Various advice for a rank newbie...

Never-mind about the boat… I’ve bought myself a Dagger Blackwater 10.5. Being 6’4" and 250lbs (with thick/muscular thighs), I was limited on options and was able to buy the above w/ cheap paddle and good PFD for under $500.

So, before I put this thing in the water, I want to learn myself on being safe. I’m an Avid motorcyclist, know the in’s and out’s, where all the good info is to get someone started, and am now looking for the same with Kayaking. I’m clearly not doing WW (bought the Dagger after a recent canoe trip on a wide/large river and wanted to do more without the hassle of a tank, er, massively weight challenged boat).

So, before even getting to the water, what type of safety gear is important? While I acquired a PFD (Astral Willis), it’s Just on the edge of being too small for me. Since I float about as well as a 250lb rock (seriously, unless I have a lung full of air, I’ll sink to below the water surface ~ maybe those people who always call me dense are right?), AND I need a PFD, what’s a good place to start? Are there any that might help me float more? I’m not particularly big around (wear a 46l suit), so it’s not like I need a plus size. Oh, and anything in a high-viz color? High-viz completely changed my motorcycling experience and I’m used to being day-glow now. :slight_smile:

Any Other safety items that are essential? While I wear a helmet on a motorcycle, I don’t while sliding down hills on boards (skiing), any compelling reason to while floating down a lazy river or paddling across a lake? Throw-rope? (how are they even used, to help someone Else or to help yourself?) Anything else that’s a Really smart idea before getting into the water? Oh, I’m not going out alone, though the 2 others I will be with most of the time are as newbie as myself and I want to teach Them what I learn to make us all safer.

So, the first time I get in my boat, I’m going to do it in a small-ish man-made pond. It’s handy (on my in-laws property), deep and has no real underwater hazards to speak of. What kinds of things should I practice before I put into a river the first time? I’ve been watching some of the paddlingtv youtube clips, but I’m open for other ideas. Is a class the first Best bet?

Or is all of this just a bunch of hooey, and I ought to just go learn by trial and error out on the water? I know lots do this, they do it in the motorcycling world too, but those people never really Learn anything. They survive the experience, but don’t grow/gain skills to be Really competent.

And finally, it seems like the paddling community is tiny. Y’all are Incredibly hard to find. I’m used to a forum for every little sub-division of brand and model, sometimes 3 or 4 that cover the exact same thing. HUGE communities of people who have no issues in finding other locals to get together with. I’m in central-western Georgia (actually just a couple miles from the Flint River, which has even some reviews on this web site ~ though they span about 6 years), anyone else local, know locals, want to meet face to face?

Cheers! Sorry for the massively long first post, just trying to get into this smartly. I’m a believer in the “two bucket” philosophy… every person has 2 buckets, one that starts full and is labeled ‘luck’, the other that starts empty and is labeled ‘skill’ ~ the object is to fill ‘skill’ without emptying ‘luck’.


Great Post! Welcome!

– Last Updated: Sep-09-12 3:09 PM EST –

I'll try to touch on each point.

You are not unusual in that you don't float without first taking a big breath of air. My buoyancy is about the same as yours, though I seldom notice it since I swim quite well. Regardless of how well you swim, a good, comfortable PFD is your most important piece of safety gear. You can order good ones online, but it's better to find a paddling shop so you can try them on. If you can't do that, ask people here for advice and you'll at least end up with something that won't be a complete "mistake". The amount of flotation is pretty standard between different PFD models, unless you get into specialized rescue versions. I've never heard of the standard amount of flotation not being enough for someone.

Whether a high-visibility PFD is important or not will depend on where you paddle. Most of the time it's not a big issue, but if you share the water with high-speed motorboats is sure can be. When I paddle on the Mississippi River, I wear a construction-worker's vest over my PFD during the times I cross the main channel, and take it off in the backwaters. I try to time any crossing of the main channel with a gap in speed-boat traffic, but high-visibility seems like a good precaution in that environment. It doesn't sound like you will become the object of "search and rescue" in the places you will paddle, but that's another situation where high-visibility would be good.

