Sea Kayak Essential Tasks/Training Plan

I am serious about improving my overall abilities as a sea kayaker. I enjoy the sport of paddling and self-improvement and learning help me to enjoy the sport more.

I am taking a look at developing a training plan for myself. I am looking at this through the lens which we use in the Army where we develop training plans based upon a list of mission essential tasks and supporting tasks, etc. and then use these tasks to focus our training, and then assess our performance at those tasks to determine our overall readiness. It works well.

I have gone and developed a hasty list of what I felt were essential skills for sea kayakers seeking to improve their overall skills. I have broken the list down into several essential skills with supporting tasks. I will use this to develop my training plan and assess my performance.

This list is rough…needs tweaking on wording etc, but I wanted to get some thoughts on paper.

Please take a look at this and let me know if you feel there is anything I should add or how I could change it. Pehaps it will be of use to others.

Also…if you think this is stupid then please move on and keep your wise cracks to yourself.

Here it is (it’s pretty long):

Sea Kayaking Essential Tasks

  1. Master basic strokes and Concepts

    • Forward paddling

    • Reverse paddling

    • Turning strokes forward and reverse

    • Recover strokes and rolling

    • Lateral movement strokes, static and on the move

    • Stopping

    • Turning boat 360 degrees on the spot

    • Understand hydro dynamics of boats (basic concepts of kayak design and impact on maneuverability, impact on boat speed, etc). Understand basic concepts of why boats turn, high and low pressure, weather cocking, etc.

    • Understand hydro dynamics of your paddle (principles of why and how draws and rudders work, etc)

  2. Cover Distance Efficiently

    • Employ efficient forward stroke technique

    • Fitness

    • Paddle in wind

    • Make effective use of currents

  3. Paddle confidently in ocean conditions

    • High winds

    • Launch and land in surf, and other conditions (rocks, etc)

    • Negotiate a surf zone

    • Surf waves with control

    • Paddle in tide race

    • Break in and out of eddies

    • Ferry across a current

    • Negotiate a rocky coast line

    • Be able to read ocean conditions from on the water and from shore

    • Understand various ocean conditions and how they develop (swell, waves, breaking waves, wind waves, currents, eddies, clapotis, dumping vs. spilling waves, etc).

    • Understand the effect of wind on paddling speed

  4. Safety and Rescues

    • Perform self rescues in conditions

    • Perform assisted rescues in conditions

    • Empty a partner’s boat

    • Employ single and tandem tow techniques in conditions, and be prepared to deal with a capsize while towing.

    • Perform rafted tows, anchored rescues, etc.

    • Contact tows

    • Rescue a swimmer

    • Perform basic first aid

    • Understand and treat hypothermia

    • Use a HF Radio and understand different transmissions, frequencies, etc.

    • Be prepared to conduct an unplanned bivy

    • Carry and be well versed in the employment of flares and other signal devices

    • Be able to perform basic boat repair on the water and have the necessary materials to do so

    • Be able to estimate and report your location (using GPS, resections, piloting, bearings and distances to or from known points, etc)

    • Understand how to avoid a collision and actions to take with an imminent collision

    • Understand and be able to deal with a sea sick paddler

  5. Seamanship

    • Understand various ocean conditions and how they develop (swell, waves, breaking waves, wind waves, currents, eddies, clapotis, dumping vs. spilling waves, etc).

    • Be able to anticipate likely ocean conditions from a chart

    • Understand basic boating rules, lights, etc.

    • Be able to identify shipping corridors and paddle safely among other boats

    • Know how to determine if you are on a collision course

    • Understand basic principles of weather, know how to anticipate weather conditions / changes, be familiar with how to read a weather map

    • Employ common sense and wisdom in making decisions on the water

    • Understand tides and currents (50/90 rule, rule of 12ths, rule of thirds, spring tides, neap tides, tidal ranges, etc)

    • Understand the Beauford wind scale.

    • Estimate wind speed using Beauford scale, by impact on paddling speed and with wind gauge

  6. Trip Planning

    • Know where and how to access information about a paddling destination (charts, tidal information, marine forecasts, etc). Know various online sources, and where to find information locally.

    • Understand the impact that tides and currents will have on your journey

    • Know how to use tides, currents, eddies, etc. to your advantage

  7. Group Paddling and Leadership

    • Plan, organize and execute a group paddle

    • Deliver trip briefing that conveys important information to group about route, conditions, safety, rescues, etc.

