Boating Safety Course

As a first step, have not even bought a kayak yet, is my wife and I are signing up for a boating safety course at the local community college next month. Any caveats? Anything kayak-specific that is not likely to be covered or likely to be presented but is “wrong” for kayaking? Beyond the “you’re gonna be the smallest, hardest-to-see thing out on the water” of course.

A few diff’s

– Last Updated: Feb-06-13 11:55 AM EST –

If they get into safety stuff, you will find that they are generally talking about lights and other resources that are not apt for kayaks in terms of legal requirements, size or other features. More on that below. But the really good part of what you will be learning is things like identifying markers for channels and hazards, rules for traveling around harbors and general Mayday type procedures.

I suggest that you pick up a copy of Chart 1 at a marine store if you can before the course - it is a reference for all of the markers and signals.

The places where anyone in kayaks has the biggest gap from powered boat, IMO, are:

Safety equipment - everything has to be smaller and more waterproof than on a motor boat. On-water self-rescue tools and considerations are mostly different. Some things really have to obn your body, or your PFD actually. Yellow lights, if you end up in the water a laser flare, things like that.

VHF - Need one with a submersible rating for a kayak, they can be less careful with that in a motor boat. And obviously smaller since it'll be hand-held.

Lighting - Motor boats need to carry red/green running lights, sailboats need to have a white light showing 360 degrees when anchored in any body of water I know. Paddle boats have different requirements, can vary by state, but in most places we paddle a 360 degree visible white light replaces the colored running lights. There is controversy around this one. Some people prefer having battery-powered running lights on their kayaks, others frown on because of the risk of someone mistaking a kayak for a boat with the speed to move of a motored craft. Best to see what the more responsible paddlers around you find works best.

Right of way: Forget everything they say about who has right of way over others and take it down to one simple rule. Everything is bigger and faster than a paddle boat so it can kill you. Use the markers to stay out of the channel, in the shallow water that a paddle boat can exploit.

You will find that people in motor boats grossly underestimate the capacity of a kayak in properly skilled hands to mange difficult conditions. But since you are newbies, you lack the second half of that equation and will be paddling pretty conservatively anyway. Get your info on what a kayak can handle from kayak folks, and don't get involved in discussions of seaworthiness with the power boat folks. If there are any sailboaters out there, might be worth some of your time. There are many similarities than diff's in sailboat and kayak hull design, we just don't have a big heavy keel sticking down.

That's the big stuff. Again, congrats on taking this course. I wish more people would, it'd reflect better those of us who try paddle responsibly around motored craft.

Good start
I tookm one of those years ago. But a better course would to take would be a kayak saftey/rescue class. There you would learn about saftey for kayaks and how to get back in if you tip over. From what I remember in the boat saftey course can help but kayak class would be best. Or take both. Many kayak shops have classes right about now at indoor pools.

More re on-water rescue
The second post raised a point here that I missed mentioning. The boating safety course you are likely taking will not do anything at all to help you learn on water assisted and self-rescue in a kayak. (or canoe) The only way to learn that is to get wet and start hauling around boats. Nothing in a classroom - which it sounds like this is - will handle that.

So look around for pool sessions as well, both to learn that and to figure out what you need in a kayak. It is a mistake to buy something before you understand the features you will want for rescues where you want to paddle. Especially since there are two of you - it is so much better when people who will be paddling together learn this stuff together.

Take a kayak class
Where I live, many of the boating laws (stickers, inspections, required eqpt) do not apply to kayaks or boats with a motor under 5 horse. But that varies state to state. Still it is nice to know what is going through the powerboaters mind besides 1.2 BAC.

I would recommend a basic kayak class if one is in your area to teach you a proper paddle stroke. It is not intuitive and an improper stroke can lead to some unnecessary shoulder/wrist pain, sore arms, and slow travel. At least study the videos here on P-net. That is the biggest do-over I’d like to have from when I started.

Good feedback
Thanks, all. No expectations that such a class will teach us to kayak… just general rules-of-the-water.

For a local how-to-kayak class (completely different subject), I checked REI, there’s a location nearby, on-line they had a link to their various classes but none in this region on kayaking. I’ll keep looking.

Been out, eh, half a dozen times when on vacation, rental boats, never even occurred to us before about safety or any other education; just hand over a credit card and they hand you a boat.

good replies
when I first started paddling , I also took the power squadron boater safety course . It was GREAT , intro’s first , an why yer here , Me being the only yaker , I said I was there to find out what YOU guys the powerboaters do . So I raised a point that a lot of the boaters and the squadron leader were unaware of , like power boaters perceptions of yakers , and how they scare the shit out of most , but don’t think they are . Comin up on yakers at full tilt , rules of the waterways , what the buoys mean , an such , it was worth the days time and the 20$ .

and maybe I helped raise some awareness about how the yakers see the power boaters .

THere were 2 dudes there that , “I don’t know why I’m here , cept the coast guard made me , I ran my Donzi onto a breakwall , but I didn’t see it , it wasn’t marked , so I don’t know why they made me take this course !”—excessive speed , no control over your boat , failure to see and avoid a collision , just to name a few . But then , I figured there’d be an idiot or two ,after my hunter safety course in which 2 full grown adults wanted to know why it was illegal to take a semi auto rifle while turkey hunting , then he wanted to bring his glock w/16 shots !