You don't need a helmet unless you are paddling whitewater or surf.

Throw bags are especially handy on rivers, and generally they are tossed by someone standing on shore to a person who's out of their boat and needs help getting to shore (or out of some nasty turbulence that won't let them float free). They could also be tossed by someone in a boat, though only at close range, and I've never seen that done. The most common situation for throw-rope use in medium-swift water (not whitewater) is to retrieve someone who's gotten pinned by the current in a downed tree or similar obstacle. Most other situations on slow rivers are easily dealt with without the throw rope, but you might find a use for it eventually in such a situation. On lakes, there's not so much use for a throw rope, though extra rope of some kind is always good to have, no matter where you paddle.

Paddling classes are great if available to you. Not everyone lives nearby to a location having classes. You are right about people "surviving" an experience but not learning what they could or should. It happens to a lot of paddlers too. Seeing proper technique demonstrated and explained is so much better than figuring it out from scratch on your own. That said, I suspect that a person such as yourself, who clearly has a "learning" mindset, will also be very capable of learning from books and videos.

For meeting other paddlers, this board is a good place to start. Many of us have lots of friends here, and though often, most of them aren't local (some friends of mine and I travel rather long distances once or twice a year for get-togethers on one nice river or another), you can find local groups with the help of people here too.

I like your two-bucket philosophy. Well said.

Georgia Canoe Association

– Last Updated: Sep-09-12 3:26 PM EST –

Try your existing Astral jacket in a pool or lake before you give up on it. PFDs should fit pretty snugly so that they don't float up around your neck or clean off when you are in the water.

PFDs do vary a fair bit in the amount of flotation. Many, like your Astral, have around 16-17 lbs of flotation. The Extrasport B22 High Float has 22 lbs or more of flotation by comparison.

About the only time your throw bag would be used for your benefit was if you pinned your boat and attached the throw rope to it to extract it. You might consider getting one or two good quality carabiners to facilitate attaching a rope to your boat.

The Dagger Blackwater is a good kayak. It should serve you well for your intended purposes.

If you paddle much off the beaten path, some type of first aid kit stowed in a suitable dry box would of course be a good idea.

If you have access to a pool, I would practice several wet exits from the kayak so that you are proficient in quickly and smoothly extracting yourself from the boat when it is upside down. It sounds easy to do, and it is, but it is quite natural for folks to get rather flustered when enclosed in an upside-down kayak.

There are tons of paddlers in Georgia. You might check into the Georgia Canoe Association. It is a large and quite active club. They also offer various classes including recreational kayak for beginners, whitewater kayaking, and swift water rescue classes:

Practice, practice, practice.
No matter how much safety gear you have, it’s not much good if you don’t practice wearing it and using it. Tie some safety lines on your boat and practice swimming around pulling the boat with your PFD on.

Then, do a drill pulling your boat around without losing your paddle. You can use the paddle to swim with while holding the safety line in the other hand. Practice delibertly dumping out of the boat in moving water and note how long it takes to get the boat under control, then move to faster moving water.

Safety -
Is more an issue of the skills you have.

Learn how to do a wet exit if you are using a skirt.

Learn how to re-enter your kayak and pump and bail it out.

PFDs will support you, go to a pool or shallow water and learn how to put it on so it fits well and does not ride up over your head if you capsize.

Start thinking about a good paddle. A cheap heavy paddle that flexes takes a lot of joy out of paddling. A good light, stiff, efficient paddle is more important than the boat. Aquabound makes good inexpensive paddles, look at Onno paddles for nice quality affordable paddles if you stick with kayaking.

“What Would I Do…
if something knocked me over (or tried to knock me over) right here?”

It’s this boy scout ‘be prepared’ idea you need to keep in your head.

Use the FootPegs all the time
Focus on those footpegs for an ALL body motion

If you got cheap plastic footpegs that pop out often

—make the upgrade, it’s truly worth it

Float Bags and PFD
The Dagger Blackwater 10.5 was my first kayak. Had a lot of fun in that boat.

