10 mistakes made during kayak trips and how to avoid them

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10 mistakes made during kayak trips and how to avoid them
  1. Lack of skills and knowledge about kayaking

When choosing a kayak trip for holidays or even for a weekend, we should keep in mind that although lowland kayaking is not an extreme sport, at least one person in our group should have some basic knowledge about kayaking. The most important issues are: how to paddle forward and backward, steer the kayak, how the kayak floats on the river, when obstacles appear and in an emergency, i.e. if the kayak capsizes

If only one person in the group has experience in this matter and will train the rest of the participants before the kayak rally starts, that will be enough. But if you have never kayaked and none of the participants has any knowledge about kayaking, don’t go on a kayak trip alone. It is better if you first go on a guided kayak trip where instructors will give you some advice and show how to handle a kayak.

I have seen many crews that “struggled against the element” and suffered agony when they tried to paddle together and to achieve the desirable effect on the river. Also, careless “Sunday” kayakers often get stuck helplessly neck-deep in the river, next to their capsized or sunk kayak. It is not difficult to learn basic kayaking skills and it is worth asking for help or observing more experienced kayakers. Improving your skills, you will avoid nasty surprises which are often the embers of arguments among the participants. A kayak capsize, known as “cabin”, may be health-threatening or even life-threatening. After all, we want to have fun during our holidays on the water.

  1. Trail/route not adjusted to the group’s skills and expectations

Kayaking is a very pleasant form of active leisure provided that the trail is adjusted to the group’s skills and expectations.

For beginners, we should choose a short part of an easy lowland river. Otherwise, the participants of the rally will be too tired of the long paddling to be able to enjoy the nature around them. The same goes for kayak trails that are too arduous, full of obstacles, fallen trees, portages and places where the current is strong. Instead of providing rest and relaxation, it makes those who are not used to the physical effort frustrated.

On the other hand, those who are fit and in good shape and have experience in kayaking will be bored and disappointed with the part of the river that is too easy. Thus they should be provided with a more challenging kayak route. Experienced kayakers will successfully handle many riffles and numerous obstacles in the river; also, they are eager to cover much longer distances than beginners.


  1. Lack of leadership and a specified order of the kayaks

When kayaking with your friends, a person who will be responsible for the whole logistics, preparations and the route must be chosen from the group. A leader is necessary for every kayak trip. This is an unrewarding and very responsible position, but it also makes each trip successful, not only kayak trips. We all know very well that there are as many ideas for a kayak trip as many kayakers participating in it. It may be difficult or impossible – many times – to come to an agreement on some issues. If each of the participants contacts the kayak rental company or the company that organised the guided kayak trip, there will be an informational mess and it may turn out that the participants of the kayak trip and the event organiser will be poorly informed or messages will overlap.

The manager is responsible for all participants as well as for their actions, but at the same time he/she makes all the decisions about contentious issues and the whole group has to follow such decisions. The manager should be a well-organised person, sensible, punctual and, above all, experienced in kayaking and also in leadership.

Among the “manager’s/ commander’s” main responsibilities are:

  • Choosing the river and the part which we are going to cover in kayaks.
  • Checking how to get to the meeting point by public transport or planning the route or finding car parks for private cars and giving all the participants the details.
  • Contacting the event organiser and specifying the details relating to the hiring of kayak gear or the participation in the guided kayak trip.
  • Collecting and checking the equipment on the spot where the kayak rally starts.
  • Assigning the paddlers to the kayaks and deciding about potential exchanges if any of the crews has problems.
  • Determining the order of the kayaks, specifying the first crew and the last crew and contacting them in emergencies.
  • Choosing the spot and the time for camping – if the rally lasts several days – or a break during a one-day rally.
  • Responding and making decisions relating to all the participants of the kayak trip in emergencies such as accidents on the river and on land, bad weather, troubles with accommodation, equipment or transport.
  • Making sure that the hired equipment is given back, cleaned and complete when the rally ends.

When sitting in the kayaks, we should determine the order of the kayaks. It is a sequence that specifies when each crew launches its kayak and covers a selected part of the river. The order of the kayaks should be planned by the person who has the most experience in kayaking, or by the manager of the rally.