Take the course you’ll find out how scary the power boater s are .

Try these for kayaking work
It is a curious thing. People tend to look at the more commercial operations while failing to notice the quite good, independently owned kayaking resources in the same area.

Here are three links - try to make one of them work for you guys to get into a pool. I guarantee you, initially learning to do on-water re-entry is a lot more comfortable in a heated pool than in spring temperature water.

Potomac Paddlesports

Check out their banner - they obviously have access to a pool.

Potomac Kayaking Company

Cheseapeake Paddlers Association -

Pool sessions plus

Instruction First
Even it is tempting to jump right into the boat, get a class in the pool, it usually is worth waiting till the water gets a bit warmer.

Anyways, a quick search comes up with this:

The Baltimore Canoe + Kayak Club

– Last Updated: Feb-07-13 8:02 AM EST –

may be another good alternative for you. They introduced us to flatwater and WW canoeing many years ago with classes and learning trips that were very well organized and supervised. Might also check paddling/adventure groups in your area. Ours does basic classes, winter pool sessions, and fun trips, and members always willing to share their boats so you can try different sizes and designs before you buy. Second getting as much pool time as you can this winter practicing safety and self & assisted rescues. Rick NC
PS I teach USCG Auxiliary Boating Safety courses and add paddling info but not all instructors paddlers. They do have a new paddle safety course but no on-water component.

Plenty of useful links in this topic, which I’ve bookmarked.


– Last Updated: Feb-07-13 1:02 PM EST –

Check your library's and book stores' boating sections for boating-safety books. I almost bought one that was helpful otherwise but manifested an anti-kayak bias. You can find that pretty quickly by looking in the index under "kayaks". I don't want to support authors like that when there are other good books around.

A free source of info is your state's boating-safety booklet and its boating regulations booklet. These might be online also, so check for those.

Some kayaking books contain a summary of the most important boating-safety protocols.

You can get a lot of info for no or little money if you first check the above sources.

Link to some useful Coast Guard documents:

Have you found these

A bit more
since Celia and others covered the rest pretty well.

Clothing/immersion gear will be a difference. Since you are often in direct contact with the water, you will probably have this on already.

Judgement of conditions and skills are something all of us need to have a steady awareness of since they vary considerably over time. What you learn about judgement for powered craft bears little resemblance to what you will learn over time/practice in your kayak. Kayaks, for example, spend lots of time in surf conditions, something most powered craft, for obvious reasons, try really hard to avoid.


Boating Safety is Relevant
It is not possible to ever have too much knowledge and you should be commended for taking a boating safety course. Some of the information you learn may not seem useful to you during the class, but you never know when a bit of knowledge could turn out to be vital. I started my formal training as a young Naval Officer and learned how to “Con” and navigate big ships at sea. Then years later my wife, kids, and I took a small craft safety course with the U.S. Power Squadron. Later yet, my wife and I took a number of classes focused on kayaking. In each instance, I learned and still feel like a novice at times. Learn as much as you can. Boating in small craft, especially human powered craft, is more mental than physical. The more you know the better off you will be. Remember to have fun too.

Thanks, Bill
Yeah, I’ll go in with eyes open and expectations realistic, and know it won’t be the end of our education.

Have fun? Maybe after I master 17 different ways of getting back in the boat I’ll calm down. :^O

Just one more point
and that is that it pays to know what to expect from those around you. I’ve seen lots of folks in kayaks who didn’t seem to understand the visibility issues, rules of the waterway, etc. of large ships, as well as the performance differences between different styles of boats (sail, motor, PWC, etc.).

For example, it is amazing how slowly large ships seem to be moving and how quickly they can travel to the where you are on the water (their size and speed are both really deceptive). I’ve seen more than one kayaker think that they could cut across a body of water before the ship could reach them.


Additional note on ‘Meet up’ groups
If they have a local website, check out some of their photos.

I hooked up with one in lower Michigan and it appeared, to me, what I considered a lack of any emphasis on safety. Many of them didn’t wear a PFD (“if the waters not deep, why wear one?”) nor pushed for the use of any. I know many have their own views on this subject, when on small rivers, but there are always strainers and sweepers even on these bodies of waters.

Personally, this can show lack of knowledge should anyone get into a predicament, such as, a paddler get snagged on debris along the shore or from underwater.

Groups and groups
We have traditionally had one, much reduced, group that will paddle together in winter. Dry suits etc required and everyone needs to be at least somewhat capable at rescues. In warmer weather/water, the group is much looser - skirts and something resembling a real boat, but skill set for the paddlers that get invited can be pretty limited. In less risky conditions the ones who do know what they are doing have more leisure to solve problems.

In sum, there are groups and there are groups. Meet-ups are particularly wide-ranging, so try them out but be ready to decide a particular one is not for you. You need to find your own level in terms of what is comfortable and encourages growth and a good time in paddling.

Back to Square One
Alas, after signing up, the school notified us that we were the only ones registered, no the course is cancelled. We’ll keep looking and probably choose some other venue.