Paddling Alone

General thoughts on paddling alone? We have a reservoir close by, it’s pretty sheltered and not very big, but deep.

Assuming I take safety precautions, how safe is it to paddle alone? I’m a beginner and am not wanting to do several hours or anything, just maybe go after work to paddle for an hour or so to gain experience and such. of course I would tell someone where I was going, wear my pfd, have a cell phone and do whatever else is recommended.

I would only go on nice clear days, but what sort of guidelines as far as wind do i need to worry about? in the summer we can get storms that blow through pretty quick (coastal SC) but they should have popped up on radar before I head out so I should have a heads up.

any books or websites that will have tips? or is it just a bad idea in general?


Go paddle!
Water depth more than 10’ makes no difference if you lose your boat.

What are your backup plans? Are there houses scattered around the reservoir if you are forced to shore? Are there roads providing good access if you need a pickup? Are they easy for helpers to find and locate you on them? Is your launch area well marked by a boat launch area or some marker like a power pole, tall tree, or large house nearby? Can you keep your cell phone dry?

With the precautions you posted, and some backup plans, you should have no problem.

Paddling alone always a risk and the
safety gear and weather monitoring you mention is good. I also carry an extra paddle, a mirror and small bright light (on/in life jacket) for distress signalling, and practice self-rescue until it becomes pretty easy. In coastal SC might choose shallower areas so worst case you could wade the boat in or beach it for a sudden squall. Stuff happens. R

Solo adventures R us
I know, as well as anybody I think, that if one waits for a group to go paddling, hiking, or whatever - one might not get to do much. Especially if one has a “schedule” as odd as mine.

Most of my boating is solo - just like most everything else I do for adventure. I say, do it - but do it carefully and with a plan.

Make sure you take temperatures (including water temps) into account. Don’t rely on weather forecasts too much. In my area, storms can blow in with no warning from the meteorologist. Keep an eye on the weather. Get to know the prevailing winds and other patterns of the area and be ready to bug out when it starts looking like things are going downhill. If you lake has a lot of fetch in the direction the wind will blow, you’ll want to plan around that.

Don’t forget the basics - food, water, shelter, first-aid kit (and/or spare clothing if appropriate)…in case you get stranded for a while. This counts for short trips around a local lake, as much as multi-day adventures - especially when going it alone.

Oh - and file a “flight plan”.

Make hay while the sun shines
I agree with Steve. A newbie paddling solo may not be the best way to go, but if you wait till others are available and willing, you likely won’t paddle nearly as much. And since lots of “butt time” does help you figure things out, it’s important to get out as much as you like.

Water depth doesn’t mean a lot once it’s over your neck anyway, so the main things to remember are to (1) stay close to shore at all times, (2) dress for immersion (without overheating–sometimes a tricky balance to achieve), (3) pay attention to weather both before and during, and (4) know where your bailout points are. If in doubt, do an out-and-back route (not a loop), so that you can gauge your effort a little better (assuming it’s not windy). Bring food, water, and some extra clothing in quick reach.

Be aware of what you’re undertaking, but don’t worry. Worry has a way of causing your body to tense up…not a good thing in a kayak.

If you can swim -yes
If you can’t -no



If someone can’t swim…
… maybe they shouldn’t paddle in groups either. Not fair to expect others to assume that added responsibility/risk. But that’s largely another topic.

I paddle solo almost exclusively, but don’t promote it either (do as I say, not as I do sort of thing). Has to be your call, and only you know if it makes sense for you or not (or hopefully come to know/learn quickly).

As others note, you need to really think about several safety aspects - though I think that should be the same either way. I’m one of those who thinks groups should be comprised of reasonably competent soloists who happen to be paddling together. Other way to put it: If I won’t go out there myself, why would I do it just because others are there? Having help/backup is great - but never as a crutch. Some training/development scenarios would obviously be exceptions to that (purposely pushing the envelope in somewhat controlled/monitored situations), but for general paddling that’s how I approach it.

I agree with much of what has been said. The standard line is not to paddle alone, but I also end up going solo a decent amount of the time. I definitely am more cautious when out alone than when I am with other paddlers of my level or above.

The one thing that I don’t think has been said is to make sue your self-rescue skills are good. If you get knocked over in deep water - make sure you know how to get back in to the boat by yourself.

Go it alone
Although I often paddle in small groups with trusted partners, especially on extended trips, I thoroughly enjoy paddling alone too. In my opinion, there is no better way to appreciate the relaxing, meditative, even spiritual aspects of kayaking and nature than paddling solo.

I highly recommend “Sea Kayaking Safety and Rescue” by John Lull:

Other than the chapter on self-rescues, there is not a dedicated section pertaining to solo paddling. But the other chapters regarding judgement, risk assessment, etc. will certainly help you in determining when to stay ashore and when to hit the water for some solo paddling.

And I can think of no better sea-kayaking safety book for any new paddler.

Good Luck!


Great you are asking!!!

