Paddle leashes -- what are the pros

-- Last Updated: Jan-29-06 2:28 PM EST --

and cons when it comes to paddle leashes. We paddle mostly bay water and lakes right now in Northern California but will be venturing out more into the coastal waters and surf zones as we advance our skills. Should we have paddle leashes and in what conditions should we use them and also not use them?

Here we go again…

– Last Updated: Jan-29-06 2:45 PM EST –

I use a paddle leash when surfing sit on top kayaks or waveski's. This kind of leash attaches to the bow of the craft, the best, after much experimentation and asking the best folks I know I have found a short phone coiled leash is the best, you can buy some waveski specific ones that are easy to detach if you do find your self entangled. If you get knocked off a SOT or have to pull the belt latch and eject from the waveski, you can hang onto the paddle slow your boat down, climb back on and get on with life. This prevents dangerous swims and also prevents your boat becoming a danger to others in the surfzone. Many lifeguards will kick you out of surf breaks if they see you lose your boat. If you can keep your boat under control, they usually let you surf where you want in a surf specific boat. Some people use leg leashes on waveskis. I don't reccomend doing it.

I don't use a leash in my sit inside surf kayaks, because I am worried about entanglement shile rolling, especially in the kelp zones we have here in CA or around lobster trap lines, some folks use a short wrist leash that hooks the paddle to the wrist and has to very easy to employ break away attachements. You don't want to get thrashed in a huge wave with your paddle attached to you. When paddling off-shore touring by myself I use a paddle leash. If you have to exit , it's very hard to keep a hold of both boat and paddle in winds and waves, you can get separated from your paddle very easy so it makes sense. Some people will tell you to never use a leash but the danger of entanglement is not as great as they make it out to be. Also having been entangled a few times in my SOT when I was learning, it's not that hard to get untangled even in waves and surf. Some folks also carry knives, I do when touring off shore, which might be useful if you ever found your self entangled. Search the archives for Leashes and you will probably find 4 or 5 acrimonious threads.

Paddles unleashed
I have a North Water coiled paddle leash with swivels at each end. I do not see a need to deploy it in calm, flat water trips. However, anytime the air or water is moving, I tend to hook it up. There may be times where you need both hands to assist in a rescue or emergency. In cases like this seconds matter and thinking about what to do with your paddle uses precious time. The only disavantage is the noise of the leash tapping against the hull. The advantages are that if you go inverted, your paddle will either be attached to you or your boat. You would be suprised how quickly the wind will blow your empty boat from you when empty. Practice swimming with your paddle. You may need it to catch your boat. I am still trying to determine which is better, attaching it to the boat or to the sprayskirt. I do not worry about entrapment, especially if attached to the sprayskirt.

Learn to keep hold of your paddle.
It probably doesn’t matter much if you do or don’t use a leash. I don’t use one and don’t feel I need it. But I practice rescues and turning over while keeping control of my paddle. You do not want to start relying on the leash and loose the habit of keeping track of the paddle. I also have a quick way of attaching the paddle to the boat if I need both hands.

Alternative to a Leash
I use a Greenland paddle and keep a spare tucked under my foredeck bungies. Not only does it provide a replacement for a lost or broken paddle, but I can pull it out when I’m inverted and it is pretty much in the set up position to roll. Back when was still using a Euro paddle, I kept a one-piece Euro paddle in the same place, but there was some potential for the paddle blade getting caught in the lifelines when trying to pull it out quickly when inverted.

Only In The Surf Zone…

– Last Updated: Jan-29-06 6:20 PM EST –

once you get into 5' plus waves, the force of the breaking wave is pretty tremendous. I got literally sucked out of the boat when I hung onto a paddle when I got hit by a dumper. I also got my paddle stripped on another day. The force of a good size breaking wave can dislocate a shoulder or rip muscles of you don't let get go of the paddle.

Since those two episodes, I have taken to a short 12' nylon cord leash from paddle to wrist when I am in my decked boat. The wrist is a short loop of shock cord, encased in 1/2" pliable plastic tubing. Since using the leash, I have had the paddled stripped about 3 times on BIG days and, with a yank, was able to pull the paddle back into my hand and then roll up. Two other of my surfing buddies in surf boats are now using short leashes. One converted after a near bad experience on a BIG day. He got hit by a big breaking wave, way out from the beach. The wave almost took out his shoulder. He let go of the paddle on the side when the stress was and managed to barely hang on to the paddle with the other hand. This scared him since he was surfing alone and would have been in trouble had he gone swimming on his own (he is a great roller but you can't do much without a paddle in the surf zone on a big day).

