Viewing 33 posts - 1 through 33 (of 33 total)
  • jambourgie

    Ok, where to begin..?

    I’ve randomly become the proud, and somewhat extremely excited owner of a kayak!

    I’ve never used one before, and know nothing. Not a jot. The kayak is a ‘Dagger’ and is a nasty florescent colour made of plastic. I’m in the wonderful sailing city of Sheffield, but have the boat stored next to the canal, and a stones throw from the river Don. I can’t wait to get out in it, but as a complete beginner thought it prudent to ask for guidance and advice on a cycling forum…

    So many questions, I’ll just blurt them out, and if anyone has any advice at all i’d appreciate it.

    So, my plan is to start on the canal, on a Sunday evening. The alternative is the river Don, but that has weirs and sewage outfalls etc etc. The canal does have narrow-boats, though not many on that stretch, and unlikely to be much traffic on a Sunday night. What are your thoughts on these waters? I could put it on the roofrack and go out to a reservoir or something if need be, but can’t really be bothered with that at the minute.

    My main question is: how do you get in? stepping off the lip of the canal into the kayak seems precarious. Will it capsize? Is capsizing likely in calm water generally? I’m not squeamish about getting wet at all and happy to give the stoned yoof some lols. But I’d rather not fall in the canal too often as I imagine it’s mainly composed of rats piss and diesel. How do I get out? Will it float off whilst I’m dithering?
    What’s the etiquette on the water regarding other craft? People fishing? Locks? Get out and carry it round I hopefully assume? Sewage? Weirs? Weils disease? Any other dangers? What’s my boat like? Is it up to the job? There’s a cord off to the right that seems to operate a rudder. What’s that for? There’s also an adjustable footboard? Any other essentials I need? I bought a paddle today btw 🙂

    That’s all I can think of at the moment. But remember, I know nothing. So any input no matter how obvious would be great. Thanks!

    Premier Icon dissonance

    Most essential gear is a bouyancy aid.
    Dagger are a make so could be one of many models.
    The cord on the side sounds like its for a skeg. It helps keep the kayak in a straight line when you have a side wind. Downside is makes it harder to turn.
    Definitely avoid weirs as they can be lethal and some dangerous ones look benign.
    Stepping into a kayak from the bank is a good test of balance and one I often fail (due to where I mostly play I am either paddling from a launch ramp or seal diving in of the edge).

    Given the other questions I would suggest looking at joining a club or maybe post on riverguidebook and see if you can get a few hours tuition from someone.
    I am not really a fan of paddling alone and would definitely be adverse to doing so whilst trying to teach yourself. Rescuing a boat out of a canal or even yourself could be a challenge depending on the banks.

    Premier Icon notmyrealname

    I can’t really help much but me and my other half went to a local lake to see about SUP lessons and ended up taking a couple of kayaks out for an hour. Neither of us had kayaked before but we picked up the basics fairly quickly and had a great time.

    We were looking at getting a couple of cheap kayaks to use in local canals and possibly rivers but never got around to it so I’ll be following this thread to see what advice you get!


    As you need to ask this question…

    how do you get in?

    … please join a club or find someone to take you out and teach you some basics. Kayaking even on flat water can get you in some tricky situations if you don’t know what your doing.

    Premier Icon matt_outandabout

    Ordinarily I would say go for it, but I share the concern that the canal is a place of depth and hidden hazard with your level of knowledge and lack of even knowing how to get in, let alone out.

    FWIW, I’ve paddled that canal a lot in the past.

    You need to speak to my pal Dan and get some coaching, even if it is just one session.

    Whohoo, I just realised that’s our trip on the Spey a few years back in the front of his site.


    If my post sounded irresponsible or cavalier with regards to safety etc, it’s more because I’m excited about it and was trying to make the post lighthearted. I’ve actually had the kayak a while but have been reading, and waiting for the warmer weather etc. I’m not just going to load the boat up with beers and chuck myself down a canyon (yet)…

    That being said, I’m not going to be joining a club. That’s just not going to happen. Not because I think I’m the shit and don’t need the tuition, it’s just, I dunno, not why I like doing things like this. I always go out on the bike alone etc… That being said, I might if I wanted to take it further. But as far as risk assessment and personal responsibility goes – a first time go on the canal, after a lot of research, in the middle of the summer with a mate on the bank laughing at me is acceptable.

