My time on the water is spent in a kayak. In addition to providing excellent exercise, my kayak gives me a chance to enjoy time on the water without the sound of an engine propelling my boat. I much prefer the splash of an oar. I live in New York State near the Hudson River, and often find myself loading my kayak on my vehicle and heading down to the river or nearby lakes for a day of paddling and quiet time. Usually one or more kayaking friends will join me if I give them a call. One early spring day I got the urge to spend some time on the water, was unable to find anyone to join me, but decided to take advantage of the nice weather and take my kayak out anyway.
I was quietly paddling along about 200 yards offshore when a sudden breeze came up, caught my hat and blew it off my head. Instinctively I reached out to grab it and managed to upset the kayak, flipping it over and putting me in the water. I was not able to grab my hat; it landed in the water and drifted away. My kayak was full of water and I had no way to empty it, so I grabbed the gunnel with one arm and used the other arm to sidestroke my way back to shore. Towing a water filled kayak is a challenge, but I managed to beach it after about 15 minutes.
I scooped the water out, put the kayak back in the water, and climbed in. I paddled back to my launch site, I was soaked and done for the day. On the way I was thinking of all the things that could have gone wrong, and made up my mind that I would never again kayak alone. Having someone nearby that can help in an emergency could make the difference between a good outcome and a not so good outcome, when an accident occurs. So, all you kayakers out there follow the buddy system, and always have someone with you on the water. Safety should always be our first concern.
Epilogue by Captain Tuna, Hal. Kayaking is fun, my wife and I still do this from time to time and enjoy sheltered water and quiet propulsion. That said, Neil is right that kayaks as with all watercraft should be safety first. The technique of paddling with a pal and scuba diving with a buddy are tried and true. In addition to which using a lifejacket, carrying water for hydration and perhaps a waterproof handheld VHF and something to keep you warm if needed are equally good practices. (This is also good advice for Jet Ski operators… Check out the RESCUE BOAT book for dangerous stories about PWCs.) Another safety key to kayaking is being mindful of where to kayak, I have seen many in open ocean waters and very busy harbor channels, both equally dangerous.
It is good to remember that many kayaks and kayakers are nearly invisible to other boaters. Kayaks are very low to the water, sometimes masked by other boats and frequently dip below waves making them even harder to see. I have seen so many darting in and out of channels between and around moving boats that we call them “squirrels.” Last but not least in any collision between a kayak and a shark, a large fish, or another boat the kayak will lose and could result in serious injury to the kayaker.
Just this week while cruising a harbor near the Saint Lucie Inlet in Stuart, Florida we saw two kayakers paddling furiously to get out from under a pier, we then saw why … someone standing on the pier was yelling for the kayakers to get away. There were very large sea swirls and some serious splashing taking place at the sides of both kayaks. From our vantage point we could see the 4 foot long back of one or more fish, evidently Tarpon lounging under the pier that had been startled by the kayaks. There is no substitute for being alert while boating, even in kayaks.