Paddling Solo

I’m relatively new to kayaking…and looking to buy my first boat this spring. I’ve done some paddling with tours on vacation and rented a couple of times with my wife. Now that I’m ready to take that next step and buy a boat, is it wise to paddle by myself or should I alway be looking for a parnter to go with? I have decent “beginner” skills, but have never taken lessons so to speak. I’m dying to get out on the water, but I’m afraid I may not always be able to go with someone else. Can I paddle alone safely???

skills, training, and equipment

– Last Updated: Apr-21-08 1:30 PM EST –

I wouldn't consider going alone unless you have very strong self-rescue skill and appropriate equipment to allow you to handle a while in the water (clothing appropriate for water temps, PFD, etc.).

I do paddle alone from time to time, but am much more conservative in where I go and what I do. I stay closer to shore and/or in areas where there would be other boats around to help me, and avoid activities that may be more risky (no surfing or rock gardening). And I only go in conditions that I know I can get back into my boat should something happen.

Alone or not, I always wear a wet suit and PFD (water is cold here in NorCal), so those aren't in question.

It depends
Really depends on your location, water bodies available, water temperature, etc. Think about all the different scenarios that could occur. Can you handle them?

Obviously situations with warm, non-moving water, and in a populated area are relatively mundane.

I forgot to add…
I’ve pretty much progressed my skills being solo. I was in your “boat” not too long ago. I started with flat water, moved to moving water, and have progressed up to class I/II rapids.

Find a local club
I’m sure there are some. I see no problem with going solo in non-moving water if you’ve got the right safety equipment. But you’ll learn more and improve your skills more quickly if you spend some time on the water with more experienced paddlers. And you can go places that you shouldn’t be going solo, and maybe shouldn’t be going with your wife if her rescue skills are also limited.

If you have confidence in your boat,
yourself, your swimming skills and your self rescue skills, why not.

If you answer “no” to any of the above, then don’t!



Ask yourself

– Last Updated: Apr-21-08 10:41 AM EST –

"If I capsized or came out of my boat, would I be in trouble?" Be realistic -- many people have no idea how quickly cold water reduces your ability to function.

If you have the skills, equipment, judgement, and conditions to make capsizing a non-event, then solo is reasonable. If you're paddling a sit-on-top in warm, shallow water, you have a lot more leeway than someone paddling a rec boat in cold water.

Simple things like staying close -- really close-- to shore can improve your margin of safety.

Local knowledge of tides, currents, winds, traffic, etc. also makes a big difference in paddling safely.

same here…
I just bought my first kayak. I work weekends and am off all week. I LOVE my schedule since anything I do there are less crowds. However, this also means I do a lot of things solo… backpacking, biking, hiking… now paddling. The other option is for me to stay home. That isn’t going to happen. So, I bought the gear that I need to be safe and plan to do flat water until I feel comfortable doing more. Hopefully I will be able to spend some time with others at some point. Maybe even get some instruction.

Paddling Solo

– Last Updated: Apr-21-08 10:04 AM EST –

I'm retired and almost always paddle solo. However, before I started paddling solo, I did a number of things and follow certain "rules."

o I took a basic kayaking safety class as well as a water rescue class.

o I never paddle moving water solo

o I'm a good swimmer and I never paddle without wearing a PFD (a PFD in the yak does not count).

o I stay reasonably close to shore (an easy swim, if it became necessary)

o I always dress appropriately for the air/water temperature and do not paddle solo when the water temperature is extremely cold.

o I always let someone know where I'm going and when I plan to be back.

o I always carry my cell and/or a VHF radio, depending on the situation. I also carry one or more signaling devices (whistle, waterproof flashlight, flare).

o I always check the weather forecast and am aware of weather conditions when on the water.

o I never paddle in places solo where the conditions are potentially beyond my skill level.

Flat water, sure
Warm flat water is relatively safe, you’re not likely to tip over, and if you do, “rescue” is pretty easy. Moving water is more of an issue and the ocean can be more of an issue too. I kayak in warm flat water, away from powerboats (it only takes one drunk boater to hit me and ruin my day) and relatively close to shore. If I go in moving water, it’s slow, almost not moving. I would go in the ocean if it was warm and relatively flat and if I first made sure there was not current or tide that would sweep me out to sea (like a protected bay or something).

I’ve got no skills and don’t want any. I enjoy the peace and sort of zen like repetitive paddling motion and seeing wildlife.