On a waveski, I used a coiled leash attaching paddle to the ski. If I let go of the paddle, I won't be able to retrieve it to roll since the leash is too long and not attached to me. But, with a waveski, wet exiting is not so much a problem since there is no cockpit to flood. I can simply scramble back on and gather my paddle that would still be attached to the ski. I keep a knife on my PFD in case of entanglement.

In long boats and white water, I don't bother with any leashes. I haven't felt the need, nor have I encountered anything in normal paddling that would make me want to have a leash. Of course, I hit a strainer on a class IV, and the first thing that got stripped as I was pinned upside down was the paddle. But having the leash would have probably just endangered me by getting potentially stuck. As it was, I quickly got sucked out of the boat and passed through the branches harmless (knock on wood). In a long boat, I always have a spare paddle on the back deck. I practice accessing and rolling up with the spare paddle in the event that I do get capsized and stripped.


When in conditions

– Last Updated: Jan-31-06 8:33 AM EST –

I tried the phone cord thing, but for regular paddling it just felt like it was always in my way. Right now I am using a very simple arrangement, forget its brand name, that is white strechy cord with an orange plastic ball on one end and a blue plastic ball around the other. One of them secures around the paddle shaft, the other around your wrist, and it stays wrapped on the paddle shaft when not in use.

I tend to put it on in conditions (not surf) for the same reason in a response above - if there is a need to do a rescue, or grab a loose boat that is being blown away by the wind, you have both hands free. This last season I saw the distance between a paddler and the boat he'd been in open up to well over twenty feet in all of two seconds. And part of what had happened was the initial rescue had been confounded by trying to hold onto boats and paddles in stiff winds (gusts to 37 mph) and increasing seas. Granted we all learn that we should never let go of the boat, but in enough soup it can happen despite all those good intentions.

Can't speak to surf, others here can. Somewhat different rules apply.

For basic sea kayaking
For basic kayaking there are a lot of different opinions but I’d say that a leash is definitely a good idea if you are not carying a spare paddle (not that I often use one). It can also be a good idea if you are carrying a spare paddle.

I think more skilled kayakers tend to like a short leash from paddle to hand if they use one, but IMO a leash to the boat is not all-bad, particularly if you aren’t in really gnarly stuff. You can drop your paddle to mess around with your power bar or whatever. In the case of a wet exit you can retrieve either the boat or the paddle by hanging onto one thing (but do try to hang onto both) That in itself is an extra measure of safety. I don’t think there is a hugely greater risk of entanglement but somewhat greater.

I used to paddle with one of those coil things about all the time. The slapping drove my paddling buddies nuts so it’s a good thing I lost it. I now like a simple Northwater bungie one that I can coil around the paddle ready to use if I want it. I also have a British one with a quick release on both ends but I’m not too fond of the really thin cord that seems to tangle easily and it doesn’t wind on the shaft as well.

(I know nuthin about surf-zone so listen to Sing for that)

will leave the commenting on
leashes to the pro’s here, just wanted to brag on n. california…i flew out to hike around Crater Lake NP this summer then ventured to Lava Beds NM and then climbed Lassen Peak----what an incredible area you live in! Then did the 10 mile hike to the sea in Redwoods NP–so awesome hiking under those trees, then drove up the coast of Oregon to Fort Klatsop…I’m envious of where you live!

Hi medicineman

– Last Updated: Jan-30-06 12:07 AM EST –

Glad you had a great time! We had a townhome outside Klamath Falls off 140 towards Medford for five years and got to spend a fair amount of time in that area. Always went to Crater Lake when we had quests join us at our home. We never got tired of the view! This is also where Laurie and I got into fly fishing. We spent many hours on the upper Klamath River down in the river canyon fly fishing and also fished Klamath Lake up by Rocky Point and also the Williamson River along with several others in the area. I have a nice picture of an eagle sitting on the ground just 20 feet away which I took at Tule Lake wildlife refugee. I have it up on my site at in the Raptors photo album. While I really enjoy spending time in the Tahoe National Forest these days I miss the times we spent in southern Oregon! We are planning a kayak trip for this summer to paddle Klamath Lake and camp up at Rocky Point. That part of the lake is spring fed with water around 39 degrees F so you can catch trout there most times of the year. Thanks for sharing your thoughts about your trip!

my favorite

This is the one Celia refers to above. I keep it wrapped around my paddle shaft. I use it in some conditions.

