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Is Paddling on Your 2016 Bucket List?

A recent survey of boaters who use kayaks, paddleboards, rafts and canoes, noted the great interest, increased sales and use of kayaks and paddleboards. Over 21 million Americans paddled in 2014, an increase of over 3 million since 2010. Males 35 to 44 were just over 50% and female paddlers of the same age comprised just under 50% of most of the kayakers and paddleboarders. Their motivation to paddle was mostly related to exercise and fitness and to a lesser degree, to enjoy scenic beauty, develop self-sufficiency, learn a skill and because it’s a cool thing to do.

If you’ve ever borrowed or taken a rental kayak or paddleboard out, you’ll find out what you like or don’t like about different boards and kayaks.

The kind of kayak that’s right for you depends on your needs. If you expect to go a great distance, bring camping equipment and supplies or travel in open water, you’ll want to look at touring kayaks, the longer, narrow beam sit-in boats made of fiberglass or composites. These kayaks will be lighter weight, more maneuverable, faster and more expensive than recreational kayaks. There is less energy required from the paddler to move these boats.

For the person who has a few hours to spend paddling in lakes, rivers or close to shore coastal areas, the typical recreational sit-in or sit-on-top kayak made of a heavier, cheaper plastic, will work. They are generally shorter and wider than touring kayaks, offering stability at the expense of speed.

There are inflatable kayaks, some more like vinyl pool toys. Others, using better fabric and construction, will have a longer life, offer a better ride and will cost more. Because they are filled with air, they are more buoyant than hard plastic boats. They are slower and less maneuverable than the traditional recreational kayak. Air-Kayaks.com has inflatable paddleboards and kayaks online for up to $1,100.

Modular kayaks are made for people with small cars, not a lot of storage space or people who have no interest in putting their kayaks on roof racks. Separated into three sections or two, depending on your needs, the Point 65 is probably the best known modular kayak. Sold by L. L.Bean in Maine, the Point 65 comes in sit-in and sit-on-top models. It can be ordered as two end pieces to make a single or with three pieces for a tandem or with two center pieces to make an extended tandem to accommodate four people.

Fishing kayaks are mostly sit-on-tops and are longer, wider and heavier. Some are motorized or can incorporate a small motor. Some have pedals. All fishing kayaks will be heavier, longer, wider and more expensive than ordinary recreational kayaks.

A few kayaks and paddleboards are in a class by themselves. Old Town’s Predator XL model has an electric motor. Frontier has a 2.5 hp propane outboard. The Hobie Mirage kayak has several models with foot pedals. Hobie’s new Mirage Eclipse paddleboard comes with foot pedals and handlebars in two sizes, 10.5 and 12 feet. The handlebar is fixed except the height is adjustable. Bike brake caliper controls on either side of the handlebar steer the board,. Squeezing the left caliper turns the board to the left.

Beyond the original outlay for the kayak or paddleboard, you will have a list of equipment wants and needs. Paddles and life jackets are needs. A paddle leash for your kayak paddle is a need. A leash connecting you to your paddleboard is a need. Your life jacket has to fit over whatever you wear paddling for every season you use your boat. Whether you wear a wetsuit or drysuit in cooler weather or a bathing suit in the summer, the life jacket has to be adjustable enough to fit snugly.

Unless you have a waterproof watch, an old clamshell style waterproof Samsung or Motorola cell phone and old style car keys, you’ll want a dry bag to store your valuables. The old waterproof phones are nice to be able to keep in a life jacket pocket and can be used in the rain or spray. The old phones are still available online and can be used with AT&T’s “Go Phone Plan,” just paying a low minimum charge unless you use it. Some of us like having a small anchor along You’ll also want to have some way to communicate if you forget to charge your phone before you leave home.

Beyond the whistles and flares available to paddlers in the 1970s, there are now multiple means of communicating from small boats. If you’re not going a great distance from civilization, cell phones are good to bring along. You may have heard that VHF marine radios are the gold standard for communicating on the water, and this is true when it applies to a boat-installed VHF radio with an antenna. The average boat-mounted VHF radio has about 25 watts of available power. The paddleboarder or kayaker, low to the water or perhaps in an emergency, in the water, without an antenna, has about 5 watts of available power with his or her handheld VHF unit. For this reason, it’s good to have the backup of a personal locator beacon.

There are EPIRBS (Electronic Position Indicating Radio Beacons) and there are PLBs (Personal Locator Beacons) that use satellite connections to rescue centers. The EPIRB is larger, more expensive and meant to be on the boat and registered to the vessel. The EPIRB’s battery is large enough to transmit for 48 hours. The PLB has a 24 hour capacity battery, is smaller and lighter and is registered to the person. It’s small enough to be clipped to the life jacket. Incorporating GPS positioning, a 406 MHz signal and 121.5 homing capability, the press of a button will activate the relay of your position to search and rescue satellites. You need to register who you are and your vessel information so they can find you if you call for help. You have to read the manual and register before using the PLB the first time. The EPIRB costs about $600 (more if you add GPS), and the ACR ResQueLink Personal Locator Beacon costs about $250. The PLB is meant to be used only in a life-threatening emergency. It’s simple to operate, important when you are already stressed in an emergency.

There are satellite phones that will give you two-way communication. DeLorme has several models that require payment on a subscription plan. The Iridium costs more but comes with a prepaid SIM card.

Since he comes in contact with paddlers in rescue situations, I asked Sgt. John Vahey of the Suffolk County Marine Police if he had any advice for paddleboarders and kayakers and he brought up a lot of useful information - first, some suggestions from the New York State Boater’s Guide. Acknowledging the fast growth of the paddling segment of recreational boating, the Guide reminds paddlers that their watercraft are not easily seen by larger boats and to avoid heavily trafficked areas or move through them as quickly as possible. Sgt. Vahey recommended taking the free course, “Online Paddle Safety Course” (www.paddlecourse.com) to learn ways to avoid accidents and tghe mandatory requirements, e.g., carrying a white light at night and having a whistle or other sound signal aboard.

Sgt. Vahey also reminds us that the life jacket slipped over the shoulders will slip off if you go in the water. Your PFD will float but you may sink. He recommends learning how to swim if you don’t know how and to avoid main channels such as the West Channel between Bay Shore and Kismet and Fire Island Inlet. Having rescued people who were overpowered by strong winds, Sgt. Vahey had some advice for paddlers on the north shore of Long Island on the Sound and at the Atlantic Ocean on the south shore. When the wind blows from the north on the south shore it will move paddlers out to sea very quickly. Recently a paddleboarder was blown offshore from Atlantic Beach. His body was still attached to the board when he was found a week later.

When the wind blows from the south, the bluffs on the north shore create a wind shadow that calms the surrounding water, but as you move out into the Sound, you leave the protection of the bluffs. Several years ago Sgt. Vahey was working in that area and in one day he and his partner made five rescues of people on a raft, in a kayak, a dinghy sailor and a would-be rescuer who lost power and had to be rescued himself. They all were overpowered by strong winds after leaving the protection of the bluffs.

Sgt. Vahey said he was working the day in 2014 when a Connecticut woman kayaked across the Sound and overturned in four foot swells off Roanoke Point in Riverhead. Wearing a wetsuit and life jacket, she called on her handheld VHF radio but the signal was not strong enough, so she activated her electronic locator beacon. The Coast Guard received her GPS position from the satellite after her locator transmitted it, the Coast Guard gave the position to Sgt. Vahey, who relayed the message to the helicopter crew. The helicopter found her and the Coast Guard took the woman and her kayak back to Connecticut. “She was VERY well prepared,” Sgt. Vahey said, “and that made it easier for us.”


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