Essential Sea Kayak Experience

Short on sea kayak Experience? Prepare Yourself with this Essential Information Before Your Rental

​Capsizing is the simple part: you overbalance and tip upside down. But if you are wearing a spray skirt while paddling, have you ever thought about how you will free yourself from the boat once you do so?

A spray skirt is a nylon or neoprene ‘skirt’ that the kayaker wears that fits around the combing of the cockpit and is designed to keep water – whether it be rain or salt water – out of the cockpit. If you capsize while wearing the sprayskirt, if the skirt is tight enough, you may not break free of the kayak immediately and need to pull the skirt free of the combing so you can exit – all while hanging upside down beneath the water!

To do this safely, each spray skirt has a ‘ring’ or strap affixed to the front, so that when the skirt is on and you are in your kayak it sits directly in front of you within arms reach. DO NOT TUCK THIS STRAP INTO THE COCKPIT when wearing the skirt! This is your eject strap.

In the event of a capsize you will need to grab hold of this strap to pull yourself free. Put your hands to the hull of the kayak at you hips, locate the combing of the cockpit, and follow this forward until you find your strap (which you did NOT tuck in, remember?). From here you simply grab the strap and pull it up and towards you at the same time, and you will float to the surface.

You’ve left your group to explore on your own because you feel safe and secure in your kayak. While you’re watching an eagle fly majestically overhead, a boat passes by unnoticed and sends up some steep wake, which naturally you fail to see until it’s too late. Capsize!

Luckily you know how to wet-exit and pull your spray skirt off. But now what?

Self-rescue is arguably the most important tool you will learn as a kayaker. If you can get yourself back into your kayak, in almost all conditions, your confidence will go through the roof, and you will have more time to enjoy and appreciate where you are even in a bit of wind or a choppy swell.

But how to get back in? If you simply attempt to crawl back up and into the kayak you’ll notice your cockpit is full of water and the kayak is super unsteady, and you will inevitably simply flip the boat back over on top of you.

Luckily however, you brought a paddle float.

A paddle float is either a) a rigid piece of foam, or b) an inflatable sack, that sits under the bungees of your kayak within easy reach from the water. Both kinds have a pocket built in to them on one side. If you have an inflatable float, you will have to blow it up from the water – which only takes 25 seconds or so.

Take one end of your paddle (which you’ve held onto this whole time) and insert the blade into the pocket on the float. Usually there is a buckle that straps around the paddle shaft here to keep it in place. Once done, you take the other end of the paddle and insert it blade first through the bungees directly behind your cockpit. Secure? Good. You’ve just gone and constructed yourself an outrigger.

Now try to scramble back into your kayak. As long as you keep your weight low and lean back in the direction of the paddle float, your kayak will be stable and you should be able to re-enter your boat. We like to keep a limb of some kind in constant contact with the paddle shaft at all time so we don’t accidentally overbalance. Pull your chest up onto the deck of the kayak, behind the cockpit, facing the stern, and enter your legs into the cockpit. From here you just have to spin around in place (always leaning into the float) and you are back in your seat.

Then, and only then, do you pump out the water. Even in summer conditions, exposure to cold water can lead to hypothermia quickly. Get out of the water first, then pump the boat.

We highly recommend you practice your self and assisted rescues (seen below) in safe water before your trip. Even if we can’t accommodate a lesson for you, the bay at our launch site is the perfect place to practice for an hour or so before you head off into Desolation Sound!

Now you can save yourself, but what happens when your inexperienced friend leans over too far and ends up in the water?

There are many, many ways to rescue a second person, and the method ultimately chosen by someone with the knowledge to do so will depend on the sea conditions, water temperature, and the physical ability of the person being rescued.

For now, we’ll briefly describe two separate but related rescues: the Parallel Park and Pump and the T-Rescue.

Parallel Park and Pump (PPP)

This rescue is simple and quick, and great in choppier or cooler water when you don’t necessarily have time to waste – it gets the rescuee back in the kayak as quickly as possible.

