paddling alone in the ocean


I know many of you paddle alone, either out of desire or necessity. I am finding it increasingly difficult to find a regular paddling partner to head out into my local ocean with me as often as I would like (about once a week). I have both an SOT and sink I can paddle, and have taken safety and self-rescue clsses in both.I dress for immersion and always wear a PFD, and always carry a cell, paddle foat, pump,etc. well-you get the picture…

I really want to head out of my local harbor when the weather is decent, at least once a week on a 5-12 mile paddle. Any tips or words of wisdom from those of you who paddle alone, to make this is as safe as possible?

I don’t have a roll yet, but was thinking of taking my yak to a nearby lake and practicing my wet exit and reentry until I am really quite fast, and not just proficient. I don’t actually plan to paddle alone when the waves are big or it’s very windy, but things can happen unexpectedly, so I understand the need to be prepared.

I would get the roll down, and until
then, paddle alone only after checking ALL conditions and staying reasonably near rescue opportunities. Being stuck out on the ocean is very different from being beached on a riverbank.

I am speaking of staying
relatively close to shore, just paddling along our local shoreline, outside the surfzone. I live just a few minutes from the harbor and check the weather forecast almost daily as my husband sails and my son surfs. I have been paddling here regularly since 7/02, just am tired missing many opportunities when the weather is nearly perfect and the water is flat, to head out and paddle for 2-4 hours.

There are plenty of times during the winter and early spring where weather and water require me and and my paddling friends to take a rain-check, so to speak:) It’s just that being so close, and working a non-traditional schedule, I could head out there on a moment’s notice whe it’s sunny and flat, and I am reconsidering my “never paddle alone in the ocean” dictum, at least for day short paddles.

not a substitute for
bombproof skills and judgement but a VHF radio and cell phone, easily accessable, would be on my list.

sounds like you have the judgement to make reasonable choices as to when to paddle. good thing!

I too go out alone, quite often. gotta paddle, even if I can’t find someone to go.


same here
you are doing the same I did, paddling alone in Santa Barbara, taking a series of lessons in the S.F. Bay, basic to open bay, rolling and surf zone, taking more classes, learning to roll, paddling alone off the Marin Headlands, Mendocino and Pt. Reyes. Then started getting anxious. With a marginal roll I tried rolling and paddle float self-rescue in shallow conflicted water and realized my capacity for self-delusion was no longer sufficient to keep me comfortable. Understand I’m leaving out any judgement as to whether I was safe, all this was a form of bargaining. So I joined BASK and stopped cutting corners and spent more time practicing rolling at the pool and joined more trips.

I would set aside time for a class a month for surf zone and rescue practice while you are learning to roll if paddling alone in coastal conditions is going to be a given. The reality is that you can’t predict the weather or the random wave as you need to compromise your usual pattern/course, if you haven’t done a rescue in those conditions alone,then you’ll be learning how to do it alone,unplanned. Which is a heck of a way to learn something.

Paddling alone
I would bet that you would be pretty safe and sensible. Maybe it would be a good idea to stick to your Scupper Pro until you get so you can roll everytime you go over? ( I seem to have lost my “correct technique” roll in the month I had to give up surfing.) Once you have to wet exit off shore in a sink its a real big drag. When you are with a friend sometime dump your boat outside the surfzone and try to swim it into a rocky beach in real waves (> 4’), currents, rips etc. It’s a lot of work and can be exhausting. On Seakayaker online there is an article on “entrapment”, situations where people have gotten hung up in their boats upside down because of equipment failure (shoes hooked on a foot peg etc, broken bulkhead etc.). That is something I had never given much thought to.) When I paddled up your way this summer I was impressed by the cliffs and cold water, it probably adds a little bit more of the danger factor than here in San Diego. I know everyone you paddled with when you were down here go out alone…but most of us are pretty cautious. Tsunamichuck of course can give you the best advice for paddling alone. I won’t go out alone if the wind is blowing more than 10-15 knots or if it is forecast to blow wind waves of any decent size. Swell size does not seem to matter except for the launch and landing. I have cell phone, GPS, compass, spare paddle, signal mirrors etc. VHS radio would be a good idea, I think you already carry one?

