Loading and unloading, racks, tie down
You will need some way to transport your boat on or in your vehicle. This is easy if you have a pickup truck or cargo van as you can simply toss in the back of the vehicle. Most paddlers use cars and these typically require a roof rack system of some type. Although some paddlers can fit their boat inside their vehicle, I strongly advise against this practice. I have seen too many accidents with this mode of transport. If you take this chance, tie down very securely on both ends of the boat. With any boat carrying system, imagine the consequences of slamming on the brakes at 70 MPH - those boats better be 100% secure.
Roof racks of some type are the best means of transporting your boat and your paddling partners on a shuttle. If your vehicle has rain gutters - you are really in luck. Quick-N-Easy rack systems can support several tons of weight and last forever: Quick-N-Easy Racks. They are also the least expensive system - between $70 - $90. Unfortunately, most cars these days don't have rain gutters and need more sophisticated systems. The two major brands are Yakima: Yakima Racks which uses a round bar or Thule: Thule Racks which uses a square bar. Each system has their fans and either will do the job. One issue with both Yakima and Thule racks is carrying capacity, both top out at 200 pounds - 4 - 5 empty boats. I strongly advise against loading wet gear in boats and carrying a bunch of them as this places a great strain on the rack systems they were not designed for. Expect to shell out roughly $300 (or more) for either brand.
Another alternative for carrying a single boat is a foam system. These systems are simple and quite cheap - between $5 - $50. The foam protects your car roof. Here are some examples: Alternatives. In a pinch, you can improvise your own system using a blanket as well. The trouble with this approach is you really can't carry more than one boat safely.
Whatever system you use, you need to secure the boat/s. This is typically done with cam straps: NRS Cam Straps or rope. Secure across the side of the boats with 2 straps or two ropes. In addition, tie the front and back to your bumpers. If the rack system fails (and they do from time to time), the front and rear painters will keep the boats from falling off the car long enough for you to stop safely. Never use bungee cords for securing boats. Bungee cords stretch over time and can come loose on bumpy roads.
Straps need to be tested every trip and cam buckle springs fail over time. Always pull tight and straight down, never on an angle. You also need to add an overhand not to prevent the strap from backing out if the cam becomes loose while driving. Straps provide more friction than ropes which is beneficial. 15' is a good strap length. Here is a good diagram that shows how to use your straps for securing a kayak: Kayak Strap Threading.
Personally, I am old school and like ropes. Ropes are cheap and very versatile. You will still need ropes to secure the front and back of the boats to your bumper. Many boaters skip this extra precaution and many have lost boats when stopping suddenly - learn from their mistakes. Rope systems also allow you to quickly add extra tie downs for more security. When using rope, I really like 1/4" nylon over any other material (sisal, cotton, poly, etc.). Get two 50' rolls, cut in half, singe each end with a cigarette lighter. Add a Figure 8 Loop on one end. Loop through your boat grab loop. That takes care of one end. For the other end, I start with a Truckers Hitch. This knot allows you to really crank down on the rope and still untie the knot quickly. After cranking down, you tie off with a Two Half Hitches knot. I also like to tuck a cheap wash rag between the rope and hood to protect the car finish.
If you follow the above steps, you can drive like a mad man on jeep trails in heavy storm conditions and take comfort that your boats will stay on your car. Trust me, that is a good feeling.
Additional Personal and Group Equipment
Lets picture the scenario where someone is injured and you need to wait for professional help. Another possibility is running out of daylight and it is no longer safe to proceed. In either of these cases, you might have to spend an unplanned night on the river. To handle this scenario, you need to handle the basics:
- Food & Water
It is always a good idea to carry some extra food like energy bars and other high energy food like trail mix and dry noodle mix. You should also have water proof matches or some other fire starter. Some carry a Jet Boil (described below). These items are quite useful for preventing or treating mild hypothermia. Water is a bit more complicated - we need a lot of water to stay hydrated. Although we may carry an extra bottle in the boat, this will not cut it for an overnight stay. Consider adding some water purification tablets to your survival kit (or first aid kit).
