Stages of Sea Kayaking

For safe and enjoyable kayaking, it is important to develop your confidence in step with your skills. People have differing aspirations and develop at differing rates. If you want to become an expert paddler, SOC will enthusiastically support your development. But if all you want to do is potter gently along, enjoying the scenery and "just be there" there will be plenty of trips, because many of our members enjoy that too.

The guide below will give you an idea of where you are in the spectrum of sea kayaking skill and knowledge and the sort of trips that can be done. If you already have some experience, have a look at the stage descriptions below and tell us where you think you fit into the spectrum. That will help us to advise you which trips are suitable and will have other people who are at about the same stage of development.

As a guide, here are some stages of development rated from 0 to 5. How fast and how far you progress is your own choice, but most people will get to Stage 2 after only two or three trips, stage 3 within a few trips. Those coming from a whitewater background will probably find the paddling skills very easy, but will still need a few trips to get the hang of tides and planning. Stage 5 takes a bit longer and not everyone will aspire to this level!

Stage Skill and knowledge level Typical suitable trips
  • You have never been in a single sea kayak.
  • You have paddled a small kayak on the flat but not moving water.
  • You have been in a double sea kayak with someone more experienced
  • We recommend flat inland water for your very first go in a sea kayak unless you've previously paddled moving water.
  • Derwentwater or Ullswater are good if it is not windy.
  • Ellerton lake is where we hold our sea safety days
  • We sometimes have sea kayak trips on the lower reaches of the Tees as an early season warm up
  • You can make progress but the kayak tends to wander about a bit.
  • You can paddle about 6km and enjoy the trip but you will probably be tired.
  • You have good safety awareness and know what to do if you do capsize
  • You are dependant on your companions for safety and navigation
  • You prefer flat water!
  • Short sheltered trips along the NE coast or the shores of Scottish sea lochs. Good scenery, plenty of wildlife and a good picnic spot.
  • If the weather is calm, we can go out to and possibly land on, some of the small inshore islands.
  • We might use Runswick Bay or Whitby, Loch Etive or Sween. Arisaig Bay is ideal. Castle Stalker from Oban is an interesting objective.
  • We will not be taking you out in choppy water!
  • You can steer and manoeuvre the kayak fairly accurately in all directions in calm water or light winds.
  • You can paddle up to 12 km in a day with fluid paddling action
  • You can steady yourself with the paddle if you wobble and while turning.
  • You will be comfortable in waves that sometimes wash over the deck of your kayak.
  • You co-operate with your companions in a rescue and rescue others in sheltered situations
  • You can navigate in simple situations and good conditions
  • Longer trips in the larger sea lochs and sheltered coastal waters.
  • We can probably tour some islands and make crossings of up to a mile in safe areas in good weather - Coquet Island from Amble is fun if calm
  • There will usually be plenty of wildlife to see
  • Trips linking Runswick Bay or Saltburn with Staithes or Sandsend, or exploring the caves of Flamborough Head with no swell. In the west, St. Bees Head.
  • In Scotland, the Lynn of Lorn and northern Lismore are good venues. So too is Seil Sound and upper Loch Etive
  • Longer tours on freshwater are possible in places such as Loch Shiel, Loch Lomond, Loch Ness or Loch Ericht
  • You can plan simple trips safely
  • Up to 20 km a day is fine
  • Force 3 winds are fine and you are happy in moving water provided it is smooth
  • Your paddling is getting more efficient and you don't need to think about it much now
  • Short bursts at speed are possible
  • You have a repertoire of support and recovery strokes which are becoming reflexive
  • You take an active part if rescued and can rescue others in real situations with a little help
  • You can navigate simple routes accurately and confidently. You have an appreciation of moderate route planning
  • More remote coastlines are possible now. Paddling along by sheer cliffs and around the islands in a swell will be enjoyable.
  • We can cross to some of the larger islands and camp overnight if the conditions are settled.
  • We could run through some of the narrow channels with the tide and thereby extend our range.
  • Coquet Island from Amble with some swell, or the nearer Farne Islands in good conditions
  • In Scotland it's time to circumnavigate some of our beautiful islands such as Kerrera, Seil. The islands and headlands of Loch Sween or Craignish are well worthwhile
  • You will probably want to go out in choppy water
  • You can plan moderate trips yourself
  • You can handle the kayak confidently in up to force 4 winds and choppy seas
  • Moving water is fun and you enjoy crossing eddy lines and using the waves
  • 25-30 km a day will be possible without feeling too tired the next day
  • You will enjoy surf riding moderate waves
  • Your paddling is smooth and efficient with good body rotation
  • You can manage sustained bursts of high speed paddling
  • You can probably roll up again after a capsize in most situations
  • You can rescue and tow others
  • You can navigate tide-ways confidently in good visibility or simple situations in poor visibility
  • You will be confident to plan and paddle your own routes, leading easier club trips, assessing and managing the risks.
  • Now we can paddle in really wild places. We will camp on fairly remote islands.
  • We can stay at sea for several hours at a time without discomfort or feeling unduly tired.
  • We might go and find some tide races just for fun.
  • The Farnes with faster tides or some swell, and surf to get through at Bamburgh.
  • In the right weather, the Garvellachs are reachable with their dramatic cliffs and mysterious ruins. Or a circumnavigation of Raasay, maybe a tour of the western coast of Mull and a visit to Staffa
  • You can plan complex trips
  • The kayak seems to respond to your thoughts. Inch accuracy is possible even in rough water.
  • Cruising seems effortless. 40 km in a day is no problem.
  • You are capable of sustained high speed paddling
  • Big waves with breaking crests are a source of fun.
  • Your rolling is bomb-proof but you almost never capsize anyway
  • You can rescue and assist others in nasty conditions
  • You can accurately navigate in poor conditions and complex tidal situations
  • We can play in the tide races and surf the ocean swell. In the right conditions we will paddle long and exposed coastlines and we will do long crossings in tide-ways and perhaps even in poor visibility. We will paddle by moonlight too.
  • We can paddle to wild and remote places that hardly anyone else can get to. Jura, Coll, Mingulay. Not just in Scotland or the rest of the UK but in Norway, New Zealand, Alaska, Chile, Iceland, Greenland.... anywhere we can get a kayak to or rent one out there. We are not afraid of what the weather might throw at us, but we will still take care, because we have immense respect for the sea

Thanks to Tony Hammock, a former club member, now running up near Oban, for the original on which this document was based.

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