We may sound elitist to beginners

The Chesapeake Paddlers Association has over 600 members and is primarily a sea kayaking club. Our training sessions are open to everyone and all kinds of boats, however, we do not supply boats or equipment. The ones that are not free are run at cost (all cancelled this year after our introductory SK101 classroom course in early March due to the pandemic). We have made several attempts in the past to open up to people with rec and other types of boats, but could never get enough people to form a critical mass to be self sustaining. We finally decided to stick with sea kayaks. For beginning sea kayakers we are more than willing to accommodate them and offer informal training at most of our weekday weekly gatherings and other trips. Again, in a normal year.

We are an all volunteer non-profit. Unfortunately, people have only so much free time and our trip leaders find it hard to devote themselves to paddles that would be often limited to very short distances, a relatively slow pace, and limited to protected water to accommodate the limitations of many boats that are not sea kayaks. To run a trip safely you have to limit it to the lowest common denominator. My wife and I have led several beginner trips on local reservoirs that we had to limit to 5 miles or less. These were open to any boat as long as it had adequate flotation and the people agreed to wear a PFD with a whistle.

While, in a normal year, we have a couple of people that may run a true beginners trip, these are few and far in between. It’s unfortunate that owners of rec and similar boats had not gotten together to start a Meetup or other group more geared to their needs.

rs15: What you describe is what we seem to face everywhere between rec and sea kayaks or even SOTs. Rec kayakers have a desire for longer and more challenging paddles offered in local meetups and paddling groups, yet do not realize how the kayak differences make it an ordeal for sea kayakers who want to paddle. And, the more challenging conditions are often not suitable for rec kayaks or the inexperienced if not being closely monitored (i.e. a class situation).

A fly fishing club I belong to has several members with kayaks so I offered a club kayak paddling & safety session with them in a couple weeks. Basically, it will be a modified ACA Level 1 class (about 4 hours) with a mixture of SOTs and rec kayaks. I’m looking forward to seeing the guys and gals reentering for the first time ever in their kayaks - with or without assistance. How many times have several of them said something such as, “Oh, my kayak cannot turn over. And, I don’t take it in rough water anyway.” Being around new kayakers in a class setting is always very rewarding as their light bulb turns on about how kayaking can be dangerous even on quiet waters.

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I’ve always been amazed when I run into other solo kayakers on the open water with their PFD strapped to the boat or behind their seat, no paddle float, and no pump. I often ask them how they would get back in their boat if they capsized. A stunning number of people have never even considered this or assumed they could just climb back in an paddle away.

rs15: The PFD under the bungees or behind the seat is the norm in summer in the Gulf region, if they even have a PFD. How about the experienced and new paddlers who stow their PFD in a hatch? I’ve seen that situation toooo many times. My guess is you have seen that too? However, it satisfies USCG inspections, unfortunately.

A counter example … Freya Hofmeister, when doing one of her various monster circumnavigations, will occasionally leave her pfd off in hot weather because of chafing. Not me of course … I need all the flotation available.

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I won’t paddle with people who refuse to wear one and won’t say anything to a stranger.
Without it , they are typically safer than they are on any highway.
And last I checked, it’s still a free country. Subject to change anytime.

Occasionally? It never leaves her rear deck. It is like new on the side facing downwards to the deck, and completely faded on the side facing up.

Not true: PFDs must be readily accessible and not stored in the original packaging. In a kayak they must be easily reached by the operator when they are in their normal position in the boat. It is not enough if you can get to one by opening a hatch when you are in the water.

In a boat where you can walk around they can be stowed almost anywhere, but not in a lockable container. Again they suggest in a readily accessible area.

In Maryland the USCG and other authorities will not accept a PFD stored in a kayak hatch. Type V PFDs must be worn to be legal. Type IIIs and others, just readily available.

Freya, in hot remote places often paddles naked to prevent chafing.

Perhaps your USCG region is strict about accessibility. Wish my USCG region and other authorities agreed that deck top stowage of PFDs was required - it would be safer for the paddler. It has been 3 years since I approached USCG on this subject, but that last time they encouraged deck stowage or wearing, but on the vessel was all that was required, even in a hatch. Dumb! Type V PFDs do need to be worn.as in your area.

Like you, I wear my PFD. The summer heat means lots of water splashing or an occasional roll to enhance evaporative cooling.

I bet Freya uses a lot of sunscreen.

Freya’s thing is continental circumnavigations, so most of the time she is near shore (with significant exceptions, like her 8 day open water crossing of Australia’s 370 mile wide Gulf of Carpinteria). And she’ll roll a fully loaded expedition kayak just to cool off or say “hi” when paddling into a port.

I followed her blog when she was circling Oz (kept me sane during a year of a really tedious office-bound data crunching job.) I seem to recall she wore her PFD during the Gulf crossing because the only way she could catch a few hours of sleep was to rig outrigger sponsons and then fold her upper body forward onto to the bow deck cushioned by the vest flotation.

