A Beginner’s Complete Guide to Sea Kayaking

5 min read

You see them all the time, those paddlers out on the water. Perhaps you’re wondering how they started their adventure. Or maybe you’ve taken a kayaking tour and want to take the next step towards your own solo kayaking trip. Whatever questions you have, we’re here to answer them.

To help us put together all you could ever wonder about kayaking, our founder Michal Tyl offered his expertise. From paddling with whales in Alaska to joining the sea lion colonies in Patagonia, Argentina, Michal’s years in the kayak can get you started on your own adventures.

Here’s what we cover.

    1. Why kayaking?
    2. Is kayaking the same thing as canoeing
    3. Kayaking, sea kayaking, flat water kayaking, what’s the difference?
    4. What kind of boat is used?
    5. What are the safety risks with sea kayaking?
    6. Are there any disadvantages?
    7. Wait! What if I have to, you know, use the bathroom?
    8. Can I bring my family with me?
    9. What your general tips for going on a kayaking trip?
    10. This is a lot of info! Should I take a guided tour or go solo?
    11. I’ve read all I need! What kind of trips can I take?

1. Why kayaking?

“Kayaking is the hiking of water activities,” says Michal. Virtually anyone with basic mobility can pick up the activity and enjoy a trip out at sea. With the mobility to move around as you please, you can explore the water and reach spots otherwise invisible or inaccessible, like coves or private beaches. In a city, your views from a kayak are unlike anyone else’s. Out in nature, you can get closer to wildlife since you’re making virtually no noise. Just remember to be respectful!

If you’re traveling for a long time, you can bring supplies with you to store in the boat. This means an even longer time paddling on the water, adventuring with the current, and getting in touch with nature.

Michal, the expert himself, enjoying Alaskan waters.

2. Is kayaking the same thing as canoeing?

Well, they’re close, but not entirely the same. Canoe paddles generally have a blade on one end, while kayak paddles have blades on both ends. This way, you don’t switch the blade from side to side. In a canoe, the seat is higher than in a kayak.

Canoes are easier to use, they’re a bit slower and harder to control in rough waters. The canoe boats’ raised seats make it easier to get into, but the open tops also allow water to get in the boat easily. The lower, covered seats in kayaks usually have a skirt to keep your bottom half dry.

3. Kayaking, sea kayaking, whitewater kayaking, what’s the difference?

The main differences between these types of kayaking are the types of boats and environment of the activity. Whitewater kayaking entails using a short boat for rough waters. For this article, we’re focusing on any kayaking on flat water, whether it’s a sea, lake, or river.

Thanks to a longer style of boat, sea kayaking is best for touring, discovering, or going on multiday trips.

Flat water kayaking in the gorgeous Costa Brava. Photo via Excursions Barcelona

4. What kind of boat is used?

Sea kayaks and touring kayaks are used for flat water exploring. They are generally easier to steer and more comfortable than whitewater kayaks. Most sea kayaks come with waterproof compartments. So you can store your clothes, food, gear or anything you may need for a long-term journey.

Although you can choose between a single and a double kayak, Michal recommends riding solo. “It’s simply more fun. You are free to explore on your own.” If you want to take your younger child or you’re traveling with someone inexperienced, then a double kayak might be your best option.

We recommend using a heavier, but cheaper plastic kayak; they’re super durable against rocks, coral, or other elements. And although they are slower than their carbon alternative, the difference is felt only by seasoned kayakers.

The more expensive carbon fiber boats are easier to carry, but they can get damaged quite easily. If you’re okay with a slower kayak, the most convenient option for moving around is an inflatable kayak.

Happy friends in a double kayak. Photo via Given2Fly Adventures

5. What are the safety risks with sea kayaking?

Sea kayaking in good conditions and safe waters is safe. As with all outdoor activities, there are a few situations to be prepared for.

First, make sure you practice your paddling technique and movement in the water. It’s worth going over this with an instructor to establish good habits. Be sure to practice self-rescue if you do happen to capsize (fall into the water). The more confidently you can get back in your boat safely the better.