First of all, we decide who will open the kayak order and who will close it. The kayakers who go first should know the part of the river that we’re going to cover. They choose and show other crews the way, warn about obstacles, watch for difficult or dangerous spots. The first crew must know the spots where we will stop and the point where the rally ends. The last crew, the so-called “red lantern”, makes sure that none of the participants stays behind or gets lost. The first-aid kit is kept in the last kayak. Those who sit in that kayak are obliged to make it available to the injured person, if needed. When we kayak according to this order, there’s no risk that the kayakers will go beyond the finishing point or the weaker crew will be left far behind. It is good if the first crew and the last crew are able to contact each other (by mobile, walkie-talkie) and tell each other about the course of the rally or any potential troubles and changes in the route.

When planning the order of the kayaks, we place the weakest crew that is the least experienced in kayaking just behind the first kayak. In this way the weakest participants set the pace of the rally and there’s no risk that they will weaken and end up at the very end. At the same time, when they go just behind a more experienced person, they can count on her/his help when obstacles appear, instructions or words of encouragement in difficult moments.

When you’re going on a several-day rally with baggage in the kayak, remember that the most loaded kayaks (e.g. Canadian kayaks) should be accompanied by smaller, more lightweight and faster boats (e.g. single kayaks or one-person kayaks). If there are any doubts, smaller kayaks are able to efficiently explore the part of the river before the bow and identify the most convenient way; and if you have to carry the kayak, they are an additional pair of hands essential for the portaging of a big boat.

When covering long parts of the river during a several-day rally, you should choose – among the participants – a person or persons who are experienced in kayaking and are able to paddle by themselves in two-person kayaks. In this way you get an extra space in each of these kayaks that can be used as a hold for baggage or shopping (if this is a trapper rally) or as a place for an injured person who is not able to paddle by himself/herself or who needs to be transported to the bank.

  1. Wrong crew selection

Paddlers very often have varying levels of kayaking skills. It is important to select the crews properly. Those who have no experience in kayaking should not paddle together in a kayak. It is good when the person who can’t swim or swims poorly sits in a kayak with a person who feels confident in the water. If possible, we should select mixed crews; men are usually stronger, which is useful both for overcoming obstacles, portaging and paddling for long hours. When you’re getting into a kayak, remember that the person who is heavier and more experienced sits in the back – that person will steer the kayak. The lighter kayaker who is less experienced sits on the bow. The pace of paddling depends on him/her. If you follow these rules, you will avoid serious arguments in the kayak and unnecessary tiredness after paddling all day long.

  1. Underestimating the river, bravado and alcohol

When planning a kayak rally, try to get information about the parts of the river where you are going to paddle. Before you go on the kayak trip, you should buy a guidebook or a map, or alternatively search the Internet or simply ask the staff of the kayak rental company whose services you’re using. If you are participating in a guided kayak trip, the instructors should provide you with all necessary information during the meeting prior to the trip.

If you don’t find out anything about the river on which you’re going to paddle earlier, it may turn out that this kayak trip won’t meet your expectations and you will come back disappointed because the part of the river you chose turned out to be too easy or too arduous.

Don’t ever ignore the information about portages, mills, weirs and other structures on the water as these are often difficult, dangerous spots or even places were kayaking is impossible. Bravado in such places may end in an accident, damage to health or even death! If you have any doubts, verify your information or the warnings you’ve noticed by observing this place on the bank.

Also, you shouldn’t overestimate your strength and skills. We often don’t understand that water is a powerful current. Even a calm lowland river which flows lazily can cause problems if we act too recklessly.

Kayaking under the influence of alcohol is prohibited by law, highly irresponsible and may end in a tragedy.  Summer, weekend and so-called “favourable circumstances” are perfect for all outdoor events, but alcohol lengthens your reaction time and makes you lazier. Drinking alcohol in the kayak may additionally lead to dehydration on hot days. On cool or rainy days your body temperature may drop too low, as it only seems to you that “a shot of vodka” warms you.

Remember that alcohol doesn’t go hand in hand with water sports so put these several bottles of beer aside and drink them by the evening campfire.

  1. Poor preparation for weather conditions

When going on a kayak trip, you must be prepared for sudden weather changes and you should bring appropriate clothing. Even if the sky is cloudless when you are getting into the kayak, you should pack a sweatshirt and a raincoat that you will put on if the weather breaks. Summer evenings are sometimes chilly, so when planning a whole day in the kayak remember that the temperature drops in the evening; take also a sweatshirt or a thin fleece jacket.

A cap is a must during a kayak trip. When it is hot, it protects you against the effects of sunstroke. We often ignore that possibility, but in spite of appearances it is easy to get sunstroke, in particular when you’re kayaking along a route that runs across meadows and poorly forested areas. If the weather is bad, a hat or a cap will protect you against streams of rain falling down your face and pouring into your eyes.