    • Know and be able to employ hand signals

    • Establish and employ group SOPs

    • Paddle effectively as a member of a group (be vigilant of others in group, disseminate information about safety hazards, etc)

    • Exercise group leadership on the water (disseminate information, be able to make wise decisions, maintain continuity and control of group on the water, maintain accountability of all paddlers and ensure all make it safely to the destination, plan rest stops etc, be prepared to deal with contingencies, employ leadership in rescue situations, maintain group motivation)

    • Be able to access condition and welfare of group members

  8. Tripping

    • Possess and know how to employ necessary equipment for both day and expedition paddles

    • Be equipped and able to paddle in various conditions and environments

    • Conduct bivy

    • Plan and pack sufficient food and water, be able to plan and execute appropriate resupply

    • Develop an effective packing list for day and extended paddles

    • Pack a kayak efficiently

    • Conduct Pre-paddle checks for essential equipment, equipment serviceability, etc.

  9. Navigation

    • Read a chart (understand depths, concept of chart datum, determine actual water depth based on tide height, understand drying heights etc, identify coastal features and terrain, identify land features)

    • Know and identify buoys, markers both day and night. Be able to identify on chart and on the water

    • Perform self location (resection, crooked hat, reverse azimuth to course, basic terrain identification

    • Know how to use ranges

    • Know how to determine if you have drifted using ranges and compass

    • Navigate by dead reckoning

    • Navigate by piloting

    • Plan and execute multi-leg course making use of intermediate destinations

    • Plan and execute a long crossing

    • Understand and employ concept of aiming off

    • Understand and employ tidal vectors

    • Navigate to a coastal destination

    • Navigate to a distant island

    • Identify hazards (overfalls, rocks, etc)

    • Employ a compass and be able to determine bearings, etc)

    • Understand conversion of magnetic vs. chart bearings

    • Plot a course, determine chart and magnetic bearings, measure distances both straight line and coastal, estimate time of travel, estimate effect of currents and winds

    • Read chart bearings using protractor, compass and magnetic rose

    • Be able to determine a lat / long on a chart

    • Be familiar with the use of a GPS and how it can aid in navigation. Understand its limitations.

    • Plan decision points and bailout locations along route as needed

    • Plan route to avoid hazards (using dog legs, waypoints, etc).

    • Navigate at night

Training Plan
Enroll in some form of formal training. These programs will take you as far as you want to go. Examples ar the ACA and BCU programs. Good luck. Vaughn Fulton.

In addition to…

– Last Updated: Sep-06-07 12:07 PM EST –

Matt just got his BCU 4 star, tho' if anyone wants to get more so they could retake the new one in 2008 that is supposed to have new leadership stuff. So this seems to be in addition to the syllabuses available from training organizations.

Keep a record
and write a book! With your obvious enjoyment of, and attention to, details it would be a winner.


For extended trips in more remote locations. Know what is does, when to use it.

Could also expand 1st Aid to more of Wilderness First Responder Aid - again, depends on locations.

great suggestion
Make sure you remember your pnet friends when you write it!

I’m going to recommend that you visit and perhaps take some lessons from George Gronseth of Seattle’s Kayak Academy. George lives in Issaquah actually. Like you he is obsessively anal about details, proceedure etc., but he’s gone beyond the mold a lot with repsect to strokes, technique etc. He is a superb paddler with euro or Greenland approaches and offers what I think is superb training beyond the texbook stuff. He does the best job of navigation and Rules, and expedition trainig I have seen in the industry in 20 years. He has been a long time friend and I used to teach surf kayaking years back for him.

I say George because I think he and his approach would not only compliment what you have done, but expose you to things you may not get with stricktly BCU. By doing both you gain. At the very least he’s a great fellow worth chatting with. Have fun with your journeys.

Current CPR certification
Under ‘Safety and Rescues,’ I would explicitely include current CPR training and certification. It has changed quite a bit in the past year. Much more emphasis on pumping the heart and keeping the blood flowing.

Great list, by the way. I found it useful to read.


Good start
For you, or for a book? If this is for a book, I think bracing strokes, bracing turns, and rolling are big concepts that deserve more than one bullet. You might consider giving rolling and self rescue its own section.

Based on the level of detail in other areas, I would expect more on methods of communication. (paddle signals, whistle, flashlight). I would also expect some rules on camping etiquette (permission, how to find appropriate state laws, fire permits etc.). Lastly, if file a float plan, was on the list, I missed it.

Carry on soldier…


#433 Keep a journal; #434 take at least
one 5* training #435; Take a 5* assessment; #436 prepare your charts well in advance; #437 Call George; #438 paddle in as many different areas of the world as you can; #439 take up whitewater kayaking; #440 buy a real surf boat.

