be handy. My skeg has been stuck for years. I made it work for my instructors course two or three years back and it got jammed with tiny rocks again.

Skegs and rudders are handy but don’t count on them.

The wave thing will solve itself with practice.

Good luck and welcome to a ridiculously fun sport.


engage the thigh brace’s
and keep your eyes level, loosen up a little while leaning into the wave with your hips and stick the paddle into it with a slightly climbing blade after a while you’ll only want to paddle on big days with (on-shore winds) good luck with your new addiction

…for all of the thoughtful replies, and any more to follow.



– Last Updated: Aug-01-08 1:43 PM EST –

Sitting on a big exercise ball and 'balancing' with your feet off the floor is a way to teach your body some balancing skills especially with primary stability (the stability your kayak has just sitting in the water with no forward motion by the paddle). Secondary stability (stability of your boat in motion with the paddle) will actually help keep you upright, hence the advice to keep paddling. It's like riding a bike: the slower you are going, the harder it is to balance on the two wheels.
Balancing on the exercise ball is also fun. I use one at my desk just for being better able to balance in my kayak since I don't get to paddle as often as I'd like. Additionally, there are kayak specific exercises using the ball to help with braces and to help your body better learn a hip thrust for rolling.
However, none of this ball talk is a substitute for more boat time...

speaking of which
anyone read the latest rescue story in Sea Kayaker?

I’d like to
I don’t have a subscription, will you paraphrase or is there a link?

lots of good advice here
More paddling in beam seas, keep your hips loose, looking at the horizon, using your forward stroke as a brace also, playing with your cadence (sometimes my cadence quickens in rough water so I never get caught out)…this is all good advice. Maintaining speed helps also. Every stoke can add some buoyancy and support.

You’ll get there and sooner or later the small beam seas will feel natural - and the steep beam seas will keep you sharp!