Guess I did all wrong. Bought
the canoe, took it to the water, got in and started paddling. Did the same 5 years ago with my first kayak. Paddling clubs, instructions, all that is nice and contributes to safety and confidence in the water, if available, but nothing wrong with just doing it. Of course, I picked bodies of water that were calm and stayed close to shore until used to the boats. Do the same and you should be fine if you don’t go the club and/or instruction route. Practice safety, wear the PFD, and take time to get to know the boat. There are decent publications out there, as well as videos, that can help.

when you choose
to paddle solo, give yourself an extra margin of safety. There are many excellent examples of how to do that already posted.

YOU are responsible for you. If you are pushing hard on your comfort level or skill level, consider backing it off a notch paddling solo. You can go for it another time as your skills improve or if you are with knowledgeable paddlers.

One part of life is weighing risks vs. opportunities. I think generally the more you know about the sport (via practice, clubs, instruction, in any combo) and the more honest you are about your abilities the easier it is to make these decisions.

“just doing it”

– Last Updated: Apr-21-08 11:40 AM EST –

Just wanted to make the point that your water temperatures in Texas make a big difference. We've already had a couple of near-fatalities here in NH from people "just doing it" in snowmelt runoff.

You didn't do it wrong. It sounds like you were reasonably cautious and have more sense than a lot of folks.

Water temps do make a difference, yes.
Have to admit that there was ice on the water…a rare thing in the Houston/Galveston area…when I took the canoe out. Wouldn’t do that again.

solo kayaking
Wow this board is awesome. Thirteen responses in less than a day, amazing. I live in Maine and the water temps are cold year round. I’m going to get some instruction on self rescue and possibly rolling techniques. I’m really pumped up to get paddling, but I want to do it safely, and since I’ll probably be kayaking solo about half the time, it makes sense to get the proper training in case I do fall out of the boat in the chilly Maine water!

Thanks to all that posted advice. This forum rocks!

solo paddling
I live in BC where the water is always cold and I do some solo paddling. I find the shoreline is the most interesting so I stick to it, and do not take any chances with weather. I also paddle an inflatable, started with one, and decided not to move up to solo hardshell. I can rent one when I want to go with friends but when I’m alone I appreciate the extra safety factor of my inflatable (stability, easy to get back in, etc).

I really don’t go far on my solo trips and that’s fine by me. Sometimes you just need to get out on the water and I’ll happily paddle around in circles in a sheltered bay if that’s all I can do.

The problem that people new to the sport face is that it is hard to imagine exactly what can go wrong and just how bad it can go wrong. On the surface paddling is a pretty simple sport. But you need to understand the potential dangers.

There is a lot of great feedback here and I would suggest some reading… The book by Sea Kayaker “Deep Trouble”. It’s full of accounts of kayaking accidents and it is a great way to see the kinds of situations you need to understand, be prepared for and/or be able to avoid.

Paddling solo
I too am retired. AND paddle solo 90% of the time. (All my young friends are at work!!) The “rules” posted above are exactly my rules!


Where do you live?

– Last Updated: Apr-22-08 10:12 AM EST –

Your profile lists tidewater Virginia and a post lower down says you live in Maine. I am confused.

If Maine is the correct answer, you really really need to look towards the retiree advice, and depending on where we can recommend some good places to get help with the basic skills and seamanship. We have spent a few weeks in the midcoast region each July for over 15 yrs now, have done training with coaches based out of Boothbay and I will be sending off the registration to our 3rd symposium in Bar Harbor today.

Again if it's Maine you really need to get a true sea kayak, frankly mostly for the self-rescue part. You don't want to be trying to climb back into a marginal touring/rec boat in water that is still barely 60 degrees in July. That'll probably mean training because it takes more for most to get used to these boats.

Also huge in Maine is nav skills, and a GPS, because of the fog. You can easily be made blind within 20 minutes in the summer, even if you thought you were fairly close to shore. I know that we should all be able to handle this issue via old-fashioned charts and tracking where you are, but when you are out there alone and can't see more than 20 feet a GPS and a fresh set of batteries is priceless.

lots of good advice here
but i just wanted to add that paddling with others doesn’t necessarily make it a safer paddle, unless your compnaions are good paddlers,with good self and assisted rescue skills. also, when i paddle my local waters, i consider it wise for at least one person to carry a cell with the harbor number programed in, or a VHF radio.

personally, i don’t see the point in paddling with other people who can’t at least be as helpful to you, as you can be to them, in the name of safety. enjoying their company on the water, is a different matter:)