Dangers of paddling alone?

I just bought my first kayak. It’s a Necky Chatham 16. I spent an afternoon out on the lake trying to learn how to paddle and edge. I guess I have a lot to learn. Still, it was a blast and the boat performed as expected; slow and steady.

My questions are:

I will be paddling alone 99% of the time. What should be my primary focus while acquiring a skill set? I want to minimize the danger. I would think self rescue would be number one. What would be second?

I always wear a pfd, carry an extra paddle, and for the time being, stay relatively close to shore. And of course, I always leave an iteneray with my wife and I stick to it. Next month I will be taking a trip down to the coast to try out paddling the bays.

find some friends. until then, stay off
rivers and creeks. Ponds, lakes, and bays are better because you have a lot more visual information far in front of you. Creeks and rivers are more dangerous alone (MHO) because your situation and what you are confronted with are constantly changing. and often times changing without a lot of notice. also, the aspect of current introduces a whole new field of dangers. If you are in shape, have a plan, stick to it, dress appropriately (for the water temp not the air), and can wet escape - you are doing about as much as you can do to be safe by yourself.

Wet Exit/Self Rescue
I’ve never paddled alone, but even paddling in a group the first lessons I took were wet exiting and self rescue with a paddle float. (Assisted rescues too, but those won’t really help.) Get a paddle float and a pump and learn how to use them. A few hours with a good instructor and you should have the basic skills you need to get back in your boat.

Get some instruction and join a club
Nothing but nothing will accelelrate your learning better than formal instruction. You’ve invensted a lot in a fine boat and other equipment. Take a lesson and learn not just how to paddle but how to stay alive while you are learning.

Then find a club or other paddlers. It doesn’t matter that you’ll eventually be paddling solo. It is not safe to paddle solo before you know more than just a bit about kayaking. Every year there are stories of new paddlers that buy equipment and just go out, never to return. Sorry to be “doom and gloom”-ish but paddling can be dangerous and as a new paddler you don’t know where the dangers are.

All of the above assumes nothing about your judgement, outdoor / on-water experience, common-sense, etc, etc. Just the same you don’t want to be a statistic.



Paddling alone is always more risky
Many of us do it but that does not change the facts. It also makes a difference whether we have a reasonable understanding of the risks in order to make an informed decision. Obviously someone just starting out may not have as complete or accurate an understanding of the risks. Just to give you one example. While practicing rescues once I put on my skirt with the grab loop inside the front edge of the skirt. I had never done that before and haven’t done it since and was surprised when it was pointed out to me. I know better than that but somehow did it anyway. That’s just the kind of little thing that can get you in trouble if you are alone.

I enjoy paddling with others but find myself paddling solo most of the time.

The fact that you recognize that you need some skills and equipment is a great start. You will hear many times that you should take a basic course and you likely should. A basic course will speed your learning some basic skills. You should learn a wet exit, self rescue, assisted rescue, forward stroke, sweep, rudder stroke, back paddling, and a low brace to begin with. You should add a paddle float, whistle, flashlight, a bit of line, sponge, and hand pump to your PFD as basic equipment. You may or may not need to get cold weather paddling gear, that depending on the water temps that you paddle in.

You will find that you will need to learn more as you venture into differant types of water. You talked about bays. Bays have tides and curents to think about. Larger bodies of water have more wind issues than protected areas. Most of all you need to remember your common sense and have a good time.


Taking a couple classes
from an experienced local instructor and they can help open your eyes to some of the potential hazards and risk of kayaking. Knowing this will help you make better decisions. Solo paddling is a great way to develope an awareness of your suroundings because there is no back up and you must rely on your judgement and skills. Read the book Deep Trouble and it will help you realize some risk.

First of all
The CH -16 is only slow for weak boaters. It’s right there with a lot of boats in it’s class, many of which I own, or have owned. I average 4.5 knots cruise easily in that boat.

Now for solo travel…GO FOR IT, but as others have said get skills first. I think you’ll learn faster from a skilled instructor one on one, or in a small fast track course. George Gronseth is a long time bud, and offers excellent multi-day courses. There’s a lot you need to understand about weather, navigation, self-rescue, etc., and you need time on the water to develop judgement.

I dislike clubs as FOR ME they tend to get weird with status, officers, BS, etc. Too limiting. I say find some good boaters and go paddling with them in an informal context. Invest in great lessons, paddle a lot, read a lot, research your trips well, float plans, start off easy and work into it.

Understand that you WILL get in over your head at some point, and that’s part of experiencing solo travel…just arm yourself.

Biggest solo danger is…
… that you might get really used to it!

Proper clothing is probably #1 even above self rescue skills (but all part of the same thing).

