Stirrup Paddle Strap Re-entry – Primary/Secondary Kayak Stability – Bracing Strokes – Pool Sessions – Kayak Materials & Construction – Life Jackets (New standards; Kids PFDs;…) – River Hazards – Kayak Deck/Hull Repair – Nylon Tie-down Strap Treatment – Nylon Strap Tie-down Hood loops – Kayak Re-entry – Kayak Cockpit Paddling Posture – Kayak Deck Lines and Rigging


ALL PHOTOS AND IMAGES (unless otherwise credited): © 2018 Watson


Any re-entry type of rescue, whether a solo effort or assisted, can be taxing on the capsized paddler – sometimes to the point of near exhaustion.  Using a stirrup recovery technique can literally give you one leg up on being able to re-enter your boat.

Basically a stirrup, by definition, is  a “…form of a loop with a flat base to support the rider’s foot…”.  The key words being “support” and “foot”. From a re-entry perspective, a foothold is made from one end of a looped section of tubular nylon webbing straps that is used as a “step up” segment of a kayak re-entry rescue.

The loop is fashioned from a length of 1” diameter tubular nylon strapping formed by tying ends off in a “water” knot to form a long, complete circle (loop) of strap. The loop is then placed over a paddle straddling the kayak deck perpendicular to the deck, drawn under the boat and wrapped around the shaft at a point where it extends out beyond the beam of the kayak. Excess strapping is hung below the shaft to create a loop in which the capsizer’s foot is inserted and used like the rung on a ladder for support and upward push to rise up out of the water and onto the cockpit area.

As part of one’s safety gear, the stirrup – already appropriately looped at a proper length-is stowed within the cockpit area for quick access. Practice will help you determine the appropriate rigging set-up for your body/leg length and kayak dimensions. 

The strap can be wrapped around your paddle shaft  for self-rescue or to assist you in team rescue.

Be advised: this can put excessive stress on your paddle, especially two-piece shafts – and can lead to serious damage.

Be Safe; Be Smart; Have Fun!



The “stability” of a kayak refers to two distinct and inter-related aspects of how steady/stable the kayak ‘feels’: 1) when initially at rest on flat water – it’s primary stability; and 2) how stable it is when up on edge/leaned to its side (usually in rougher seas) to a point up to its capsize threshold – it’s secondary stability. This can be deceiving for beginners who presume the initial security of a boat with good primary stability is the more stable kayak. 

In actuality, a boat that is initially “tippy” is the better choice for rougher sea conditions. A forward-thinking beginner who is serious about becoming proficient at kayaking should consider a boat with better secondary stability and grow into that more responsive boat. Initially stable boats are best suited for protected inner waters and activities such as kayak fishing.

Cross-sectional hull design offers insights into a boat’s inherent stability. Four basic shapes/configurations suggest how a boat will react on the water:

1) Flat bottom – very stable, typically wide boats used for casual, recreational use on small bodies of calm water; ride “on top of the water”;

2) Round bottom – displacement hulls with more secondary stability, typically faster hulls, can be leaned into swells, waves for better control and stability;

3) V-bottom – good tracking, better secondary stability; most often combined with rounded hull to give kayaks their classic cross-sectional profile;

4) Pontoon/Catamaran – Very stable, slower, with some secondary stability characteristics, most common shape for SOT, fishing and other recreational “kayaks”.

Some hulls feature a notable “chine”, the distinctive hull edge on the border between the bottom and the sides. A hard chine helps the paddler ‘edge’ the kayak on a lean for better control and turning.

A dealer’s “demo” event is a great, instructive opportunity to compare the stability of different kayak hulls.  Be Safe; Be Smart; Have Fun!


Basic Bracing Strokes for Kayakers

PADDLING.COM18-SAFETY TIPS-22-BRACINGBracing provides support while leaning your kayak: 1) more aggressive boat handling during turns; and 2) involves several recovery strokes/maneuvers to avoid capsizes. Mastering bracing strokes is also fundamental for developing good roll recover techniques.

A bracing stroke helps regain stability as you lean past your capsizing point – that point at which your center of gravity is beyond the boat’s capsizing threshold.  

The three components of a brace are: 1) proper position of the blade; 2) stopping the capsize movement; and 3) returning to a stable position. There are five types of bracing strokes:

Low – Paddle is held with hands higher than elbows; the back of the blade is used to push against the surface. This is a quick motion that provides an instant of resistance as you counter by leaning self/boat back to a stable, upright position.

High  – Hands positioned higher than elbows; the power face of the paddle is presented to the surface. The high brace provides more leverage and support and enables the paddler additional paddling/stroke maneuvering for other bracing options.

Extended – The low/high brace keep hands in normal positions; for extended,  the outside hand grips the paddle blade while the bracing side is extended even further into the lean to provide more support and leverage. 

Slap – Executing a slap on the water’s surface using your paddle blade provides a critical moment of resistance, enabling you resume a stable position.  The slap is typically initiated during the high (or low) brace at the surface. The support from the “slap” can be extended with additional sweeping/power strokes as needed.

Scull –  Follow-up strokes associated with a brace is a sculling stroke in which the paddle is used to fan the water’s surface providing a dynamic range of support as pressure is kept on the blade throughout it moving arc.  Be Safe; Have Fun; Paddle Smart!


Use Pool Sessions To Improve Your

Kayak Paddling and Re-entry Skills

Mention “pool session” and the first image that pops into most kayakers minds is a class in how to roll. For whitewater enthusiasts, that’s probably the correct assumption, but for the touring/recreational kayaker, a pool is also the perfect venue for honing many more skills, both basic and advanced.

The warm, calm and clearly protected waters of a pool enables a paddler to concentrate on learning new techniques without having to also focus on comfort and threatening situations. That said, never assume that your pool session has given you command of an exercise or procedure over actual open-water experience and real-life situations. Pool sessions are a classroom platform for learning in very controlled conditions.

Whether scouting out an existing on-water pool program or contemplating organizing your own, consider the advantages that such ‘hands-on’ session offer a paddler – from novice to skill-honing, advanced kayaker. It’s an opportunity to learn basic skills and be able to practice them as part of an introductory pool session.  Pool sessions are also valuable for enabling you to test out a new boat or associated gear, gauge your level of proficiency at procedures you may not yet fully master, or simply further hone those skills you do have.

Besides any special requirements the pool’s administrators may have, you should  prepare yourself and your gear for a well-rounded and active session on and in the water. That means wearing the same clothing and gear in which you intend to paddle. Initially you can be taught the basic in a swim suit, with or without a PFD. This will guide you through the motions; development and refinement of any skills comes later. At some stage in your pool session experience, you should wear what you’ll have on while kayaking – to ensure that gear won’t be restrictive during an actual procedure – especially when engaged in a rescue effort.

For the protection of others, the pool and your own craft, it’s a good idea to pad both the bow and stern of your kayak. A small section of a closed-cell foam pad, even a common sponge, folded around the ends of your boat and wrapped with duct tape makes for a simple ‘bumper’ during the session.  Requiring that each paddler in a boat has a spotter mate and limiting the number of boats in the pool also help keep collisions to a minimum.

It’s important to be introduced to, and then practice skills in a boat that is most similar to your own. Again, you can advance yourself through sessions by being first introduced to new procedures in a loaner kayak. However, practicing in a boat that is the same style, length, beam and weight of what you’ll ultimately be paddling will give you a more realistic ‘feel’ throughout your learning sessions – as well as your developed response to the actions of a familiar boat.

Be careful not to get too ambitious if you are a beginner. There’s a lot to take in at first: newly introduced skills you may not have even considered, and perhaps more importantly, “un”learning some bad habits you may have brought to the pool session with you. For some, just becoming comfortable with one’s boat is a critical goal for early on-water kayak work.

The complexity and importance of self rescue procedures should be an advanced offering in a pool program. It can be done the same night, but only after attendees are comfortable and somewhat proficient in the basics.

BECOME “ONE” – Just sitting confidently within your cockpit can be the first reassuring sense you have as a new kayaker. Once your body – and mind – learns how to adjust themselves to the constant micro-shifting of the boat, you can concentrate on other balancing challenges that are part of many kayak moves. Remember how it felt as a kid when you were first learning to ride your bicycle?

PADDLING STROKES – While there’s not much room in a pool for forays along the water, learning proper paddle positions and stroke sequences can be at least introduced and short tutorials demonstrated. Emphasizing proper hand position, paddle angle, feathered/unfeathered and perhaps minimal movement work on sculling can all be practiced in a well-managed pool setting.

J-LEAN – This is simply learning to maintain your Center of Gravity over your boat when the hull leans to one side or the other. This hooked or J-shaped body posture helps you maintain a centered, upright balance for many maneuvers. You can practice this, even while you sit for other sessions.  It’s a good way to push the limits of your boat before it dumps you over.