Direct your friend to hold onto their paddle, flip their kayak over upright and to move to the back of their boat. Once they have done this, come up parallel to their kayak, bow to stern, and ask your friend to now move up in line with the cockpit. Take their paddle from them and hook it under the bungees of your boat our of the way (and do the same with your paddle while you’re at it).

Next, lean over your friends kayak in front of their cockpit and brace their boat by holding tight onto the kayak and the bungees for support. You should be very supported by the second kayak. Your friend now should enter their kayak in much the same way as during a paddle float rescue – keep low, pull their chest up onto the deck facing the stern, get their legs into their cockpit and then swing themselves round in their seat.

You’ll notice now that they are in the kayak again, but the cockpit is still full of water. Without letting go of bracing their kayak, both of you should now take your pumps and start pumping out the water, which will take a while but at least warm up your wet friend in the process!

Once the water is (mostly) clear of the kayak, you can be on your way.


This rescue is for when you have a bit more time up your sleeve – the wind is low, the sea state is calmer, and your friend in the water is not in danger of succumbing immediately to hypothermia. The rescuee spends more time in the water here, but the overall time it takes to make the rescue is halved, as you will see.

Have your friend move to the back of their kayak again, but do not flip the kayak over upright, and instead of coming up parallel to them, manoeuvre yourself so that you are perpendicular to their kayak, with the nose of their boat at your waist, like the letter ‘T’.

From the back of the kayak ask your friend to push down on the stern of their boat and at the same time pull the nose of their kayak up onto the spray skirt in front of you. It may take a few moves to pull the kayak up far enough, but eventually the cockpit will be completely out of the ocean and all the water swirling around in their will dump out onto your skirt in front of you (tip: don’t forget to make sure your own skirt is secure before attempting this move!).

Now empty, you can flip the kayak over while still in front of you and gently lower it back into the water. From here you can rescue your friend as per the PPP, but now you don’t have to touch your pump at all – all the water is already removed!

We pride ourselves on our quality rental fleet – but this quality can only be maintained if our customers treat our kayaks and equipment with respect while they are in their care. Powell River Sea Kayak does charge a damage penalty for any kayaks or equipment that comes back damaged at the fault of the user, but we also provide clear instructions on how to avoid the most common causes of kayak damage. If followed correctly, these methods reduce 95% of kayak damages, and we can continue to provide the same quality in seasons to come.

The most common cause of kayak damage occurs during launching and landing on our rocky coast.

This sharp coastline is littered with boulders, as well as providing the perfect habitat for razor sharp oysters, clams and barnacles, and when this environment comes in contact with our kayaks they never fail to scrape and gouge the fragile fibreglass hull. A badly scraped kayak often needs to be removed from the fleet for days or even weeks at a time to be fixed.

To avoid this damage, the easiest method is to only enter or exit the kayak while it is completely floating in more than 6 inches of water. Never run a kayak up on a beach, even a sandy bay which could be hiding clams and other sharp rocks below the surface.

Of course, this means that the kayak is far less stable when entering and exiting, and there are many different methods of launching and landing designed to prevent capsize.

The overarching principle here is to keep your centre of gravity low – and this means getting your bum in the seat as quickly as possible. Never stand with two feet in the kayak before your bum is in the seat, even if someone is stabilizing the kayak for you. This is a recipe for disaster!

The most common method of launching is where you start on one side of the kayak and put one foot inside and follow immediately with your bum in the seat, all in one motion. You then swing your second leg up and into the cockpit, often while using your paddle, or a friend, to help stabilize yourself. This method is also very handy when entering a kayak in a place that has a steep drop off on one side, as it allows you to launch from one side of the kayak and maintain balance.

Another common method is great for long legged kayakers and when you are launching from a beach with a gradual incline. Here you stand over the cockpit with a leg on both sides, and simply drop your bum into the seat first thing. Then, perhaps using your paddle to help stabilize yourself, you can swing each leg into the cockpit one at a time and be on your way.

For those with less flexibility or experience, a great way to go about the launch and land process is to have the most experienced person in the group stabilize and help everyone into their boats before launching themselves.

Exiting the kayak is often simply using these two above methods in reverse, and always keeping in mind the principle of a low centre of gravity until you have one foot planted firmly on solid ground. Come to a complete stop well before you reach the shore, but make sure you don’t try to exit too early or the drop to the ground will be further than you expected!

