How safe is it to sea kayak alone?

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How safe is it to sea kayak alone?

Post by Arbu »

I've got an inflatable kayak ( ... able+kayak) which I take out on the creeks of North Norfolk by myself. It's quite fun going out in the creeks looking for wildlife and I feel comfortable enough doing that, although of course knowing what the tides are doing is essential. It would be great to go out further, for instance to make a circumnavigation of Scolt Head Island on a calm day, but I get the sense this probably isn't safe. The waves seem to break with some force on sand bars where the creeks meet the sea and I guess it would be quite easy to get flipped over while trying to get out onto the main shore.

Another point is that there are a lot of seals in some places, and I'm told they don't like kayaks. I was told by the skipper of one of the seal viewing boats that if I kayak too close to a beach where they are hauled out they will all get into the water (so ruining the view for his clients). And those in the water do spend a lot of time sticking their heads out looking at me whenever I am close. I don't know if they are ever likely to become aggressive. Certainly it wouldn't be much fun if one of them decided to go for my kayak and bit a hole in it.

Any advice to offer? I always take a mobile phone in a dry bag with me, but of course that's only of so much use, and I'm not even sure if reception is good out there. Of course if I could find someone else to kayak with me that would be a help, but that's easier said than done.


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Re: How safe is it to sea kayak alone?

Post by ian the badger »

Arbu, I admire your quest for adventure. In the interests of your own wellbeing find a local canoe/kayak club and seek the advice from them. They should be happy to offer you some coaching.

I think you might be better sticking to exploring your local creeks in the inflatable as they are probably more sheltered. As for seals being spooked by kayaks, the skipper you spoke to is just protecting his business. Ask yourself what makes more impact, a leisure boat with a thumping diesel craft stuffed with enthusiastic tourists or the stealth of a kayak?

Join a club, you should be able to find one near you via this forum or alternatively have a look at the BCU website. Good luck, stay safe.

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Re: How safe is it to sea kayak alone?

Post by Chris Bolton »

As above, join a club if you can, and you'll be able to learn how to cope with waves. I would be cautious, however, about anywhere with breaking waves, as your kayak doesn't have a spray cover, and could be also flipped, as you say. I'd also be wary of offshore winds, as inflatable kayaks are particularly prone to been blown in a direction you don't want to go.

Seals are different matter - they are very curious about kayaks, and will often go in the water just to get a closer look at us. They don't act scared once in the water, but it's possible they do feel safer when they can crash dive rather than being on the shore. Rarely, they have been known to climb onto kayaks but I've never heard of a boat being bitten. Unfortunately, kayaks and seal watching boats don't get on; it does seem that the seals get habituated to the motor boats and ignore them, while they still come to look at kayaks. I usually try to keep far enough away that they stay on shore, as apparently they can use up a lot of energy if the water's cold.

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Re: How safe is it to sea kayak alone?

Post by Kirsten »

Seals were following my kayak a few times really, really close. Maybe they had even sniffed on the thread which hangs from my skeg.

Seals are not only curios about kayaks, they are kind of frigthen about them. Kayaks are like silent hunters. Yes, seals are following kayaks and when in the water seals come closer to investigate, but seldom from front, most time from behind. The times I was able to watch seals close to my kayak, I was paddling backwards, though the seals recognized where i watched. As soon I turned and paddled forward again, I heard them breathing just behind me. (this are the moments where you want to have a GoPro mounted and/or attached to the hull)

Basking seals lifting heads when you come close to the rocks, depending on the area it could be 100m away (or even more) and before you are closer then 50m all of them rushed in the water in a stampede. Which is quite dangerous for the pups in June/July for the Common Seals and in November/December/January for the Grey Seals.

With a engine powered boat you get much closer and they often even didn't lift the head, sometimes the eyes stayed closed.

Same with birds. By accident, as I didn't know that it will happened, I was the reason that several dozen of Guillemots stampede from the nests which were several meters above the sealevel, on the edge of a cave entry and I was still a few boat lengths away.
Similar to shags. Don't know whether the problem was that I was a single kayak.

