◊ FAQ Answers

Well known answers to FAQs

Q: What length kayak should I purchase?
A1: The late Derek Hutchinson, one of the major figures in modern sea kayaking and a successful designer, said that the optimal length was 16' 10". When pressed, he indicated that his garage was 17' and the optimal size fit in that space nicely.
A2: A kayak's cruising speed is affected by many factors other than simply its hull speed. Nevertheless, a sea kayak that is very short (say, less than 12') may make it difficult to keep up with a group of enthusiastic kayakers in 17' boats.

Should I use a so called Greenland paddle (aka the stick) or the more modern euro paddle or even a wing paddle?
A1: Probably.
A2: This is really a matter of personal choice. Some find the Greenland paddle easier on hands, wrists, or other arm/shoulder parts even with solid torso rotation bearing the brunt of the effort. You might try several types, giving each a fair chance, and then make a choice. I have euro, Greenland, and wing paddles and am still unsure which I prefer. I read of one paddler who prefers the switching back and forth between his wing and euro, claiming the change in technique avoids assorted repetitive stress injuries. He would carry one type as the spare and switch later in the day.

Q: What length paddle should I buy?
A1: When seated properly in your kayak, the paddle should be long enough to easily reach the water.
A2: If in a wide kayak, you'll want a longer paddle than if in a narrow kayak. Tandems are generally wider than singles in a similar performance category.
A3: Eventually you may want a very lightweight, high-end paddle. This is a major expense, so you don't want to get a 'wrong' length. Before even considering such a purchase you should ensure that you have a solid forward stroke using torso rotation to provide the power. Then, do you prefer a high angle (nearly vertical) or a low angle stroke? There are arguments which favor each of these. In either case, the entire paddle blade (but no more) should be immersed during the power phase of your stroke. This should determine length. There are rather small paddlers who use a 230 cm. paddle and some fairly big folks who use a 210 cm. paddle. The shorter paddles used with a high angle stroke seem to be in vogue now. If you carry a spare paddle, you can arrange to have a selection of two paddle lengths.

How will I determine if a passage is too shallow?
A1: If the draft of your kayak exceeds the depth of the water, the passage is too shallow.
A2: Approach shallow, rocky areas with some caution. Rotomolded kayaks can take more abuse, but are more difficult to repair in the field when holed. Obviously a shallow stretch can be tricky in tidal races where there are rocks. I have added keel strips to my composite kayaks which appears to be a good idea.

Q: Should my significant other and I buy a tandem?
A1: If you're tired of the relationship anyway, such a purchase could help end it. They are, after all, called 'divorce boats' for a reason.
A2: There are several virtues to a tandem, including these:
  • two persons of unequal strength/ability can stay together
  • one person can take photos or whatever
  • other things being equal (which they generally are not), a tandem with its two 'engines' is faster than a single
  • a tandem is typically wider than a single and, in moderate seas, feels more stable, allowing beginners to feel more relaxed

Caution: However, short fat tandems with somewhat flat bottoms will feel stable in flat water, but are significantly less stable in rougher water.

Q: Do I really need a dry/wet suit if I frequently paddle in cold water?
A1: Perhaps not - why interfere with natural selection?
A2: If you frequently paddle in cold water and do not wear cold water immersions gear, you will (at most) need such gear only once.
A3: Both wet and dry suits provide some protection from hypothermia if you end up in the water. The dry suit is significantly more expensive, but (with the proper clothing underneath) is a superior solution. If you intend to spend significant time paddling in rough, cold water or if you plan to do a lot of rolling practice, get the dry suit. On the other hand, if you plan to avoid conditions that might lead to frequent capsizing, the cheaper Farmer John wet suit with a dry top will be adequate.

Q: My spouse insisted we each get all this safety gear - paddle float, tow line, compass, extra paddle, marine radio, flares, etc. Yet we don't know how to use most of it. Why go to all that expense?
A1: If the gear is top notch, it will make your body worth recovering and thereby provide closure for your loved ones.
A2: Learn to use it - otherwise you remain a danger to yourselves and your paddling companions.

Q: I now realize that the first kayak I purchased is not the right one. Now what?
A1: This is not an unusual or bad occurrence. Now you get to buy a different kayak and, having established this precedent, you can continue to buy kayaks until hell freezes over. Many accomplished kayakers have multiple kayaks, comprising a fleet rivaling those of the larger tour operators.
A2: There is no truly general purpose kayak. If you can only afford one, perhaps make a choice depending on what you do most e.g a straight tracking touring boat or a rough water play boat.

What is 'kayak trim' and how should I deal with it?
A1: The term 'kayak trim' refers to how your kayak is weighted, bow versus stern. It would seem that you should load the bow hatch much more than the stern hatch. Then the stern will be significantly higher, so the kayak will be pointed 'downhill'. As a result you can just coast 'downhill' and need not paddle at all.
A2: Kayak trim is something racers fret about, but we touring kayak folks neglect. Racers typically carry no load other than body weight so trim adjustments involve moving the seat slightly, forward or back. We common folks typically don't have kayaks with adjustable seats, so we adjust trim by how we load our cargo. Sea kayak manufacturers generally design kayaks with a trim that is appropriate for an unloaded kayak with a kayaker of a target weight. As a paddler exerts paddling effort, the bow tends to rise while the stern tends to squat. Presumably the kayak designer accommodates this i.e. designs for dynamic rather than static trim, but if a paddler isn't right at the target weight the trim will deteriorate. So a heavier paddler may get more stern squat and want to load the bow hatch a bit more, vice versa for a lighter paddler. You can try this by subtle differences in hatch loading. It is so qualitative, that you should be able to draw whatever conclusions you wish or fear.
I live on an inland lake. In the depth of winter there is too much ice to allow me to paddle. What should I do?
A1: Move.
A2: I am in this situation, so in the winter I embrace winter activities. But I can also do trip planning or maintain our 2 kayak fleet. A friend is thinking of building one of the Pygmy kits over the winter. The seasonal nature of our kayaking renews our enthusiasm each year.

Q: I live in North Idaho. When on an outing, I keep my PFD on the back deck within easy reach, yet the people I paddle with nag me to wear it. Why is that their concern? What should I do?
A1: Move way south to much warmer water, perhaps where you came from.
A2: Encourage your nagging friends to paddle with someone else. They will appreciate it.
A3: If you capsize, can you hold onto your paddle, your kayak, and put on your PFD? Have you tried it in cold water in a wind? In a light wind, an unrestrained kayak can quickly be blown away from you faster than you can swim. As it is, you are not only a danger to yourself, but others in the group who might feel compelled to rescue you.