Open Water Skills
Why do we kayak on open water? We like the rhythm of paddling and the feeling of being out on open water, responsible for and in control of our actions. We like the sensation of freedom under a big blue sky, separated from solid ground, and the three-dimensional movement accentuated by wind, waves and swells. When one is completely immersed in the elements, experience is heightened as increased awareness is demanded and dulled senses are rejuvenated.
For open water kayakers, this can mean paddling in the exposed waters around Lion Island at the mouth of Broken Bay, exploring the bays of Sydney Harbour or perhaps a short trip ‘outside’ from Jervis Bay. It can also involve paddling on large bodies of exposed water such as the Myall Lakes or in the Shoalhaven Gorge where winds can require more advanced skills than flatwater paddling.
Open water kayaking is the next step up from flatwater and requires higher skill and fitness levels from the paddler. It also opens up far more opportunities for waterways to be paddled, whether a 30 kilometre day trip or a multiday expedition, and because of the expanded horizons offered it is where flatwater paddlers graduate as they develop their kayaking skills and knowledge. As a River Canoe Club member, your journey into open water kayaking is supported by Club training and skills development days and our Australian Canoeing qualified instructors. Then there are the tips and advice experienced members can offer and the personal experience one builds up by coming on Club trips and weekends away.
Trips are graded according to the PaddleNSW Sea/Open Water grading system. Sea kayaking trips are likely to be graded SO3 or SO4. Check the Paddler Competencies guide to see that you have appropriate skills for the grade of the paddle.
The Sea/Openwater Grading System is an indication of the expected difficulty for a designated journey rather than a specific area or site. It is based on the paddling trip being carried out in up to “moderate” wind conditions (i.e. Beaufort Scale Force 4, 20-28 Km/ h, 11-16 Knots). It is the overall grade for the trip also taking into account factors such as expected water conditions, swell, type of entry and exits distance between suitable landing spots and from land or forms of support and rescue, type of coast and other hazards (rocks, reefs, vessels etc.).
It should always be remembered that a significant change in the intensity or direction of the wind or swell could turn a comfortable paddling trip on the sea or openwater into a challenging and potentially dangerous situation in a matter of minutes. Be prepared with the appropriate equipment, skills and knowledge including an awareness of the current weather forecast.
SO3 and SO4 Paddler
SO3: Sheltered coastal waters with possible wind against wave or tide effects and moderate breaking seas. Possible surf entry and exits less than 1m, currents <4km/h, up to 5km crossings or from safe landing sites.
SO4: Unsheltered coastal waters may encounter steepening swell and breaking seas, wind against wave or tide effects. Entry and exits may be difficult and involve negotiation of surf up to 2m. May involve fast currents <7km/h and <10km crossings or from safe landing sites
Sea kayaking beginner sessions advertised on the Club calendar can be conducted in sheltered waters for example, on Sydney Harbour or Botany Bay, at Bundeena or protected areas within Jervis Bay. Although learning within a group, how to enter and exit the surf and manage water chop and waves, you will need to be more self sufficient in a capsize situation. Also the group will paddle as fast as the slowest paddler and it can be stressful to the individual if they are struggling to keep up. It is best to seek assistance from a Club leader to assess your competence before entering these waters.
For sea kayak competencies SO3 and SO4 it is very much about paddle strength and efficiency and your ability to mange the ever-increasing elements of the environment. You will need to build strength by paddling often and participating in multiple SO1 and SO2 graded trips as you can be called to paddle 20 – 30kms in SO3 and SO4 trips. .
SO5: Unsheltered coastal waters, isolated remote areas and ocean with crossings or distance from safe landing sites of up to 30km. May encounter large, steep swell, breaking waves and complex fast currents. Possible dangerous surf entries and exits >2m
Specific training for sea kayak guides is recommended for those wishing to paddle in the seas off the coast, SO5. The Club’s sea instructors will run these courses when there is demand.
Open Water Skills
There is no substitute for time on the water, with experienced paddlers – learning many new skills. The following sets out a sample of some key skills:
- Assisted x-rescue (deep-sea rescue)
- Assisted scoop rescue
- Surf launching
- Reading the weather conditions