HERE ARE SOME TIPS AND TRICKS WE’VE LEARNED OUT ON THE WATER.
(Last updated July, 2017)
We’ve been experimenting with the Keel Eazy Keel Strip over the past couple of years. It’s a self-installed strip of PVC tape that you place on the outside of the hull along the keel line. Since the keel line takes the greatest abuse, especially when launching and landing, this extra protection can extend the life of your boat. We can tell you that it is extremely easy to install except around sharp bends. It takes a lot of abuse, but does tend to get nicked and scraped and needs to be replaced occasionally. But then, that’s what you want, the keep strip to take all those nicks and scapes instead of the hull of your boat. Fairly expensive at around $3 per foot, but worth it, in our opinion. All of our thermoform and composite boats now wear keep stripping.
If your PFD does not have reflective piping or patches you can purchase them. Reflective collars for pets or ankle bands bicyclists can be secured around shoulder straps. They can also be added to your bow and stern toggles.
Reflective patches are great for making you more visible on the water to other boaters and to aid SAR (Search and Rescue) personnel if you need help. Add reflective patches to the backs of your paddles and you have a built-in signaling device. Also rapidly moving paddles are more likely to attract attention in low light than a slow moving or still hull patch. Silver, yellow and sometimes red reflective patches can be found in some hardware stores for placing on mail box posts. Other colors are available from kayak shops. You can even add reflective pin-striping on your kayak. We swear the pin stripes make our kayaks go faster, just like a sports car!
SOTs are “self-bailing”. That is, they have holes through the hull (scuppers) to let the water out. The stoppers for these holes are called “scupper plugs”. We usually plug the scuppers nearest the seat to keep water out and leave the others open. We suggest you carry a couple of extra scupper plugs. We always seem to be missing one when we need them.
We’ve tried the various manual bilge pumps on the market and they are very efficient. But we all now carry Stream Machine water guns. In fact it has become tradition that we give them as a gift to new members of the YakPak. The water guns are certainly not as fast as the manual bilge pumps but they are multi-use. Not only are they able to get down into the very bottom of the hull (which bilge pumps usually cannot do unless modified) but they are available for impromptu water fights. And, on a hot day, if you point them directly overhead you’ll experience a refreshing shower. Plus they are usually less expensive than specialty bilge pumps.
When you upgrade from aluminum/plastic to fiberglass or from fiberglass to carbon, save your old paddle as your spare. Also, quite frequently when you purchase a kayak from a shop you can get them to throw in a cheap paddle for free or for a very low price. Plus that plastic paddle is available for areas where you may want to protect your good paddle – like rocky limestone shoals and oyster beds.
Another idea for a spare is to get a child’s paddle. These are very short (160-180 cm), relatively inexpensive ($30-$60) and will fit well on most decks and even into some hatches. A very short paddle can also be handy if you enjoy narrow creeks with many overhanging branches or vines where a longer paddle can get tangled. That really short paddle may take more effort to use if your primary paddle disappears or breaks, but it will get you there in a pinch.
And while speaking of spare paddles, carrying them on your decks can really scratch the decks up. You can prevent this by using “Paddle Britches”. You can buy commercial britches, but it is really easy to make you own from an old pair of tights, long john bottoms or fleece pants. Simply fold over each of the legs about an inch and sew them closed. You can then place the shaft end of your paddle into each leg with the paddle end filling the seat section of the tights. Secure the whole thing under your deck bungees.
Most of us carry at least two – one for the front of the seat and one in back of the seat. You’re always going to get a little water in your boat – from launching, from paddle drip, and the occasional water fight. Having a sponge forward and behind the seat will help absorb those annoying little dribs and drabs. We usually stick one inside each hatch as well. The sponges we like best are the NRS Deluxe Boat Sponge. They are relatively expensive (around $10), but we have some that are 7 years old and still going strong while many other brands fall to pieces within a season. They can also be put through a washing machine and dryer which many others can not.