– Last Updated: Apr-26-09 10:44 PM EST –

It is great you are asking about this. There are different risks for each group of paddlers, the beginning person, the intermediate person, the advanced person.

Steve Maynard my mentor said it this way

A beginner is someone who is afraid of things they don't have to be, and not afraid of things they should be.

An intermediate paddler is the often the wisest and safest, because they have learned what is to be feared and what is not be be feared and do not overestimate their skills and the precautions taken

The advanced paddler has more skills and knowledge but must guard against complacency and the absence of harm, i.e., that just because they got away with a risk does not mean there was no risk. A low probability but highly lethal consequence only needs one occurrence.

So, I say don't go solo till you hang with some intermediate and advanced folks and learn how to go solo in a balanced way, responsible to yourself and to those who care about you and who you may be asking to come and risk themselves to rescue you.

A solo paddler died in our area just two weeks ago! Yes, I solo paddle and am all for you learning to do it. Just toes go in first is the fastest way to get there, imo.

I can’t swim
does that mean I shouldn’t go out like I have been doing for the last 9 years? Because I don’t swim is one of the reasons I use a kayak and have learned five of the Greenland rolls so far. Plus I practice and can execute a paddle float re-entry and a re-enter and roll. I have paddled (accompanied) in 35-40 mph wind with accompanying waves and done just fine in my Romany.

Risk is greater paddling alone
No matter who you are or what your skills are. There is no reason to deny that. But only you can decide what risk you want to take. Sometimes that risk is really small. Sometimes it is substantial (as in running class IV whitewater). I actually look at it another way. I really like paddling with companions. Maybe you don’t. Or maybe you don’t have any. But the paddling experience is enhanced for me when I share it with others. Obviously YMMV.

Be Conservative
I also do a lot of things solo that people say shouldn’t be done alone … paddling, hiking, cross-country skiing. I always act more conservatively when going solo. I know the argument (made earlier in this thread) that one shouldn’t do things in a group that they wouldn’t do solo … that you shouldn’t rely on the group to rescue you. But I think that depends on the group and its experience and expectations. I can self rescue, but it definitely would mean more in-water time than an assisted rescue in most cases. Therefore, in cold water conditions, I’m not going to be “pushing the envelope” when solo. In general, the consequences of things going wrong are greater when solo than in a group. As someone else said, start close to shore, don’t overestimate how much territory you can cover, etc.

Here we go!
Two points you might focus on

  1. I said “maybe”

  2. I also said “Has to be your call”

    I hope we at least share the “do as I say, not as I do” thing…

You have learned and done all that …
good stuff.

Why not learn the most important safety aspect of being on the water which is swimming?

Doesn’t make much sense to me not to. -Unless you have some sort of a handicap that won’t allow you to



Learn to do self-rescues
ASAP. And dress to get wet. Until you can get back in your boat alone, don’t go further from shore than you can swim.

Re weather, get a weather radio with an alert feature on it. You tend to find out that storms, especially in summer, don’t always behave to plan when you are sitting in a little boat.

I agree… Go Paddle!
I paddle alone, mtn bike alone, atv alone, hike alone, camp alone, hunt alone… And I thoroughly enjoy every moment. Yes, I do all these things with friends and family as well… But, it does not stop me from going alone. You already stated the safety precautions you would take, you are asking questions, and you are not overestimating your skill - so, GO, have fun and enjoy the serenity of it. For me, these times are special and a time to relax, listen to the silence, meditate and refocus. I have had many a close call over the years… But, each one was an adventure in itself. Nothing like being with nature and all her fury and surviving. Just like being with nature and all her splendor… It is all a grand adventure and let’s me know I am alive!

I was a Campfire Kids leader long ago
And the rule is TWO adults on every campout!

That way if one kid is hurt, one adult can rush him tothe hospital while the other remains behind withthe other kids and gear.

So, here is a possibility…

If you are alone and an accident happens, who will help you? Can you set your own broken limb ? Can you treat yourself for heatstroke or water poisoning?

If you overturn and make a wet exit, who will chase down your boat? Or rescue if if you are not wearing your PFD?

As for me, I like to paddle alone and rarely wear my PFD.

But then, I cannot swim and never recovered from my breakdown when my wife moved her bf into our house on my birthday so I don’t care!

But you might.

Or, unlike me, you may have friends who care about you and want you back alive and safe.

Be as safe as you want to be.

leer34, I paddled alone for years.

– Last Updated: Apr-27-09 2:51 PM EST –

Make sure someone knows where you are going, wear the PFD, pay very close attention to tides if you are in the salt, and don't do what I did as a beginner.
I had no idea what the weather was doing that day and got caught in the marsh at high tide in a hellacious thunderstorm.In a rec boat, no skirt. Filled the boat half full of rainwater.
My wife was scared to death waiting for me an then she got mad!
Since I din't get killed, it was fun!

Paddle alone most of the time
I like it because I can go at my own speed, go where I want and stop when I want. I always let the wife know where I am, carry a cell and don’t paddle in conditions that I’m not prepared for.