If you are new to canoeing and kayaking, it is not necessary to purchase equipment straight away. Very often clubs and centres will have equipment that you can use, under supervision.
After you begin to paddle more regularly you may thne wish to purchase some of your own equipment.
I am going to visit my local club for the first time, what should I wear?
Old clothes are fine. Comfortable and light clothing is advisable, with a pair of old trainers.
What equipment will I use at a club or centre?
Personal equipment- what to wear does depend an on the environment but quality base wear is essential, it should be light and allow for freedom of movement. If the conditions are doubtful then make sure that you have a Cagoule with you, just something to keep you drip free will do to start with. For your feet an old pair of trainers that you don’t mind getting damp or alternatively invest in a pair of Canoe shoes from your local Paddlesport retailer.
Buoyancy aid - various types are available, some general purpose, others specifically for whitewater,
sea-kayaking, competition etc
Helmet – essential on rivers and rough water.
Spraydeck – nylon or neoprene. Different spraydecks fit different boats.
Always wear a Buoyancy Aid
A buoyancy aid should be worn for every canoeing activity, regardless of how well you can swim. Should you capsize it will keep you afloat and unlike a lifejacket, you can easily swim to help yourself. No one has drowned from a canoe close to the bank on simple water, whilst wearing a buoyancy aid. A buoyancy aid is probably the most important piece of safety kit you’ll invest in so don’t just rush out and buy the first one you see. Treat it with respect and it will last a long time.
Buoyancy Aid or Life Jacket?
Life jackets are designed to keep you floating the right way up but are generally too bulky to swim in, let alone paddle, so a buoyancy aid is the natural choice for the canoeist. Canoeing buoyancy aids are foam-filled not air-filled.
Helmets are necessary for white water, shallow rivers, polo, slalom, river racing or surfing. Choose one which can be adjusted to fit your head so that it doesn’t slip back or forward, covers your forehead and has a strong chin strap. It shoulod be made of a durable material and float. Helmets should be CE approved - CE1385.
The spray deck is an elasticated ‘skirt’ that prevents water from entering the kayak through the cockpit area. In rough water it is an essential item and in cold weather it helps keep you warm. The quick release strap must be accessible, in case of a capsize. Spray decks can be made of tough fabric (cheap but not 100% waterproof) or neoprene (expensive but more watertight. Also harder to release)
On top of these essentials (often supplied by a club to beginners) whatever selection of kit you choose, it will probably be a variation on the insulating layer plus waterproof/windproof layer theme.
Other pieces of kit – boat, paddle, cagoule, canoe shoes, clothing
Choosing a Paddle - Kayak paddles generally have their blades offset. This means you have to swivel the shaft in your hand on each stroke cycle. This is done by gripping with one hand and ‘slipping’ with the other. Whichever hand you choose to grip with will determine the ‘handedness’ of the paddle. Right-handed people usually prefer right-handed paddles and vice versa (although many left-handed people paddle with right-handed paddles).
For a beginner, a general-purpose cheap and durable paddle might have a plastic or alloy shaft paddle with molded plastic blades. If you become more specialized you may prefer a lighter-weight paddle. Different disciplines have different shaped blades and use different length shafts.
Paddle lengths vary. A short paddle can accelerate your boat quickly (useful for freestyle and river running). A long paddle will be slow to accelerate but will make long distance paddling more comfortable (a good idea for sea-kayakers and marathon paddlers). Paddles for use purely on white water might be 190-200 cm while those used for flat water racing or touring might be 210-225 cm.
In canoeing, it is important that clothing should protect the body without being too restrictive. There is a lot of expensive and technical kit on the market but there is no real need to rush out and buy everything all at once. Spend a little time considering what you want to use the kit for – Sea-kayaking? Competition? Touring the canals? When you hope to be paddling – balmy summer days? Or through the winter with ice on your paddles? And whether your chosen kit will be adaptable to various conditions? After-all no-one wants to earn the name ‘all the gear – no idea’!
1. An Insulating Layer – Insulation can come from several thin layers rather than one single thick
layer. More dead air is trapped in and between thin layers than in one thick layer. A wetsuit can form
part of this insulation, and so can synthetic thermals and fleeces.
2. A Water/Windproof Shell Layer – This is the crux of the system, ranging from waterproof (like a dry
suit) for white water to a light shell for competition or fair weather.
Never canoe in bare feet and keep laces short on shoes so they can’t tangle on the footrest.