MAKE YOUR OWN RESCUE STIRRUP
A rescue stirrup is a loop of rope or webbing that can be used to create a step that allows you to more easily re-enter your kayak from water that is over your head. In its simplest form it is just a large loop about 6 feet in diameter. If you use floating rope/webbing add a 4- to 6-inch piece of rubber tubing (like old garden hose or a piece of PVC pipe) to sink one end for your foot. Keep the stirrup in a small stuff sack with a drawstring closure. Add a carabiner or plastic snap hook to the drawstring to attach to your deck bungees and it’s always available for use in an emergency. To use the stirrup, simply place the loop around the cockpit and step up. As a loop or full-length it can also be used as a short tow line if you need to tow another kayak or swimmer to shore.
When you first get a full skirt, especially neoprene skirts, it may be very tight and difficult to put on when sitting in your boat. Put it on the kayak and let it stay on for a few days or weeks to stretch out a bit.
On most nylon skirts there is an internal plastic batten that runs across the skirt in front of you that keeps the skirt from collapsing into your lap. The tension on this batten is usually adjusted with a strap on the inside of the skirt.
For most mild weather kayaking we love our half-skirts. You will also find these called sun decks, splash skirts, and splash decks. A half-skirt provides protection from sun and light rain/paddle drips while still allowing quite a bit of ventilation. In Florida they are almost perfect since the sun is hot and the humidity is so high that in all but the coldest weather you start to roast inside a full-skirt. Half-skirts are also considerably less expensive at $25-50 compared to full skirts which start around $80. Unfortunately, when looking for a half-skirt online or in stores about all you will find is black. Black? Really? For something that is supposed to be used in the SUN? What are the manufacturers and retailers thinking??? Fortunately, a good retailer will be happy to custom order a half-skirt for you from Seals in any of several custom colors. The yellow (goldenrod) and grey are best for the sun, but any color is better than black.
** Update 2016 ** In spite of what their website still says, Seals is no longer making their skirts and half-skirts in the listed custom colors. You may be able to order a yellow one from Oak Orchard. And Sea to Summit has one in blue – still dark, but much better than black for use in the sun.
When going out into the ocean or a large lake where waves can get high, a full skirt is part of your safety gear. Also for multi-day touring since you are less likely to be able to avoid all rain storms. And in cold weather, a full skirt will trap your body heat within the cockpit keeping you much warmer. For all other situations, we love our half skirts.
Good water shoes are a necessity in kayaking but they don’t have to be anything special. You want good traction for land and foot protection when wading, but they must be comfortable inside the kayak and dry fairly quickly. We’ve tried the inexpensive, slip-on boating booties available at big box stores, but the foot protection is not adequate for walking around and they can pull off if you step into sucky sand or mud. The same goes for Croc-type sandals, which many hikers love. A far better solution is an old pair of sneakers or a pair of hiking/river sandals. If they rub add a light pair of nylon socks. In cool weather/water add a pair of wool or neoprene socks. In really cold weather, try a pair of wool/synthetic hiking socks inside waterproof socks or an overshoe.
If you want to invest in special kayaking shoes, there are neoprene shoes. These are available as ankle-high booties and knee-high boots. Be sure to look for boots with instep straps and side zippers so they are easy to get on and off wet feet. The ankle-high models are great for every day wear. The knee-high models are only needed when the water is really cold and/or you know you are going to be continually launching/exiting in water over ankle-deep. Neoprene boots do start to smell quickly, so be sure to get some of the special liquid soaks to “sink the stink”.
There’s sometimes a lot of storage space in a kayak, but cockpit space is limited and hatch openings can be relatively small. For sit-inside kayaks we like to use several small coolers rather than one large one. A six-pack cooler will generally fit quite nicely in the cockpit – in front of your feet, between your feet/knees or behind the seat. Use this cooler for water and cold drinks. If a cooler will fit into your hatch, use that cooler for lunch/food.
We like soft sided coolers since they pack better, especially as they empty. One of our favorites is offered by NRS and comes in 6-pack, small and large sizes. The main reason we like these NRS coolers is that they have a removable liner. Not only does that make them easier to clean when you get home, but you can add extra insulation. Simply cut up an old or cheap closed cell foam sleeping pad and fold it around the inside of the cooler. (You may have to cut into the foam a little bit on one side to get it to bend at the corners.) Add a piece in the bottom then replace the liner. Cut another piece for the top. Using these modified coolers we can keep things cool about 48 hours in the hot Florida sun.
