Kayak for Seniors (70+Brigade)

KAYAK for seniors (70 + Brigade)


When I my renewed my acquaintance with kayaking, after more than 50 years of absence

caused by excessive pollution of the river Schelde (I am living in Antwerp, near that river), I found myself in a whole new world.

I always liked to bike and swim and I enjoyed recreational badminton for many years but a knee injury, and some surgery, made an end to the badminton activity. This, and an advertisement of a local kayak club, brought kayaking back in sight.

But not only the boats and the technical side of the kayaking had evolved, and fortunately also the water quality, I also wasn’t young anymore (born in 1943), with all the physical consequences.

  • A first problem that did occur was change clothes at departure and arrival of a kayak trip. Everybody solved that problem according to their own discretion but, although I was accustomed to showering and to (un)dress in group with the badminton activity, there was something wrong for me.

    Not only it was sometimes (too) cold or (too) much wind, but there was also a lack of privacy eg to outsiders or the other gender.

    The solution was, after some searching on the Internet, the kayak fleece poncho . Two fleece blankets sewn to each other, with openings for arms and head, quickly brought a solution.

    It is without any doubt important to get dry and warm after a kayak trip. Leaving wet underwear on for whatever reason is a bad idea in our climate conditions, except maybe high summer.

  • The transport of the kayak by car introduced me to another problem. Most kayak carriers asked too much effort (and back strain) to put the kayak on the holders, especially when sailing solo .

    A solution sometimes used is to purchase a very light kayak but for starting back with the kayak activity I had chosen an “all round” PE kayak of 23 kg ( Dagger Charleston )

    a search on the internet presented several solutions:

    a very simple backward or lateral support.

    I choose to mount a ladder support and a ladder on the rack of my car and it is no problem to load and unload the kayak on my own.

    Because it is a “long load” I have to use a front and tail rope to the car in order to stabilize the kayak as recommended by the car manufacturer.

  • Training to reenter the kayak was done ​​with (cleaned) club boats in the local swimming pool with a water temperature around 28 degrees. We trained mostly the “cowboy reenter”.

    However, a live test in the fall with my own kayak, a Dagger Charleston, gave unexpected problems. The water was a lot colder (15 ° C) than in the pool and cold shock gave rise to hyperventilation. It proved to be totally impossible to climb on to the kayak and swimming to the shore, with support on the kayak, was the only remaining option.

    After some research, I decided to repeat the experiment, but now with a neoprene 3mm Long John with additional 3mm neoprene vest. The theory is that, once wet, the water between the neoprene suit and the body is not refreshed with cold water and thus the heat loss is restricted.

    Although I had no problem while training to repeatedly climb on to the kayak, in cold water it is quite different. After two failed attempts, I was exhausted and I had to swim to the shore.

    The causes are: rapid exhaustion by cold water, unstable kayak through water in the kayak.

    For those who can’t train in a swimming pool with the kayak a good indication of your possibility to use a “cowboy reenter” is that you can get out of the swimming pool without using the steps or ladder, just by pulling you up on the side. In swimming pool conditions (water around 28°C) you must be able to do this several times in a row. In colder water it will be (a lot) less, even with a dry or wet suit.

    While I like kayaking solo, also on some bigger water, I can’t always rely on help from other kayakers.

    To solve this problem I found a solution developed by solo kayakers , on expeditions and so on, and that was the use of floats or kayak outriggers (sponsons). I opted for retractable fixed floats.

    Normally folded at the stern, they are easy to unfold and they lock automatically

    After my experiences in cold water ( below 21°C) I no longer believe in manual inflatable equipment .

    Also my paddle float is a fixed model


    With the sponsons deployed I found it very easy to get back on the kayak and I even can use the kayak as a sit on top.

    It is recommended to try the rescue techniques with your own boat loaded for a trip and in similar circumstances.

    The next step was the purchase of a drysuit. Decisive here was going through reading about “hypothermia”, and even more important, “cold shock” (Cold shock can occur from 21°C when not trained)

    The main rule is: use the clothes recommended for the water temperature and, if older or not trained, don’t make concessions on this.