I would add bow float bags, since you don’t have a bow bulkhead in the dagger. Something about the size of the NRS Split Bow bag should give you a good fit around the center pillar. You will need to buy two.

I have always had a hard time finding a good fitting PFD as the Type III PFDs really require you to tighten straps in uncomfortable ways if your gut is bigger then your rib cage. I ended up going with a manual Mustang inflatable PFD. They are so comfortable I always wear mine which is better then my standard PFD which rides up on me and almost always ends up unzip an hour into a trip. The inflatables do have limitations which are important to understand – not for cold weather, whitewater or rocky rivers, need blow up and check for leaks the night before each trip.

Get a better paddle, if you can. Something like the Werner Skagit paddle ($130) is great paddle for the price and it or something like it is probably where you want to start looking at paddles.

Thanks to all.
Replys are very much appreciated.

Ok, so I’m planning on hopping in the pond on Wednesday just to get sorta familiar with things, and I know I’ll have at least 1 spectator (my wife, who also has a new boat, a Dagger Zydeco 9 with similar PFD and crappy paddle ~ package deal), and probably 2 or 3 plus phones close at hand.

I’ll check out how my PFD fits in the water. Their sizing puts the M/L at a 44 for the widest, and I’m a 46 across the Pecs, but closer to 44 where the PFD sits on my ribcage. Maybe I’ll even get my wife to tug on me from the dock to see how easily it pulls up while limp in the water. If I need new, then so be it, I’ll be finding a high-viz unit. I may not need it Most of the time, but I’d rather have it and not need it then… well, you all know how that goes.

While I’m a good swimmer (did the whole competition/team stuff when I was a kid), I’m a “worst case scenario” planner. If Everything goes sideways (er, sideways is bad when you’re on 2-wheels… upside down? for water), what are the precautions I Could have taken but ay not have. That’s where the thought of having “extra” support from the PFD… maybe it’s not needed, I’m too wet behind the ears (geez, sorry, that’s a Terrible pun for kayaking) to know better.

Couple throw bags, good water-proof first aid (I have a good kit for my motorcycling, but it’s water resistant at best), bilge pump, sponge and paddles…

Gotta say, paddles are going to be hard to justify to the CFO (wife). It might be a case of me sneaking one in and then making the case for it if I can find one. I need to search around to see what the difference is and why one is “better”. I’m not one to believe that just because something costs more/uses more costly materials that it’s Better. Maybe I’ll get lucky and turn up something used so I can try it out cheaply.

Will practice wet-exits, braces, turns, and general paddle strokes (as found on youtube). After watching my brother-in-law dump himself into the water (pushed off us after handing a camera over, rock or log on the other side turned his directional momentum into rotational), I want to learn how to at least TRY to stop/slow the process. It WAS funny though, too bad the camera was off.

I’ve looked into the classes, those offered through GAPaddle are all done for the year. ‘Real’ Southerners are preparing for winter, I’m just now preparing for the outdoor season (I’m WY born and raised, don’t do so well in the heat). The other option is just out of budget for now. Though I’m going to contact the 2 nearest ACA certified instructors (both WW) and see if they might be up for a couple hours of 1 on 2.

I had found GApaddle (and a couple meetup groups that aren’t hundreds of miles from me), also found the GA conservancy which does some events. Maybe the paddling community is just tiny by my standards. I certainly don’t see many vehicles on the roads with canoes or kayaks, nor boats stuck in peoples yards (well, power boats are turning into gardens/mulch collectors in every-other yard around here). I certainly never thought about it until Labor day weekend when I did my first ever water trip. It’s just not something you do in Wyoming. I spent my outside time there either on 2 wheels (dual-sport, mountain bike) or foot while hiking for the summer months. And it was all about skis in the winter.

Now, something new, float bag. Why? The boat has a listed max capacity of about 50lbs more than myself, and easily 30lbs more than I’ll ever load + myself. I know this isn’t a touring boat with a sharp keel to knife through the water, but forcing the front end up more? Why would that be desirable for wide/slow rivers, lakes, or anything short of WW?