So when I see basking seals and nesting birds now, I try to stay away from them. At least never pointing the bow to them and pass them in a wide circle.

For paddling alone: tell always someone where you go and when to be back (give them an hour or so extra before alarm). Stay away from tidal streams (especially when the water is running out), have the phone in a drybag on (!!!) your bouancy aid and NOT in the boat. In case you are capsize and loosing the boat, you will loose also the chance to raise alarm. Emergency calls are working in the most areas. Just check your phone next time you are out.
Take some paddling lessons and exercise with someone in a sheltered area how to get into the boat after a capsize, you can even try out how it is swim to the shore with our without kayak, after a capsize. To the last when two boats are supervising you, so that one can rescue you and the other person your boat and paddle. As this is harder then you maybe think (one reason why you should be able to do a selfrescue).

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Re: How safe is it to sea kayak alone?

Post by Jim »

It is as safe as you make it.
If you don't yet know how to make it safe, start out by going on trips with others and learn how from them.
There are a lot of sand bars in your part of the world which can be treacherous if you get the tides or weather wrong - you can't beat finding out from local paddlers what tidal and weather conditions are best.

Inflatables are not ideal on the sea, you may need to set a more conservative wind limit than hardshell sea kayaks use, but I'm sure with help you can work out a system that is appropriate.

Seals - no-one really knows, so we try to avoid getting too close to hauled out seals in case there there is a genuine welfare issue. There will be times when you are both taken by surprise and the seals will go in the water pretty rapidly, as mentioned they never seem distressed once in the water but who knows what harm breaking their sunbathing might do? On the other hand seals live in even colder climates with natural predators which must scare them into the water quite often...

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Re: How safe is it to sea kayak alone?

Post by mduncombe »

How safe is it to sea kayak alone?
If you have to ask then you are almost certainly not ready for solo paddling on the sea. Nothing wrong with that, we all have to start somewhere. You cant beat experience when it comes to paddling on the sea as its an incredibly dynamic environment and the best way to get that experience is to paddle with people who have it. Test yourself in the company of those with experience not by yourself.

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Re: How safe is it to sea kayak alone?

Post by pathbrae »

A lot of negative comments here.

Just apply a bit of common sense, check the weather forecast, make sure what you find on the beach agrees with what you expected to find and get out and enjoy yourself.

"Dress for immersion" is always sound advice - especially if paddling solo.

Wear a decent buoyancy aid (or even a life-jacket - but probably not an auto-inflate one....)

Stick to days with an onshore breeze and a rising tide, make sure some-one knows where you are going and take some means of calling for help / pointing out your position.

Mobile phone reception might not be reliable so a good loud whistle and a waterproof torch (both attached to you - not to the kayak!) would be sensible.

If you do get into bother - wave your paddle in the air - it's more visible than you are and should be recognised as a distress signal.

I've got a bright yellow Reed skull cap which I carry with me - it keeps the wind off but it also stands out among the waves.

Don't worry about seals - they can be curious about these strange craft - but I've never sensed any kind of aggression from them. I've had one swim under the boat and nudge my paddle on every stroke and I've had one give my stern toggle a wee tug but they are more like playful puppies than anything else.
So much sea - so little time to see it.

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Re: How safe is it to sea kayak alone?

Post by CM2 »

I've seen different guidelines about approaching seals, and I have also seen seals react in completely different ways. Generally if they aer on land it is for a reason, for example they are moulting or resting in which case being frightened to go into the water can adversely affect them and even kill them.

I therefore try not to get a reaction from them with a popped head as a sign I have got too close. Sometimes this happens 50-100m from them sometimes they have completely ignored me when I am only about 10m from them. I have seen tourist boats get far closer then I could in a kayak without a reaction, often the tourist boat goes there so often they become used to it where a kayak is something unknown.

Seals on land can be quite aggressive, but I have not know any aggression while they are in the water, I didn't go but I saw swimming with wild seals advertised in New Zealand.