POOL EDGE EXERCISES – You can extend your J-Lean comfort zone by bracing yourself alongside the pool. With your arm extended and fingers poised on the edge, you can push the threshold of your lean several times without loosing it. Poolside support is also an aid in practicing the hip snap you’ll need as part of the upright processes you’ll learn during rescue sessions that include rolling and assisted recoveries.

CAPSIZE-UNDERWATER EXIT – This, to me, is one of the most critical exercises one can learn as a kayaker. It’s the very first thing I have paddlers do before we start in on any kind of rescue-related skill session. There is always at least one kayaker who is totally intimidated by capsizing. It’s perhaps based upon the same fears held by those who hate to use spray skirts because they find them too restrictive.

Controlled capsize exercises can help a reluctant paddler experience how easy it is to escape from an overturned boat. It also can show how using a spray skirt can keep more water out of your boat as well. Introducing the use of sprayskirts is a vital,  beneficial offering among pool exercises.

Between the basics of beginning kayaking and the advanced focus of rolling techniques is a middle tier of pool programming: Self and Group Re-Entry procedures.

Self rescue is a vital part of kayak safety and recover practices. The pool session provides a safe, reassuring environment to work on re-entry techniques, either self-rescues or team efforts. It is of paramount importance to use a spotter/buddy system for any of these tasks. Some of the basic self recovery procedures include:

SELF RE-ENTRY – This often isn’t as easy as it appears in videos. Depending upon your physique and abilities, what you are wearing, and the type of boat all affect how easily you can re-enter your boat from deep water. Both the “cowboy” re-enter where you straddle the aft deck and scoot forward or the “swim-up” approach from the side at the cockpit, pool practice will instantly show you if and where you need to work on those skills.

One significantly critical point of practicing self-rescues in a pool is limiting your practice to the shallow, “feet-firmly-planted-on-the-pool-bottom” approach to re-entering your floating kayak. Having solid footing is fine for running through the processes the first few times, and even further when you are practicing your onboard re-entry down into the cockpit. The real test of mastering a re-entry is being able to complete it in deep water, in a more real-life scenario.

We are already compromised in a pool where there’s no reality check with an actual capsizing environment that we’d be in “for real”. At least learning how to re-enter your boat in the deep end of the pool will force you to rely on critical moves rather than “cheat” by pushing up off the bottom. No matter how quickly and smoothly you mastered a re-entry in shallow water, the deep-water session will be a real eye-opener for most.

PADDLE FLOAT RESCUE – This is a basic rescue to learn and the pool is a good place – if – you have the room. One of the biggest dangers for a paddle float rescue in a group setting is what instructors would call “Waving the Flag”. That’s when you overshoot your centering your body over your cockpit/aft deck area and the boat rolls over raising the extended paddle and float up out of the water in a bat-swinging arc that slams back down hard onto the water on the other side of the boat – but hopefully not into another paddler. Again, use spotters!

ASSISTED ROLL-UP – is another pool/team rescue you can practice maneuver by yourself as one of your edge exercises and then transfer that skill to the water by using a kayaker alongside (who then basically provides the same support as did the pool’s edge). This technique does also require the skill of re-entering your kayak while it’s overturned. It’s an involved process that has limited applications, but one of the easiest righting techniques on the water.

MORE SKILLS – AND FUN…Pool sessions can be a workout. You don’t realize you’re sweating, but you should be tired after a couple of hours of active on-water exercise. Plan to pace yourself with a couple of fun activities in the pool. Perhaps a sculling race or re-entry time race. Or even swimming – but with a paddle!

PADDLE SWIMMING – draws a thin line between rescue technique and gimmick. Essentially it’s swimming by using your paddle as huge extensions of your hands for stroking through the water. It doesn’t take long to master, especially if you’re wearing a PFD for flotation and can concentrate on your kick and forward stroking rhythm or cadence. It’s not nearly as fatiguing at it may sound and the pool offers the perfect conditions for you to see how efficient of a paddle swimmer you might be.

I encourage you to look into pool sessions this winter, a good time to get introduced to skills and techniques to give you more confidence on the water. I also highly recommend Wayne Horodowich’s series of University of Sea Kayaking videos,Capsize Recoveries & Rescue Procedures” USK Vol 1 & 2 to see more of the techniques applicable to pool sessions.

Most skills and techniques in a pool can be practiced alone, but for safety sake and for sharing knowledge and experiences, use the buddy system.

Be Safe; Have Fun; Paddle Smart!



Types of Kayak Construction Methods

(First published at
Pacific Rim Kayak Building – The first kayaks were Skin-On-Frame construction that relied upon pieces of driftwood or nearby vegetation for lashing a frame over which treated and sewn seal skins were stretched and secured.

Ranging from casual recreational crafts to sleek racers to bomb-proof whitewater and other rec’ boats, the options for the types of materials and hi-tech proprietary processes used to build a particular model are wide spread among manufacturers. Learning the make-up and specifications of each of these boat material choices is akin to reading the opening chapter in a chemical engineering 101 text book.

Kayak building processes can be broken down by the different types of construction materials used to form the boat, either in its entirety, or by creating a deck and a hull and joining the two pieces together: wood, composite glass (fiber, aramid, graphite), rotomold, thermoform, and others (inflatables, folding). Also, the pros and cons of each of these materials should be considered carefully when deciding which kayak to purchase. That process alone requires you to determine what kind of use, and abuse, you expect your kayak to handle. That, in turn, will weigh critically upon which material will perform best within that water venue.

Overview of each of  materials/construction methods

Wooden Kayaks

Mostly “Do-It-Yourself” built using the stitch-and-glue process, or strip-built boats. Design possibilities with the strip-builts are virtually endless while the kits available for stitch/glue models mean that you don’t have to be an advanced wood-worker to build one. In fact, you can get someone to do it for you.

Wooden deck/hulled boats are typically covered in fiberglass, resin and varnish to protect the wood layer – making them as durable as most any synthetic composite construction and at the lighter end of the weight scale among other boat fabrication materials.  

Pros/Cons of Wooden Kayaks – For looks, the strip-built boats are a thing of beauty. This process allows for a nearly endless array of design options, too. The fiberglass and varnish finish makes a wooden kayak as strong as a composite boat at a much lower cost and perhaps 25% or more lighter (upwards of 20 pounds in some cases) than their fiberglass counterparts. Some consider wooden kayaks to have strength comparable to Kevlar/Graphite composites.

The challenge with wood boats is that you need the skills to build it yourself or hire someone (and that’s gonna cost you!). However, the Stitch-and-Glue models require less woodworking skills and produce a seaworthy craft that you built yourself.

Wood and rapids/rock gardens are not the friendliest of river partners so paddling should be limited to ‘softer’ rivers and waterways.

Composite/Glass Construction Kayaks

Since construction techniques are basically the same, boats made of what we commonly know as “fiberglass”, those made of aramid fabric (think Kevlar™) and graphite fibers, are all variations of synthetic fabric construction. Built by layering these fabrics either upon themselves or blended with others, they are then applied to a mold. Fiberglass boat molds include an outer layer of colored gel-coating that will form the surface layer of the finished kayak.

Foams panels and/or gauze are sometimes added for reinforcement in the deck and hull. The entire series of layers in the mold are vacuum bagged and allowed to cure to form either a deck or hull section separately. Those two ‘halves’ are then joined together to form the complete kayak.

Pros/Cons of Composite/glass Kayaks – Fast and responsive! The stiffness of the hull makes these the swiftest of the kayak construction types. Hulls are durable, except against sharp, direct impact hits and inevitable scratches that are usually minute and don’t affect the speed of the hull. Combining layers (fiberglass with graphite) gives you several strength/weight options to consider.

Of the three options: fiberglass, aramid/Kevlar or graphite, all are lighter than rotomolds and graphite is the lightest among the fabric options – and the most expensive. Expect to pay significantly more for all the pounds you’ll drop by going from fiberglass to graphite.

Similar to wooden boats, composites are fairly easy to repair in the field, too.

Rotomolded Kayaks 

Plastic (polyethylene) powder is poured into a mold, heated and rotated to form a complete, one-piece kayak. Boats are made mostly out of a linear-based molecular structure while others are made from cross-linked poly molecules.  

Pros/Cons of Rotomolded Kayaks – These are the least expensive but the heaviest boats among your options. The quality of the plastic used in their construction will affect the weight somewhat, and also the price. Expect the big hogs sold at discount houses to be beasts when it comes to weight as well as trying to wrestle them through the water. Rotomolds aren’t as fine-lined as other options, but some are nearly comparable in performance; they will weigh more, while costing significantly less.