Self rescue skills are definitely not optional. Multiple layers of defense. Read John Lulls “Sea Kayak Safety and Rescue”. THE how and why book for this stuff.

Close eye on weather conditions and understanding tides and basic navigation appropriate to where you paddle - including rules affecting all local traffic.

Comm gear (VHF/Cell or both depending on location).

Move beyond paddle float rescue…
… as it is not the best option, just a good one to learn first and to have as a backup.

Second Lull’s Book
I found it helpful in informing me to the progression needed since I do paddle alone.

The skills sets can be developed by taking instruction, practicing with others, or alone. Doing it alone takes longer and requires more self motivation and willingness on those things that aren’t “fun” or “easy.”


Weather Surprises
Interesting question - been thinking about this. For the most part neither I nor my husband are alone on bigger water, we at least have each other. But if I had to pick just one root problem, I’d say it was weather surprises. Winds that turn out to be 29 plus mph when you thought they were going to be no more than 15 (and the attendant waves), current or tide that is a lot stronger in a passage than you anticipated, fog that comes in so thick you can’t see 20 feet. (We spend time in Maine for three weeks each summer - this is not an exxageration - sp?.)

Any one of these can create a situation that could take multiple paddlers to take care of one that has gone swimming or is otherwise disoriented. In fact I’ve been in a high wind situation where it ended up needing the services of pretty much three paddlers to resolve the issue of one who had flipped over.

So - among the many, many things you should do to paddle alone, I’d put learning weather and water behaviors right up near the top with skills like rolling and bracing, so that you can better anticipate and avoid getting into the crisis situations.

The nearest I have come to injuring myself was jumping from the shore to a rock to determine the best place to launch my canoe. It was a foolish move in the first place, and I slipped and landed hard, flat on my back in the water, another large rock near my head that would surely have given me an Exedrin headache had I struck it. I also slipped one time on a moss covered boat ramp and landed on my back, but my life jacket cushioned my fall. In either case, assistance would not have been forthcoming. I think I have learned that an injury accident can happen quickly and unexpectedly, so I am very cautious, especially when alone.

a loner
in my neck of the woods if i want to paddle a 15 mile section of Watauga then I’m alone, if i want to practice rolls then again i’m alone…like markinnc its great to paddle with others who love the sport…I do love the paddle culture. Its the same when I hike on the AT, I’m alone, been paddling and hiking alone for years. There is an advantage that is worth my life. I am comfortable with what I’ve accomplished in life and if I were to die paddling or hiking then I would be better off then many of the patiens we have in the hospital where i work. That said, I dont have a death wish and practive rolls every time I paddle. I dress for the water temps and enjoy the insurance money I spent on a Kokatat drysuit and a Brooks tuliq. I’ve been in many situations offshore where I said aloud ‘what the bloody hell am I doing here’ and on many a hike (even two weeks ago) I wondered what the hey am I doing this for, yet again and again i go, 35 years of it, and I suppose that i will continue until i am crippled or in the grave. Alone can be a good thing. Just look into your psyche and see if you can stand alone. Confidence is a huge part of it, yet confidence can be eroded with one wet exit or one sprained ankle on the trail. Take the skills management of paddling as fun and another sport in itself, practice the rescues on the crappiest of days. When you sit in the kayak fall over in every direction and with your paddle in any position but the setup position…and remember if God calls your name it really wont matter if you are in a Chatham or an M1 Abrams :slight_smile:

Kindred spirit
I couldn’t have said it better myself. Dum vita est spes est!

All good feedback
I am a survivor if nothing else. I have extensive first aid and survival training. NOT on the water though, which is kind of peculiar seeing as how I have spent most of my life within feet of it.

I should probably change the question now that I have had some good feedback.

I live in Kansas where we are known for our excellent kayaking schools. :slight_smile: Which one should I choose? Seriously though, if anyone out there knows of a person or business with whom I could take lessons I would be very grateful.

I spent my childhood/teens running rapids in innertubes or when they weren’t available, just bodysurfing. I have had a few close calls and feel that I have a healthy respect for rivers. I have seen my fair share of near fatal injuries as well.

not picking on the Chatham.
In a previous post I asked for recomendations on a first kayak and based upon the responses I chose the Chatham. I am not at all disappointed and expect, as I was told, to grown into it. As a matter of fact everything I was told about the Chatham seems to be true, which says a lot about the folks that post to this forum.

You mentioned George as though he were nearby?

Be ready for the unexpected,
prepare and be ready for expected risks,

and be alert when the unexpected happens.

Largely A Function Of
experience and skills. Therein lies the problem for someone who is at the early stages of paddling.