Our Club has a few rules for joining in on-water activities:

  1. sea kayak with watertight bulkheads or other flotation devices (like air bags). Sit-on-Tops are considered to have watertight bulkheads.
  2. personal flotation device (PFD) and sound producing device, such as whistle (USCG requirements). PFD must be properly worn.
  3. paddle float
  4. bilge pump (except sit-on-tops)
  5. spray skirt on boats designed to accommodate them- must be worn (check with trip leader for exceptions)
  6. light that can be shown to prevent a collision (USCG requirement, night paddle only
  7. if the trip announcement specifies cold water gear is required, cold water gear appropriate for the expected conditions

An exception for a spray skirt is made for people that are not completely comfortable with a wet exit. We offer free training for this skill if desired and may require training if a participate signs up for multiple trips.

We make occasional exceptions regarding the boat at the discretion of the trip leader.

We do not make exceptions regarding a PFD.

We are considered by some to be “Safety Nazis”. So be it.


She has visited our club a few times, so I have actually had the chance to ask her about that.

As I understood it, she put paddle floats on both end of her paddle, put the paddle behind her, leaned back and stretched her arms out to the sides, so the hands rested on the paddle blades, and went to sleep.

Hey Rich,

I’m a member of CPA, in fact I’ve presented at SK101 the last two years.

Unfortunately the only group in the area who excelled at including rec boats - Cheseapke Kayak Adventures - is inactive. Chuck was most welcoming to rec kayakers, offering a lot of easy but interesting paddles where rec boats and long boats meandered happily together. His paddles were less about miles under the hull and more about wildlife spotting and great scenery. His ‘Sunday Laid Back Paddles’ were highly attended - even the stuff of legend - as were his ‘Full Moon Paddles’ on Seneca Lake. There were routinely 20 - 30 paddlers of all levels on his outings! Only a very few of his trips were limited to the now ubiquitous “14 foot, 2 sealed bulkheads” requirement.

Truth be told, with over 2,000 members CKA was the launching point (pun intended!) for many who are now L3/L4 paddlers; more than a few area instructors started out in CKA. With no one to fill that role, I wonder where the next batch of sea kayakers who are ready for CPA-esque clubs will come from. Beginners often start with something other than a sea kayak after all. How do we reach those folks and make sure they fall in love with the sport?

I’m not sure why CKA was able to attract such a diverse crowd but suspect it had to do with Chuck’s amazing ability to cruise back and forth through the group, chatting up newcomers, offering skill tips without sounding like a know-it-all and making them feel welcome. He never looked down at anyone’s gear or skills. He also had loaner sea kayaks, including all the safety gear, for those who were curious about advancing but not ready put out big bucks for gear.

Of course Chuck was a full time organizer, something his health no longer allows, and something strictly volunteer groups are hard pressed to accomplish.

That doesn’t change the fact that there’s still a lack of instruction for entry level kayakers in the area.

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My local club had good luck for a while with getting rec boaters out to at least try to learn self rescue by making it free and unofficial. Shallow water during a hot month helped too.

Some found out why we had said their boats were not likely candidates for self-rescue, everyone had a good time.

But the key was for it to be quite unofficial. And warm everything, water and air.

I have taken people with all different kinds of experience on overnight canoe trips for the last 50 years, usually on rivers. For some reason, Americans often seem to think that they instinctively “know how to paddle”. Some paddled in summer camp or “went on a few trips” 40 years ago. This is especially true of older people, say around 60 that do not seem to want to admit what their real experience level is. It can be the hardest part of leading a trip, is to figure out who can handle the stern on a trip in moving water and who needs to be in the bow with a more experienced person.

It can cause some strain on a trip. It cost me two friendships, once of which I got back. We just don’t paddle together any more. The first guy liked to wear waders and “forgot to put on his life jacket” many times. The second guy capsized in a tough spot and did react the way you want your fried to behave.

I took my Dad and 5 yo son paddling in Virginia on a maybe Cl 2 river. My Dad was not a paddler and was in the bow. We came to a small drop , so I got out and checked it. No sweat, I thought.
We started over and Dad tried to back paddle.
We wound up with a canoe full . My son was in water up to his shoulders but had a good grip on the thwart.
That was it for Dad but my son still paddles.

Quick rafting story. I sold a 12 foot Achilles raft to a friend. He decided to put 4 people in it and a lot of beer one spring day on our local Truckee River. It was April and cold water but everyone had wet suits. He pumped up the raft, Then put it in the water, which cooled the air and made the raft get soft. He was a good friend so I advised him to pump up the raft, and to not run the low head diversion dam about 10 miles down stream. They ran the dam, got stuck in the reversal, the raft tacoed and folded in half and filled with water. The logs and woody debris in the reversal thumped them from below. I got a rescue line to the group and we were able to pull them and the boat out of trouble. The three passengers quit the sport right there and walked back to the take out. My friend was apologetic. We remained good friends. Later I delivered him to a wedding reception dressed in a tuxedo with his wife in a bridal gown in my Avon 16 on the same Truckee River.

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Yikes! That is what we want new people to know before learning by doing really bad stuff! I doubt anyone was Anointed with Magical Paddle Expertise at birth.

Some stupid stunts are just stoopid and embarrassing. Others can be lethal