Always make note of the boat traffic around you. Big boats may not see you, so it’s best to keep a good distance.

Whenever you plan your water adventures, make sure you check the weather. If the wind is strong or a storm is near, it’s best to put off your trip for another day. The climate may change quickly, so be aware of the currents, skies, and waves to avoid getting in a bad weather situation.

Here’s a list of gear to take with you on your trip to get you started:

  • Life jacket
  • Map & GPS
  • Whistle
  • Extra paddle (a foldable one, in case yours breaks)
  • Paddle leash (flexible string connecting your paddle with your kayak – if you capsize, you just need to hold the kayak or the paddle, while the other of the two will not flow away due to waves of wind)
  • Manual Water pump (used to pump out water out of the kayak in case of capsizing)
  • Self-rescue devices
  • Radio – In more remote locations. Can help you with weather forecast or in foggy areas with boat traffic
  • Foghorn (to make sure you can be heard if you are not seen)

6. Are there any disadvantages?

When planning your own kayak trip, you need to know quite a lot about where you kayaking, your destination, transportation, etc. While having the freedom to travel at your own pace and explore where you want, you can always choose the most prepared and safe option and join a guided tour. You won’t need to organize riding back to your start point or study up on where to go and what to see. All you do is show up for a lovely time.

Top-level companies should always provide quality equipment if you go on a tour with them. However, when you rent you may not get their best equipment for fear of any damage that could occur.

7. Wait! What if I have to, you know, use the bathroom?

Well, we actually cover this in our article How Do Girls Pee in a Sea Kayak – although meant for women, the article is helpful for all. The best method is to strategically plan your breaks. If you’re acrobatic or have a spare bottle, there are other ways to resolve your issue.

8. Can I bring my family with me?

Absolutely! Sea kayaking is one of the most fun adventures your family can have. Even from two years old, children can sit in the front seat of a double kayak with the right safety gear. At around 6-8 years, kids can even paddle solo.

This does require a bit more logistics than going alone. Having a car to transport all your gear, or an inflatable kayak you can travel with makes things a lot easier. If you plan ahead and take a family trip on the water your kids will be begging to do over and over again.

9. What your general tips for going on a kayaking trip?

If you’re in a warm climate, definitely bring snorkel equipment with you. You’ll get access to untouched lagoons, coves, and beaches with incredible wildlife.

Because water is super reflective, make sure you pack sunglasses and sunscreen! You’ll be glad you did.

You may invest in a dry bag for you clothes and valuables, as the dry hatches are not always as waterproof as they seem.

With such great views, be sure to bring a camera too! All the better if it’s waterproof.

Pack up your car and hit the road. Photo via Michal Tyl.

10. This is a lot of info! Should I take a guided tour or go solo?

Both options have their advantages. Joining a group or taking a private tour removes a lot of preparation and research from your side. There’s no need to worry about the rental and getting back to your car, and the guide knows all the great hidden places to take you. If that sounds good to you, you can click here for guided kayaking tours.

If you’re craving the freedom to explore, adventuring solo may be more your style. Travel at your own pace in solitude.

No crowd of boats means more close encounters with nature. Photo via Michal Tyl

11. I’ve read all I need! What kind of trips can I take?

Luckily, the endless possibilities of sea kayaking mean all kinds of trips are out there. From his excursions, Michal recommends the incredible destinations of Alaska, New Zealand, Florida, Hawaii, and Costa Brava near Barcelona.

If you take a guided tour, you can paddle through city centers, like this tour in Prague’s gorgeous Old Town. Other tours can focus more on nature, like this trip out at sea to swim with dolphins in Tenerife. A trip through the Stockholm Archipelago lets you experience nature, unlike any boat tour.

However you decide to sea kayak, we can guarantee you’ll have a memorable experience out on the water.

2 Replies to “A Beginner’s Complete Guide to Sea Kayaking”

  1. For first timers who are travelling, go with a guide. New mode of transportation AND new environment is just too much, and you won’t fully enjoy either. Trust me on this one.

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