Roto’s are resilient boats, excellent for rocky waterways, taking a rebound with little negative affect. That said, scratches leave minute fuzzies and curl-outs along the hull (affecting speed) and should you puncture or rupture the hull, repairs can be a real problem. Rotomolds are also damaged by exposure to UV and require that you apply protective coatings to the deck and hull.

This type of plastic boat also tends to “oil can” – a depression in the hull or deck area caused by excessive pressure or sag due to the softening of the plastic from extended exposure to the sun or other heat sources – or even being secured too tightly on a narrow, hard roof/storage rack. Most of the time, these depressions will diminish or disappear when brought away from the sun/heat or other stress. Otherwise there are processes one can use to bring the shape back.

Thermoform Kayaks

A sheet of ABS (like a plastic alloy with styrene) with a top layer of acrylic is heated and then drawn down onto a mold (as opposed to forming inside the mold as are powered/pellet plastics) to create both hull and deck in separate operations that are then joined together in a process similar to fiber composite boats.

Pros/Cons of Thermoform Kayaks – Imagine a kayak nearly as light as a composite, with the durability close to that of a rotomold and at a price floating towards the lower end between the two –  and a thermoform kayak should come into mental view. The bright, lustrous shine of the deck/hull and the numerous color choices make a thermoform boat a popular choice for many paddlers.

Thermoform boats usually have UV protection in the outer layer. This form of plastic tends to deteriorate over an extended period of time, but unlike other plastic boats, thermoforms are generally recyclable.

Inflatables/folding Kayaks

Briefly, inflatables are just that – kayak-socks made from strong poly’-based fabric to provide shape and rigidity throughout the boat. Drop-stitch construction enables higher inflation pressures that in turn give the hull/deck their strength integrity. Folding boats are typically canvas or nylon skins stretched over wood or aluminum frames. New technology has also enabled designers to use interlocking panels and fold patterns to create strong folding kayaks.

Pros/Cons of Inflatables/folding Kayaks – Popular among many paddlers who like to carry their boat with them on when the travel, and/or those who have little storage space for a full size/length kayak. Material-size, the nylon decks and hypalon hulls of the class wood or aluminum-framed folding boats are nearly as bombproof as their hard-shell cousins, and typically come with their own repair kits. Other forms of folding boats have also entered the “folding” kayak market and offer lightweight traveling/storing options as  well.

Folding kayaks tend to cost more than their rigid fiberglass counterparts. Modern folding kayaks are as sleek and nearly as rigid as hardshells. They are just slightly more susceptible to punctures. They also require more maintenance because of all the framework components. Another point to consider is how often do you intend to paddle? Do you leave the boat assembled for daily or weekly use, or do you put it together and take it back apart after each occasional paddle? How often do you intend to travel with it? 

Inflatables also have the advantage of travel-worthiness and storage options.  These tend to come in a broad range of sophisticated designs and complexity – from inexpensive tubes held together into the shape of a kayak/canoe to baffled air bladders and fused chambers that provide strength and shape integrity when inflated. 

Of course, since the rigidity and ultimate seaworthiness of an inflated craft is totally dependent upon air, punctures are critically serious.  Most inflatables tend to be beamy, too, limiting their performance to narrower applications. Despite their beaminess, they don’t always have much room for gear stowage.

How Each Material Is Formed Into A Kayak:



 Using wood bulkheads to make the entire kayak form, panels of wood (L) arre “stitched” together with wire and then glued; (R) a series of strips are secured and glues in place to for a strip-built kayak. Fiberglass cloth and resin are then used to cover the boat, followed by a coat of marine varnish.



Fiberglass, Aramid (Kevlar) or Graphite kayaks (deck and hull) are formed from layers of fabric and strengthening material, resin and gelcoat, then vacuum cured a mold.



Polyethylene pellets/powder within a kayak mold are heated and rotated to create a plastic kayak shell in one piece.



Deck and hull thermoformed separately using heated sheet of plastic laid onto detailed male deck/hull mold and pulled down onto form using vacuum suction.

Final Notes

Each boat material, and the subsequent designs to which it’s applied, affects the ultimate handling/functioning capabilities of the kayak. Selecting what material your boat should be made from can best be determined once you have a good sense of how you plan to use it – quiet pond or paddling inshore calm waters, more responsiveness or more challenging and demanding sea treks…and even how/where you plan to store it? And even once you narrow it down to a few specifics, there still a broad market from which to choose the “right” boat.

Perhaps the biggest difference and one that you need to consider, especially if you intend to use your kayak for extended trips, is how easy it is to do field fixes on your boat and in the case of serious breaches in the hull or deck  – more structurally sound repairs that maintain the integrity of your boat. Duct tape bandages might seal a hole on any of these materials, but a secure, permanent repair might mean plastic welding or finding the right adhesives and paints that will even stick to the surface in the first place. I’ll be covering repair options for each of these materials in an upcoming article.

Another point to consider, especially when costs are a factor, is what is your commitment to kayaking? If you intend to enjoy leisurely recreational paddles around the cabin lake or city pond, an inexpensive recreational kayak may be perfect for you. If, however you intend to hone your skills, pursue your passion and really want to be a competent paddler, you may want to buy up from your initial thoughts on a “beginner” boat and think about your options (cost vs. weight, durability and performance) over the course of your learning curve.  

Knowing the pros/cons and other characteristics of the kayak construction material options can help you make a lasting positive decision on your choice of boat. 

Be Safe; Have Fun; Paddle Smart!


Developments in “Personal Flotation Devices”

(Life Jackets)

(Published online at

☐True ☐ False: Always wear you life jacket when boating!

☐True ☐ False: PFDs may be a thing of the past!

Both statements are actually true, yet seem to contradict each other. Not so, not if you are up to the latest developments in “Personal Flotation Devices” vs. “Life Jackets”. There is a process going on right now between U.S. and Canadian regulatory agencies that is looking at upgrading, standardizing and otherwise enhancing the whose process of developing and certifying life jackets on an international scale.

It’s called “Harmonization” and is currently being undertaken by agencies who regulate and promote the use of life jackets and personal flotation devices in their respective waters – waters that up until this effort had different standards and requirements for the types of safety gear by which paddlers and other boaters had to abide. Here in the states that lead is being taken by the United States Coast Guard, the head regulatory agency for LJ/PFDs.

The ultimate goal is to standardize safety gear, make it as safe as possible and provide the consumer with useful and understandable information about that gear so they can make a responsible decision in their choice of life jacket or PFD.

Let’s do a little background refreshing on just what all the terms mean, what descriptions we are referring to and other common tidbits associated with the terms “Life Jacket” and “PFD/personal flotation device.”


First, both types work on the principle of buoyancy – they help keep you afloat. Buoyancy is the tendency of a body to sink or float in water. As Archimedes explained it, any complete or partially submerged body submerged in a fluid is buoyed up by a force that is equal to the weigh of the fluid dispersed by that body.

The average person requires between 7-12 pounds of buoyancy to keep afloat with their head out of the water. LJ/PFDs provide that additional “lift” in varying amounts based in part upon design and anticipated environments. Because of this – emphasis on a healthy physique notwithstanding – fatter people are more buoyant than those who are slimmer. Your clothing, lung size and conditions of the water also factor into the degree of buoyancy in any given situation.


Buoyancy devices are either “life jackets” – those familiar vests that come in a few different configurations but all share one common capability – they are designed (in most all cases) to turn a face-down wearer over, even when unconscious, so the victim’s head is out of the water. Unless what you are wearing for buoyancy support is capable of doing this specifically, it’s not a life jacket, it’s a Personal Flotation Device. As such it’s only required to assist a person in staying afloat – a swimming aid if you will.


As such, PFDs are classified as either throwable or wearable flotation gear. In the U.S. we tend to interchange terms when referring to all 5 types of devices we can use. Of the 5 types of Life Jacket/PFDs marketed in the U.S., only Type I, and possibly a few classified as Type II will do this. The other three types, including Type IIIs favored by most water sports enthusiasts, will NOT turn you face up if unconscious!

In Canada, for comparison and as a lead-in to further explain what harmonization is all about, only buoyancy devices that turn the wearer face-up with head out of the water are termed and referred to as “life jackets”. All other devices are considered PFDs. Such designated devices are typically a key-hole design and come in only two sizes: one for those over 90 pounds and one for those under. They also are limited to the colors orange, yellow or red and must have a whistle attached. Those classified as a “flotation” device offer less buoyancy, limited or no self-righting capabilities and can be offered in a variety of colors.

In that regard, in the US, buoyant seat cushions are classified as Type IV (throwable) PFDs. In Canada, however, they are NOT approved as a classified/authorized buoyancy device (U.S. boaters take note if you plan to include your seat cushions as part of your required boat’s safety gear when paddling/boating in the BWCA and other border waters).