Again, my thanks for the information. The learning curve is steep right now. Always a little overwhelming to go from 0 to not a complete noob.


Float bag

– Last Updated: Sep-10-12 11:40 AM EST –

The float bag does nothing to change the boat's buoyancy in normal use (think of it this way: in normal use, the boat displaces the same amount of water whether the air inside is enclosed in a bag or not). The purpose of the float bag is to keep the boat from completely filling with water after a capsize. Right now, if your boat is swamped, the back end (assuming there's a hatch and storage compartment) will remain floating, but the front will fill completely and hang down at steep angle beneath the surface. The boat will be virtually impossible to re-float in that situation, and will also be super difficult to tow to shore.

However, with an air bag taking up space up front, if the boat gets swamped it will sit level in the water and much higher. You'll be able to pump out the water and climb back in (once you learn the tricks to accomplishing that), or you can tow it to shore very easily.

Avoiding a capsize
There are a few fundamentals to avoiding a capsize.

The first is to always keep your head over your butt and preferably to keep your head within 2 imaginary vertical lines extending upwards from the extreme sides of your boat at the cockpit. Note that these vertical lines become closer together the more the boat is heeled (edged) to one side.

Second, try to stay “loose” in the hips. A silly old adage from whitewater training is “loose hips save ships”. Its similar to riding a horse. Wave action or unexpected contact with an object may cause your boat to suddenly heel to one side. A natural reaction is to tense up and lock your torso into a rigid column which makes it impossible to keep your head centered over your hindquarters. Try to develop the ability to instinctively roll with the punches allowing your hips to tilt laterally while your upper trunk and head remain bolt upright.

Obviously, there is a limit to the extent the boat is heeled beyond which it becomes impossible to keep your head over the boat or your butt. This limit varies with boat design but also with an individual’s spinal flexibility so doing lateral torso stretches helps a lot. There is divided opinion as to whether stretching before exercise reduces the likelihood of injury, but I nearly always stretch before paddling even on flat water and find that it improves my flexibility on the water, and reduces the chances of me getting a cramp or “stitch” in my side.

The third fundamental technique for avoiding a capsize is practicing braces. Kayakers use both high and low braces and you can doubtless find demonstrations of both on youtube or vimeo as well as other online sources. A brace utilizes the paddle blade to provide temporary support which allows you to utilize body mechanics to help upright the boat. In the high brace the elbows are lower than the wrists and the power face of the paddle blade contacts the water. With the low brace the wrists are at or slightly below elbow level and the back face or non-power face of the paddle contacts the water. Both are useful but when practicing the high brace be sure to keep both hands relatively low down and the elbows close in to the sides to avoid the potential for shoulder injury.

When you reach the point of no return, beyond which it becomes impossible to keep your head above your rear end, utilize a paddle brace along with a “head dink” by dropping your head toward the water by laterally flexing your spine. The action of actively dropping your head to the water will automatically cause an opposite movement of your lower body un-weighting the buttock on the side you are tipping over toward, and weighting the opposite cheek. This lower body hip action will turn the rotated boat back upright, but it is not at all instinctive to throw your head toward the water when you feel as if you are tipping over so it must be practiced. Plan on practicing head dinks and paddle braces in a safe setting on warm water up to the point at which you go over. Be thankful that you are in a kayak with a double bladed paddle which provides the opportunity of a strong brace on both sides. Canoeists don’t have that luxury.

As for float bags, the great majority of folks I know paddling kayaks like the Blackwater on flat water or non-whitewater streams don’t have additional flotation in the boat. I would never consider additional flotation to be a bad idea, but if you plan paddling only on flat water or on streams with relatively slow current, less than 2 or 2.5 mph (ACA Class A moving flat water), you might consider sparing yourself the expense of additional flotation at present. As guideboatguy said, the flotation is only useful when the boat is already swamped. But additional flotation does make swimming a swamped boat to shore easier and reduces the likelihood of a swamped boat pinning on an obstacle in current. Recovering fully swamped kayaks with no flotation from brisk current can be quite difficult as well, and that would be a scenario in which I would consider some small bow bags to keep the nose of the boat from wallowing deeply in the water.

