The key to safe kayaking is common sense and practice. Common sense will tell you not to go out on rough days, or to places that are above your skill level. Take your time and progress over the years. Paddle with more experienced kayakers and learn from them. Practice all your techniques starting in calm conditions and working your way up to rougher conditions in controlled situations where you have competent and willing help. If you are practicing near shore in breaking waves, be sure to wear a helmet.
We offer more advanced levels of instruction and rescue workshops to help in your life-long learning process. If you are not confident doing a self or group rescue in the conditions you are used to, get additional instruction. We offer scheduled instructional days and private lessons by the hour or day.
Many beginners paddle solo because they don't know other kayakers. While many kayakers at all skill levels paddle solo, it is much more dangerous than group paddling because the margin of safety is much smaller. You shouldn't paddle solo until you are a very competent paddler. Take advantage of clubs and outfitters like us. The clubs offer many good programs, particularly if you have your own boat.
As a group paddler you have responsibilities. Don't go on programs which are so above your skill level that you're likely to become a liability to the group. Be sure you have the right equipment, and be in shape for the program.
While out on the trip, stay with the group and understand that the group moves only as fast as the slowest paddler. If the group is moving too slowly for you, practice your support and turning strokes and take a meandering course as you wait for the rear of the group. Most groups have lead and sweep boats: stay between them for your safety. The lead paddler is picking the route that the group will follow. Those at the front of the group should always be within shouting distance of the paddlers at the rear. When crossing boat channels the group must stay very close together. This makes it easier for the operators of larger craft to see and avoid the group. In the crossing, you should push if you are a slower paddler or slow down if you are a faster paddler. Group paddling is fun if everyone helps each other. If you see someone having trouble, try to help. Watch the leader and learn for another time. Good leaders have reasons for almost everything they do. Ask questions they'll be glad to explain.
We now have been teaching sea kayaking for well over fifteen years and we are confident that we have provided high quality training to our clients. When you take any basic course you receive information and training, but you don't develop experience and skill until you've spent time on the water, utilizing and perfecting what you learned in training. If you progress through our full set of instructional programs, then you will have the skill and judgment to handle any conditions you might find. Safety comes with judgment, not with just skill or equipment.
Safety starts at home. Equipment must be inspected, and the trip planned. The trip must be within your capabilities. Listen to the weather radio just before you start. Dress for the water temperature. Paddling with a group is much safer than solo paddling. Most serious incidents happen when paddling solo or in a group without proper leadership or experience. While we teach self rescues, you must understand their limitations. Know your limitations and stay within them. Our intermediate and advanced tours allow you to push your limits while remaining within critical safety parameters.
Many paddlers never capsize, but if you do, you must know what to do. We all have the responsibility to know how to rescue ourselves and our fellow paddlers. Don't think that because you have all the latest in safety equipment, you are safe.Time and time again, we hear and read about sea kayakers getting into trouble because of the lack of common sense and experience. This is a major concern of Atlantic Kayak Tours personnel. As we said, safety comes from skill and knowledge, not from equipment. In the hundreds of trips we have led, we have never needed any of our safety equipment (with the exception of flotation, bailing equipment and tow lines), but we have used our skills, knowledge and common sense on every trip. Many of the most talented sea kayakers say they would rather paddle with a friend who owns a minimum amount of equipment and can execute a flawless rescue in all types of conditions than with someone who has loads of equipment and limited ability to perform an efficient rescue.
We continue our own training to improve our skills and gain experience with each trip we take. The founders of Atlantic Kayak Tours gained experience and learned to kayak safely by paddling with Chuck Sutherland (one of the best instructors and trip leaders in the U.S.). Chuck ran trips almost every weekend. Chuck has been very active in the safety and training area for many years and has written many interesting and controversial articles. We recommend that you read as many of Chuck's articles as you can find. The following is an article written by Chuck for "Atlantic Coastal Kayaker." You may not agree with all he writes, but he will get you to thinking.
"It is my view that in Coastal Kayaking there is no "Cheap Out" for obtaining adequate training. There is no doubt that many students come with some previous background in canoeing, sailing or river kayaking. At times this can be either an advantage or serious disadvantage. Many people come to this sport with no previous relevant experience. Some paddlers are not even swimmers.
Let's consider for a moment what people DON'T KNOW when they come off the street to the "cosmic" (J. Chute) world of COASTAL KAYAKING
Altogether this is a massive amount of information to NOT KNOW! Shall we just teach folks a few strokes and a rescue and send em out the inlet on the ebb tide? What they don't know about the wind and about tidal currents and waves can put them at serious risk. We will have trained them just enough in four hours to make them dangerous to themselves and their friends. Telling them to be careful is meaningless. They have NO BASIS ON WHICH TO MAKE THAT JUDGMENT!
Wow, you say. These folks are blank pages. Meaning no disrespect, but in very many cases this is absolutely the flat true situation and the instructor must be prepared to teach the program starting with seating, foot braces and wet exits. Boating skills and the marine environment cannot be covered in four hours.
Why do we care whether or not this aspiring paddler remains a blank page until departure for that solo expedition-of-a-lifetime around Baffin Island? Because we are good human beings, right? Here are a few other reasons. We tried to get access to the sea through CT, NY and NJ State Parks. We have failed because they say liability issues prevent them from allowing us to walk across the sand, past the "Public" yacht basin to the water. Accidents give these people ammunition which they are eager to use to shut us out. They only allow surfers and surf fishermen to use those beaches. If we freeze to death, get run over by tug boats, call out the Coast Guard, Marine Police, or Harbor Patrol to get us out of jams that we should have been well enough trained to avoid, we will be kicked off the water. We will ALL PAY with our prized FREEDOM TO PADDLE how and where we please. If you doubt this, check on the rules governing board sailing.
It is not in our collective interest to have on the water untrained, poorly equipped paddlers, who have no sensitivity for our collective reputation for competence and responsibility. Untrained paddlers are a threat both to themselves and to all who paddle with them. They are a threat to the sport and to the industry because their horror stories are the ones seen by the public in the local newspapers. This is bad for business as it presents a misleading view of our sport to potential future participants. Such accidents scare the insurance industry into increased premiums. They pose the risk of lawsuits against skilled paddlers that accompany untrained paddlers and against all who sell them essential gear/boats. I believe it is vitally important that we encourage in every way possible the highest standards of skill, judgment and responsibility in all coastal paddlers. Their lives and our collective freedom as paddlers depend on it.
Judgment skills will come with time and experience. All the warnings here are not meant to frighten anyone away, but to let you know that dangers exist, and that the knowledge that comes with experience is the only way to control them. It takes years of paddling in varying conditions to become an expert kayaker. Our higher level instructional programs will help to reinforce your skills and introduce new and better techniques for both boat handling and rescues. And always keep in mind that kayaking should be fun and safe.
We hope you find kayaking as rewarding as we do and we look forward to seeing you on the water.