These are just a few of the surface differences and interpretations – yet are all the result of years of research, inspections, approvals, trials, legislation and other necessary and regulatory interferences – that the USCG and its counterpart regulatory agency, Transport Canada, are dealing with in order to “harmonize” standards for buoyancy devices throughout North America, and possibly more in line with standards used throughout most of Europe.

“The life jacket you see out on the streets today are the same ones you saw a few years ago,” says Chris Edmonston, President of USBOAT Foundation and a member of a USCG board developing these new standards. The hope, says Edmonston, is to establish common standards with all key countries because the current regulations are counter productive.

It should be noted that the Personal Flotation Device Manufactures Association (PFDMA) has officially changed its name to the Life Jacket Manufactures Association (LJMA). “Life jacket is the new term to use;” says Edmonston, “PFD is out! The new regulations reference wearable or throwable devices.”

“Europeans have very good grasp on performance; on how it’s supposed to act in the water based upon your activity,” he says. “In the US it’s based more upon the science behind the design…and how they work in pools [or in created, controlled environments].” Edmonston says that the US and Canada are more closely aligned with each other than with Europe, so the current effort is to harmonize here first then work on European compatibility.

Europe’s standards are based upon the Newton scale as the unit for buoyancy ratings. Ten “Newtons” equal 1 kilogram of flotation, or 2.2 pounds (0.22 pounds per Newton). Their system designates four devices, one PFD rated at 50 Newtons and classified as a “buoyancy aid” for use by swimmers in protected waters.

The three actual “life jackets” are rated at 100, 150 and 275 Newtons respectively, and are designed for progressively more violent and life-threatening conditions as one uses them further out to sea. While the 100-rated may, and 150-rated should turn the wearer’s face up and out of the water, only the 275 is specifically rated to “require no subsequent action “ to keep the wearer’s nose and mouth clear of the surface of the water.

Hoods provide protection while still ventilating the wearer.

Other life-protecting components available on higher ratedEuropean life jackets include a protective spray hood for the face, retrieval leases or grab loops, reflective panels and accessory pockets for flares and signaling devices. Many of these are incorporated into the standard features of these European life jackets.

Up to now, development in PFDs and Life Jackets in both Canada and the US have faced several hurdles: different standards across their markets; unique labeling and point-of-sale requirements for each country; varied approval requirements by national regulators.

To further slow and muddle this standardization are the processes by which these standards themselves have been developed. Some aspects of these disjointed efforts have been resolved and while some duplication of efforts and separate processing are still part of the system, progress is being made. Standards in labeling for products sold in both countries now allow for a common label on both US and Canadian PFD/LJ devices.


The label’s format and style – what is presented and how it’s present – has been designed to better express the specifics of the device in terms and symbols the consumer can better understand. Replacing much of the former wording with understandable icons, the new label design and layout consists of three panels, each providing the following information:

Selection/Warning – information on size, performance information, intended use and other warnings;

Certification/Approval – includes the USCG Approval number, Third Party CertificationBody Mark, manufacturer’s information and product model/style;

Care/Maintenance – service and maintenance information.


One major change with this new standardization process will be evident from the Selection/ Warning panel information. No longer will the TYPE classifications be used to distinguish these devices. Instead, performance levels based on those used in Europe will be expressed in new icons on the label. Using a level rating system, a life jacket might be designated as a Level 70 performance device. That refers to 70 Newtons which would provide slightly over 15 pounds of buoyancy. The higher the level, the more buoyancy! The icon representing this level of usage also depicts the wearer in relationship to a dock structure, indicating a close-to-shore/protected water/swimming environment.

PADDLING.COM-HARMON'PFD TAG2Another important icon will inform the user of the turning ability of that particular life jacket. One of three symbols will be highlighted, indicating whether the device has the ability to turn over the wearer or not, and if so, to what degree.

Refining the current “Think Safe Pamphlet” is also being updated into a more refined mechanism for display on devices at the retail level. Often criticized for having too many pages and seldom read by consumers, its information will now be presented on a simple, two-sided placard. Considered the “decoder ring” for all the changes in life jackets, the placard will be brightly colored and provide much of the same information as listed on the actual label. Consumers will be able to better compare life jackets and have quick reference to their use/activity levels and water environment for their anticipated and intended usage.

Taken together, the type and format of information to be presented will inform the user of the conditions in which a particular life jacket should be used based on calm, inner waters vs. outer, rougher conditions, therefore considering all the factors such as the time it may take to rescue the wearer. The new label will better express which performance level device should be purchased. Other information on the new label includes information relating to water safety facts, inherent buoyancy and maintenance issues.

It is being recommended that all the other information that had been provide by the “Think Safe Pamphlet” will now be included in the manufacturer’s user manual or on consumer education websites.“I don’t think the 16-page booklet will ever go away,” says Edmonston, “though it is due for a heavy redesign as well.”

This is just a broad overview of a process that has a long way to go before regulations are all standardized and bureaucratic wrinkles are ironed out. Still it’s a process, with the ultimate goal of increasing the wear rates and saving more lives!

Be Safe; Have Fun; Paddle Smart!

(Some information gleaned from an article by Chris P. James, Principal Engineer, Underwriters Laboratories and Maria Iafano, Dir., UL Standards – Canada)


For more kayaking articles please check out

 Choosing Life Jackets for Kids

Photo courtesy of MTI Adventurewear...KIDS LIFE JACKETS

Of all the safety gear used by those who enjoy on-water sports, none should be scrutinized more than the family of life jackets/PFDs available. And, speaking of family,  those devices designed for infants and youth are the most critical.  Let’s take a closer look at several aspects of life jackets available for the youngest members of the paddling community.

Life jackets for children are designated by the weight range of the intended wearer: Infants/8-30 pounds;  Child/30-50 pounds; and Youth/50-90 pounds. Manufacturers such as Extrasport, NRS, Astral, MTI Adventurewear and others all use about 10-11 pounds of flotation in their range of youngster gear. However, weight is not the only factor in developing a PFD that is going to work across a broad range of body types typical for developing youngsters.

“Fit is paramount” says Lili Colby, co-owner of MTI Adventurewear, explaining that different styles have different fit parameters across the weight ranges and body types.  In the child range of 30-50 pounds, there are several typical body shapes evolving. “Kids are tough”, she says, “they go through a morphing process as they grow – wide shoulders but potted bellies; some kids are skinny, some get wide, chubby leading to lanky.”  Even in the youth range, two kids, each weighing 60 pounds can have two distinctly different body shapes.

Components of life jackets for children are also critical factors in the proper fit process. Lindas Grebe, product director/PFDs for Extrasport says its “better to think of PFDs as a piece of safety equipment, and not as a fashion thing, it’s very functional, it has to work!”


Towards that goal, critical features on children’s life jackets/PFDs include:

  • Adjustable side, shoulder and waist straps to address body development (youth)
  • Adjustable leg strap
  • Grab loop or other quick hand-grab option (child)
  • Quick “turn-over” capability (infant)
  • Adequate arm/neck openings (comfort factor)
  • Closures that reduce risk of child opening or removing jacket
  • Quality construction in stitching, materials, etc.
  • Proper sizing so when adjusted properly the PFD doesn’t rise up over chin/mouth and ears.
  • Bright, easy-to-spot colors

Right behind the functional aspects of selecting the proper PFD is for parents to be really mindful to make the youngster part of the decision-making process. “It’s important to fit the life jacket with the child,” encourages Colby. “Make it an event, build it up as something important, make it a rite of passage – having your own PFD makes you a real paddler!”

It should go without saying that trying the life jacket on is important, too.Test a new life jacket in a pool before going out on open water. Grebe adds that it’s important for parents to check them yearly for poor fit, making sure they are proper for the weight range of the child.

Like all safety functions,  it’s no good unless you use it. Getting kids to wear their lifejackets at all times is strongly influenced by the attitude and actions of their parent or other role model.

“If parents don’t promote use, they aren’t going to be worn,” says Grebe. Colby says getting kids to wear a PFD is similar to using a seat belt in a car. “Instill that mindset. If a parent can’t be a roll model, how do you expect your child to want to wear a life jacket?” She is quick to add, “…and don’t badmouth the PFD!”  It follows that the parent needs to be wearing one, too. “Lead by example,” says Julie Bacon of Astral Designs, “Get them a PFD that they enjoy and want to wear.”