Augustus Dogmaticus

ACA / BCU courses…

– Last Updated: Sep-06-07 7:12 PM EST –

In reference to the comment of my goals is to one day pass a 5 star assessment. This list is a training plan to improve as a paddler and to reach this goal...I left that out of the original post because of the disdain that some hold for the BCU here on this board.

I definitely plan to do five star training next summer. Was tempted to do it at the recent Rough Water Symposium, but there were some other courses that I wanted to take instead. Figure I will save teh 5 star training for next summer and bone up on my own in the meantime to better prepare so that I can get the most out of the 5 star training when I take it. I think you get a lot more out of it if you show up prepared.

I also really want to take the BCU Canoe Safety assessment and would like to take a Wilderness First Responder Course or some Red Cross classes as well.


I’ve experienced nothing but good things
in the BCU system. It has paid me back way more than the cost of the program. Most of the guys that hack on the system are a bunch of chumps anyway, WGAF what they think. ; )In addition to Wildy First Aid and Canoe Safety, you may want to add Incident Management to your list. I agree with Salty that George Gronseth is a great asset for your progression. I don’t know or care what his opinion of the BCU or ACA is, but he is a wealth of knowledge and it is good to get info from different places. He’s one of the better places to go in a non BCU learning path, should you decide to stray from the one true path of enlightenment. ; )

I’m serious about learning whitewater skills. You will find advanced sea paddling way easier with a whitewater background than you will without. Better yet join the Green Berets, then the Army will transfer you to Ft Lewis, WA state and you can paddle year round when you aren’t shooting terrorists and commies.

Augustus Dogmaticus

…for those of us at lower levels. Do we have to know all this stuff? YIKES. My ADD wouldn’t even let me finish READING the entire list much less expanding on it!!!


Now put it all under plastic and get your grease pencil so you can line it out as you do it!

George from Kayak Academy also sells some great drysuits!! :wink:


Obsessive Compulsive Disorder ?

– Last Updated: Sep-06-07 10:38 PM EST –

Do you make lists for other parts of your life?
Do you find it more rewarding to make lists or just go paddling?

I don’t think many
people have disdain for the BCU at all. Most thinking folk would see that it is a thorough learning progression with ample history.

The Rub for some comes from the superiority BS from the fledglings who get overly impressed with their chosen organization. There are no skills taught there that are unique or can’t be addressed in any number of programs, including Gronseth’s, etc.

I know a few of the senior folk in the BCU and as others have said they are fine, open minded people who love kayaking. I think it’s the lower ranks who can give the org a bad rap. But this stuff happens with any big org.

The world is full of great programs and water people. As long as someone acknowledges that I’m cool with them and whatever path they enjoy. Tell me there’s one valid org or “way” and I’ll assume you are a fledgling. I believe a diverse learning environment that presents varying approaches allows for the student to experience many things and form their own ideas.

If all you are used to is a hammer everything starts to look like a nail…

Maybe Matt should change his name to

Read the post…

– Last Updated: Sep-07-07 7:45 AM EST –

In regards to the comment above from seadart:

I guess perhaps you did not read the part of the post that requested to keep wise cracks to yourself.....those of us with "obsessive compulsive disorder" must pay more attention to detail than those of you without it :)

I don't find that the time I spend making lists limits my time on the water....not sure where those two activities are mutually exclusive.

Thanks for the valuable feedback though. Maybe you need to spend more time on the water and less time critisizing others (since we're on the subject of disorders that could be a sign of an inferiority complex):)

That's about as negative as I will get on this board.

Got to go....I've got several lists to make this morning and still have to wash my hands a few more times.

Good stuff
The list was comprehensive.

The response to Dart was funny.

Under section 1 of the list, I would add something about body mechanics. Improve your torso rotation for both the forward stroke and the lateral motion. B.E.E. Body, Elbows, Eyes all face the work you are doing.


You’ll find that often working on one skill will improve another. For example learning to feel the water via your paddle during manuverings strokes will help you dial in your forward stroke somewhat. Working on undertanding tidal currents will help your high-wind paddling.

Learning complicated things seems to involve more of a multi-dimensional logic / progression than your list might imply. There’s nothing wrong with mapping things out, just be aware that your perspective may change faster than you’ll be able to tick things off off your list. So you may have to re-organize your thoughts and goals as you acquire new skills.

Don’t let the OCD comments bother you. Paddling is different for each individual. There’s plenty of room on the ocean for all of us.