You will also need a change of clothes or at least extra layers to stay overnight. Many pack extra clothes in a dry storage bag. Once again, this has a dual purpose as it may help someone with mild hypothermia. I strongly recommend packing a few lawn/leaf plastic bags. They make a great improvised rain suit and take up hardly any extra space.
You will also need to set-up some type of shelter to escape the elements. A tube tent and a space blanket are really cheap, provide adequate protection, and are quick to set up - see below. The lawn/leaf bag can also make a great bivy sack as well.
Simple repair kits containing sewing thread, sewing needle, safety pins, safety razor, duct tape, and a wine cork (to replace a lost drain plug) are quite easy to carry. Also consider packing a small flashlight.
The above items can easily be added to a first aid kit. Alternatively, you can purchase a specially made commercial survival kit for $25: Survival Kit.
In general, kayakers don't need a special hauling line. Get a really good full size throw rope instead. On the other hand, raft supported expeditions may benefit from a 100' or longer low stretch HTP Polyester or Dyneema line - see: Hauling Lines.
Some items of communications gear are the safety whistle, mirror, and cell phone. Cell phone coverage is rapidly improving these days, many rivers outside of West Virginia have decent coverage. Verizon provides pretty decent service on most West Virginia runs as well - even on the Lower Big Sandy which surprised me. Sometimes you can boost signal strength simply by climbing up the hill a bit. You will need to store in a waterproof container like a Shredready Dry Bag or Pelican Box. The cell phone can be a very valuable safety device.
On lengthy boating trips, it really makes a great deal of sense for someone in your group to carry a breakdown paddle. Paddles break, get lost, or get stuck in rocks where they can't be retrieved. On shorter trips, I like to pack hand paddles in my boat as a backup.
Cost varies between $100 - $300 depending on quality: Werner Breakdown Paddle.
This is an optional piece of gear that you may wish to consider on expedition trips with raft support. On typical trips, I highly recommend that each paddler carry the following:
- 4 carabineers - These must be the lockimng variety
- 3 pulleys - These are used in Mechanical Advantage Systems.
- 2 prussic lines - Pre-tie a loop using a triple fishermens knot.
- 1 climbing webbing - 20' long is ideal
Nearly all kayak pins can be extracted with the list of equipment above. If the kayak has air bags, usually a simple tug with rope on the boat pulling it back out from the direction it got pinned will suffice.
The best laid plans go astray sometimes. Imagine a very late put-in, add a few swims and a recovery, and before you know it - you ran out of daylight. This can be a very serious situation if you are not prepared to spend the night. It makes a great deal of sense to pack a lightweight tube tent and an emergency space blanket in a few boats:
Nothing beats a warm beverage when you are really chilly, on or off the river. It is hard to beat a Jet Boil for tasks like this. Cost: $100
Care of equipment
Take care of your boating equipment and it will last many decades. Boats and all other paddling equipment should not be stored in direct sunlight. If you need to store boats outside, purchase a cheap tarp to cover them. Sunlight breaks down plastic over time - not worth worrying about on boating trips but certainly worth considering for extended storage.
I like to wash my paddling clothes, spray skirt, and life jacket by hand in a big tub with a strong anti-bacterial soap like Doctor Bronners Soap. This doesn't take too long. Once finished, rinse thoroughly and hang out to air dry. This will keep your gear smelling fresh and clean and your carpool partners will appreciate that. Helmets, especially those without ventilation holes should be filled with clean tap water, add a tablespoon of vinegar, leave sit overnight. The next morning, empty, pat dry and store upright on a dry shelf. You only need to do this every few months. Here is a great article from NRS on Neoprene Care.
Gaskets should get frequent conditioning with 303 aerospace protectant spray. I would also lubricate dry suit zipper/s periodically. If you get any small tears, patch and seal before your next trip. If gaskets need to be replaced, you can do this yourself or better yet, contact your drysuit vendor for professional repairs. Here is a nice article on how to take care of a dry suit: Dry Suit Care.
One other point worth noting for the winter months. Many of us enjoy practicing our rolls in a nice warm chlorinated pool. Chlorinated water wreaks havoc on boating gear. Immediately after the pool session, rinse thoroughly in plain tap water.
