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The Basics of Kayaking

Types of Kayaks

There are four broad categories of kayaks: General Recreation, Whitewater, Touring and Racing.


General Recreation

A recreational kayak is for those who want to get out and paddle around on calm water without paddling for long distances. These boats are easy to maneuver and rather stable, perfect for the beginner. Recreational kayaks are also good for activities such as fishing, scuba diving and paddling with small children.



Whitewater kayaks are used primarily on rivers and streams with fast flowing water and rapids. Whitewater kayaks are shorter than touring kayaks because this helps them to turn quickly and easily and maneuver around rocks and other obstacles. 


Longer whitewater boats are typically designed for general river running, kayaks designed for steep creeks are usually shorter with a lot of volume, and whitewater playboats for playing around in rapids are shorter with less volume. 



Touring kayaks are longer and narrower than recreational and whitewater kayaks. They are designed to slice through open water very efficiently, thus enabling the paddler to travel faster and with less effort. 

These kayaks are perfect for paddling over large lakes or in the ocean. Since these kayaks are typically long and thus harder to turn, touring kayaks are often offered with rudders on them to aid in maneuvering the kayak.


Which is the best choice for you?

To determine which kayak is best, you first need to decide what kind of water you will be paddling on. You also need to ask yourself other questions about your paddling objectives. Here are the most basic questions: 


  • Where do you plan to paddle? On small lakes, swift moving rivers, large open bodies of water, or whitewater rivers? 
  • What are your primary reasons for buying a kayak? Relaxation, exploring, excitement, exercise, or all of the above? 
  • How do you plan to use your kayak? Just for paddling or to facilitate other pursuits such as fishing and camping? 
  • Do you need a one or two person kayak? 


Basics of a Kayak

Factors such as length, width, shape of the hull and the rocker all affect how a kayak will perform the water. 



The length of a kayak will give you an idea of how fast it can go.  Longer kayaks generally can travel faster than shorter kayaks and are easier to paddle in a straight line. Shorter kayaks tend to be more maneuverable, they turn more easily which is great if you are avoiding rocks or paddling into tight places. Touring kayaks are usually longer than the other types because they are often used for trips that will require paddling over a distance in wide open water and for carrying gear. 



The width of a kayak is an important factor in stability and speed. The wider a boat is the more stable it will be when getting into it, paddling, and getting out of.  Wider boats have two main drawbacks: speed (or lack thereof), and the increased effort required paddling it.  The wider the boat, the more surface area is in contact with the water thus making it slower.


Wide kayaks, because of their stability, tend to follow the surface of the water. In calm water when you tilt, the kayak doesn't tilt much. This advantage in calmer conditions can be a disadvantage in long trips over rough water, as the kayak reacts to the ever changing slope of the wave tossed open ocean. A more "tippy" kayak ignores most of the motions of the passing waves.


The difference between plastic, fiberglass, wood, Kevlar or carbon fiber.

Plastic is heavier, more resistant to damage, harder to repair.  Fiberglass is lighter, easier to repair, results in finer lines, but is more expensive.  Fiberglass is generally more rigid than plastic, which can result in a faster boat.


Wood is light, easy to repair, needs maintenance.  There are also a few companies that manufacture wood/epoxy-construction kayaks, but they tend to be more expensive.


More exotic materials (like Kevlar, carbon fiber) tend to be lighter and costlier. 


Fitting a Kayak

You can pad any boat, but it should fit fairly well to begin with.  The contact points with the boat are the feet, knees (on the underside of the deck), hips (on the sides of the seat), and bum (on the seat). The size of your feet is a consideration too. In general, a sea kayak needs to be comfortable because you are going to be in it all day, perhaps without a break. Some people prefer a looser fit in a sea kayak than in a whitewater boat, allowing space to stretch and move about.


Mandatory Paddling Equipment

In Canada, the Coast Guard requires paddlers to carry the following six safety items. The quotes below are taken from Canadian Coast Guard Minimum Required Safety Equipment for Canoes, Kayaks, Rowboats and Rowing Shells.

  • One Canadian-approved personal flotation device or lifejacket of appropriate for each person on board
  • One buoyant heaving line of not less than 15 m in length.  A throw bag is a highly recommended safety item for all whitewater paddlers, whether it's a legal requirement or not.  If paddling on the ocean, be sure that any hardware on your line is designed for salt water. 
  • One manual propelling device or an anchor with not less than 15m of cable, rope or chain in any combination.  Spare paddles should be carried somewhere secure yet accessible while on the water. 
  • One bailer or one manual water pump fitted with or accompanied by a sufficient hose to enable a person using the pump to pump water from the bilge of the vessel over the side of the vessel.  A scoop-style bailer works in open canoes, but for the confines of a kayak cockpit a pump is best. 
  • A sound-signaling device or a sound-signaling appliance.  The whistle supplied with many PFDs will meet this requirement. 
  • Navigation lights that meet the applicable standards set out in the Collision Regulations if the pleasure craft is operated after sunset before sunrise or in periods of restricted visibility.