    A few valid points made. Especially about getting out of the canal should one fall in etc. But also a few people saying ‘there are dangers’, but then not elaborating…


    <quote>FWIW, I’ve paddled that canal a lot in the past.</quote>

    So how did you get in? (and out)

    Thanks for the coaching recommendation, I’ll make a note of that should I get into it.

    Premier Icon dissonance

    Not because I think I’m the shit and don’t need the tuition, it’s just, I dunno, not why I like doing things like this. I always go out on the bike alone etc

    When you learnt to ride did you do it yourself? Kayaks have the disadvantage if it does go wrong you are in a hostile environment.
    I mostly ride alone but I dont paddle alone. I know some who do but they all paddle well within their comfort zone and even then acknowledge the risks (the reason people arent listing the dangers is that the list is rather long).
    Could your mate rescue you if you wet exit and trap your foot on the footrest or on a shopping trolley. How competent are they at dragging someone up a bank and at that point you say goodbye to the boat.

    Its not that the risk are insurmountable but I really, really would recommend getting some basic tuition and get someone to paddle with (preferably two).

    Premier Icon Greybeard

    If you’re going for it anyway, despite advice above

    – definitely wear a buoyancy aid.

    – when getting in, sit on the bank with your feet in the cockpit, facing diagonally toward the front. Reach down and grip the centre of the back of the cockpit rim. Put your other hand flat on the bank, support your weight on your hands and slide your feet into the front of the kayak. Don’t put weight on your feet, keep your weight on your hands and lower yourself into the seat.

    – be aware that you’re supposed to have a licence to use the canal, although I’ve only once been asked for it. If you want one, it’s cheaper to join British Canoeing than buy a licence from Canal & Rivers Trust. Most lakes and reservoirs will require some kind of permission.

    – to get out of the kayak if you tip it over, grip the sides of the cockpit and forward roll, so that your feet exit the front smoothly. If you go straight for the surface your feet twist the opposite way and can get caught in the kayak.

    – canals often have weed, mud and debris such as old bikes which you can get caught on if you swim.

    – keep right if there’s a boat coming the other way


    Thanks Dissonance,

    The bike analogy probably wasn’t the best. But I probably got help to ‘balance’ on the bike. But after that I was off! (feral 80’s youth)

    Losing the boat isn’t an issue. It was given to me, easy come – easy go. And fair point, my mate wouldn’t want to get his clothes wet saving me so…

    Getting someone to paddle with is never going to happen. The fact that I have acquired a kayak in an inner city is already an amusing talking point in my circle of friends 🙂 I’ve seen a lot of people out today in those blow-up canoes but that looks like far too much hard work.


    Greybeard, thanks! Just the kind of thing I was after.

    What’s the likelihood of tipping it over? In what circumstances would that happen?

    Premier Icon ajaj

    In what circumstances would that happen?

    From a novice perspective; because you overreach sideways, because you overcorrect for overreaching sideways, because you’re playing around trying to find the tipping point, because your paddle gets stuck under the boat, because you’ve got the front and back in different speed flows, because the wind did something funny, because you get caught by a wave, because the person in front of you capsizes and you try to avoid hitting them, because you hit a rock, because your instructor is feeling sadistic and because your rolling isn’t any good.

    Different boats are differently tippy, a racing boat will be less stable that a seaside sit-on-top for hire.

    The forward roll thing only works if you’re short, if you’re tall you wil have to push out. I thought that the official syllabus has been changed to reflect what people do rather than what used to be taught.

    My instructor was self taught by trial and error, so it is possible to do so without dying.

    Having done basic kayaking in a swimming pool and later a Loch you’re frankly off your head if you’re even contemplating going alone.

    Capsizing is easily done and is the first thing you learn how to avoid or mitigate. Bumping into something or just passing a boat under power would be enough.

    Premier Icon tomd

    Do you know the model of the boat? Dagger made some quite nice kind of inland gentle touring boats that could be quite good for exploring canals and the like.