Wood paddles last forever with periodic maintenance. One of mine is over 30 years old and just as good as new - sweet! Fix any gouges soon, place duct tape over the bad spot in the mean time to seal while waiting a repair. Another good way to make a quick small gouge repair is clear nail polish. Every couple of years, lightly sand clean and refinish. If you want to outsource this task, contact Jimmy Snyder: RivrStyx.
Appropriate clothing: comfortable / protective
Clothing for boating is an extremely important piece of gear, that is why I created a separate document for this topic. Dressing appropriately for kayaking can be quite challenging. Can you catch hypothermia in 90o weather? Surprisingly, the answer is yes. Two great examples are:
- Savage River in Western Maryland where the water is released from the bottom of the dam and is often in the low 40's.
- The Grand Canyon (Colorado River) where very long swims are common and the water is around 50o.
Water immersion is amazingly fast at dropping your core temperature.
On the other hand, it is really easy to overheat as well. Although the water is cold on the Lower Yough, if I wear a dry top in the summer I will be overheated by the end of the first rapid.
Both extremes are not only uncomfortable, they can be lead to poor judgment and perhaps harm your health.
Another weather issue common in the summer is sun burn, especially for fair skin individuals. Frankly, I hate oily sun block lotions and even the water proof variety seem to come off. A light colored top like a spray jacket with nothing underneath does a great job of blocking the sun without causing me to overheat. A brim on your helmet or baseball cap can add extra shade protection to your face and eyes. Inexpensive sun glasses can also help protect your eyes.
We also need to deal with land based issues - especially during portages. Flip-flops may look neat but are downright dangerous when navigating rocks. Suitable water shoes are essential or old sturdy tennis shoes if you can wear these in your boat. Another land issue is thick undergrowth and poison ivy. Some type of long pants may be quite beneficial.
Our hands are constantly exposed to wind and water. When it is cold and windy, we can lose functionality in our fingers. Poagies or gloves / mittens (sometimes both) can keep your hands warm and functional. When it is quite cold out, I wear dishwashing gloves under my poagies and the combination is excellent. I don't lose any paddle feel which is common with many whitewater gloves and mitts. I also keep a pair of Glacier Gloves in my kayak for rescue work.
Heat loss is fastest from the head and there are a number of very inexpensive hoods and skull caps to preserve heat.
Due to many advances in whitewater clothing, you don't need to break the bank to stay comfortable.
I will try to list some of this gear below with some recommendations. First off, determine what kind of boating interests you - perhaps you only paddle in warm weather. Give strong consideration to layering systems so you adjust body heat as conditions change throughout the day. Concentrate on the core and your head first. Always wear solid foot protection. Finally, deal with hand protection if necessary.
There are many options available to keep your core warm. When starting out you can certainly save money by purchasing wet suit instead of a dry suit. Wet suits are very easy to repair and provide excellent abrasion resistance. Wetsuits also require very little maintenance. A decent wetsuit will last decades. Most rescue squads have chosen the wetsuit for this reason. The Farmer John style provides excellent warmth and doesn't restrict mobility. Don't choose a scuba diving wetsuit as they are typically too thick, stick with a 3 mm thickness. Wetsuits cost $100 - $150 new and much less used. Dry suits cost $500 - $1,000.
Polypro (or wool) have been used for many years as insulating layers. This type of material lasts many years and is quite inexpensive. Typical cost is $10 - $20 per garment.
Fuzzy Rubber, Hydroskin, Mystery Fabric are various high tech insulating layers. All work great and can be used for three season paddling. Prices range from $50 - $150 and typically last many years. Northwest River Supplies is a great place to check out your options. REI, Hudson Trail Outfitters, and Potomac Paddlesports are excellent places to shop as well.
Rash guards like the shirts from Immersion Research are excellent for sun protection and will not overheat you. They typically run about $30.
Splash tops block the wind. You still need an insulating layer underneath to provide warmth. This can be as simple as a cheap nylon windbreaker from Wal-Mart or specially designed from paddling. Ones made for paddling typically come with neoprene wrists and collar to keep some of the water out. Paddling jackets cost $50 - $100 new.