    This means for me that I nearly always have to wear a dry suit when kayaking. I have to look for cloudy weather in summertime to plan a trip. Air temperature is seldom a problem but continuous sunshine is.

    If one have to deal with someone in cardiac arrest, eg by cold shock, the decision whether or not to resuscitate has to been taken taken. Not allowing resuscitation currently belongs to the patients’ rights here in Belgium and I am wearing a registered “dog tag” that mentions that I don’t want to be resuscitated or intubated. The reason for this decision is that only 15% of the people who had resuscitation from cardiac arrest survive and 10% has permanent brain (neurological) damage and / or long rehabilitation.

    Safety equipment and safety devices: especially for the solo paddler it is important not to loose the kayak.

    That is why I attach myself with a “quick release belt” and a safety rope to the bow of the kayak The rope is long enough to perform a “cowboy reenter”.

    However, securing the kayak to the kayaker remains a subject of (worldwide) discussion. Some kayak clubs on the Coast (Australia) do require a safety line between the kayak and kayaker , they also are mentioned in some safety instructions of the U.S. Coast Guard (Kayak Safety Line: Leashing Yourself to a Kayak ). Anyway, it is something that you have to decide for yourself.

    The PFD that I purchased has a “tail” between the legs to the front . I experienced that a PFD easily got to high without that tail.

    Recently I purchased an automatic life jacket (special for kayak, it is a short version) that also can be worn above the PFD without being in the way for a reenter. I use this combination when kayaking solo on big water.

    To solve the problem of lack of pockets I wear a kayak chap (similar of a bike or horsemen chap) with thigh pockets.

    That way I can carry with me a couple of handflares, a foldable grappling hook (legal obligation on Belgian sea ), and some first aid tape, even when I become a swimmer.


  • I quickly realized that another problem needed a solution. My reasons for not participating in a “city trip” with the kayaks (Ghent, a city with a lot of small open chanels) was mostly based on the fact that it was hard to get out the channels if I had to pee, and then, once disembarked I would be still between the houses in the middle of a city. And, being somewhat older, when I have to go I have to go, there is no time to waist.

    Another interesting fact is that in Holland (a neighbored country of mine that I often visit to kayak) one third of the drown men are found with their relief zipper open. A (urgent) pee can be very dangerous.


    A very bad solution I saw to often is not to drink when embarking on, or during, a kayak trip. This can lead to fast exhaustion or other discomfort. Eating and drinking while performing a physical exercise has to be taken care of with some knowledge of the subject and can’t be neglected without punishment.

    Google gave no practical solutions, also in other languages, ​​because one has to know the right keywords.

    But then I found the glider pilots in Germany. They use a solution both for man and woman and their position in a glider, and the pee problems, are resemblant to the kayak.

    http://aviation.derosaweb.net/relief/ and http://www.dg-flugzeugbau.de/pinkeln-e.html

    However, I only can discuss the solution for men. For the women it is waiting for an “entrepreneurial” lady.

    To test, I bought a set of “self-adhesive external catheters” with urine bag 500ml .

    For use in a wet suit I don’t us a bag, only a valve. It also works fine but I have to stabilize with a peddlefloat when I have a leg “outside”.

    For the moment I use this system now for about a year and I am very pleased with it. It is a great comfort that I don’t have to pay attention to this problem anymore.

    Because I have a Peak UK dry suit with an inside leg zipper from ankle to ankle it is no problem to get to the valve of the urine bag. But other manufacturers with another system to enter the dry suit can deliver a custom ankle zipper on request (for example : Kokatat at 51 $ for a 20 cm ankle zipper, price 2013)

    I do understand that not only the technical solution is important but perhaps even more important is the psychological and social acceptance.

    The German glider pilots have already succeeded but this is clearly also a task for monitors, supervisors and sport organizations, in particular the senior sports guides.