Here are a few tips to keep in mind regarding PFD/life jackets for younger wearers:

  • Get kids used to putting a PFD/life jacket on and then trying it out in the water; panic can make it hard for a PFD to function properly;
  • To ensure a proper, snug fit, lift the child up by the shoulders of the PFD, their ears and chin should not slip through;
  • PFDs are not babysitters! Keep an attentive eye on them at all times;
  • Inflatable toys and rafts are not to be used in place of PFDs;
  • Don’t assume that if a PFD works for one child, it will work for another;
  • When ordering a PFD online, order two life jackets with overlapping specs to ensure you’ll get the proper, critical fit – and simply return the one that doesn’t fit;
  • Don’t buy a ‘too large’ PFD, intending the child to “grow into it”;
  • USCG does not recommend taking “infants” onboard a recreational vessel.

A PFD/life jacket has three functions: 1) it must be available for proper use at the time of an accident/emergency; 2) designed to keep your head out of the water; and 3) reliable enough to provide its design performance when needed. If any one of these essential tasks fails, it can’t save your life.

Ultimately, regardless of all the innovations and range of components designed into any PFD/Life jacket,  the safest one is the one you – and your children – are willing to wear!

Be Safe; Have Fun; Paddle Smart!


Dealing with River Hazards & Obstructions

(Posted on


I learned the hard way, why, at certain times of the year – during spring flooding primarily – our local river, the Pomme de Terre, is called the Pomme de TERROR! High spring waters flowing down its narrow, meandering channel clogged with fallen cottonwoods and other debris create ongoing hazards around nearly every bend.

Such it was one afternoon when I found myself in my canoe, forced precariously sideways against a dense network of skeletal-like branches of a downed cottonwood. A narrow opening immediately adjacent to the high cutbank was my only possible escape route if I could free the boat from the powerful force of the swollen current.

While trying to wiggle free with a slight downstream lean, I lost my balance and did a face plant into the tea-colored water. The canoe flipped over, caught water and was forced, bow first, into the muddy embankment. Like a spaghetti noodle in a strainer, I was being pushed to the bottom against a nasty jumble of branches.

I groped through the water and found a handhold on the gunnels of my submerged canoe. I yanked it backwards off the bank and could feel the bow swing around and be pulled downstream through a narrow hole in the branches. As the current swept the boat past the tangle of branches, I pushed off the bottom and followed the canoe through the hole into open water downstream. I popped to the surface gasping for air.  Phew!

Each type of water: whether expansive oceans and lakes or meandering streams and rivers – have their own unique hazards that challenge the paddler. Some are natural such as currents, rip tides, rocks, reefs, narrowing channels, winds and myriad natural obstacles (surface and submerged). Other hazards are man-made (dams, weirs, spillways, structure abutments, stump fields, barge wake) that can also cause the flowing waters to act in ways that can be very dangerous to paddlers of all skill levels. Of these, arguable none present the diversity and intensity of hazards as do the flowing channels of water we call rivers.

(L- R) Wing dams, spillways, submerged obstacles, sweepers/strainers, channel obstructions, shallow and restricted waterways all affect and potential threaten paddlers. ILLUST©WATSON

One of the first of many river “hazards” we are introduced to as beginning paddlers is the current itself. Smooth, nondescript flowages of water can suddenly twirl and tumble causing disruptions in the surface and counter currents that can spin a boat around. We discover that rocks can create a wide array of challenges that disrupt the smooth water of passage. They can be giant granite monsters squatting defiantly right in front of us. They can be astring of boulders, clustered together in such a way so as to form a gentle series of riffles, or a continuous set of waves (like a corduroy roadway of water called a wave train). They can also turn the current into a churning cascade of turbulent water. Most often we learn to work our way through them, sometimes leaving submerged rocks decorated with telltale silver streaks from our aluminum hulled canoes.


We learn to “read” the river to tell us which course to take through a rapids such as the downstream pointing “V”-shaped flow of smooth water that indicates a clear channel through the rocks. Conversely we learn that rocks lying just under the surface causing that water to boil and tumble forms an upstream pointing “V” – a sign of caution for most – or an inviting challenge for the more seasoned and skilled paddler.


The list of river hazards is quite extensive. Here is a glossary of the most common hazards one may encounter on river systems across the country:

•CURRENT – Ever present flow of the water – from timid to turbulent –where volume, channel width and gradient (see definition below) all affect the characteristics of a river. Current is usually slower along the inside bend of a river, faster along the outside bend. Also current is faster on the surface due to less friction than along the bottom of the channel.

•GRADIENT – The steepness of the river bed, expressed in feet/mile (an average).

•RAPIDS – water flowing over an obstruction, causing turbulence. Most often formed by boulders below the surface.

•HOLES – water flowing over a ledge or rock creating a void, can trap objects held in the circulating flow/hydraulics created.

•HYDRAULICS – Water circulating on top of itself – evident by the churning of water below a dam or spillway. Often associated with other hazards such as holes and breaking waves.

•EDDIES – Water rushing around obstacles, circulating downstream, towards shore in a reverse current. Current flows to fill void created by flow of water. Sometimes violent eddies form whirlpools.

•EDDYLINE – boundary between the circular eddy and the downward current flow.

•POUROVER – Think of it as a vertical eddy, water flowing over a rock, ledge or manmade horizontal structure (dam, spillway, weir) creating a “hole” below the obstruction.

•DROP – Water dropping straight down – a waterfall is a classic example.

•CONSTRICTED WAVE – As flowing water is constricted – by a narrowing channel – it begins to move faster. The compressed water sometimes forms waves.

•WAVETRAIN – a series of non-breaking waves.

•BREAKING WAVES – the top of a swell that collapses down on the upstream side of the wave (often referred to as a “stopper”).

•PILLOW – Water that is piled up by the current against an obstruction that is not entirely submerged. Water is compressed but flows around it.

•FERRYING – causing boat to move laterally across the current, usually to maneuver around obstacles, work eddylines, etc. “Back” ferrying puts the bow
pointing downstream; “Front” ferrying faces the bow upstream. In fast current, the ferrying angle should be narrow; in slow current – broader.

•UNDERCUTS/POTHOLES – submerged hazards that don’t usually affect passage overhead but can trap a capsized paddler under the edge of a riverbank or rock ledge, or entrap a victim against a rock or in debris settled into a pothole.

•ENTRAPMENTS – Anything that can snag/hold one underwater, from the force of water preventing them from swimming free or clothing/items becoming snagged on the obstruction (branches, rock points, etc.).

•SWEEPER – branches hanging low over or into water that can sweep a paddler from the boat.

•STRAINER – Often used to describe a sweeper under water. Branches act like a sieve that keeps victim/boat/gear from passing through. Oftentimes loose objects get snagged by strainer branches, thereby holding victim below the surface.

•DAMS – Probably the most formidable of all man-made structures. These must be portaged. To go over a dam is to permanently terminate your existence! Dams and dam-like structures (weirs, spillways, ledges) come in a variety of sizes but all form an obstruction completely across a river. Severe hydraulic action occurs at the downstream base of these structures.

•WING DAMS – These are small, dam-like structures protruding out from the bank of a river to define the channel. They are angled downstream at varied intervals.

•CLOSING DAMS – Not so much a hazard as a nuisance. These go from shoreline to shoreline completely blocking a side channel.

•BRIDGES, ETC. – The bases of these structures can create eddies, collect debris that can act like strainers and cause the current to react in myriad ways.

•STUMP FIELDS – As part of the creation of pools behind dams, trees were cut prior to the flooding of lowlands. Many acres of stumps lie submerged just below the surface throughout many of these pools.

•TRAFFIC WAKE – Barges are restricted to the main channel in rivers with dredged channels. Their wake and churned up water can be dangerous to small craft. Stay clear of commercial river traffic.

•OTHER HAZARDS – common to all bodies of water are the natural elements of wind, lightning, fog and even the water itself (hypothermia, for example).


Prudent paddlers will want to develop skills that can be called upon to deal with a wide variety of challenging obstacles along the river. Prevention is far preferred to recovery in most all cases. Better to avoid a problem than try to paddle out of it. Oftentimes using the technique of ferrying, one can swing around or out of a potentially compromising situations. Therefore it’s important to know a variety of back paddling strokes – and how your craft reacts to those strokes – so you can call upon that invaluable information and expertise when needed.

Capsizing dumps paddlers into a very dangerous environment… ILLUST©WATSON

Being trapped in a strainer can be a terrifying experience. If forced against a downed limb, it is sometimes advisable to climb forward onto the stouter branches and work your way to shore – or beyond the downfall to open water downstream again. If you are forced below the surface, try swimming downstream using your hands before you to part the branches ahead of you.

This “swimming” position where your body is horizontal makes it generally easier to thrust/pull yourself from the water (or onto the surface after fall through ice).

