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Last year I participated in River Safety Day, spearheaded by the folks behind the Prairie Lily and Inland Marine Technologies. I attended a few of the planning meetings and got to spend some time that afternoon playing in and on the water doing some rescue demos. It was a great day on the water, even if my capsize was a bit contrived. Although I'm unable to participate this year (I'm attending a canoe course that day!), I look forward to being a part of this event again in the future. They created the following clip to promote this year's event.


Something that I'm often asked about is kayaks for kids. My goal here is not so much to provide an answer (there is no one answer), but to give my opinion and to give you some things to consider. Before I begin, here's a bit of a caveat: 

  1. Before sending your kids off into the great big watery world of paddling set some rules for them and you to live by.
  2. Paddle with your kids.
  3. Consider the conditions: water temperature, wind, weather, boat traffic, currents, and more, and be prepared for those conditions to change.
  4. Keep them close. A kayak can easily move a kid out of a safe range. Winds can easily start pushing them away from safety. Winds often are stronger away from shore. 
  5. Learn some rescue & recovery skills, and practice them!
  6. Learn to tow.
  7. Don't be afraid to play around and have fun. Getting wet can be a fun way to get in some great rescue practice. 
  8. Adhere to the principles of PaddleSmart.

Finding kayaks that fit kids is a challenge. The most common approach that I see is that people buy the shortest kayak that they can find - usually also the cheapest kayak that they can find (typically department store kayaks). The problem with going short in a kayak not designed for kids is that the kayaks are very deep and very wide. These kayaks are meant to keep a 300lb adult afloat. I am no fan of these short, wide poorly designed kayaks (that also lack safety features like bulkheads and perimeter lines) for adults, and it's worse for the kids. Compared to an adult, a kid or teenager has a short torso, short arms, and light weight. The shorter arms and torso mean that they are unable to reach the water with a paddle in a natural and efficient manner. Further, the child's light weight mean that they don't immerse these kayaks to their designed depth and so they float a bit like a leaf on the water. All of this makes them hard to control the direction of, allows them to be easily pushed around by the wind, and generally inefficient to paddle what is already an inefficiently designed kayak. Having said that, these craft can make OK beach toys - paddlecraft that are paddled wading-distance from a swimming beach in very protected waters and calm conditions.

The trouble is that there are few options that fit kids well, and the options that are out there can be hard to find and somewhat expensive. But, there are options. There are a couple of kid-sized kayaks on the market. My kids paddled a Wilderness Systems Tsunami SP (SP = small person), a 12' fully featured sea kayak scaled to fit a kid. I find it tends to fit kids up until about 12 years of age. Another option that will last longer as your kids grow is kayak designed to fit women or smaller-framed adults. As your kids grow though their teenage years, they will quickly be filling in these kayaks and soon be making a great connection with the kayak. Still another option for those with a bit of time and that don't mind tackling a project is a home-built kayak. There are some fantastic kits and plans out there and often these can be scaled to fit the paddler. There is a company in BC that is making a kids kayak (the Squid) as a kit which I've seen in person and it looks just fantastic, would be easy to build, very strong, and light weight. http://www.madekayaks.com/kits/

I have also built a kayak for my kids using the methods and plans shown here: http://www.yostwerks.org There are some great designs, are relatively easy to build over a few weekends, and pretty low cost (I think my little Sea Flea, pictured below, cost about $120 to build using good cedar). These skin-on-frame kayaks are lightweight and way tougher than you might think.

I believe that fitting a kayak is really important for paddlers to have a great experience, for adults and kids alike. I believe that fit is more important than factors such as length, depth and width. By fitting the kayak well we are able to connect with the kayak at our bum, feet, knees/thighs, hips and lower back. These points of connection improve our control of the kayak and help us feel much more stable in the kayak. Poor fit can often be improved with pieces of a closed-cell foam (won't absorb water) glued into place. Extra padding added at the hips and knees can really help us fit our kayaks. As for length, a longer kayak moves more easily through the water than a shorter kayak, and it holds a straight line better. Conversely, a wide kayak moves more slowly through the water. This is another place where the short/wide kayaks don't serve kids well since they are still developing their strength and the short/wide kayaks are the hardest to move forward through the water and the hardest to keep a straight line with. Of course this has to be countered with the amount of kayak that can get pushed around by the wind, and a longer kayak = more kayak to carry around. For a kid or young teenager, I would look at kayaks that are 12' - 15' long. For adults, I consider 14' - 15.5' to be a great length for day-tripping (long enough to move efficiently through the water, short enough not to be more boat than is needed). My 15 year old now paddles a 16' kayak (Wilderness Systems Tempest 160 which is a good size for the smaller-framed adult) for day trips and camping trips.

In short, there is no one right answer but the better that any paddler fits their kayak, the happier and safer they will be.

kayak sandy shore

A good friend of mine died on April 24th. She was driving to Saskatoon with her family to take part in the Saskatchewan Paddling Symposium the next day. Vinessa was a founding member of the Common Currents Paddling Association that I chair, and part of our small organizing committee. The following is an extended version of what I wrote for the Saskatchewan Paddling Symposium website.  

