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Kayak Basics - How to Choose a Kayak

Home > Everywhere > Outdoor | Fun Things To Do | Boating | Adventure
by Andrew Burton (subscribe)
I am a Freelance Writer-Photographer and Novelist. I travel to find inspiration, wherever the distant horizons lead.
Published April 26th 2016
Choose the right kayak and enjoy our waterways

Kayak Basics - How to Choose a Kayak
Kayaking the Murray River at dusk - Gunbower National Park
Kayaking the Murray River at dusk - Gunbower National Park

Like most sports, people often struggle to find correct technique until given a few pointers, and afterwards find great enjoyment. The great thing about kayaking is the fun element is coupled with healthy exercise, and Australia's finest scenery. If you are a nature lover, then your outdoor experiences can take on a whole new world and perspective - 'Ya just gotta luv it'. Click here to see what kind of boat will suit your needs?

Canadian canoes and semi-enclosed canoes

The many different canoes and kayaks have different capabilities and uses
Upper left is a Canadian canoe and in the foreground a 4.25 meter touring kayak, centre a 5.2 metre sea kayak and top a light weight semi-carbon sea kayak

My first boat was a double semi enclosed canoe, which looked like a whitewater kayak, but was wider, more stable and was a fair all-rounder. It could be used with spray covers so waves would not fill it up. The very first paddle, it became evident that there was some magic technique to keep the boat in a straight line. The flat bottom of whitewater boats make them very easy to turn and the maneuverability helps to avoid logs and rocks. On flatwater they require skillful paddle stroke techniques to keep in a straight line, otherwise they drift in slow circles to the paddlers complete bewilderment.

The all-purpose Canadian canoe has a wide and safe structure for good stability, making them harder to tip. They have a more pronounced V-shaped hull for easier paddling in a straight line, and as a result they have less maneuverability. The uncovered deck makes them easy to enter and depart from, but they are not for whitewater unless you bucket faster then a fireman. Canadian canoes, semi-enclosed canoes and whitewater kayaks have slow to modest speed capabilities.

Other boat types

An entry level enclosed kayak, note the width and short length provide stability and maneuverability - don't expect much speed
An entry level enclosed kayak, note the width and short length provide stability and maneuverability - don't expect much speed

Things have changed and the 'interest meter is pegging out,' the more common boats have taken on an elegant and slick streamline look. Inexpensive sit-in and short sit-on boats are entry level and can be a bit off fun in waves at the beach, or on lakes and rivers, or provide good use for fishing. Specialised fished boats come with peddle operated propellers and good seating, and places to stow equipment and your rod. Your hands can be free as you fish, no paddle is required. Whitewater boats are ever shorter these days and the thrill seekers sometimes use them in extreme rapids. This might hurt, don't do it.

Sea kayaks and touring kayaks

Sea kayaks usually have 2 storage areas with rubber caps to keep contents dry - the rear cap pictured is screw-on to store keys or other items and is not always waterproof
Sea kayaks usually have 2 storage areas with rubber caps to keep contents dry - the rear cap pictured is screw-on to store keys or other items and is not always waterproof

Touring boats and sea kayaks are long elegant craft with storage in fully enclosed water resistant bulk heads, averaging 120 kilograms of capacity or more - making kayak camping possible.

Their hull profile has partial V-shaping for straight line paddling, so most of your effort results in cruising speed, instead of aimlessly drifting around in circles the first time you paddle. Modern boats have a pedal operated rudder (skeg) - which helps a great deal in keeping the boat in a straight line and slow turns. The skeg can be flipped back onto the boat for extra maneuverability in tighter turns, and to keep it safe for transport. Don't expect the turning circle to be less that that of a mack truck, but you can use whitewater techniques to turn it around on a dime, but the process is slow. Hence sea kayaks are not good in rivers with many obstacles such as rock or logs.

They really are designed for long distance paddling in a straight lines, where good average speeds are more useful. They easily double the speed of smaller boats. The average plastic sea kayak from adventure shops, cruise at 5 to 6 kilometers per hour with regular paddling and use of a good paddle; one with decent size blades with good pitch. Light weight fibreglass boats will be better with cruising speed around 8 or 9 kilometers per hours or perhaps more, which is over 5 knots. To convert knots to kilometres per hour click here. These boats are usually 5 meters or more in length.

Surf-skis and flatwater racing boats

A sea kayak rudder or 'skeg' retracted for transport or when making tight turns amongst trees or obstacles in the water
A sea kayak rudder or 'skeg' retracted for transport or when making tight turns amongst trees or obstacles in the water

Longer more narrow boats are generally faster still, and hence surf ski's at 5.5 to 6.5 meters and a narrow girth move very well on the ocean or flatwater. They cannot be used to carry camping equipment for extend trips. The fastest of all are the ultra narrow and longer flatwater racing boats. These 2 types can be used with a shorter paddle, and a higher stroke rate is possible and this adds to the speed and for a shorter harder workout.

Accessories:

Don't forget quality rubber straps, rope or ratchet ties downs to add to your list of kayak accessories
Don't forget quality rubber straps, rope or ratchet ties downs to add to your list of kayak accessories

Deck lights are useful for evening or dawn paddles for visibility. They have a sucker type base for easy attachment. Deck bags can be purchased to stow extra equipment on the deck. A GPS and compass will help when the shore shrinks in the distance. When paddling on a lake, you may turn the kayak and wonder which part of that tiny distant shore you started from? An error will make you paddle a lot further when on larger expanses of water. The inflatable bag for outrigger-paddle type recoveries is an important addition. I have never used a sail, but for distance ocean work they can be useful to extend your range.

Kayak clothing for cold water paddling is very important, and note that the ocean can still be very cold in spring even on a warm day. If you are in the water for more than a few minutes, you will be thankful for the wetsuit. Kayak trolleys may be useful if you cannot find easy entry to water close to your car. If you are doing day trips, don't forget to take plenty of drink and food, you will burn calories fast and sunny days with dehydrate you quickly. Take suncream and helmet or at least a hat, and sunglasses will cut glare from the water's surface. Good kayaks are available from major camping stores, and specialist canoe and kayak suppliers. Grab your keys and go find your dream kayak.



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Why? Learn which kayak will make kayaking more fun for you.
When: With the right equipment and weather it can be an all year round activity.
Where: Australia has some great waterways such as the Murray-Darling basin, the Gippsland Lakes, and endless pristine coastlines - choose a state and google.
Cost: Simple entry level boats are about 300 to 600 dollars, sea kayaks can be found on special sometimes around the 1000 dollar mark and 2000 to 6000 will see you with the 'best of the best'.
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