Practice your paddle float

– Last Updated: Feb-01-04 12:11 PM EST –

rescue until your life can depend on it! Then slowly worsen the conditions you practice it in. (Try to do this with friends around who can help if you fail. Practice it when you are desperately tired. Take a 30 minute swim with your gear. Carry flares, if you can, carry parachute flares. Work your roll and other skills ( e.g. reentry and roll)as well . An extra paddle well secured is a must!

Another question is, are you comfortable in the water! A person who can swim into shore knowing that every wave will deprive them of air for a few seconds, (or maybe longer) can have fun swimming to shore in moderate surf, where another person (with different skills and experience) would be at the edge of panic and worse.

Good vhf radio a must for paddling the ocean alone, at least that is what my wife says! Cell phone in waterproof bag as back up is recommended. Get the harbormasters number and have it programmed on speed dial. Without knowledge of where you are, it is hard to call for rescue. Get familiar with the location and features and consider a gps as back up to that as well.

IMHOP paddling alone is more risky for me than paddling with others of my skill. Equipment failure, catastrophic body failure, blowing a roll in conditions are examples of this. I do paddle alone but I acknowledge the step up in risk and find it acceptable. I work on skills and use gear to minimize these risks.

A couple of times per year I get to paddle with fantastic teachers and wonderful companions who encourage to me to go to my edge. This shows me where it is. I intend to go nowhere close to it when I am alone. These trips to the edge help keep me in the game if the unintended happens. Paddle enough and it surely will.

good suggestions
Peter, I really didn’t want to push anything while alone, so although I was better than the average paddler when I joined the club my assisted rescue skills were garbage,which makes me less than the average paddler in safety since they did assisted rescues as a matter of course since individuals were falling out when taken beyond their skills in a group.

Follow above good advice , twice
check the forcast and go for it. Maybe just run outside for a beyond the fence for a few minutes first then head back. See how you feel.

Always let some one know your plans too. Carry a personal strobe thing too.

Heading out at night under a bright moon is really fun.

I see everyone responding is as cautious

– Last Updated: Jan-31-04 5:42 PM EST –

as me:) I actually do usually carry all of the safety gear mentioned, except for a VHF radio, no matter where I am paddling. I also have access to a handheld VHF radio if needed. I own the USK safety and rescue DVD and watch periodically.

Truth is, I would prefer to go out with a buddy as suggested, especially when venturing out in the ocean, but I am just not finding someone who wants to go out once a week that lives near me. I work half the weekends each month which makes classes difficult. Although, I do enroll in them, and enjoy them when my schedule allows for it. I have often found them cancelled due to low enrollment. I can swim, and am pretty fit. I cross train on an indoor rower and row 10000 meters several times a week, to build my endurance, and I also hike.

I do have good judgement, that's why I hesitate. The SOT may be a good start to see how it feels being alone.

I appreciate the feedback. It's exactly what I was looking for, from paddlers whose opinions I respect.

LeeG I didn't join BASK, but I did join western seakayakers (a little closer to home, with many of the same membership)I have most Mondays off, and try to keep Thursdays free for paddling opportunities, so if you know of any BASK members who want to paddle around Santa Cruz on Thursdays, please encourage them to email me. I have also left my name and contact info at Kayak Connection. I also just posted my request to the western sea kayakers listserv. I need instruction and practice opportunities on the water, otherwise it's mental knowledge, but not body knowledge. As a midwife, I know the difference, and I hope that someday, I can trust my body to kayak, the way I trust my hands to midwife:)

Thanks again-this is a midwife weekend for sure. I admitted 6 patients in labor yesterday, and deliverd 4 women before I left. I am going back tonight for 12 hours. Next weekend is a paddling weekend! With pnet friends actually!

Comfort Level & Self Assessment

– Last Updated: Jan-31-04 7:29 PM EST –

I think you would be fine in "protected" waters, e.g. bays and harbors, provided you have the ability to self rescue -- be it in SOT or SINK -- in less than a couple of minutes. With SINK this excludes blowing up the paddle float and pumping which can stretch completion of self rescue to near 10 minutes. Even with this, I would not go out alone without a VHF. And I would advise against going out when winds are producing chops of 2' feet or above which in "protected" waters can be upto 20 knots or above.

In terms of open ocean and/or winter water temps, I would not advise anyone in a SINK going out alone without a decent roll and reentry and roll. These are quite simply the most reliable and quickest self rescues for a SINK.