    The probability of falling in is high. In fact to learn to kayak you need to fall in a lot as many of the skills involve going off balance or upside down. It’s why a pool, nice beach, sheltered loch/river can be a friendlier place to start out than a canal. Different boats have very different stability characteristics – some are more stable than others but they’ll all tip in. Once you’re experienced the probability of falling in on flat water is low but it does happen.

    Some people take to the balance very quickly, others are like inverse wibbles. Getting in from high canal sides is just a skill to learn involving balance. If you can find a ladder that would give something to hold. Kayaking is a sport where some basic coaching (even from a friend) really helps – some skills are not intuitive. So even a fair bit of youtube or a book would really help.

    Re. etiquette if it’s a British Waterways canal you need a license. It’s not a lot or comes free with a British Canoe Union membership. It’s the sort of thing that you could get away with but if you’re around locks and boaters best play by the rules.

    Canals can be really interesting from a urban exploration point of view but they always gave me the fear for kayaking. We used to do some training on them and I never liked the manky water, the hidden crap and the fact you can’t get more than 7m away from any neds on the towpath! From a safety point of view you’ll probably be fine as long as you get a BA and stay away from any moving water, weirs etch until your confident. Pay attention to Weil’s disease too.


    how do you get in? With balance and care following the techniques your instructor showed you. Exact technique varies subtlety with the situation, boat, bank, etc. harder on your own too as you have to stop the boat moving away from the bank and keep your paddle in reach. Experienced people make it look easy – beginners often go for a swim!

    Will it capsize?
    Yes. How easily depends on the boat, the conditions and the skill of the paddler but you should always expect a kayak trip to result in a capsize.
    Is capsizing likely in calm water generally?
    Yes. As above. Very difficult to learn how to kayak without learning how not to kayak sometimes! Experienced people in stable boats in calm water will capsize much less than beginners.

    But I’d rather not fall in the canal too often as I imagine it’s mainly composed of rats piss and diesel. It probably is and that’s just the stuff you can see. Oozing mud, weed, ropes, Dog shit from lazy owners, shopping trolleys and god knows what else are lurking in there too.

    How do I get out? As per advice on entering! Also reasonable chance of taking a swim here! How good at getting out a swimming pool with no step, that height above the water? Assume your feet don’t reach the bottom then it’s a bonus if you can stand up.

    Will it float off whilst I’m dithering?
    probably. You’ll need to learn to read the wind as well as paddling. At least on the canal you have no current.

    What’s the etiquette on the water regarding other craft? People fishing? How did you learn those things for riding a bike on the road? Driving a car? Skiing or any other activity where you might harm yourself or others? I like paddling on my own, in my ability in sensible conditions. I like that because I have had some instruction which means I am not fighting with the basics, panicking when I see another boat and understand how not to piss other people off. Wakes from boats have the potential to capsize you. 50 tons of poorly controlled metal has the potential to do serious damage/injury even at 3mph. Propellers are basically mincing machines without guards. Fish hooks can blind.

    Locks? Get out and carry it round I hopefully assume?
    Do not even consider going near a lock until you are confident with everything else – Even then you are going to carry your boat (portage), but water is moving, traffic is focussed on the lock, Banks are often steeper and higher, so all the other problems are increased.

    Sewage? Weirs? Weils disease? Any other dangers? lots – it’s why people get instruction. Given you mention weirs you are talking moving water so need to understand strainers and the risk they present.

    <quote>What’s my boat like? Is it up to the job? your question is like saying I’ve bought a specialized bike – what’s it like…

    There’s a cord off to the right that seems to operate a rudder. What’s that for?
    Unless you’ve got something specialised it won’t be a rudder. The instructor would be able to teach you when to use the skeg to improve control…

    There’s also an adjustable footboard? the instructor would also be able to explain how to set that to be a size that fits (not as intuitive as you might thing – you sit with your legs in a slightly odd position to get power from them and use your body not your arms).

    Any other essentials I need? several people have mentioned the need for a bouyancy aid, nonE of which you acknowledged. Once your instructor has taught you how to use one, a spray deck makes a difference for anything other than quite boring trips… don’t use one until you’ve been shown how to fit it properly and how to escape with it on.

    Premier Icon simondbarnes

    There are loads of videos on youtube, just watch a few of those. Here is how to get into and out of a kayak. Simple.

    Premier Icon Marko

    Lots of good advice up there. Listen to it.