Ah, that makes Complete sense
When my Brother-in-law went over (he has a cheap Dicks boat, bag in the back), the boat swamped and we walked it the 3’ to shore in 2’ deep water. No biggie, though trying to drag that monster on shore with however many gallons of water was an ordeal. Deeper water? Yeah, it would have been a bouy and probably nearly impossible to move.

I’ll add some to the “buy before doing any deep water” outings.

I’m familiar with the concept of being “loose”. Big dual-sport (and really all dirt bikes) are a total hoot to ride off the groomed path, but rocks roll, mud slips and scree slides away. You learn, Real fast, that there’s a hinge between you, as the rider, and the bike. That’s normally at the feet and hands (standing on pegs, holding the bars), but in easier stuff where you’re riding while seated and something takes you off-guard, it’s hinging from the hips.

I’ve been in enough clutch situations on motorcycles over the years (where tightening up is the opposite of what will save your backside), that hopefully it’ll translate over. I’ve found that visualizing worst case scenarios helps, tremendously. Doesn’t matter if it was for high-speed, road racing, off road riding, or just dealing with city traffic. I hope to stick with water-ways that aren’t very “motorized traffic” friendly (shallow, fallen trees, etc…) for the first while, which lops off the majority of the Really unpredictable stuff.

Looking at paddles, I see that I have a pro discount for Aquabound through another organization. I understand, Completely, about the weight savings being cumulative ~ and I see most of my time on-water as part of overnight camping trips. So long days, big weight savings. Where I’m Slightly confused is paddle length, and size. I’m 6’4", 35" from chair to nose (using step 2 here, and have a 27" wide boat. I also know from other sports that I’m more torque oriented than RPM. For instance, while riding bicycles I don’t spin the pedals fast, instead I put a lot of torque/power into fewer strokes. I can only imagine I will be the same way with paddling.

Assuming all of that, should I start with a 240 or 250cm length, Manta Ray (their biggest blade) or slip down to their medium bladed Eagle Ray? Gut reaction is 250 and Eagle Ray, but what do I know (er, about kayaking guys… I know a lot about beer brewing… and drinking, Precision shooting, motorcycling and even computers/IT, just not this stuff… yet).

Dangit, makes me want to be on the water right now. Already planning a trip to do the Blackwater in FL in the next 6~8 weeks. Actually, going to be in Maine in 3 weeks and doing a guided sea-kayak trip there too.



The Blackwater River State Park in Northwest Florida has several really nice rivers and creeks to paddle. Most of them great for those new to paddling. If you would like some more information on the paddling in the area, or some paddling buddies you can contact or

If you are not from the Gulf Coast don’t forget to keep an eye on the tropics. Hurricane season isn’t over until the end of November.


Paddle Length
I know next to nothing about kayak paddles, but I found this within the banner ad on this site for Epic.

This paddle-length guide didn’t function via my internet connection at work, but you may have better luck.

Shorter is Lighter
Paddles are like gears on a bicycle,

you’ll want to try different ones until you

find something you are comfortable with all day.

It’s highly repetitive (stroke a second) and

the weight will play a role in your comfort.

Paddle choices
I would suggest going out and paddling a bit with whatever paddle you have now and trying to decide whether a shorter or longer paddle would suit you better.

For what it is worth, I am about 5 inches shorter than you with about 5 inches less torso height and use a 230cm paddle for sea kayaks. But paddles have gotten shorter in recent years, especially among the whitewater crowd, and it is uncommon these days for even big guys to use a paddle longer than 200cm or so for whitewater. I think a formula based on torso length works better to select canoe paddle shaft length than kayak paddle length. What is more important for a kayak paddle is your shoulder width.

Blade size and feather offset are also matters of personal preference. I have always used paddles with a large blade surface area, and if you anticipate paddling at a slower cadence a big blade may suit someone of your size better.

I hope the boat works for you, but I
think you will find it is too small for your weight. I weight about 230 and if I paddle a 12’ Pungo hard, it bogs down ;actually goes lower in the water. Your results may vary.