What to Pack

Packing a kayak is an art form in itself, and covers everything from what you need to bring on a kayak trip to how to get it all inside the kayak.

Sea kayaks have ample room for almost all recreational sea kayak trips. Our single kayaks are from 16-18.5 feet long with two storage hatches, while our doubles are around 22 feet long and have three storage hatches included a large central hatch for bulkier items. You will quickly find that you can bring far more luxury items on a sea kayak expedition than you would ever dream of bringing on a backpacking trip of the same length of time.

That said, there are still limitations. As for what to pack, this link will take you to the page to download a recommended packing list for guides as set out by the Sea Kayak Guides’ Alliance of BC. While more extensive than you will need for a recreational trip, it gives a great framework for you to plan your own personal packing list.

With regards to clothing, the two key considerations are to pack layers for warmth, and to plan to have at least one dry pair of clothes at all times. Cotton is a poor choice in the PNW as it draws heat from the body when it gets wet, so always plan to have at least two changes of synthetic/nylon or wool clothing for both on and off water activities. After this, with the possible exception of underwear, you certainly don’t need a change of outfit every day, and for longer trips planning to bring this much clothing is impractical.

How to Pack

Packing the boat itself is often compared to a game of Tetris. The bow and stern hatches taper at the ends and are therefore the best places to stuff long and thin objects like tents, sleeping pads, etc to make the most of the shape of the space. Dry bags that taper at the ends are available that are designed to fit snugly in the nose of a kayak for this very reason.

You should also plan to pack the heaviest items towards the centre of the kayak – either in the centre hatch in a double or behind the seat in the back hatch of a single – so that the kayak is not carrying all it’s weight in the front or rear. Things like pots and pans and other kitchen items, or heavy food, should be placed here.

Finally, you have limited space under the bungees on the deck of the kayak and between your legs in the cockpit is you need more space to pack waterproof items. This should be limited however, especially on the deck, as it can destabilize the kayak greatly.

Where to Pack

Finally, thought has be to given to where you pack the kayak.

Packing a kayak up above the waterline and carrying it down to the water seems obvious, but stuff a double kayak with food, beer and equipment and then try to lift it down to the ocean once, and you quickly realize how damaging such an activity can be to yourself – and if you drop the kayak – our equipment.

A far more practical solution is to pack down at the waters edge … but the tides going out, and an hour after you begin as you’re ready to launch, the water has retreated 30 or 40 metres down the shallow beach.

So what to do? Drag the kayak and damage the hull? Absolutely not. Carry the loaded kayak and damage your back? We don’t recommend it.

Whether the tide is coming in or out, we always recommend packing floating kayaks. This reduces the risk of scrapes and damage as you stuff items deep into the hatch. Aim to have one or more people at the boats, and others passing gear to them from the shore for them to pack. This way, no matter which direction the tide is moving, you can simply walk the boats out or in with the tide, the kayaks don’t get damaged, and you are ready to leave as soon as you have finished packing!

Finally, you need to make adjustments to your seat and rudder pedals before you get on the water, and before you move the kayaks down to the beach to pack. Never sit in a kayak on a rocky surface! Our grassed launch site will have your kayaks staged for you and ready to go when you arrive, and here is the place to sit in the kayak and make any adjustments that you need.

The seat and rudder adjustment mechanisms are different in every kayak, and our staff will be able to help you when you arrive. We will also be able to provide some foam or padding if you wish to modify your seat or support your back.

Finally, the rudder pedals in the kayak are designed to help you steer your kayak in the water. push the left pedal forward while paddling and the kayak will veer left, right and it will veer right. Simple! Of course people are difference sizes, and so the pedals need to be adjusted before you get on the water.

When sitting in a kayak you are meant to have three points of contact between your body and the boat: your bum in the seat, your feet on the pedals, and your knees firm against the side of the hull. This gives you the most stability. To do this, you need to adjust your pedals so that your knees naturally bow outwards and press against the side of the hull, making the shape of a diamond with your legs.

Our staff will be on hand to help you if this is your first time kayaking to make these adjustments.