If you don't have the book, I strongly suggest John Lull's book, Seakayaking Safety and Rescues. It's more than about safety "techniques." In fact, it provides a blue print for progressive training in seakayaking skills. Aside from missing white water as a vehicle for skills development, Lull pretty much captures the bulk of issues/approaches. One of the issue indeed is whether numbers automatically ensure more "safety." He argues not and I agree.

I started kayaking alone and knew that I would do a lot of paddling alone. So I made learning the roll the first priority before anything else. I considered it (and still do) the basis for all future skills development and journies. I learned the roll in the first half year but I didn't journey out into the ocean until I felt my roll reliable through tests in the surf. I didn't go out into the ocean in the winter alone until my second season when I added on a drysuit and a VHF and had my roll further tested in more surf and white water.

Frankly, I feel much safer paddling alone in so much as I don't think about safety (and related partner, fear) once I had made my assessment of the conditions (and worst case scenario) for the day and decided it's a "go." In fact, it is when I am out with a group that the issue of "safety" pops back into the forefront of my consciousness. Quite simply, I don't always know every one's skill levels in a group and, more important, I have no clue how they may react in when the poop hits the fan. Until I have seen how someone acts in adversity, I will always retain a level of uncertainty. This skepticism is from other arenas where I have seen "experts" who can't walk the talk when the adversity hits. Walking the talk is not necessary about specific techniques but being able to act and not panic in face of dangerous situation.

Anyway my 2 cents on it. But, this is coming from a self professed adrenaline junkie who likes playing at the edges.


and a GREAT
2 centavos at that, Sing-Bro!

This is solid advice!


seakayaking site
Good sound safety advice being offered here, you’ll find the same, as well as the friendly paddling community at, A great source for all sorts of information regarding seakayaking, might even be a source for potential paddling partners. Though I canoe inland waters, I’ve gleened a great deal of valuable information and insight from reading the posts contributed there.

The following link tells the tragic story of a young man (and many around him) who failed the necessary preparation before taking on the sea. Not at all that I see a correlation to you santacruzmidwife, but to highlight an extreme of someone who had no business being on the water that day. This link was posted on paddlewise in relation to a discussion and growing concern about an adventure race currently being organized on the Alaskan coast.

address correction

That Story

– Last Updated: Feb-01-04 5:49 AM EST –

was also posted here right after it happened, though not with as many details and the benefits of more interviews and hindsight.

When you combine the inadequate experience and equipment of the competitors and race organizers, and the high goal orientation(obsession) of some of the folks in these types of events, you literally have have folks driven to self destruction (as I posted on another thread).

Having said this, this is the first time I read the detailed account of the young man who died. I give him alot of credit and respect. Even in his dying moments, he abided the entreaty of his partner in fate to not climb onto that person's boat lest both of them face the same. There was quite a bit of bravery and honor in that young man. (I offer a bow to his spirit.)


thank you sing
for paying tribute to the spirit of this adventurous soul, Rene Gabriel Arseneault. There has been inquiry and inquest, still ongoing, into the contributing factors and how such a tragedy might be prevented in the future. Here are a few more links to fill in some of the picture. ~heidi

I’m in Annapolis but remember a lot of BASK trips out of the bay area so connecting with a group may take some social footwork. Learning to roll is the best thing you can do. The skill won’t replace a VHF but it’ll reduce the need for one substantially.

One suggestion - paddling leg FIRST
It seems many of the adventure races put the paddling last. Can someone tell me why? I can give several good reasons why not.

interesting question

– Last Updated: Feb-02-04 12:36 AM EST –

ultimately it's up to you, even if you go with someone else whether or not to paddle. Just because you're with someone else doesn't make you invulnerable. Of course I've gotten into some stupid situations alone that perhaps could have been deadly.
Short list:
Seal launching off of ice shelves then and not being able to get back off the water.
Taking a 15 minute Februaryish unplanned swim in Lake Michigan with only a 3mm wetsuit.
Pitchpoling my seakayak 3 feet from the pierhead at South Haven in Dec.

Now I didn't die from any of these, and it's a relatively short list of stupid things, but when I look back at them I'm not sure how paddling with another person would've helped. But using good judgement and having good skills is something that would have saved me from making all three of those mistakes. I have begun to develop both, but I think judgement isn't something you can learn. Hopefully this isn't true, because that's my weak spot.

Anyone physically fit can learn to roll, judgement is really a life skill.

Doing it wrong
Nothing like doing it wrong to let you know how to do it right. :slight_smile: