Sea Kayaking Guide for Beginners

Sea Kayaking Guide for Beginners

When going out into the sea, kayakers are subjected to changes in tides and currents, as well as to the powers of wind and wave. Sea kayakers should therefore understand how these indispensable sea features work. Moreover, Sea Kayaking requires careful navigation and chart positioning. Knowing how to use the essential pieces of navigational equipment is important, as well as being familiar with open water Paddling skills.

Tidal Variations & Current

The gravitational effect of the moon as well as of the sun and planets affects sea conditions. Within a 24-hour period, water levels rise and fall. These occurrences are commonly known as the high tide and the low tide, which both happen twice a day.

A cycle of tidal variation, which is dependent on the date and the location of the body of water, occurs every month. Extreme tides, which are commonly known as spring tides, happen during the time of the full moon until two weeks later. In between these periods, extreme tides recede to less extreme levels. These tides are known as neap tides.

There is a yearly variation aside from the cycle of tidal variation every month. Spring tides happen globally during the dates of March 21 and September 21 – the time of the equinoxes. The smallest tides, on the other hand, happen during the dates of June 21 and December 21, when the sun is furthest from the equator.

Knowing how tidal variations occur is very important when planning out a Sea Kayaking adventure. Sea kayakers are recommended to avail of a tide table, as well as to know the time of occurrences of the tides during the scheduled day of the trip.

Aside from tidal variations, there are tidal currents, which are characterized as the alternating movement of water across seas. Tidal currents, especially the turbulent ones, require good Paddling techniques. In Whitewater Kayaking, one can also encounter eddies and waves.

Along coastal areas, especially on surf beaches, there is a type of narrow surface current called the rip, which happens when the water pushed towards the sea are moved landward by the long shore drift. This can be a challenge for kayakers. They can make the most out of rips if they know how to tackle them. Rip currents flow towards the sea through the waves.

Kayakers or anything located near a rip can be drawn towards it. They can get a free ride along the rips to get through the waves. However, if you think you are in trouble or if you want to stay inshore, go out of a rip by paddling or swimming across it and moving into water bound onshore.

Tidal variations and tidal currents are some of the important aspects that you should know when paddling in open water. Understand these occurrences, know they can affect your Kayaking trip, and learn how to deal with them.

Features of Wind & Waves

Sea kayakers should never take lightly the power of the wind and the waves. Understanding how they affect Kayaking is highly recommended in order to spare sea kayakers from uninformed judgment and avoidable hazards.


In warm weather, winds tend to blow offshore during nighttime. This is because the air moves to the sea as the land cools. During daytime, when the temperature rises, the wind blows onshore.

Winds, even light breeze, affect the movement of boats. When kayaking out into the sea, watch out for onshore winds. These will move your boat around and turn it upwind.

Like the onshore winds, cross-winds have similar effects to sea kayakers. Cross-winds will try to turn your Kayak around towards the wind. Constant sweep strokes are needed to keep your craft on the right track.

Before going out into the sea, make sure that you tune in to weather forecasts. Know what the sea conditions will be. This will give you time to plan you trip, as well as to prepare for probable weather changes.


In some cases, the sea becomes like a white water river. This happens when the water moves quickly above submerged rocks. Normally, waves are caused by winds out in the open sea. Waves that are caused by winds are classified into two: chop and swell.

Chops are small waves caused by winds over short distances. When wind strength swells in a short time, calm seas can become very choppy. Sea kayakers may find it hard to sail through choppy seas as waves will seem to be coming from all directions.

Swells, on the other hand, are waves created by winds blowing in the same direction over long distances, and are reduced when they meet an oncoming wind. Usually, these waves are more evident in oceans than in small closed-in seas.

In Sea Kayaking, you will experience the lashing of winds and the splashing of waves. These two work together in a number of ways. Treat both waves independently when you come across them simultaneously. In extreme cases, you will experience harsh wind and waves. What you should always do is keep your Kayak Paddles low and tilt into the direction of the wind. This will make you safe. Moreover, it is important to just maintain your balance and relax your body. Surfing the waves can also help sometimes.

Navigation & Distance

Before you go Sea Kayaking, make sure to bring the essential pieces of navigational equipment. Knowing how to use them is equally important.

One of the essential pieces of navigational equipment is the compass, which should be brought every time you set out. You can mount your compass on the front hatch of your Kayak or canoe to secure it firmly.

A chart is another essential piece of navigational equipment. Charts will help you recognize landmarks onshore in case you find yourself in unfamiliar parts of the sea. Aside from charts, you can also bring maps. Just have them laminated to make them waterproof and store them in dry bags.

When you plan to go out far from shore, there is a need for more sophisticated pieces of equipment. Here comes the importance of a Global Positioning System, or GPS, device. This high tech gadget provides your precise position, the direction of your travel, as well as the rate of speed you are going. You need a chart and compass when using a GPS device.

When you are out in the open sea, you need to make you and your Kayak visible, most especially during foggy days and conditions with low visibility. Chemical glow-stickers can be used for lighting. These can be attached to your boat, your helmet, and Kayaking Clothing. Many kayakers use these because they do not require batteries, and they can still function even when soaked in water. Moreover, they do not become a hassle to your night vision.

For safety purposes, bring flares or strobe lights. These are extremely bright and are very useful when seeking assistance especially in times of distress.

Also, it is important to know what kind of shipping goes through the area where you plan to kayak. This will help you to carefully plan your route.

Kayaking in the open sea requires careful navigation and charting of your position. Therefore, knowing how to use the different pieces of navigational equipment is extremely important. Moreover, gauging how far you can go without getting exhausted is very crucial.

Sea conditions are more demanding than those in rivers or lakes with smooth waters. You can go Kayaking far offshore as long as you can handle it. Do not push yourself because you can still become proficient in Sea Kayaking through time and experience.

Paddling Skills

When paddling in open water, which usually has windy conditions, being familiar with different Kayaking Skills will prove very useful. Taking up another style of Paddling is needed, as well. In this section, learn some tips on paddling in open water:

Stroke Variations

There are stroke variations kayakers can use when paddling in open water. The Greenland slide hand, which is a highly-efficient low-stroke technique, is especially useful under strong winds. Also useful in windy conditions is the Knifed-J, which helps kayakers control the tracking. This stroke variation, moreover, does not slow down the movement of their Kayaks. The Figure Eight, which is a complicated version of the Knifed-J, is a powerful stroke which is done with the use of a moderately flat Kayak Paddle.

Sculling for support, which is referred to as an advanced skill, can be very useful in Sea Kayaking. This skill will aid the kayaker in avoiding capsizing. Using the same stroke as the Sculling Draw, this is done by placing the paddle blade face down on the water.

Making use of an outside lean will allow easy turning of your Kayak. This is because an outside lean reduces the effect of the keel. Turning your Kayak through the use of an outside lean can be very easy whether you are mobile or stationary.

Launching & Landing

Prior to launching, look for a gentle slope, where the waves are the smallest. This will make launching easier for you. Before getting in, float your Kayak in shallow water without letting it go to avoid damage to your hull. While straddling your Kayak, balance yourself by holding the deck with your hands behind you. Carefully lower yourself into your seat and put your feet into the boat last.

When landing, it is also imperative to choose your landing spot carefully. On shallow waters, release your Spray Skirt and put your feet out onto the deck. Hold on to the Cockpit or deck behind you and slowly push it down. Gently lift your butt and push your feet down into the water until it touches the bottom. Carefully stand by pushing your weight forward. Move your feet together to one side of the Kayak while keeping hold of it. Maintain your balance and do not let your boat float away.

Launching and landing in Kayaking come in various ways. It all depends on you. The main key is experimentation. Practice making the different methods of launching and landing to find out what suits you.

Posted by
Arthur G. Moore

Arthur G. Moore is a veteran paddler. He has over 10 years of whitewater kayaking experience in his kitty. When he was young, he used to love kayaking in rapid III and rapid IV but as time went on, he decided to concentrate mainly on covering long distances on a standard touring kayak. He is currently working as a senior editor for Kayak Manual.

Leave a Reply