Warm Weather Paddling
Specialist canoe kit is not essential on warm summer days. To start off with, wear a pair of shorts, which dry quickly when damp, a T-shirt and some form of footwear. A lightweight or short shell top will combat any wind chill. You may want to invest in some neoprene shorts, beach shoes and a synthetic thermal top.
Possible kit list for summer
Thermal vest, light fleece, synthetic top (such as a football strip)
Nylon tracksuit trousers
Trainers or beach shoes
Light-weight wind-proof/splash-proof top
Simply increase or decrease the layers until you feel comfortable.
Cold weather Paddling - Possible kit list for winter
Wetsuit (sleeveless) or dry trousers and thermal leggings
Thin thermal or warm fleece top (not cotton)
Paddling Jacket (Cag)
The following clothing would be suitable:
Tracksuit bottoms (not cotton)
Light water-proof bottoms
Trainers or beach shoes
White Water Touring/ Playboating
Base layer ‘thermal’ garments, worn on the torso and/or legs need to be thin, close fitting and comfortable. In colder conditions, an intermediate layer of ‘fibrepile’ or ‘fleece’ warms quickly by trapping air to provide a thermal barrier. If there is a chance of immersion or swimming, a Long John wetsuit can be worn. Wetsuits are buoyant and keep you warm if you get completely soaked.
If you are sure that you won’t be falling in, a wetsuit is not essential.
There are specially cut and shaped ‘paddling jackets’ – called ‘cags’ - made from coated nylon or light breathable fabric, with close fitting wrist and neck seals to stop water penetration. There is a whole range of cags on the market from those that keep just the splashes and wind off to the ’dry cag’ with latex and neoprene seals.’
In very cold conditions, and for expeditions to colder climes, the full ‘dry suit’, which seals the water completely out, is very much appreciated.
Choice of footwear is a matter of personal preference, but for white water or winter paddling, purpose made wet suit shoes are ideal. For the hands, the ‘Pogie’ or ‘Paddlemitt’ can be a very useful accessory.
Kayak and Canoe Touring
If it’s cold, dress as for white water paddling. Lots of light layers to trap air and regulate body temperature are important. Use a ‘base layer’ system and build on this, as weather and water conditions dictate.
For canoe paddlers, a long style ‘shell’ jacket, which can be easily vented, is a sound investment. Keeping the head warm and keeping the sun out of your eyes are important factors.
Types of Kayak or Canoe
There are four main types:
Good for whitewater playboating, park and play, freestyle competitions and playing the river.
Between 1.5 - 2.5 metres in length
Flat hulled for planing and easy spins
Hard edges for wave speed and carving
Slicey ends for easy vertical moves
Central volume for stability and balancing on end
Very slow in a straight line
Not built for: comfort or going long distances
Fast – Turning Kayak
Good for: whitewater; slalom racing; surfing; shore sea trips; general use for all kinds of paddling.
Between 3 and 4 metres in length
Designed for rough water
A curved keel-line
Relatively slow in a straight line
Not built for: racing in a straight line
Straight – Running Kayak
Good for: flat water touring; beginners; sheltered lake and coastal trips; wild water racing; marathon racing.
Holds a straight course easily
Long non-curved keel-line
Between 4 and 5.5 metres in length
Not built for: playing in rough water or steep rivers
Good for: family canoeing; canal and river touring; beginners with special needs; (disabled, blind, very young); carrying more than one person; wilderness canoeing; carrying camping equipment.
Single bladed paddles are used
‘Open’ meaning no decks
Between 4.5 and 5.2 metres in length
Not built for: paddling on the sea
All canoes and kayaks should contain built-in flotation material. This must be sufficient to float the fully swamped boat at the surface in a horizontal position.
The flotation usually takes the form of solid, plastic foam - it must be held securely in place or it will be lost or displaced by the boat’s natural flexing.
Kayaks should be fitted with an adjustable footrest system and a grab handle or toggle at both ends of the boat.
Transporting Kayaks and Canoes
Most canoes can be carried quite easily on a car roof rack or in larger quantities on a canoe trailer. Some modern playboats even fit inside the car!
Spend time, and maybe a little extra money in buying a decent roof rack. A roof rack needs to be strong to carry canoes and kayaks safely. Those comprising of two separate bars are the best. Place the bars as far apart as possible and make certain that the securing clamps are tight. Tie boats on using strong rope across each bar or, better still, self locking straps, available from retailers. Tie the ends of the canoe or long kayaks to the car as well.
'Uprights' and 'J-Bars' are also available additions to a roof rack to allow the boats to be placed upright on the rack or within a cradle.
If you need to transport a large number of canoes then you may need to consider a trailer designed specially for the purpose.