Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Gear: Keeping Your Stuff Dry - 5 Tips for When You Don't Want it Wet

Kayaking is a water sport. Things are going to get wet. Your boat, your paddle, maybe even your gloves and clothing - all are subjected to water exposure, and are meant (or should be) to function well when submerged in, or washed over by, water. However, there are items you may want to bring on your paddle trip that you do not want to get wet, or frankly are not designed to survive water exposure. Your mobile phone comes to mind, as an example. Beyond that, snacks, a dry towel, a change of clothes, matches, a map - these are examples of items you want to keep dry. Doing this may be a little more complicated than it might seem, so here's some tips from my experience to make keeping your stuff dry easier and more effective:

1. Store Items for Accessibility. How often and how easily you need access to an item will determine where you locate it on or in your kayak, and therefore will influence how you keep it dry. Items that you need to access only in case of emergencies (like a dry change of clothes, or matches/a lighter to start a fire) can be stored in forward or aft bulkhead compartments, which is your first line of defense in keeping them dry. Items that you might want easier access to (like a camera) can be stored in some kind of dry bag or deck bag located within reach.

2. Use Multiple Layers of Protection. I bring a cell phone with me on my paddle trips for emergency communication, and also to take occasional pictures when I land on an island  beach or some other temporary rest stop. Because I don't need ready access to it while paddling, I store it in my forward compartment, which is sealed by a tight fitting hatch - protection layer #1. Inside the compartment, the phone rests inside a dry bag - protection layer #2, and inside the dry bag, I keep my towel wrapped around my phone - protection layer #3. I could even go so far as to put the phone inside a water resistant case, then inside the towel, then inside the dry bag, and so on. You get the picture. Use multiple layers in case an outer layer fails.

3. Consider Inflatable Dry Bags. Once I discovered that the bulkheads in the interior of my sit-on-top touring kayak were not water tight, I opted to add inflatable dry bags to each compartment (see my post Kayak Repairs That Last). These are meant to perform double duty as dry storage bags and float bags to give my kayak additional buoyancy should it take on water (especially since the bulkheads are unreliable). These bags come with a stem that you blow air through to inflate the bag. They have the same kind of fold over, gasketed bag opening that standard dry bags have. Once you have them filled, and the opening folded closed and clipped with the attached buckles, you can use the air stem to inflate them. This adds a positive pressure to the interior of the bag that makes water less likely to penetrate. I find they hold the air pretty well, so long as the opening is folded tightly, and the stem cap is twisted on tight.
Inflatable Kayak Dry Bag

4. Make Sure Your Hatch Covers Fit Tight. Your hatch covers are your first line of defense for items stored in compartments. They work to keep water washing over your deck from getting inside the compartment, or for keeping water out of the compartments should your kayak capsize or roll. Their function is as much for safety as it is for storage, so make sure your hatch covers fit tight. There are a variety of designs - some are held tight by straps and buckles, some snap on over a lip in the compartment opening, some have a neoprene membrane that pulls tight over the opening and under the cover, and some lock or screw inside a ring that is mounted to the deck. Carefully examine the design of your hatch covers, and make sure all their elements are functioning properly and are fitting securely. If yours fit inside an attached ring, make sure the ring is sealed and screwed tight to the deck. Apply fresh sealant once per season, or otherwise as needed.

5. Consider Upgrading to Waterproof Gear. If your goal is to capture multiple images of your in-progress paddle trip, maybe you should consider a waterproof camera, or a GoPro. Maybe a marine radio is a better choice for emergency communications. Any gear that's designed to be wet, especially items designed to be submerged, will fair better in kayaking conditions. The more precious the item, the more you need to ensure it can withstand the water. 

Getting wet is part of the fun of being in or on the water, so long as you're drying off fast enough to stay safe (see my post 8 Tips for Dressing Right for Your Kayaking Adventure). Keeping some of your stuff dry, though, is imperative. Use the right gear, protect it in multiple layers, and batten down the hatches. And, if you don't think you'll need it for safety or comfort, leave it back on dry land.

- TB on the Water




Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Gear: 5 Tips for What You Should Own, Even if You Only Rent Kayaks

In previous posts like 10 Tips for Which Kayak You Should Buy, I suggested some people might not be up for the challenge of owning and transporting a kayak, or might not have the facilities to store and maintain one. However, that does not necessarily mean they can't enjoy kayaking from time to time. There is an abundance of kayak rental shops popping up - many of which offer guided tours, or "create your own adventure" hourly rentals (see my post "Florida Day" - Our Florida Paddle Adventure). In many cases, the rental shops are located adjacent to a body of water where you can paddle, or they have the ability to drop a kayak at the location of your choice. I've stated my preference for sit-on-top kayaks (see my post Benefits and Weaknesses of Sit-On-Top Kayaks) for safety - especially for inexperienced paddlers. Asking if this type is available from a rental shop is a good idea. I have also stated my aversion to tandem kayaks, but for a rental, this option is reasonable, as you won't be lugging around a heavy tandem as your own full time 'yak. 

kayak flat water
A rented kayak can get you here...

