Lots of folk buying kayaks, canoes, sit on tops and inflatable kayaks.
Lots of folk with a kayak/canoe without any paddling partners and nervous of hitting the water.
Lots of folk with a kayak/canoe hitting the water by themselves, which is potentially dangerous.
Canoeing Ireland (National Governing Body) recommends a minimum of three paddlers anytime you hit the water. This isn’t always feasible, despite being best practice.
There are Kayak/Canoe Clubs throughout Ireland, open to new members, but these can be scattered.
There are Guided Kayak/Canoe Trips you can join, but probably the reason you bought a kayak/canoe was to get out by yourself/with friends and do your own thing.
So how do you get started, self sufficient and safe in a kayak or canoe? Here are some simple ideas…
1. Whatever you do afterwards, start with a Skills Training Course, even a one-day course. Make sure two of the course aims are to become self sufficient and safe. Discuss what you want to achieve with your instructor.
2. There are two skill levels to think about achieving. Level 2 Proficiency is your provisional driving licence and gives you the skills for flat/calm water plus the ability to assist in rescues. Level 3 Proficiency is your full driving licence and gives you the full range of skills and techniques for lakes, rivers or sea, plus the ability to competently rescue.
3. Get some practice as soon as possible after your training course. If you are by yourself head to a lifeguard beach, where you have someone keeping an eye on you.
4. Stay away from flowing rivers (even gently flowing), beaches with rip-tides and open sea until you have the solid skills to deal with them.
5. Don’t get bogged down in learning to Eskimo Roll. This will come in time and there are much more important skills to learn first.
6. Have The Right Equipment:
Wetsuit (Full Body Suit)
Booties (Or Old Trainers)
Helmet (Not Always Necessary)
Waterproof Phone Case & Mobile Phone
7. Get a weather forecast before you head out. Try www.met.ie and www.windguru.com. Pay particular attention to the wind and wind direction; not just for the day you are heading out but also for the following twelve hours, as weather fronts can speed up or slow down their approach. Although calm right now, you may think twice about heading out if gale force winds are forecast to come through tonight, as they can easily arrive early.
8. A breeze of force one or force two is usually fine to deal with. A breeze of force three you need to treat carefully. A breeze of force four you should probably avoid, or at least be extremely careful.
9. Choose calm and sheltered locations to paddle; not somewhere you may get blown across a lake, blown out to sea or swept down a river.
10. If there is a solid breeze, but you think it’s safe, choose a location with an on-shore breeze so in case of a capsize you will then simply get blown ashore. If you choose a location with an off-shore breeze and capsize you will get blown away from shore. One of the most serious incidents I’ve dealt with was a capsize in an off-shore breeze. Remember the further you get blown from shore, the stronger the breeze gets.
11. Really try to have at least two of you on the water. If you are by yourself, although you can follow these guidelines, you are at risk; but that’s your choice
12. Stay close to the shore, so if there is a problem, or the weather deteriorates, you can quickly get back to safety.
13. Don’t be afraid to pull your boat onto the shore if the weather gets too serious, or if you have any doubts, and simply walk/hitch back to your car. I have had to do this with groups in the past and although a bit of a nuisance, at least you are safe.
14. If you have a wetsuit and buoyancy aid on drowning is unlikely while you are conscious. Your biggest worry is hypothermia and exhaustion. These will kill you.
15. Tell someone where you are going and what time you expect to be back to your car/phone reception.
16. If you are in difficulties much better to call for help before the situation becomes too serious. Diall 112 and ask for the Coast Guard.
17. If you are in difficulties in the water stay with your boat and paddle. Never leave your capsized boat behind you and swim for shore.