    All I will add is DON’T START ON A CANAL!!

    You need somewhere with lots of easy exits, as you’ll be more than likely swimming to the side dragging a boat behind you.

    Premier Icon timidwheeler

    You got a picture of the boat so we can try and ID it?


    Brilliant, thanks everyone. Lots to think about. I might take it out to a reservoir to get a hang for it. I thought the canal would be a perfect place to start, but clearly not.

    Interesting about the potential for capsizing. A lot of binary opinions on this, not just on here.

    I was reading a Guardian article last night about someone who takes tourists out in kayaks on night jaunts along the Thames near Tower Bridge! How are these complete novices not capsizing on a busy, choppy tidal river? Type of kayak maybe?

    Just looked,

    Mine’s a Dagger Katana.



    First of all welcome to kayaking, out on the water is a great place to be. I’ll reiterate what others have said about getting some coaching if you want to go out alone. It’s similar to deciding you want to drive and getting in car, you probably want a session with an instructor first. Water is dangerous but its often not obvious what the dangers are until you have some experience.
    Also get a buoyancy aid, its amazing how helpful they are when your head hits the cold murky water.
    For getting in get yourself as low down as possible, as funny as it is watching someone step into the cockpit from the bank it doesn’t work. Greybeards instruction are a good starting point. For getting out on a canal get sideways on to the bank, slide your bum out to sit on the back of the cockpit, then pull yourself up on the bank with your arms. If your boat starts to float away you can pull it back with the end of the paddle once your out.
    For the first few times you will go round in circles, this will go away with practise (quicker with coaching). Things that make you go in a circle are: pulling with one arm more than the other, sitting off to one side of the kayak, sweeping your paddle wide.
    Try to sit upright or even lean slightly forward, if you slouch backwards the kayak is wobblier.
    For the adjustable foot plate you want it so you can push gently on it with alternate feet as you paddle.
    If your kayak doesn’t already have them then put air bags in the back. It means there is less water to move and empty when you inevitably capsize.
    OK so now some of the dangers.
    Canals: All sorts of stuff on the bottom to get caught on if you capsize especially in an inner city. Canal barges, pass as far away as you can from these as they may not have seen you and produce a wake as they pass. Weils disease – this is mainly on the bank that you will be touching, don’t touch your face or eat until you have washed your hands. Get out and walk around locks.
    Rivers: Get out and walk around all weirs even if you have seen someone kayak down it before. Some weirs are fun to play on one day and a watery death the next, so don’t touch them unless you can tell the difference. Flowing water – will make you more likely to capsize, it can also try to push and trap you under trees, trap your feet in rocks/weeds on the bottom, the faster the flow the harder it is. Get some instruction before going on anything but the very slowest flowing rivers
    Lakes: Wind can push you away from the banks, the water can be much colder than you would expect. If you do go on a lake stay near the bank as you will be swimming yourself and your kayak there to get out.
    After all that don’t let us put you off. Its great fun and I’ve been kayaking for the last 20 years without killing myself. We just want to make sure you do the same.


    That looks like a nice stable kayak good for the touring you fancy. Usually when someone says they got a cheap boat its some old unstable thing not suited to what they want to do.
    Most of the capsizing is done getting in and out on flat water. Someone to advise as your doing it and to hold the boat steady makes all the difference.


    As part of a club I’ve taken new beginners out on the water for years and usually the whole group stay upright for the full trip especially on flat water like a canal. I’ve also seen the strange and ingenious ways that people can mess up, so on the internet we have to assume you might be one of those. It’s much easier in real life to just offer the odd comment here or there on a trip to help someone paddle better and safer.