OK, so you've decided you might want to go kayaking a few times a year - which may not be a sufficient quantity of paddle trips to justify owning a kayak, but is a sufficient quantity to consider owning some gear that could greatly improve your paddling experiences. So, here's a list of items you should consider owning if you intend to paddle rented kayaks on a regular basis:

1. A Paddle. Paddles are provided with kayak rentals, but they are often cheaper, possibly adjustable, models with run of the mill materials and blade design. There's nothing wrong with them. Compared to a carbon fiber shaft with offset hand positions and low drag blades, however, they are the equivalent of driving a family sedan versus a high performance sports car. Your grip will be easier, especially over time, with a high end paddle. Your paddle speed will be better. You will get less fatigued. You will paddle more efficiently. You buy a paddle sized for your body, so there is no mistaking you are paddling with the proper paddle length. And, for the vain among us - they look cooler. There is a down side, though - they are expensive. You are probably looking at a couple to a few hundred dollars for a good high end paddle, depending on the materials. Aluminum shaft is the low end, fiberglass is better, carbon fiber is best. Wood is robust, but can be heavy - check the weight. Wood blades (like on this model) can be buoyant, which can help over a long paddle. If you get sized for a model and figure out what length you need, you might find a used one on Craigslist or eBay, but buyer beware. Make sure they are not damaged. Solid shaft paddles can sometimes leak where the blades are inserted, so shake the paddle and listen for water. Shafts you can disassemble often have springs that can break or become dislodged. Check to make sure everything works right. There is no getting around the research. Read about blade types, materials, shaft shapes (some are oblong if you cross sectioned the shaft, not just circular - for an easier grip). Read my post 5 Alternative Paddle Strokes. Take your time determining which paddle will work best in the areas you will be paddling. If you decide to purchase a paddle, your research will have been worth the effort - and don't forget the paddle leash!   

2. A PFD (personal flotation device). A PFD (life jacket) will almost certainly be provided or available from a kayak rental shop, but like a paddle, having your own can have some benefits. You can make sure that your PFD fits your body type well - which means snug and secure, so it doesn't slide up over your head if you end up in the water. You can look for additional features - like pockets and reflective materials. Just like with a paddle, do your research, read reviews, and then go try them on to find the perfect PFD for you. Heck, you can even pick your favorite color (consider something bright that can be seen easily on the water, like this one). A good PFD will serve you in all water related activities, so it can be used beyond kayaking - which is one more reason to consider owning yours. 

3. A Sun Blocking, Water Resistant Hat. A hat is another item that can serve you in activities beyond kayaking, but you will surely want one when you're on the water. The sun can beat down on you mercilessly when there's no cloud cover. Even with some clouds, sunburn can occur much quicker than you might expect. Get something with a broad brim that gives good coverage. You can go so far as a model that offers accessories, like a rear flap over your neck (see my post 8 Tips for Dressing Right for Your Kayaking Adventure), but at least get something that will cast a substantial shadow over your head and face. Consider what other outdoor activities might benefit from which type of hat you choose - maybe one with some ventilation, so it doesn't get too hot off the water. You should probably choose a lighter color as well - dark colors get hotter in the sun.  

4. A Dry Bag. Kayak rental shops may or may not have dry bags available, but they are invaluable for safe protection of items you don't want to get wet - like your wallet, your cell phone, a dry change of clothing, paper maps, etc. You might consider additional water tight carriers for things like your cell phone as a back-up in case the dry bag leaks. You can use a dry bag anywhere on the water - bring one along on a boat trip for piece of mind, for instance. I recommend a model with a see through panel, so you can see inside without having to open it, and a bright color, so it's easy to find and identify. Mark your name and contact info. on it as well with a permanent marker, in case you accidentally leave it behind somewhere. They're great for camping, too - to protect items from rainfall. 

5. Eye Protection. Eye protection (UV rated sun glasses) are necessary in many outdoor activities, but especially so on the water. The reflected light can cause squinting, and can impede your vision - which is very bad for safety. You want to be able to see approaching power boats or jet skis - as well as surface indicators of currents, water hazards, etc. Keep in mind you may lose your glasses though, so consider a cheap pair (and maybe a back-up cheap pair) or some foam floats that attach to the stems via a neck loop. 

I'm going to give an honorable mention to clothing. On your rental kayak paddle, wear clothing that dries easily if it gets wet, and will keep you warm, wet or not. This is typically synthetic, moisture wicking fabrics. Jeans and cotton fabric items are not a good choice - nor are any items that are heavy when wet. I'm also giving an honorable mention to some kind of hand protection (gloves), especially if you are prone to blisters. These should also be made of a material that performs well in water. Finally, I'd like to emphasize safety. If you do not feel confident in your skills, go with a tour. Even if you do feel confident, don't go alone. A few paddle trips a year will not make you an expert, so use the buddy system, and be conservative with your choice of paddling location and conditions. I strongly suggest viewing some online safety instructional videos for re-entry into a capsized kayak - and maybe even taking a class if one is available near you. Here's a great video that shows how your paddle buddy can help you re-enter your kayak:

Renting a kayak is a great option for those not interested in the work of owning, maintaining, and transporting one. If you plan to do it on a regular basis, though, owning a few key items that you can transport easily (and might be useful for other outdoor pursuits) could make your paddling experiences even better.  

Whatever quantity of time you get to spend paddling, it's the quality that really counts. Make yours as good as it can be. See you on the water.

TB on the Water