The hydraulic somersaulting tumble at the base of a dam is most often a fatal predicament. The force of the water keeps an object recycling over and over in the boil of the current. The best chance at recovery is to relax (that alone will take a mighty serious effort given the circumstances) and try to swim deep to get into the slower, downstream current that does flow out of such holes.ILLUST-RIVER HAZARD-HYDRAULICS


Approaching a lock and dam complex is usually not hazardous if you stay out of the restricted areas (On the Mississippi River, for example, those areas are 600′ above a dam, 150′ below). Passage through these humungous structures is quite simple and straight forward: approach/check the light signals:

•    no light = in use, approach guide wall, signal with pull cord;

•    red light = stand clear, do not approach

•    yellow light = approach lock area under full control

•    green light = enter lock, pull to side wall, hold onto rope (DO NOT TIE TO BOAT!).


Upon completion of the lock cycle, there will be either a PA announcement, a short toot of a horn or a visible hand signal that it’s clear to exit the lock. There is no fee for this “first come-first served” process. You can contact most dam operators via VHF channels 14 and 16 to learn the status of the lock.

GENERAL RIVER SENSIBILITY AND OTHER SAFETY TIPS: Don’t forget to study up on general river regulations and rules. It is important to at least understand the basics of the buoy system and general principles of river navigation, too.

In his book “Basic Essentials Canoeing”, outdoor river guide and canoeing pro, Cliff Jacobson cites several common mistakes made by canoers:

1 – Don’t stand in water more than knee deep. Strong currents can knock you down, rocks can trap your feet – grab the upstream end of your canoe, try to swim to shore.

2 – If caught against a rock – lean downstream. If you have to exit the boat, get out upstream unless you can climb up onto the rock.

3 – Not scouting out rapids even if you think you know the river, changing water levels change everything!

4 – wearing lifejacket unzipped – makes it easy to get snagged on branches, rocks, etc.,

5 – wearing high-topped shoes. If foot gets caught in rocks, it may be impossible to remove foot from shoe. Wear appropriate, easy-to-discard footwear.

6 – Going barefooted: sharp rocks, broken glass, other nasties can cut your feet.

7 – Not using a glasses retainer – you won’t be able to see other hazards if you lose your spec’s!

8 – running rapids with something tethered around your neck (Swift Army knife, compass, whistle) and having it get snagged on your boat – or an obstacle- during a capsize.

9 – Running rapids sitting down instead of the lower center of gravity, more in-control kneeling position.

These mistakes can be minimized and mitigated by learning and practicing some essential paddling skills including a variety of paddling strokes, knowing the rules and regulations for riverways, learning and practicing on-water techniques (ferrying, crossing eddylines, back paddling), being aware of hazards and knowing how to spot them, always acting responsibly and respecting the rights of others, using a float plan, and anticipating other traffic’s actions and intents if possible.

A great source of river characteristics, boat handling, safety and rescue techniques is, “River Safety – A Floater’s Guide” by Stan Bradshaw (published by The Lyons Press). Other references include each state’s DNR office for information on its local waters, including hazards and safety tips. Check out This is the U.S. Coast Guard & Coast Guard Auxiliary site with a plethora of river information.

Lastly, local river knowledge is probably the most reliable and current for those areas beyond the realm of national/regional agencies. Check for local paddling clubs if you seek information on rivers unfamiliar to you.

The best way to deal with a river  hazard is to avoid it altogether.

Be Safe; Have Fun; Paddle Smart!


 Kayak Deck & Hull Repairs

(Originally posted on, 2017)

One of the considerations for deciding which type of material you want your kayak to be made from (wood/rotomold/glass/thermoform/inflatable-folding) should be the extent of damage you might suffer and the subsequent ease of repair – particularly structural damage that critically compromises the integrity of the craft.  Depending upon the extent of use you plan to give your kayak, repair concerns may be as easy as a field fix of simply slapping on a strip of duct tape or a dab of marine putty and continuing on for the day.

If, however, your damage is major and may compromise your boat in any way, you’ll want to make sure that your repair is solid and lasting – or worse, even possible!  The processes for basic repairs – smoothing a scratch or forcing out a dent – to filling a gouge or closing a crack each require their own protocols depending upon the material from which your kayak is made.

Before offering an overview of the ways each boat material is typically repaired – there are a few general ground rules that apply to all repairs; following them can help make fix-ups go much quicker. Not following them can create even more damage than what you had to begin with!



1 – A prudent first move when it comes to trying to repair your boat is to contact the manufacturer to double check on exactly what the material is and what adhesives, fillers and other applicable goos will bond with it – or more importantly – cause damage. If you intend to paint or coat over your repair, check to see which paints (or pigments added to your goo of choice) will adhere to the material;

2 – Specific repair sequences can be quite detailed, most manufacturers provide videos or extensive written/illustrated instructions on how to make repairs to their boats, as well as the tools, adhesives and other repair items you’ll probably need. YouTube also has myriad “how-to” clips on repairs – be sure to choose your “expert” advisors wisely!

3 – Larger areas where you have to actually replace lost hull/deck material can best be matched if you can get a piece of scrap material from your dealer or manufacturer – pairing material and color to your own boat;

4 – If you can find a similar piece/shape of material, and you are unfamiliar/uncomfortable with repairing your boat, practice the type of repair (filling in scratch, repairing a hole) on a sample piece first – to get a feel for how a heating tool works, for example;

5 – Coupled with #4, if you are concerned about a negative reaction to a particular adhesive, goo, or even heat treatment, find a place on your boat where you can make a test application that won’t affect the structure and is out of view;

6 – Plan to treat your repair like surgery in an operating room: all the tools and materials you’ll need should be laid out within reach; Be sure to wear eye protection, face mask and gloves.

7 – Work in a well-ventilated area;

8 – Mix just enough repair material you’ll need to complete the job quickly. Fast set-ups of some adhesives don’t give you much time to pause/hesitate;

9 – Always make sure the damaged area and immediate surrounding material is cleaned and free of any minute loose particles, grit, etc;

10 – Make sure you’ve given the adhesive/goo/putty/? adequate time to cure before you continue to work it or go on to the next step. Read the instructions on the container!;

11 – Consider clean-up to be as critical as the repair itself, especially if adhesives get onto other areas of the boat or otherwise drift/expand beyond the work area.


Whether it’s fiberglass, gelcoat, varnish or a thermo-form finish, a scratch on the outer surface is just that, a scratch – a non-structural blemish. In general, similar “wounds” (scratches, dings, cracks) call for similar preparation processes.

Cracks in Hull/Deck – Today’s materials are virtually bomb-proof even under more extreme on-water conditions. If you’re in your kayak when it’s damaged so severely that a crack is formed, I’d be more concerned about serious injuries to yourself before I’d worry about the boat! However, boats do get dropped, smashed into submerged rocks and blown off racks, so major fractures can happen even to the high-tech stuff. The actual repair “fix” will still be dictated by the particular material. Here’s a synopsis of typical boat damage and the general methods of repair typically made for each of the major kayak materials (with a few TIPs thrown in as well.…)

Wooden Kayak Repairs

Anyone’s who’s put hundreds of hours into their home-built wooden kayak can be brought to tears to see their “baby” injured. The good news is that if it’s your boat, you’re always a ‘doctor in the house’ who can heal it. Most all repairs to wooden boats require the same tools and goos that were used in its construction. Rough surfaces can be sanded and refinished, broken strips or crushed hull panels can usually be repaired/replaced. It’s not necessarily quick and easy but  a good wood-worker can usually bring it back to its original perfection.

TIP: When sanding through a varnished layer to reach sub-strata fiberglass, pay attention to the dust. Yellowish in appearance means you are still sanding the varnish; when the dust turns white, you are now into the fiberglass layer below.

Rotomold Kayak Repair

Two of the most common types of “damage” to a rotomold are scratches in the hull or pressure indentations (“oil canning”). Such depressions happen when a sun-baked or super-stressed boat tied too firmly to a rack caves in as the plastic is heated or stressed.



Quite often an indentation will diminish over time, using the plastic’s “memory” to regain its original molded shape. Sometimes, however, that depression needs a little help ‘remembering’.

Direct exposure to hot sun is often the simple way to expose the indentation to a softening heat source. Another easy method of removing an indentation is to apply heat above the depression and coupled with light, but direct blunt pressure from below.  I have found it necessary  – and quite effective – to use boiling water poured repeatedly over the indented surface until it softens enough to form it back into shape. A carefully rotated hot air flow can also be used to soften the plastic.

Using a heat source to soften rotomold plastic must be done very carefully, even a blow dryer can get hot enough to melt a hole through the boat. ILLUST©WATSON

TIP: If using boiling water to soften an area, apply 2-3 layers of a terrycloth towel over the damaged area and pour the boiling water through the towel instead of directly onto the surface. 

