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  • Buying your first kayak

    There aren’t many stores around where you can even see a real sea kayak, let alone learn about them.  Here are some thoughts about getting your first sea kayak.  There are exceptions to everything said here, but it’s a starting point…

    To be seaworthy, a kayak should be at least 14 feet long, have sealed bulkheads, and have perimeter deck lines.  Shorter kayaks are slower.  Sealed compartments with bulkheads and hatches provide flotation and a place to stow your food and gear.  Deck lines (not just stretchy bungees) around the perimeter of the boat let a rescuer maneuver and stabilize the boat while you’re getting back in.

    Fit is critical.  Many kayak models come in different sizes, which might be designated LV, MV, or HV for low, medium, or high volume.  The volume relates to your weight.  A light paddler won’t sink a high volume boat enough to make it stable.  A high volume paddler simply won’t fit in a low volume boat.  The thigh braces should fall comfortably above your knees.  While paddling along, you’ll want your legs nearly straight, and your feet might be vertical or splayed out.  You should be able to bring your legs into contact with the thigh braces by stretching out your feet.

    Ease of getting into and out of your kayak depends on your flexibility and the cockpit shape.  You may be able to tuck both legs in at once, or (with a narrower cockpit) only one at a time.  Some older kayaks have a shorter ocean cockpit rather than a keyhole cockpit.  This would require that you slide in feet first, hardly ideal.

    When you’re paddling you’re pushing forward on your feet, not back against the seat.  Avoid a seat with a high back.  It will restrict your motion, make re-entry difficult, and interfere with a sprayskirt.

    Rudders can be problematic and aren’t really necessary.  They have sharp edges and can injure you if you’re in the water near the stern.  Rudders are operated by pushing on one foot or the other to turn the boat…but you need to push on the footpegs while you’re paddling, so that’s difficult.

    A skeg is a fin that can be dropped down near the stern.  It doesn’t rotate to steer, but helps the kayak maintain course in a sidewind.  It’s worth having.

    Kayaks usually have three hatches:  front and rear hatches to access the large compartments, and a smaller day hatch just behind the cockpit that you can reach while you’re in the boat.  Hatch covers are round or oval and made of rubber.  Avoid older kayaks with rectangular hatches or strap-on covers, as they are hard to replace.  You might find a kayak with Valley hatch covers that have deteriorated to nothing…don’t worry, as they are easily replaced.

    Longer kayaks are generally faster.  Kayaks with more rocker (banana shaped) are more maneuverable, while straighter kayaks track better.  A shorter boat with more rocker is fun for play in rocks and surf, but won’t cover the miles as easily on a journey.

    A wider kayak with a flat bottom might feel reassuringly stable at first, but will be tossed about in rough water.  Outfitters often use boats like this for day trips, as they’re easy for novices in mild conditions.  You’ll quickly get frustrated trying to keep up with other paddlers in a short wide boat, and won’t be able to improve your skills.

    Kayaks can be made of rotomolded polyethylene (plastic), fiberglass composite, or carbon-kevlar composite.  Plastic is heavier but stands up well to use on our rocky shores.  Material is less important than fit or shape.

    Buying a used kayak for your first boat is a great idea.  You’ll be able to get out on the water and find what you want to do with it.  Look for a kayak that fits you, and that has the basic elements:  sealed compartments, deck lines, skeg.  Make sure the hull is sound, but don’t be afraid to replace hatch covers and deck lines.

    If you have questions, talk to anyone in the club or post to the message board.

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