  • Another problem is the potential overloading of the wrist joint and the muscles of the forearm. One can try to place the peddle blades parallel instead of under an angle. If the wind is not excessive (above 6 Bf), this can be a good solution.

    One also can try right to keep the wrist joints more straight by stretching the fingers of the upper “push hand”. Also the lower wrist joint (pivot point) can be more straight by only holding the peddle between thumb and index finger.

    Anyway, using alternating techniques is certainly a plus for fingers, wrist joints and forearm muscles.

    Also, the application to the paddle of a “grip” or “taping” as is used for the badminton and tennis racket

    has a very good effect on reducing the strength needed to hold the peddle.

    I myself have chosen a “Prestige Pro” HEAD taping that I knew from playing badminton.

  • The instructor who told me about the wrist technique for the elderly also told me that recognizing and staying in the “comfort” zone was also important for the older kayaker. In the past few months I learned to recognise this “comfort zone” by repeatedly going beyond it and now I start to reconise it. Stay well within your speed capability and don’t let younger and /or stronger kayakers seduce you to go faster or further. Remember that you have to hold on to some reserve in case you are turning over and have to perform a rescue, help somebody or be able to handle whatever event may cross your path. I know now that after a rescue I have to take a break, and I have to take care of eating and drinking from time to time. If I feel tired I do take a rest, land or call it a day.

    Enjoy kayaking and stay safe

    Paul Nollen


If it’s tuesday, it must be Belgium. Or

Here’s my kayak for seniors. At age 71,
I firmly believe that my kayak should be near as old as I am.






My only problem, though, is where to attach the sponsons.

Thank you!
for taking the time to share your perspective on kayaking with us, and your solutions to the challenges of kayaking as we age. I found your comments very interesting.

What types of water do you usually kayak on? Don’t you have any opportunities for warm water paddling, on lakes? How do you think the opportunities for kayaking in Belgium compare to the U.S.?

I think there are easier solutions for relieving yourself than the catheter. That seems complicated.

Greenland paddle
You can also greatly relieve the stress on your wrists and shoulders by switching to a Greenland style paddle. I tried one years ago and would use no other type now. I am 64 and had wrist surgery for a distal radius fracture in 2008. I can paddle all day with a light Greenland paddle with no pain or fatigue.

I too find your urine disposal solution overly complicated. Most of my male paddling companions simply use a wide mouth bottle with a lid and slide it inside the drysuit zipper opening, under the spray skirt and then dump and rinse overboard. I have no trouble doing the same using a female design extended funnel that drains into a bottle. But, whatever works for you, who am I to say…

Good safety points
Thank you for sharing your safety suggestions.

As a new paddler practicing on the warm waters of an inland lake, I appreciate reading about the experiences of others, and especially the knowledge they share.

Best wishes for many, many years of happy and safe paddling.


– Last Updated: Jun-22-14 4:26 AM EST –

Hi, that kayak has a very nice look indeed. Fixing the sponsons was a problem that took some experiments. It has to be strong and until now the weight is about 10kg which has to brought down in the next development. I attached two stainless steel bars inside of the kayak with two bolts who are coming out vertically through the kayak hull. I then fix the frame with the sponsons on this bolts with two eye nuts. This in order to make the bolts not an obstacle when climbing in. http://www.suncorstainless.com/eye-nut

I tried the bottle system but I found it very dangerous in some circumstances. It depends on how stable your kayak is and what the water and weather conditions are. When you have to hold on to your peddle the bottle system can’t be used. I agree that the bottle works well on flat water or when you are able to stabilize next to another kayak. As the Dutch statistics are showing, it is better to hold on to your peddel instead of something else :wink:

I do kayak on big and small rivers, lakes, the North Sea coast, Chanels in and around cities and so on. I, with several other kayakers, publish my trips on http://www.navis.be/forum3/viewforum.php?f=14&sid=51549f2a382d1892a73d98bdb451a534 (you have to login in order to get access to that thread but that is no problem I suppose. Text in Dutch but most reports are with pictures ). “Warm” water for kayaking is not available here, most of the time it is below 20°C. I even kayak with some ice on the water, as long you can peddle it is no problem when the kayak keel has enough rocker or tilling (banana shape) . I don’t have any idea of the possibilities for kayaking in the US but I think they are enormous. I do have a lot of water within a reach of 150 km. And that is my limit for driving for a kayak trip.