    Premier Icon lister

    I’ve taken many beginners out in kayaks on the sea and on lakes and rivers.
    Capsizing is always a risk and that’s why beginners should be with a guide who can sort things quickly and efficiently.
    First: prepare to get wet. Wear a wetsuit if you have one…if not then mad made fabrics and waterproofs help. A buoyancy aid is a must. Boat, paddle, BA. You need all three.
    When you’re floating keep your head above your bum. As soon as your head goes to the left or right of the centre line of the boat then you’re shifting all your mass from the waist up. This will probably end up in a capsize.
    Leaning forwards slightly helps a lot. Leaning back, even a smidge, makes life really hard.
    To avoid leaning back get your seat, foot rests and any back support adjusted before you get on the water.
    You need to be ‘loose’ at the hips. You should be able to wobble the boat from side to side with your hips and legs without your upper body moving at all. This acts as your ‘suspension’ on choppy water; allowing the boat to rock without your head moving away from directly above your head.
    Then you have to move your arms to paddle…
    Please don’t go on the canal to start and please get some tuition.
    There are a lot of outdoor instructors really struggling at the moment as all their work has disappeared. One to one tuition is looking like the most likely thing to return first. A couple of hours with a good coach, and there must be plenty in Sheffield, could stop you drowning and will help them pay their rent.
    Have fun though; it’s an ace way to see the world!


    Thanks jag1 that’s all really helpful and encouraging.

    Maiden voyage was planned for tonight, but due to the lockdown I’ve not been able to get a BA. I initially thought it was overkill for what I planned to do so never got it sorted before lockdown. Now I’ve done some reading and realise it’s a must, all the shops are closed. I could get something online but wanted to see them in person really.

    Premier Icon prawny

    Bit late to this but all the advice above is sensible.

    I started in a boating lake in the 80s in a similar sort of boat, well supervised and just kind of fudged it.

    I’ve paddled hundreds of miles on canals and rivers since and agree they’re not the best places to learn. A very easy way to get in and out is somewhere there is a beach landing or very gentle slipway. That way you can get in the boat on dry land and bum-shuffle into the water, to get out just paddle up onto dry land again.

    If you don’t want to join a club (which is fine) it might be worth at least seeing if you can do a taster session at an outdoor pursuits place or pool when they re-open. They’ll be able to give you some tips on getting started then you can go from there.

    Canals are very inconsistent, my local one where my racing club is based and train is very well used and out in the country, so no trolleys to worry about, but the depth varies greatly, some places you’ll hit paddles on the bottom just cruising along, in others you can’t touch the bottom if you go in.

    My kids started paddling last year and fell in plenty of times in boats like yours, so I’d definitely be cautious, especially with how things are right now.


    “There are a lot of outdoor instructors really struggling at the moment as all their work has disappeared.”

    Alas, we’re all in the same boat at the moment…

    Money is tight right now, so initially keeping costs down is a priority. Boat was free, which is amazing. Paddle £30, assuming about £50 for a BA, so it’s been cheap as chips so far and has enabled me entry into a fun new sport/hobby. If I start factoring in expensive kit, tuition, licences, and transportation to somewhere more suitable than the canal, then it probably won’t happen.

    Premier Icon crazy-legs

    I learnt in a swimming pool and one of the very first drills (after the getting in and out of the thing) was capsizing and learning how to “forward roll” out of it. The boat fills with water too, you need to drag it to the bank and tilt it back and forth to get water out – that’s a lot easier when you’ve got a safe secure bottom of the riverbed / pool etc to stand on and lever against.

    You do not have a safe secure footing in a canal, the bottom is absolutely lousy with rusty bits of boat, discarded bikes and shopping trolleys and God knows what other random shit (including, quite literally, shit).

    It really doesn’t take long to master the basics though, I learnt a fair bit extra on school adventure camps, kayaking on lakes and rivers when on holiday.

    To practice getting in and out of it, see if you can get the boat on a grassy surface (so you don’t puncture or scratch it on stones re hard ground) and then practice lowering yourself into it from a chair or something to simulate the bank.

    Oh and a buoyancy aid is absolutely vital. Helmet is worth considering too, either for hardcore whitewater stuff or for the fairly real risk of clouting yourself in the head with a paddle… 😉


    I thought the canal would be a perfect place to start, but clearly not.

    its not necessarily the worst place in the world, the sea with surf or an offshore breeze, a huge reservoir with a strong wind blowing you onto the dam or the out-take or a fast flowing river with low hanging branches could be far worse… its just that they can have some extra issues. Plenty of people learn on Canals, but with someone who knows what they are doing close at hand to help.

    Interesting about the potential for capsizing. A lot of binary opinions on this, not just on here.

    I was reading a Guardian article last night about someone who takes tourists out in kayaks on night jaunts along the Thames near Tower Bridge! How are these complete novices not capsizing on a busy, choppy tidal river? Type of kayak maybe?