Rotomold cracks can usually be repaired by “welding” the crack – sealing and filling the area with a hot welding gun/melting rods (NOTE: you cannot plastic weld cross-linked poly’ material). It’s a simple but somewhat delicate procedure in that too much heat can further damage the area around the crack.

It’s important on any crack to clean up along its length and make sure the edges align. In some cases, it may be helpful/necessary to insert a thin blade into the crack to expand and expose it’s bonding edge, advancing the opening as you fill/seal the crack from one end to the other. Oftentimes patch work should also be done on the inside of the boat as well.

Blade expands crack as advanced ahead of hot weld 2) Hot melt rod starting just beyond hole, advancing along heated crack line. 3) 1/8″ holes to prevent expansion of crack. ILLUST©WATSON

TIP: “G/flex“, a relatively new filler material has been developed toadhere to rotomold plastic, as well as other materials – making it aquick and simple repair adhesive/filler for scratches, cracks and other repairs of all types of boat materials. NOTE: some “plastic weld” fillers do not adhere to polyethylene plastic).

Short of deliberately forcing the boat down over a sharp spike or blasting it with a shotgun, I can’t imagine a rotomold getting a hole in it – other than perhaps a tiny, pin-head puncture. You’d more likely create a hole by concentrating too much heat into too small an area with your welding iron or hot air blower!

That said, the best fix for a hole is to smooth out and simplify the edges, get a material/color patch cut to size, perhaps add wood supports to the underside of the hole edge and glue/weld the patch into place. This might require some  professional expertise and may very well leave your boat severely scarred for life – so you better have a good story ready.


“Glass” Cloth Construction Kayak Repair

Shallow scratches can be accepted as is, others can be lightly sanded and/or simply coated over with resin/gelcoat. Deeper scratches should be cleaned and in some cases further routed out a bit to provide a more uniformed bonding area for filler adhesives.


It is generally best to mask off the area immediately around the scratch with blue paint trim tape, clean and even slight abrade the surrounding area before applying the repair coating.

TIP:  If you’ve taped around the repair area when using epoxy resin to coat over a scratch, remove tape while epoxy is still tacky to the touch, or else your new “repair” will be trying to remove hardened tape from your deck.

Full hull-breaching cracks in fiberglass, wooden and thermoform boats is significant damage. In the case of the fiberglass/thermoform boats, I’d suggest checking with a boat marine repair shop for the former, and with the manufacturer for the latter.

Thermoform Kayak Repair

The adhesive/resin used to patch Thermoform surfaces can be used either as a scratch filler or as the fiberglass cloth binder when used to repair damage from the inside of the shell. Eddyline’s website recommends Devcon Plastic Welder for both types of repairs. The particular application follows the routine for filling in most cuts and scratches as well as layering cloth to repair larger/deeper damages.


Inflatable/Folding Kayak Repair

Basically most inflatable kayaks and rafts are made of either a synthetic rubber (that used to be called hypalon), or vinyl (PVC). The term “hypalon” is now history. That basically same material, chlorosulfonated polyethylene (CP), is what most kayak hulls would be made out of today. Newer Feathercraft hulls were made of urethane. “AquaSeal” can be used to fix urethane material; rubber cement works on hypalon.

Klepper recommends using clear “Gorilla” tape for temporary field repairs on their cotton decking material (they offer a supply of the different colors of their cotton/canvass deck material). They also suggest a fabric adhesive (Tear Mender). More serious and long-lasting deck repairs may have to be sewn at a canvas/awning shop with commerical sewing machines.

In either case, hull repairs are basically like fixing a leak in a bike inner tube. Abrade and clean the area around the leak, apply some goo, slap on and press down a patch and – voila! – you’re good to go. Deck patches are probably best glued in place, using a silicon-based, waterproof compound (again, for most water-related repairs, AquaSeal is a great, all-around patch kit staple).

TIP: My personal method for repairing a cloth deck (typically cotton/Klepper or Cordura/Feathercraft) would be to glue a patch over the damage and then also hand-stitch it on  (with a curved needle) and thenrun a bead of AquaSeal along the sewn seam. I think that would work for at least a solid temporary fix that is more likely to stay in place than just gluing.

General On-Water/Shoreside Quick Fixes

A Penetrating breach in the hull can sometimes be temporarily sealed by applying pressure to padding (Such as a small pack or a spare PFD) placed over the damaged area – like applying a compress to an open wound.


Typically most damage while on the water first manifests itself as a small leak; water slowly collecting inside the boat. Most often these are caused by either a sharp, piercing impact that completely penetrates through the hull or a deep abrasion that breaks through the inner surface of the hull. Oftentimes these are along the bow or stern keels or directly under the seat in the cockpit. A quick fix on shore can be as simple as a piece of patch tape or even underwater-curing, two-part marine exopy putty.

TIP: Michael Gray, whose Uncommon Adventures paddling tours uses kayaks in a variety of environments all over the world, says that weather seal tape is a better choice than duct tape for quick sealing holes and other leaks in a kayak.

I’ve used both methods and they each work quite well, at least to get you back home or into camp for the day where you can do a better fix. Both tape and putty can actually be used for on-water repairs – literally accomplished by hauling up the damaged boat onto a “rescue” boat in the classic “T-Rescue” formation and completing the repair. In the case of the putty,  it can be worked and applied underwater, perhaps while floating in the middle of a bed of seaweed. It sets in about 20 minutes!

I always considered my first scratch on a new kayak as an inevitable Rite of Passage, the field christening of a new hull. It’s up to the individual to determine for themselves which blemishes are merely cosmetic and which actually compromise the integrity of your boat. Anticipating what damage you might experience based upon the type of paddling environment you’ll be in, and what repairs you might be forced to make, should at least be on your check list when choosing the type of material you want for your kayak.

Be Safe; Have Fun; Paddle Smart!

Special thanks to: Alain Cacchione/Pelican Kayaks; Gerald Grace/Klepper America; Michael Gray/Uncommon Adventures; Wayne Horodowich/University of Sea Kayaking; and these manufacturer’s websites – Eddyline / Chesapeake Light Craft / Pelican / Pygmy / Stellar – for information.


 Treating frayed ends of nylon tie-down straps:  


Nylon straps have pretty much replaced ropes and lines for securing loads to vehicles. One problem with these broad bands of woven nylon is the tendency of the ends to fray. This in turn makes threading the end through the buckle difficult. One way to keep the edge clean is to melt it with a heat source that melts the ends of the nylon fibers, welding them into a firm, rigid edge. 

That is usually sufficient to give you a solid, non-fraying edge. However, you can take it one step further by stiffening the end to form an easy-to-thread tongue. This is accomplished simply by dipping the ends into a plastic coating liquid used to re-surface hand tools.

The trick is to first dip the end of the strap into the thick coating to saturate the nylon enabling  the plastic goo to penetrate into the weave. Squeegee off the excess (you don’t want to add any additional thickness to the strap end) and let it dry. You’ll get plenty of stiffness from the curing of the liquid that soaked down between the fibers.

Be Safe; Have Fun; Paddle Smart!


 Nylon Strap Tie-Down Hood Loops:

Few of today’s automobiles have a slot or opening on the front end of the vehicle to pass through a line or strap used to tie down a roof load. Typically you must reach down below the flush-mounted “bumper” panel and find a place on the frame to tie off one end of a load-bearing line. Using nylon straps to create tie-down loops on each side of your hood can give you secure and accessible anchors for those load-bearing lines/straps.


The key to this approach is to make sure you have a secure, firm anchor point on the outside edge of the hood compartment upon which to bolt the loop as shown. The strap loop should be long enough to reach out beyond the hood when closed to provide a loop big enough to thread a strap or rope. When not needed it can be folded down and stowed under the closed hood. I’ve had such loops on my vehicles for over 10 years and have yet to need to replace them.

Be Safe; Have Fun; Paddle Smart!


Kayak Re-entry

Many of us learned how to re-enter our kayaks after a capsize – usually from a class session in a pool or shallow swimming area of a lake. Typically we’ve stood on the bottom and jumped up onto the edge of the kayak, hoping our upward thrust was enough to get us high up and over the side of the craft. Don’t depend on it!


Deep water re-entry doesn’t give you that foot push-off option. Instead you need to “swim” up using your arms…and legs! That can be best accomplished if you raise you body to nearly horizontal at the surface and then, with a couple of hard kicks, literally swim up and onto the deck of your boat. This effort propels you forward while you use your arms to push the craft down as you simultaneously pull it towards you. Those dual motions, coupled with a good swimming motion are a quick and direct method to get you up and out of the water so you can work towards your re-entry efforts.

Be Safe; Have Fun; Paddle Smart!