If You Haven’t…

– Last Updated: Jan-30-06 5:33 AM EST –

pick up the book, The River Why, by Thomas Duncan (? correct author). It is by the far the most hilarious fiction about the obsession with flyfishing and love. It's locales are in PNW, mostly around some of the rivers you fished. That book got me interested in seeing the Klamath and Williamson, etc. I got out to Seattle once but didn't try to fish. Someday.

Alas, I stick to my home rivers of the Upper Androscoggin and Rapid River and the little streams. I've tried to flyfish from my kayak for stripers and blues several times early in my kayaking career (before getting caught up with surfing). Each time broken off. May try again this summer.


I have seen several
people,(my own daughter included)become entangled in paddle leashes after capsizing in swift shallow water where rolling was not an option and dragged by the boat. The may be fine on lakes, but in the surf , WW or a moving flatwater river, I do not generally recommend their use. Let your companions collect your gear if you go over.

like anything, the consequencea are?

– Last Updated: Jan-30-06 11:28 AM EST –

Nice question, what are the benefits and the downsides to their use.

1. Not good to lose one's paddle even with a spare.
2. It can help your boat from drifting as fast away from you if hooked to the boat.
3. It can help you swim faster to the boat if boat gets away and you have paddle.
4. It can help you roll up and wet reentry after capsize.

Downsides are
1. It can wrap around your neck and strangle you.
2. It can trap you in your boat.
3. It can lead you to be complacent and think it will always work and so don't need a spare.
4. It can let you think the spare does not need to be bombproof and stowed securely.

So if use one make absoutely sure you have a way to ALWAYS quick disconnect it in all eventualities or consider not using one.
I like to have a stretchy wrist aspect so can simply pull on it and off AND to have a sailor's pull disconnect on other end so double way to disconnect it quickly. Make it a length that in waves and surf it will not bang you on the head with paddle and so you can disconnect it if concerned about it being used against you in high winds and waves.

Another whole topic is where to place one's spare paddles. I have mine up front on my Explorer. They are super stowed for don't readily get blown off in waves and surf and yet if capsize I can reach them and roll up often without a wet exit first.

Some conditions
Luckily in surf, usually everything, that does not sink, ends up on the beach. In moderate surf I have been able to keep my paddle without a leash. In heavier stuff I hope, if I release it, that it ends up on the beach :wink:

In recent times I find my paddle leash most useful in self rescues. At my current level I can easily keep my paddle when wet exiting and re-entering on relatively flat water. In conditions I’ve found it useful to slip the paddle leash over my wrist so as to be certain not to loose it when re-entering.

Whether to stow spare paddles or fore or aft deck deserves its own thread…

Depends on use
On the rare occasions I use one - it’s not really to keep track of the paddle - I tend to keep the paddle in hand paddling, flipping, swimming - whatever.

If I do loose the paddle I have a spare.

The leash from paddle to boat is to keep control of the boat if I should loose contact - because a split second is all it take for wind/wave to grab it away. The leash then prevents the boat from heading on some trans-Atlantic journey and leaving me to swim.

The Northwater leash is nice gear - and works well on GPs too. Also handy as a short line to clip off to dock, branches/roots, etc.

Everything ends up on the beach?
That may be true on a regular coastline with small waves, no currents and on shore winds, not universally true.

Everything may end up on some beach eventually, but it may not be the beach you are hoping for.

Go ask Liv2paddle about his experience.

it may not be the beach you are hoping
True enough.

My experience is limited. Is it mostly true that if loose inside the breakers, stuff will end up on the near beach?

Ditto That…

– Last Updated: Jan-30-06 12:38 PM EST –

When I got sucked out of the boat on the winter session, I still had my paddle (that's what allowed the wave to pull me out in the first place). I was taking such a plummeling with the dumpers and seeing the bottom so much that I said, "Heck with the paddle!", and chucked it. That paddle was never seen again.

Two winters ago, one of our surfing buddies came out on a point break at the mouth of an estuary. He had to relinguish his boat so we could tow him in against the outgoing ebb current. We never saw that boat again. Somewhere in the northeast, someone is probably thanking their lucky stars in recovering a perfectly good surf boat.


what they said,
my $.02 is that it’s a device best used by experienced paddlers. If it’s used as a backup for a person who isn’t confident they can hold onto their paddle in a range of conditions or during rescues then there’s a bigger problem than deciding pro/con of paddle leashes.