KEEPING YOUR KAYAK CLEAN AND BRIGHT – BASIC MAINTENANCE
A little bit of maintenance keeps your boat young and ready to go.
After each outing, rinse out the cockpit and hatches with fresh water, wipe down the deck and hull, and check all cables, and lines. This is particularly important if you were in salt water, but it’s a good idea every time to get rid of sand, mud, small stones, spilled drinks and lunch crumbs. Pay particular attention to rudders, skegs, cables, seat buckles, hatch seals, and your sliding foot pegs. Sand or corrosion can destroy these areas quickly without routine maintenance.
After everything is dry, store your boat out of direct sunlight. If you have a sit-inside put on a cockpit cover and close hatches to keep out insects, birds, and rodents – especially if storing for several weeks.
For poly (rotomolded) boats, apply a UV protector every couple of months during your paddling season. Apply very sparingly – too much and it makes your boat really slippery! On thermoformed and fiberglass boats the hull does not generally need the UV protection, but your hatch covers may. Again, just a very light coating on the covers will keep them from fading and cracking. Also, if you have “tupperwear” style hatch covers, a very light coating on the inside rim of the cover will make them easier to get on and off without sacrificing water protection.
During your rinse-off is a good time to check the integrity of hatch covers and bulkheads. If your bulkheads are leaking, you can reseal them with silicone caulk. Look for a tube of Lexel at your local hardware store. Trim away any loose sealant, wash with soap and water, apply a thin line of Lexel, then spread evenly with your finger. Some bulkheads leave a small opening – about an inch wide – at the top, just under the deck, to allow for ventilation and expansion/contraction – if your bulkheads have this feature, do not plug it up.
If your hatch covers leak you’ll have to determine why. If the rubber seal around the hatch is starting to deteriorate you should replace it. If your press-on “Tupperware” style hatch covers are stiff and hard to put on so you don’t get a good seal, try wiping the edges with a little UV protectant. Rubber hatch covers will eventually deteriorate. Most manufacturers offer replacements or, if you are lucky, you can get a less expensive generic cover that fits.
Thermoform kayaks can be polished with special polish (Novus) available from the manufacturer and through Amazon. This gets rid of small surface scratches and restores the shine.
Most composite kayaks can be polished with liquid car or boat wax.
FINDING YOUR GEAR
For touring, it works best if you can code your gear so you can find the right stuff at the right time. The easiest way to do this is with a variety of dry bags in different sizes and colors. That way, for example, you know the large blue bag holds your sleeping bag, the medium yellow bag holds your dry clothing, the small orange bag contains your personal items, and the red bag holds your first aid and repair kit. Figure out whatever color scheme makes sense to you.
If you have small hatches you will end up with a lot of small dry bags. This makes packing easy but carrying lots of small bags to and from your campsite or car can be a pain. A nylon mesh duffle bag with shoulder strap or an Ikea-type plastic shopping bag can hold mass quantities of little bags and save trips.
Little bags that you stuff up into the extreme bow or stern can be difficult to retrieve. Simply tie a line to the dry bag and run it to the middle of the compartment near the hatch.
A simple way to keep your packed gear evenly distributed fore-and-aft and side-to-side on a kayak tour is to use bags of the same size and load them with approximately the same weight.
On sit-insides and some SOTs you will have two sets of lines on your deck. You’ll have stretchy lines (bungees) usually in a square or criss-cross pattern for storing items and you will have non-stretchy (static) lines called perimeter lines. The perimeter lines act as grab lines if you are in the water. Thus they should not be tight. You should be able to easily slide your (possibly gloved) hand under the line to grab it. Having loose lines on deck can be a safety hazard and it also really bugs some people. You can add plastic or wooden beads to the perimeter lines between attachment points. This raises the perimeter line above the deck making them easy to grab and takes up the slack.
These perimeter lines are also usually reflective which is a great safety feature. If your lines are not reflective you should consider replacing them with reflective line.