Places to Paddle on the Avalon Peninsula

Below are descriptions of some short routes that are fun and relatively safe for beginner to intermediate paddlers and in some cases, advanced paddlers. All these trips deserve company and the mandatory safety gear. As always thermal protection is as important as a P.F.D. Before setting out on any of these excursions, we strongly recommend you take a certified Paddle Canada Sea Kayaking course which provides the skill and knowledge necessary for kayaking on open water.


Bay Bulls: 

This is the site of our tour launch site and offers sea caves in a relatively protected harbour. From here you can experience some of the best and most scenic areas for paddlers along the peninsula.


Witless Bay: 

Wide open to the sea with a little surf. 



Offers access to some of the best whale watching I have seen. 


Tors Cove: 

Islands and sea birds make for a nice trip. A scoot up to Burnt Cove is easy enough and the island closest to Burnt Cove has a nice beach to go ashore on. This island offers a nice view from the hills.


Cape Broyle: 

A long well protected harbour offers waterfalls, caves, a sea stack and lots of birds. While best seen with an outfitter it is a safe scoot for two or more kayakers with a moderate level of skill. There are not a lot of take outs.


Middle Cove, Outer Cove, Torbay: 

This area offers a great 20 minute to 2 hour paddle depending on how much exploring you do in the various caves and geological anomalies. The tide and swells are dangerous at times but if you pick your day it is close by and an easy paddle. These coves offer many sea caves and are well described in some of the literature available to Kayakers such as Jim Prices book. This area is wide open to the North Atlantic, with few take outs.

The scattered time surprise waves sneak up so watch the waves for a long time before entering a cave.


Conception Bay:

Manuals to Fox Trap harbour take about one or two hours, there is a stone beach the full way, it is safe and relatively easy.


Manuals to Kelly’s Island: 

About half the time the winds and swell come up so we turn around before we get there. It is not a hard paddle but it is an open crossing. Caution is a good attitude. If you leave in the afternoon bring a flashlight. This area is well traveled by recreational boaters and some are very fast.


Manuals to Topsail: 

Return it is about a two hour trip. Be very careful of a shoal that turns ugly in any northerly wind. Surprise waves happen here too.



There is a launch area across from what used to be the Beach Cottage Inn and Restaurant. A paddle into North Arm and out to the Holyrood Head, across by the power plant and back takes several hours and is a longer run than it appears. The cliff has had a bald eagle nest at times which is a site to see. Like many of these runs this trip can be as long or short as you would want.


Conception Harbour to Avondale: 

One of our favorites, this is in a protected area with some old whaling ships on the bottom on the Conception Harbour end. There is no shortage of take outs and once you do a right around the automated light station you can head into Avondale. This area offers the odd seal, Minke whales, seabirds and spectacular sunsets.



A nice harbour with lots of history. Old walls make for an interesting short paddle


Bristols Hope to Carbonear Island to Salmon Cove Sands: 

About 22 KM. it is a neat four or five hour trip. If you get a paddling companion with some knowledge of the local history it can be more than caves, rock splits, gulls, sandy beach etc. A great trip to do on an afternoon and with a packed lunch. 


Smith Sound: 

Runs south west to north east. Keep that in mind when you consider the prevailing winds are south easterly. This is a terrific trip but you want good gear and experienced friends.

The trip out has lots of opportunity to see eagles and osprey. About two thirds of the way up the Sound there is a large mussel farm. There are lots of places to explore.


Easterly winds could make this trip hazardous. There is a potential to get caught by high south westerly’s with two to three meter seas on the Random Sound side. Smith sound offered no protection because of the orientation of the sound to the south west.


This is a nice trip in ideal conditions but a long haul in bad weather with very few take outs: this run is less than ideal.


To do this trip we recommend excellent rescue and self rescue skills as there is a potential for two to three meter seas outside Random Sound and a solid one meter tormented sea in Smith Sound. There are no roads near where you will be paddling. The closest road is where you parked. Cell does not work past Lance Cove. This is a two day trip 40 to 50 Km.


Normans Cove: 

A very interesting for experienced persons only. Lots to explore including caves, islands, put ins, neat geology, around that bay is a nice four hour paddle. Take care a paddler was lost off there in Feb 99.


This is a rough guide of places in and around the Avalon Peninsula. Please note that this is intended for paddlers with their respective courses completed. Please do not paddle alone and ensure you have all the necessary equipment with you at all times.



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