May 2017 - KAYAKING & CANOEING
Paddler’s Checklist for Spring
By Alan Mapes
It’s finally here – paddling season! The winter seemed especially long, since I did not get to paddle down south this year. Five months or more have sped by since I was last out in the kayak, and it’s time to get ready. Here are some thoughts, tips, and observations on preparing for the paddle season.
Collect Your Gear
If you are like me, entropy takes over during the off-season. Items in my kayaking kit seem to creep away from each other like the expanding universe. Now is the time to pull it all together, check the condition of everything, and wash up the items that need it – pretty much everything.
Check Over the Boat
After a winter in the shed, or worse yet stored outdoors, the kayak or canoe needs a good spray down with the hose on the lawn. I give it a good spray inside the hatches, dump that water out, and get the last bit with a sponge. Sand and other gunk collects with the last bit of water and the sponge helps me get it out. Spiders and other invaders come out as well. Pay attention to adjustable foot pegs. They often get sand in the sliders and can stick if not cleaned out occasionally. My foot pegs have a metal track, and the aluminum builds up corrosion after a few years. I may have to lube them with a little WD-40 to get them working well.
If water does not remove the stains on the kayak, you can use cleaners. For glass boats, I occasionally work them over with polishing compound. The more abrasive rubbing compound can be used if you really need it. Skegs and rudders are a common source of trouble. Check the operation of these parts if you have them and get the cables replaced if needed.
I’ve preached it before, but 303 Aerospace Protectant is wonderful stuff for your kayak. It’s a UV protector liquid and it’s advertised as “SPF 40 for your stuff.” Spray it on your plastic or fiberglass boat and wipe it around with a cloth. It shields the material from the sun and seems to rejuvenate the colors. If you have flexible hatch covers, the sun can deteriorate them over time, making them crack and fall apart. A new set of three hatch covers for my sea kayak runs nearly $200, so I am sure to give them the treatment several times a season. Here is the added secret – a coat of 303 makes the covers go off and on much easier! The stuff also adds life to latex gaskets on paddle clothing and it’s good for plastic paddle blades.
Finally, I will make sure the sticker inside my kayak is still readable, replacing it if needed. This sticker has my name and contact information. If my empty boat is found floating somewhere, the authorities will know who to call to see if the paddler is okay. These stickers are available free from the US Coast Guard and from NYS Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. While I’m at it, I will write down the serial number of the boat and will keep it somewhere safe, so I have it in case someone walks off with my kayak.
I will go through all the pockets, checking the gear that I always keep in the vest. Chances are that I may find an old granola bar wrapper from last fall. Be careful about keeping snacks in your life jacket, as rodents may chew the pockets open to get at the goodies! A good washing in the tub with laundry soap will give the life jacket a longer life. I will make sure the whistle that’s tied to my life jacket still works – a “signaling device” is a Coast Guard requirement. A small compass lives in another pocket. I’ll check to see that it still points north.
Most of us have two-piece paddles that have a locking ferrule in the middle. Ferrules can be trouble if they get a bit of sand in them, jamming the locking piece. I wash out the openings with a hose to remove any gunk. The edges of my paddle blades sometimes take a beating from rocks, logs and sandy lake bottoms. If the edges are getting chipped and sharp, a bit of sand paper action will smooth them out.
Check for leaks in those things that should not leak! My dry bags will get checked by sealing them up and compressing them, listening and feeling for leaks. If you want to be really sure, hold the bag under water and look for bubbles. I did just that with my paddle float the other night during our practice night at the Duanesburg YMCA pool. A stream of bubbles came from a small cut in the float. I will try sealing it up with Aquaseal – if that does not work, a new float will be my next purchase.
Safety Bag and First Aid Kit
I always paddle with a small dry bag containing safety items, including a first aid kit, flash light, poly shirt, duct tape, snack food, etc. Remember that items in the first aid kit need renewing periodically. Meds go out of date, band aids dry out and things get used up, so I will check and replenish those things. Granola bars from last year will be replaced. New sunscreen will be added.
Car Top Straps and Carriers
Car-topping boats is serious business. They don’t fly loose very often, but if it happens the consequences can be dire. Check over your straps and ropes, replacing any that are suspect – it’s cheap insurance. I carefully pull on the straps to test the cam fasteners. I had one set of straps with bad cam locks – they would not stay tight, with the straps slipping through the cams. Those straps got pitched in the trash, tout de suite! Even when the cam fasteners seem to be working well, I don’t trust them. I always add a simple jam knot after tightening the straps with the cam.
Your rack system is the other important link in keeping a boat on the car. I happen to use Thule brand racks, but there are several other good brands available, including Yakima, and many people just use the cross bars that came on the vehicle. Check over your equipment and make sure it’s installed well. A friend had his Thule racks fly off the car last year, along with the two fiberglass sea kayaks attached! It was very lucky that the only damage was to the boats.
Connect With Other Paddlers
Unless you are a confirmed hermit, you will want to connect with other paddlers and take part in the community of water fanatics in your area. In the Capital Region, the Adirondack Mountain Club’s Albany Chapter started their Tuesday evening paddle trips the last week in April. Outings will run every week until late October (adk-albany.org). Other ADK chapters have paddle outings as well. The Capital District Kayakers Meetup group hosts outings throughout the year, including winter paddle trips in Florida (meetup.com/capital-district-kayakers).
Finally, won’t you please make plans to take a friend, a colleague or a kid out paddling this year? Let’s all make an effort to share the fun, the excitement, and that indescribable feeling of being on the water in a hand-powered boat!
Alan Mapes (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a sea kayak instructor and guide, certified by the American Canoe Association and Paddlesports North America. He lives near Delmar and offers kayak instruction through the Capital District Kayakers Meetup Group.