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Have the Right Gear!
Before going out on the water, it is important to be sure you have the right gear and attire. Always wear a properly fitting U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket. Visit the Coast Guard website for more information on selecting a properly-fitted personal flotation device.
It is also important to bring at least two signaling devices, such as a whistle or waterproof flashlight. Reflecting tape, placed on the handle of the paddle or on a jacket, is a simple but helpful signaling tool. Pack personal gear (including a first-aid kit and cell phone) in a waterproof bag or container.
Dress appropriately for weather and water conditions, including air and water temperatures. Expect to get wet at some point in the trip, so consider clothing that can get wet. Protective footwear is advised when paddling rivers and lakes with rocks and sharp edges. During the shoulder seasons when water is cooler, wear a wet/dry suit that preserves body heat in case of sudden immersion.
There are many different types of kayaks. Selecting one should be based upon where you plan to paddle, your skill level, and how far you will typically paddle. A kayak’s hull size and shape greatly determines its performance characteristics.
Kayak Length. As a rule, short kayaks (up to 12 feet) turn easier while longer kayaks (13 feet and over) track and glide easier. Keep in mind that it’s actually the length of a boat’s waterline (the line where the boat actually sits in the water) that is most important. A boat’s waterline may be significantly shorter than its overall length.
Kayak Width. Wide boats offer more initial (primary) stability in calm conditions, while narrower boats go faster and offer better secondary stability if the boat is leaning on its side.
Kayak Depth. A touring kayak’s depth (the height from the hull to the top of the deck) can be 13 to 16 inches. For sit-on-tops, depth can measure from 11 to 16 inches. Larger and taller paddlers should check for ample depth to ensure enough space and legroom. Taller sides help deflect water and may help provide more storage space; the downside is that they catch more wind, which can slow you down.