Vinessa speaking at the 2014 Saskatchewan Paddling Symposium that she instigated. Here she displays her ever-present smile in one of it's more subdued forms.  

Passion. Vitality. Energy. Excitement. Enthusiasm. Laughter. Rather busy at times. But above all, passion. These are some of the words and phrases that come to mind as we remember Vinessa Currie-Foster.

On Friday, April 24th, 2015, the night before the Saskatchewan Paddling Symposium, Vinessa was en route to Saskatoon for the symposium with her young family. Tragically, she never made it to her destination and the paddling world, her family, friends, and all who knew her, are left to mourn her passing. Vinessa

Coldspring Paddling Instruction now offeres rolling lessons! Rolling is the ultimate kayak recovery skill, allowing the overturned kayaker to right his or her kayak and continue to paddle without stopping to empty the kayak of water, get back in to the kayak, get sorted out, and finally get paddling once again. Rolling may not be for everyone, but for many of us it is a fantastic goal.

Why learn to roll?

  •     It is a fast and effective recovery technique for when things go wrong.
  •     It helps to develop confidence in the kayak.
  •     It helps us to take on more adventurous water
  •     It helps us develop great kayak control
  •     It's FUN!

These clinics will primarily be offered in the pool, but some may be offered during the summer months at the lake. Click here for the current list of rolling clinics on offer: http://coldspringpaddling.com/lessons/rolling-clinic.html

Last week while packing for a canoe trip I was contacted by Global Saskatoon to comment on how to survive after a mishap on a paddling trip. In addition to being a paddling instructor, I am the Paddle Canada representative for Saskatchewan, and am a co-author of the AdventureSmart paddling safety awareness program called PaddleSmart.

The interview follows on the recent tragic death of David Dice along the Churchill River, a section that I paddled in 2010. I do not know the details of what happened, but according to news reports David was found below Needle Falls on Kinosaskaw Lake. Shortly after David was found by fishermen, his wife Enid Dice was found upriver somewhere along Needle Rapids. She had been there without supplies for 8 days. The reports don't offer much for details, though they do mention she had a fire going (it will make your life easier to have some reliable means of starting a fire on your life jacket or in a pocket, and redundancy is good!). The Dices are very experienced outdoorspeople and paddlers, and David's early death is a loss to the paddling community. My condolences go out to all of those grieving David's death.

http://globalnews.ca/video/1533357/surviving-eight-days-in-the-wilderness A few more details were reported via CBC: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/saskatchewan/details-emerge-on-sask-couple-s-tragic-canoe-adventure-1.2750011

One of the first people to speak to Enid after the ordeal was Ric Driediger, owner of Churchill River Canoe Outfitters, who was also one of the last people to see the couple before they set out on their trip.
He says he learned, from Enid, that the couple's canoe capsized as they were navigating a set of rapids on the lake known as Needle Falls*.
They were separated and Enid swam to shore with her husband's backpack that had a sleeping bag and an emergency fire-starting kit. There was no food, however.

*I wonder if this statement as reported is correct. It seems more likely that they were running Needle Rapids (C2+ to C3), about 2.25 km above the falls, or the outlet from Sandfly lake (C3), a further 1 km above Needle Rapids. It seems unlikely that they would have been running the falls (C5), but the earlier sets of rapids are manageable for the canoeist with skills in rapids. This also makes sense since Enid had no gear other than what she swam to shore with and was separated from her husband who was reportedly found on Kinosaskaw Lake in the eddy below the falls. Were the capsize to actually have occurred at the falls, she would have been mere meters from her late husband, the overturned canoe and much of the gear including the SPOT.  A map of the region: Open this map full screen.

Aerial view of the rapids at the outlet of Sandfly Lake. We portaged these.
Class 3 rapids at the outlet of Sandfly Lake.
Uppermost portion of Needle Rapids from the spot where we scouted the set. This is the river left channel. 
Jay & Rod scouting Needle Rapids. 

David & Enid's Blog: David and Enid's Travels

Here are some items you should consider having with you, or on you, whenever you head out paddling. Most of these items will fit into a small pouch that can be attached to the life jacket or contained in a pocket. These items are described as "The Essentials Plus" in the PaddleSmart program:

    • Transport Canada Required Items:
      1. Life jacket
      2. Whistle
      3. Throw bag
      4. Bailer
      5. Waterproof flashlight

  • Other Essential Items:
    1. Fire making kit
    2. Signalling device (e.g. whistle, signal mirror)
    3. Extra food and water
    4. Extra clothing
    5. Navigation & communication devices
    6. First aid
    7. Emergency blanket or shelter
    8. Knife
    9. Sun protection
    10. (the 10th item on the Ten Essentials AdventureSmart list is a flashlight, already lsited above)
In the pocket of my PFD I have a small pouch that in the video linked above has had the contents spread out. The contents include a signal mirror, granola bar, fishing line, snare wire, ~20' of thin cord, orange bandana, emergency blanket, lighter, & fire starter. In the canoe or kayak I also almost always have extra clothing, rain gear, some form of shelter (tarp &/or a bothy bag), extra food, water (though we can usually drink our water from the lake), first aid kit, more lighters, matches and fire starting stuff. 


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