Dry Tops cover only from the waist up. Just like dry suits, you still need an insulating layer underneath. The wrists and neck are latex gaskets to prevent any water seepage. They also have a tunnel system which allows the jacket to sandwich your spray skirt tunnel. These jackets are incredibly warm and many use for four season paddling. All is fine unless you swim or need to help out in a rescue. If you go this route, consider wearing long pants made with a neoprene material. Prices new are typically $200 - $400.
Skull caps or hoods are the best warm gear investment you can make. Here are some options available at Northwest River Supplies: NRS Skull Cap, Prices are $20 - $30 new. The Storm Hood from NRS is my favorite and costs only $35: NRS Storm Hood.
Many boaters ignore foot protection and go bare foot. Now this may work if you never have to leave your boat, it isn't a very bright practice. In the course of many boating trips, there are a number of places where you may injure your feet without proper protection:
- Put-ins and Take-outs - These are often along steep banks, extended walks, rocky, and sometimes have broken glass and other debris.
- Portages & Shore Scouting - Major drops you don't feel comfortable running. This is usually difficult terrain and may have poison ivy or snakes.
- Rescues - Wet and slippery rocks are the major hazard here.
- Unintentional swims - Sharp rocks and sometimes man-made objects like rebar.
When choosing appropriate foot gear, try to wear something sturdy that still provides easy entry and exit from your boat. On creek boats, this isn't much of a problem. Play boats have a lot less foot room and constrain your options somewhat.
The least expensive alternative is a pair of older sneakers. Sneakers provide excellent foot protection and you can simply toss in the washing machine to clean afterwards.
Whitewater shoes are the ideal choice and there are many brands and models to choose from: NRS Whitewater Shoes. Whitewater shoes provides excellent foot protection and many have soles that are somewhat resistant to slippery rocks. Prices range from $40 - $125.
Whitewater socks may be appropriate for boats where foot room is very tight. Here are some examples: NRS Whitewater Socks. You can add several strips of shoe goo to the soles to make them last longer and provide some tackiness. Prices range from $22 - $40.
I am not a big fan of sandals. They do protect the sole but offer little other protection. They have straps that can get caught and lead to foot entrapment. If you choose sandals, consider wearing neoprene socks and securing the sandals in the boat.
Flip-flops are a very bad choice of footwear as they provide very little foot and ankle protection.
This is one area of cold weather protection that is often debated passionately. All agree that hand protection is vital in cold weather paddling. Many including myself choose Poagies to keep my hands warm while paddling. A Poagie is a cloth device that is secured to your paddle. You slip your hands in and it simply keeps the wind out. While paddling, your hands typically generate enough heat to keep them warm. Poagies also allow you to hold the paddle directly. Here is an example of a Whitewater Poagie.
Immersion Research ($35), and Snapdragon ($30 - $40) all make excellent Poagies.
Gloves and mitts are also popular. Although you lose some feel of the paddle with gloves (or mitts), they really shine when not paddling like rescue efforts. One brand I really like is Glacier Gloves ($40): Glacier Gloves. NRS has a complete line of Paddling Gloves ($25 - $40): . Many really like the NRS Toaster Mitts.
Finally, I would be remiss to not mention plain old dishwashing gloves. These are really lightweight, cheap, and work surprising well. They provide excellent feel of the paddle shaft as well. If wearing Poagies, it doesn't hurt to pack a pair in the boat (or even wear underneath the Poagies). They don't have a lot of insulation but do provide substantial warmth nonetheless.
Oh-oh, here come the skateboarders. Boaters that paddle steep creeks tend to bang their elbows into rocks from time to time - and that really smarts! Most boaters don't need this extra layer of protection. Most elbow pads come from skateboarding. One challenge you will encounter when purchasing is they seem to be sized for kids and are too tight. This is especially true for the Protec lines of elbow pads. This is one piece of gear I highly recommend purchasing at a local outfitter and not via mail order. Here is an examople from NRS: Elbow Pads.
Prices from $25 - $45.
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