Proper Kayak Sitting Posture

Contact Points are Critical


The power that moves your kayak flows from your body, down the paddle shaft and out to the water. Proper contact points within your boat affect how efficient that transfer of energy is as well as how it affects your body.  Proper postures and proper paddling technique (torso rotation, proper gripping distance, etc.) all affect how efficiently you transfer that energy. Proper foot bracing and thigh straps offer a secure “foot hold” on your boat, while a proper seat configuration eases stress on your butt and, more importantly,  lower back area. All these positions combine to provide you with a more effective, and more comfortable paddling style.

Be Safe; Have Fun; Paddle Smart!


Kayak Deck Lines and Rigging

By the most basic definition, any form of rope or cordage on a vessel is referred to as a “line”. Prefaced with “deck”, the terms “deckline” or “deck lines” are common phrases used throughout the paddling world.

While lines on canoes are primarily those used for anchors or bow lines, the deck of most kayaks is a webwork of elastic and static cordage of varying lengths and connections – all arranged in a network of utility to provide grab-holds, secure gear to the deck, tether hatches (and sometimes paddles), operate rudders and so forth.

Stowing gear on deck is a debatable issue among paddlers. Some will argue that careful placement, properly trimmed items atop you deck is a necessary method for hauling large amounts of gear on extended trips. Others will suggest better assessment of gear needs and warn of the disadvantages of a top-heavy, wind-catching load. For smaller, quick-to-get-to items, however, being snuggly secure within arm’s reach on the deck of a kayak works for most paddlers.

Here are the basic functions of different types of deck line configurations:


Perimeter Deck Line – A line running along the outer edge of the deck, secured snuggly to the deck but loose enough to reach under and hook with one’s fingers. Useful for grabbing on anywhere along the boat and holding on to the kayak in a capsize or rescue situation.

On-deck gear stowage – Typically an “X” or “II” pattern of bungee cords aligned parallel to the forward cockpit rim or seating area. Useful for easily accessible stowing of water bottles, small gear pouches and other items within reach for intermittent retrieval.

Spare Gear Access Lines – Installed to let you carry specific pieces of gear such as a breakdown spare paddle on deck (either fore or aft), paddle float, etc.

Bow Line – Attached to the bow for mooring, or otherwise securing the kayak via a lead line off the bow. I’ve tied a bowline knot at the end of my bow line so I have a ready-made loop for my immediate use.

Rudder Line Section of line that enables paddler to raise/lower rudder from cockpit area.

Paddle Float/Gear Stow Usually the “X” pattern right behind the cockpit used as a means to secure a paddle blade during a paddle float rescue. It also serves as another deck-top stow area for small, miscellaneous items.

Hatch Cover Tether A short leash-like section of line that tethers the hatch cover to the kayak and prevents it from being lost when removed from hatch rim.

Other lines When fishing, some paddlers like to use an anchor to keep their kayaks from drifting. There are several ways to secure an anchor line to a kayak, either using special anchor line clam-cleats or via a reinforced deck loop, other similar clips or a quick-release knot! The anchor and coiled line can be stowed under the forward deck (bungee) lines on the kayak.

Line Material and Sizes 

Two types of cordage are used for deck lines: Static lines are stable; they provide firm, solid support and won’t stretch. Perimeter deck lines, anchor lines, etc. would be considered static lines. Dynamic lines are elastic, they do stretch or give. Bungee cords are dynamic, stretching to hold gear in place like a rubber band. They each have their place of utility along the deck of a kayak.

Typically deck line cordage for kayaks come in two diameters: 4mm (~3/16) and 5mm (~1/4″). You can find nylon cordage to use as deck line at most hardware stores and it will probably work fine. Personally, I always try to buy cordage I am going to use in a marine environment from a marine supply outlet. Whether you are buying new cordage for deck lines or replacing old, frayed or otherwise weakened cordage, just make sure you go the quality route!

Special Uses / Perimeter Line: 

Boats can be slippery, hands can be numb, the cockpit rim unreachabe – for whatever reason. Being able to grab anywhere along your kayak can be a critical move during a capsize or rescue. A solid grab line attached along the outside edge/perimeter of your kayak will provide you with a reliable emergency handhold/grab line along the entire length of your boat.

This line should be large enough to provide a solid finger hold without cutting into your hand. You fingers should be able to slip under the line yet it should also be secure enough on the deck so that it doesn’t sag or otherwise form loops or catches that could entrap you as you scramble along or tumble over the deck during an exit or failed roll – whatever.

Usually the perimeter line is secured to the deck at intervals, either through recesses or extended deck loops through which the line has been fed – all the way around the boat, or in two large sections outlining the fore and aft sections beyond your cockpit. Many manufacturers will use reflective line (3M ScotchLite, for instance) that has thin strips of reflective material interwoven throughout the fibers to provide a modest but effective line of visibility (it glows when a distant light shines on it – helpful for being seen in the dark).

Special Uses / Deck Beads and Toggles: 

Deck line inserts service as a spacer to enable paddler to slip items under deck bungis, securing them to the boat while providing easy access and stowing.

Stowing gear on decks of kayaks was a vital factor for ancient paddlers who hunted and fished from their small crafts. Harpoon shafts and coiled lines, seal float bladders, atlatls and other implements had to be secured within easy reach by the paddler. Not only did the deck line have to hold the tool tightly, the paddler had to quickly stow one implement to retrieve another.

To be effective, a deck line had to hold the gear securely – it had to be tight against the deck. That creates a problem – by being so taunt it is hard to catch the line in order to pry it up to fit and pass the tip or edge of an implement under for secure stowage.

Natives used toggles (elongated pieces of wood or bone with a hole drilled through its side) that were threaded in along static deck lines. The toggle raised the line slightly above the surface of the deck. This allowed the line to remain taunt while creating a space between the deck and the line. Sometimes a bone bead was fed along the line to create this gap. A technique based on that same deck bead principle involves tying a large knot (an in-line stopper knot- see below) that effectively creates a raised gap in the line.

Bungee cords: 

Elastic bungee cords perform a variety of tasks throughout a kayak, stem to stern, interior and exterior. Any time a secure but flexible grab is needed, a bungee cord usually comes to the rescue.

Most kayaks offer the conventional “X” or “XX” pattern on the foredeck. Another popular arrangement is the ‘II” or “III” alignment. The size of the bungee and the width of the X or spacing between the II seems to be the limiting factor on which one works best.

The “X” configuration behind the cockpit is used for securing a paddle in a paddle float rescue. Sometimes the “X” is strengthened by adding a bungee segment across the top and bottom of the “X” as well – and often doubled to provide a better hold as stress is put on the paddle.

Stopper Knots:

Oftentimes the end of a line is threaded through a loop to secure/anchor one end of a network. That line can be tied or enlarged so it won’t slip back through the opening in the loop or clip or even slip out of the knot tied to hold it all together. A stopper knot is simply a knot tied to the end of a line to prevent that end from slipping back through a bend in the line or other opening. They are especially effective in securing both ends of a bungee configuration as you can stretch the end, tie the knot and let go – the tension and the knot work together to make it a secure, clean fit.


Two common stopper knots are the double overhand and the figure-8. The former is simply a regular overhand knot with an extra turn through the loop before closing it together. The figure-8 is basically a crossover overhand that looks like an “8” when tied properly. Both create an enlarged knot at the end of the rope preventing slippage back through the opening.

These two knots can also be used in line to raise the tight line up off the deck enough to create a gap for the tip of a gear item or you finger to catch so it can be slid under the deck line.

Securing lines 

Lines are guided along decks using recessed deck fittings or inserts. There are also many different deck clips (stainless steel, molded poly’ or nylon) that help re-direct lines across the decks or gather/disperse lines as needed around/to other deck fittings and features. You can easily create your own array of deck lines by installing addition clips and loops yourself. It’s important to use stiffeners and water sealants when applying to the thin deck of a kayak.

The most important thing to remember about deck lines is that they should never compromise the safe use of your kayak. No interaction with any line or clip – whether from being entangled on sagging loops on the outside to being caught on excessively long bolt/nut stems protruding under the deck or loose rudder/foot brace cords inside your cockpit – should jeopardize a quick exit when necessary.

Check your deck lines periodically and replace them with the appropriate size and “action” you will need. Remember, too, that bungees are great for securing loads quickly but do have weight-bearing limitations. Static lines are stronger but require a good knot or fastening system to remain firm.

Don’t forget to include a few lengths of dynamic and static cordage in your repair kit, along with spare deck hardware and the tools to make any emergency repairs or replacements while out paddling.

Be Safe; Have Fun; Paddle Smart!


Your kayaking library is not complete without this book, written by Derek Hutchinson and updated for the 40th Anniversary edition by University of Sea Kayaking’s Wayne Horodowich…the ‘Bible’ of sea kayaking by two of the sports most respected kayakers…

book-derek hutchinson

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