Ocean Kayak Safety
Ocean kayaking is one of the most popular recreation opportunities for visitors to the Outer Banks. Some people prefer riding the great surf that the Outer Banks is known for, while others prefer paddling up and down the beach with the dolphins on the calmer days. Still others take kayaks rigged with all the necessary fishing gear out through the surf to catch some of our many trophy fish. Thanks to modern day sit-on-top kayaks, people with very limited kayaking experience can enjoy this fun and rewarding pastime. There are however a few things you should be aware of before you go.
First and foremost kayaking is not safe in any type of water, especially the ocean, unless you wear your life jacket. The Coast Guard may only require you to have it with you in the boat, but that won’t do you any good if you get separated from your kayak. Many people underestimate the power of the ocean, and wearing your life jacket is the simplest way to keep you safe on the water. We include life jackets with all of our kayak rentals so you have no excuse.
Anyone kayaking in the ocean other than experienced paddlers should use a sit-on-top kayak. The beauty of this style of kayak is that they are completely sealed, allowing them to be rolled back over if they capsize, without filling up with water. This then enables the paddlers to easily climb back in and keep on going. This is not possible with a sit-inside style of kayak that would be filled with water and need to be swam back to shore. Only very experienced kayakers should take sit-inside kayaks into the ocean.
There are a few things you should do, to make things easier, before you even leave the beach. First of all, there are some days that the ocean is just too rough to go out on. If the waves are over 2 to 3 feet you may want to consider waiting for a better day. If you do decide to brave the surf, it is a good idea to study the wave pattern before you go. The breaking waves almost always come in sets of 6 to 8 followed by a calmer period. This is when you want to make your break for it. You should also check to make sure that all the hatches are shut tight and the drain plug has been screwed in securely. This will ensure that the boat does not start to take on water while you are out to sea.
When you are handling the kayak in the surf zone there are a few things to remember in order to keep the boat from hurting you or anyone else around you. Most injuries are caused by a loose kayak getting pushed by a wave into someone who is standing between the kayak and the beach. This can be avoided by simply making sure that you and anyone around does not get caught in that position, and also by holding on tight to the kayak so that it does not get away from you. Launching and landing a kayak on a crowded beach should be avoided if at all possible.
Depending on the conditions, just getting into your kayak and out through the surf can be quite a challenge. Launching your kayak directly from the beach can be difficult due to some waves breaking directly on the beach called ”shore break”. The best method is to wade out about waste deep past the shore break. When wading out through the surf you should always carry the kayak by the front handle so you can lift the front end over any oncoming waves letting the wave pass underneath the kayak behind you. Here you can wait for a break in the waves and easily jump onto the kayak and quickly paddle out through the breaking surf. The faster you paddle out of the surf zone, the less likley you are to get dumped by a big wave. Once you have gotten outside of the breaking waves you can relax and enjoy your paddle.
While you are out to sea, everything on the beach will look the same, so be sure to pick out a landmark on the beach that you will be able to find on your way back. Often, winds and currents can cary you far away from where you started without you even realizing it. Another thing to be careful of is not to paddle out any further than you are capable of paddling back. If you are going to open any hatches while on the water, be very careful not to flip the boat, or water will fill the hull and you will have no way to paddle back in.
When paddling back in, be sure to pick a good landing spot without allot of people in the water. A lose kayak can be a very dangerous projectile to an unsuspecting swimmer. You should always try to paddle in on the back side of a wave. This does require some timing and patience, but if done correctly you will ride all the way onto the beach behind a surging wave of water. If you do get caught in a wave be sure to jump off the kayak on the ocean side so the boat does not slam into you causing injury. Once off the kayak, quickly pull it far enough up onto the beach so that you can rest without another wave carrying the boat back into the surf.
This article is meant to give you a good idea of the simple easy steps to ensure that you have a fun and safe time out on the water. The ocean can be a fickle beast, but with a little preparation and some common sense you can tame it.