Those who are inexperienced in paddling can buy fingerless gloves (e.g. cycling gloves) which will protect your hands against blisters that tend to appear if you hold the paddle rod too tight.

If you have to get out of the kayak into the water, always do it wearing shoes. The river bottom can hide various nasty surprises: from sharp roots, branches to broken bottles. A cut on your foot is very painful, makes walking difficult and heals poorly in kayaking conditions. You can protect yourself against it if you put on sandals, shoes suitable for water sports or even old trainers that you don’t mind getting wet. But I advise you against mules or flip-flops as they tend to swim away.

For a kayak trip, you should also take sun cream with a proper UV filter and sunglasses. Kayaking all day long in a swimming costume or in briefs will certainly end in severe sunburn. When the sun is the strongest (between 11:00 and 14:00), you should wear an undershirt or a thin short-sleeved tee. If you aren’t wearing sunglasses on a sunny day in the kayak, this may result in ophthalmia which is unpleasant.

If you’re planning a kayak trip with an overnight stay in a tent, pack tourist clothing for the evening (a sweatshirt, long trousers) and lightweight trekking boots which will be useful during the search for wood or walks in the forest, they protect not only against the chill but also against annoying insects.

  1. Poor equipment and low food supplies

If you decided to go on even a short kayak trip, you should bring beverages and food. When paddling in the heat, your body quickly loses water so you should regularly resupply it. After several hours of paddling you will be hungrier than after spending the same amount of time watching TV. That’s why you should take a sandwich, fruit or energy bars into your kayak.

Hiring a kayak or participating in a guided kayak trip, always make sure that you have life vests on board. The tour operator or the rental’s owner is obliged to provide such vests for all participants. Travelling in a life vest is not obligatory, but children and those who can’t swim or swim poorly should wear a fastened life vest all the time. If it suddenly gets cold, or in case of rain or wind, the life vest is an additional layer that protects you against the cold.

Before you go on a kayak trip, you should buy a strong rope several metres long. It will be useful as a mooring line, for pulling the kayak across the shallows, pulling it out of the water after a capsize or pulling it up a high bank or a fallen tree. You should also pack a pocket knife and a torch. These gadgets don’t take much space and are invaluable in an emergency.

It is good if you have a sponge in your kayak. After the rally, you can remove water, leaves or sand on the kayak bottom with it.

When planning a longer rally or going down a difficult river, you should take an extra paddle. It will become useful if your paddle breaks “on the go”, gets stuck between rocks or branches of fallen trees or swims away in a mysterious way, choosing freedom.

  1. Lack of a first-aid kit

A first-aid kit should be available during every kayak trip. It is always kept in the last kayak. Thanks to this rule, the injured person doesn’t have to look for the first-aid kit among the participants of the rally; he/she simply stops on the bank and waits for the last crew.

The first-aid kit should contain basic medicines for cold and diarrhoea, painkillers and medicines for allergies, a space blanket, dressings, elasticated bandage and a preparation that reduces the effects of sunburn.

  1. Lack of communication and contact with the world

When you’re kayaking, you are often far from civilisation, surrounded by forests, a long way from villages. Remember to take a mobile with a charged battery and to secure them properly against getting wet. It is very important to have the phone number of the event organiser, the rental’s owner or the driver who delivered the kayaks to you. If the rally has to be ended earlier, if you get lost or have any difficulties with the equipment or transport, you will have to contact these people.

When you’re spending your time on a kayak trip, you want to relax in the bosom of nature and commune with wildlife, but in an emergency you have to have the possibility to contact somebody or call for help.

  1. No concept for transport, logistics

You need to get to the meeting point somehow and come back when the trip ends. Think of the means of transport earlier. If you can go by train or by bus to the meeting point, you generally don’t need to worry about anything. But if you start the rally in a place where no public transport is available, ask the event organiser about other means of transport provided. If you are offered transport from the rail station to the point where the kayak trip begins, find out how to come back when the trip ends. Before leaving the house, find some convenient train connections, taking into account the estimated time when the kayak trip ends.

If you want to drive your own car to go to the meeting point, you should find out where you can leave the car during the kayak trip and how to collect it.

If you’re organising a kayak trip on your own, after arriving at the starting point, you need to talk to the farmers in the nearby villages. Each of them will let you park a few cars on his yard for a small charge. Before the kayak rally begins, it is good to leave at least one car on the spot where the trip ends. When the trip is over, the drivers go in that car to collect the rest of the vehicles, while the rest of the participants unpack, clean and give back the equipment.


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