And what the relieving problem is concerned, I am always in for a try for the best system…


– Last Updated: Jun-22-14 5:35 AM EST –

Another fact that seldom is discussed openly is that in the setting of prostate cancer, up to 60 percent of men after prostate cancer surgery may have urinary incontinence dysfunction. Of course this is not a problem only for older men and new surgery techniques have less collateral damages but still it is very common. (One man in 7 will get prostate cancer during his lifetime http://www.cancer.org/cancer/prostatecancer/overviewguide/prostate-cancer-overview-key-statistics). And for a lot of people incontinence is a problem when you want to sport, not only in kayaking.
I myself had a skin cancer removed in my face for two times, accordingly to the surgeon clearly a result of sunburn maybe decades ago. For kayakers a clear warning, use a good suncream, skin cancer can become malignant.

Wow !
All that, just to go out and have fun !

Jack L

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I Give You Two More Years
Then you’ll be on a surfski wearing tiny shorts, zipping along at 8 kts. and pivoting past your wing paddle blade in the cold water.

When I think I might have some difficulties I watch this one and then I know that I belong to the lucky ones.:wink:



– Last Updated: Jun-22-14 9:50 AM EST –

I took a course surf kayak in Holland in april 2013 and that is very usefull for most kind of waves I encounter on my trips (I am the one wearing the white helmet)


I regularly make a trip to the Nort Sea shore to sail in the surf and beyond. Great fun, but that is something I don't do on my own. Past week they https://www.facebook.com/northseakayak.northseakayak?fref=ts had to tow me in ;-) I am the one in front at 0.39 sec. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GzOoWSmNc8I&list=UUaEE9sy7HAZti-0Of3ma2Ow

May be also of interest, my PFD has a bag on the back for a Camelbak http://www.wwc.co.uk/product_view.php?id=346 . Depending on the water conditions, regular drinking is not always possible and then the camelbak offers a solution.

that was a thoroughy enjoyable read
Thoughtful also, lots of good tips in there.

It sounds like you’re still quite physically adept, have you ever considered learning to roll your kayak?

I enjoyed your post.

Indeed, I am learning to roll. I succeeded twice and tens of times I didn’t. It was amazing how little effort was needed when it succeeded but it is a technique that has to be learned. It remembered me a young guy in his twenties who recently learned to swim. He knew how to perform the moves but at first he sunk and he got nowhere he didn’t advanced at all. Once that he could swim after a couple of lessons it was even difficult to get and stay under water if he wanted to. The last time I got turned over with the kayak I knew in the last seconds that I was moving in the wrong way (away from the water) and the paddle was almost vertical and that is the end. For now I am using this technique https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lot3_3aQQVE to get used to what I have to do when I am out of balance. It is amazing how little buoyancy is needed to keep you above water and make a turn.

Pee in your drysuit!
I just pee into a bottle as long as waves are small enough to take off my spray skirt for a few minutes. If wave action is enough that you are are going to take on water, I would not take off my spray skirt or unzip the relief zipper on my dry suit, just pee away into my dry suit and rinse it out next time I landed. This is a unisex solution, too. You just have to overcome the inhibition you learned when you were three.

I haven’t actually had occasion to do this yet, but I am sure I will. On a trip last winter I almost capsized while peeing with my spray skirt off and relief zipper open when waves started breaking over the cockpit and I took on a lot of water suddenly, which of course quickly made the kayak unstable. A capsize in those conditions with an open drysuit zipper would have been dangerous. I realized later I should just have peed into my drysuit.

why not just Depends?
They work for all ages.

No way am I peeing in my drysuit and have it dribble all over me in subfreezing temperatures.

Depends work well. The hard part is not being embarrassed when you buy them.