Seals in the water are less of an issue, though you should never chase a seal and the only responses I have had were ignore me and carry on what they were doing or swim to me and investigate. The extreme of the latter was in South Georgia where there were so many you had to be careful to put your paddle in water and not seal! I doubt a seal would bite a kayak unless you were harassing it..

As others have said solo kayaking removes most of your options if things go wrong and should only be done whether there is virtually no risk, the level of risk clear depends on your skill and equipment. If you have any concerns at all, which you post implies is certainly the case Scolt head island. Weather conditions can change rapidly,in South Georgia our group abandoned a short paddle when the wind had picked up from 15 to 20 mph and 15 min later it was gusting 95mph with hurricane force average wind speeds (ok Norfolk might not get that extreme but the weather can change rapidly), tides can also cause issues where my club paddles the tide can be strong enough to flip a boat as you go from still water *behind a rock) into the current if you are not expecting it.

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Re: How safe is it to sea kayak alone?

Post by Aled »

I love paddling solo – it gives me ‘a special kind of freedom’ that I've not experienced in any of the other outdoor sports I've tried. I’m a self-taught paddler (although I was given a 2hour kayak lesson by Nigel Foster when I was in school). I realised from the outset that ‘getting it wrong’ while paddling solo had terminal consequences, but this has been more of an inspirational challenge for me than a hindrance. The greatest challenge I can set for myself is problem solve my way out of any situation that I choose to venture into – solo paddling gives me this. The generic advice is ‘less than three there should never be’ and often advice given publicly errs on the safe side; admitting to doing stuff that’s a bit risky often gets put down as being macho or stupid. I paddle for selfish reasons and I consider solo paddling as one of the most rewarding things that I do. That said, most of my paddling is not done solo, but every now and again I need that ‘fix’…
(I hope the forum appreciates the vintage quotes!)

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Re: How safe is it to sea kayak alone?

Post by Drahcir Ris »

Much of my local paddling is solo, which I enjoy in much the same spirit as Aled. It is a mountain lake, with ~200 km. of shoreline and can get gnarly. I always check the weather and carry the same safety equipment I do on my trips to the ocean, never leaving something behind because conditions look benign. In the early season, when the water temp is cold, I dress for immersion and avoid long crossings. Currently, the water has warmed up to about 7 Celsius - still drysuit weather.

So my advice would be
- dress for the water temperature
- choose safe conditions and route
- carry approriate safety gear and know how to use it (via practice)

I cannot comment on your kayak; I am not familiar with it.

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Re: How safe is it to sea kayak alone?

Post by tg »

I think your main concern on the Norfolk Coast should be the wind. Given that you are aware of tides and sea conditions. Wind is generally SW, so blowing offshore. Although this is not set in stone, obviously. An inflatable paddler would be well advised to be up to date with the wind forecast and it's likely interaction with tides and geography (sand bars etc) on the day.

The seals at Blakeney always hit the sea when I have paddled past, and on one occasion when we were surfing over the bar at the entrance to Blakeney Harbour I turned to face my fellow paddlers and caught site of the seals surfing along behind my buddies.

The worst I've had from seals is a banging on the hull, although there is a large colony living on the beach, between Sea Palling and Happisburgh as I recall, whose bulls encircled three of us as we paddled past; most intimidating. They are after all, large animals.

One of my concerns when paddling the Norfolk Coast (I have paddled all of it bar King's Lynn to Hunstanton) is the potential to become isolated. I would always ensure I had enough kit for an impromptu overnight (I generally do anyhow). Not only are the beaches often large, but the shore side of much of the coast can be a hinterland of marsh and farmland with few roads and other access; I'm sure you are aware. Combine this with extensive sand bars (Wells Next The Sea for example) and it is easy to get a frightening sense of exposure with few sheltered areas to run for; bad weather, missed tide window, fatigue etc.

Yes, I mostly paddle solo. I find it really useful to define my day myself and I'm really more interactive with the surroundings, looking for seals, investigating backwaters, chatting to people I meet, beachcombing or just hanging out. Not too say I don't enjoy groups too. Group paddling will almost certainly improve technical ability.

Just take it easy and set realistic goals, I would say.

"I sink therfore I am".

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