    See how they were being guided by someone who knew what they were doing? thats the magic! S/he will have picked boats that are well suited to beginners (yours is ok in that regard now we can see it – but there are even more stable options), found a good place for getting in/out, set the boats and paddlers up right, and can quickly provide experienced advice if they see people heading for disaster/issues, using bad technique. It also means there is a pair (or more) of knowledgable hands on shore for launch and recovery which are often the wobbliest stages for beginners.

    Self tuition you will capsize at some-point. Under supervision you could quite feasibly do the whole thing and stay dry, but the guide/instructor also knows that capsize is always a possibility and how to deal with it in the middle of the river/lake etc. A solo beginner in the middle of a wide river or lake would almost certainly be unable to self rescue other than swim/drift to the bank.

    Money is tight right now, so initially keeping costs down is a priority. Boat was free, which is amazing. Paddle £30, assuming about £50 for a BA, so it’s been cheap as chips so far and has enabled me entry into a fun new sport/hobby. If I start factoring in expensive kit, tuition, licences, and transportation to somewhere more suitable than the canal, then it probably won’t happen.

    £50 should get you a decent BA, trying on is nice but plenty of places you can buy on line. Would be surprised if you couldn’t find something closer to £30 if you aren’t too worried about fashion! Don’t think anyone has suggested any fancy kit – I’d have thought you could get an hour 1:1 with an instructor or a 1/2 day in a group for that sort of money – especially if you are providing the kit. Obviously its a bit tricky right now, although I think it is possible to get 1:1 even now? Even an hour would help you get more value from your paddle and BA investment – otherwise after one or two unpleasant self learning sessions you might be binning it. I’d assume (but might be wrong) that if the instructor is using the canal or a river that their license covers you too. Certainly there will be a lot of people not paying licenses so… I think once you start going past locks you are more likely to get asked by BW staff and since you are using the infrastructure probably should pay.

    Premier Icon Greybeard

    One of the easiest ways to capsize is when the boat turns to the side while moving forwards. The momentum of the heaviest item, you, with a CoG 0.5m above the water, is now pushing the boat sideways, and it just trips up. The way to avoid that is to always lean into a turn, even if it wasn’t a turn you initiated. Another way to think of that is never present the side of the boat to the direction of movement over the water, always the front or the underneath.

    It also helps to think that you’re not trying to pull the paddle backwards, you’re pulling the boat forwards. That may not make sense until you’ve tried it.

    Premier Icon CountZero

    Will it capsize? Is capsizing likely in calm water generally?

    Guaranteed. I watched someone do it last week while I was walking alongside the River Avon at Reybridge near Lacock. He was clearly a newbie, he was with a mate who was showing him the ropes, he managed to capsize right by where I was, but just couldn’t get back in! I pointed out a small jetty and a sort of beach a few yards down river hidden behind overhanging trees, and he pushed the boat over and set about trying to get back in, I just left them to it. The water there was shallow enough for him to stand up in, chest deep, but it’s deeper elsewhere.
    Showed clearly just how vital it is to have someone experienced with you in case the inevitable happens.
    Good luck. 😁

    Premier Icon matt_outandabout

    Get thee to Rother Valley.


    “ Get thee to Rother Valley “

    Now that is a great idea. I did look at that a while back but was put off by the crowds/rules/beurocracy, but tbh, I think a day spent there getting completely wet, testing the boat etc is a wise move.

    Some great advice everyone. Thanks!

    Premier Icon mrhoppy

    Really, really do consider the sense in going alone. It isn’t a particularly forgiving sport if you cock up unlike biking where going solo only ups the risk a bit. I’m not saying don’t do it, I’ve done solo boating myself, but generally I was doing easy freestyle stuff and I also knew and acknowledged the dangers. Learning and doing things at the limit of your capabilities you want a decent bunch of people about you, I’ve had my ass saved on a number of occasions.

    Assuming that by sticking with easier water you’re safe doesn’t particularly hold that true either. Of my friends that have died boating one was at sea, one was on a gd2 river, another on gd3. Others were paddling below their comfort level.

    It’s a great activity and done properly and safely you will have lots of good clean fun. But it really pays to have your hand held to begin with.

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