Making Your Kayak Yours, and Yours Alone
A bare hull becomes a boat only when it's fully outfitted. Even the
ancestor of the modern recreational kayak was much more than skin
stretched over a driftwood framework. Far from being a "primitive"
craft, it was instead a complex and sophisticated system, combining the
functions of transport, shelter, and weapons platform in one integrated
Your new kayak is no different. Even if you buy a
"fully-outfitted" or "expedition" model, you'll probably find that you
need to add fittings and accessories before your boat is ready to take
you where you want to go.
You're in good company. A typical West Greenland kayak sported deck
thongs and a "kayak stand"a foredeck-mounted hoop holding a long,
coiled line. This line joined the detachable head of the Inuit hunter's
harpoon to a large sealskin float on the stern deck of his kayak. Not
surprisingly, the stand was similar in both function and appearance to
the reels used by some bow-fishermen today. The hunter wore a sealskin
tuvilik, a long, waterproof anorak serving as both paddle-jacket
and spray skirt. He also carried a harpoon and throwing-stick, in
addition to a killing lance. As he approached his prey, he'd tuck his
paddle under a deck thong and pick up the harpoon, while a detachable
skeg kept his boat on course.
Since you probably won't be hunting seals with your kayak, you can
dispense with both harpoon and lance. But what will you want in
your "tool kit"?
Easy. Let's say you'll be using your new boat to explore waters
ranging from estuaries to easy (Class I-II) rapids. You'll need the
following: inflatable float-bags (including a paddle-float to aid in
self-rescue), shock-cord deck tie-downs, a perimeter grab-line and a
painter, andto make loading and unloading gear easierone or
more watertight hatches. Depending on the handling characteristics of
your boat, you may also decide you need a rudder. Later, as your
voyages take you out across large expanses of open water, you'll want
to add a deck-mounted compass and an installed bilge-pump, as well.
Float-bags are essential in any kayak lacking watertight bow and
stern compartments. Belt-and-suspenders types will even put float-bags
behind watertight bulkheads. Ideally, every corner of your boat not
claimed by gear (and you should pack as much of this in waterproof bags
as you can) or given over to your own good self should be filled with
float-bags. When you capsize and make a wet exitit's when
and not if, I'm afraid, however skillful you may beyou'll be glad
you took the trouble. Not only will your kayak stay on the surface, but
you'll find that the extra flotation makes the difficult job of bailing
out a swamped boat much easier.
A stern painter ("tow-line") and a perimeter grab-line will
facilitate rescue and recovery, too, as well as helping in other hard
chances. Test both before you need them!
Luckily, emergencies don't happen every day. But you'll find a use
for your deck tie-downs on each trip. You won't need to keep a harpoon
handy, but you'll want to consult a map now and again. No problem. Just
put your maps and charts in a waterproof envelope with a transparent
window, and then tuck it where you can see it as you paddle. (A short
safety lanyard connecting map-case and kayak is a good idea.) You'll
also want a spare paddle, of course. It can go under the tie-downs on
the stern deck. And that's only the beginning. You'll find new uses for
your deck tie-downs every time you go out. Just don't pile your gear
too high. Deck cargo adds wind-resistance and makes rescues more
Will you need a rudder? That depends on your kayakand on you.
A rudder is no substitute for paddling skill, nor is it primarily for
steering your boat. Still, many kayaks show a pronounced tendency to
"weathercock," or turn into the wind, particularly when paddled in
strong cross-winds. A rudder can make such boats much more manageable.
Long trips will therefore be much less tiring, and you'll be safer.
There's a downside to rudders, however. They're often worse than
useless on fast-moving rivers, they add unavoidable complexity, and
they're vulnerable to damage. The best advice? Learn to control your
boat in protected waters before you go shopping for a rudder,
and then try before you buy, in as wide a range of conditions as
Once you start thinking about trips that take you over the horizon,
you'll want a desk-mounted compass, and you'd be wise to consider an
integral bilge pump, too. All kayaks ship small amounts of water when
they're under way. No hatch or spray skirt is absolutely watertight,
and rudder fittings always leak. If your plans include extended
open-water crossings, you'll be glad that you can pump out bilge water
before it affects your boat's handling qualitiesand without
removing your spray skirt. Think of a bilge pump as a flood insurance
policy. You won't need it often, but when you do need it, you'll really
That's enough to get you started. You'll probably have your own
additions to the list, but this is part of the fun. A kayak's the best
type of personal watercraft, after all. Just don't get carried away.
Put safety first and comfort and convenience second, and leave the
clutter at home. Paddle a clean machine. 'Nuff said.
Copyright © 2001 by Verloren Hoop Productions. All