Active Outdoors: Gear up for safe kayaking


The real whitewater aficionados, who have been paddling for a month or more on the rush of melting snow, are going to laugh at this, but for most of us, kayaking season is almost here.

It's time to pull out the boats and paddling gear, take an inventory of what you have and what you need to get on the water safely this summer.

Let's assume you already have (or have access to) a kayak and a paddle (if you don't, there are some good "How to Choose" stories on these on What else do you need to paddle safely?

First, of course, is a PFD (personal flotation device). I don't care how strong a swimmer you are, how warm the air and water are, how close to shore you are planning to stay ... If you are getting into a kayak, you need to be wearing a PFD that fits you. Wearing. Period. End of discussion.

The law in most states simply requires you to have a PFD in the boat with you, but that isn't good enough, at least not in a kayak, where flowing water, wind, waves and powerboat traffic can instantly and unexpectedly affect your state of being. It's bad enough to suddenly find yourself in the water; finding yourself in the water with your PFD in a kayak that's drifting away from you faster than you can swim is something else.

So, what makes a good PFD? I asked Matt Porter, the product manager for Kokatat (, the company that makes the PFDs Marilyn and I trust our lives to, exactly that. He told me since all adult PFDs sold in the United States pass certain Coast Guard standards (they must provide at least 15.5 pounds of flotation), what you are really looking for is a PFD that fits you and works for what you want to do with it. First of all, it has to fit comfortably and snugly. If you can slide right out of it, it isn't going to do you much good if you suddenly find yourself in the water.

So when you get your PFD out this spring, try it on, make sure it hasn't shrunk over the winter (grin) and that you can still get it on over the clothing you'll be wearing (more in early season than in summer) and tighten it snugly, but comfortably. The "comfortably" is key because if it isn't comfortable, you are less likely to wear it every time you go out.

Speaking of comfort: "Unisex" PFDs fit most people very well, but some women may need a women's specific model with extra space shaped into the foam in certain strategic locations.

Two more concerns: First, most kayaks have seats with backs. Make sure your kayak seat and your PFD are compatible, and that the seat back doesn't push your PFD up too high for comfort. Second, kayaks need to be paddled; make sure your PFD allows unrestricted paddling movement, not just with your arms, but also with your torso.

Finally, PFDs can wear out, especially if you use them a lot. Check the straps and cover material for any sign of wear. If you regularly use your PFD as a seat cushion it can compress the foam and reduce flotation. If you see signs of either, it's time to get a new PFD.

Best advice, try on your PFD, if it doesn't fit, work with your boat, and look like it's in perfect condition, it's time to think about a new one. Now is the time to do that, before paddling season really starts.

Life isn't a spectator sport. Get out and enjoy!

Kayak demos and events 2013

If you are looking to buy a new kayak, you should always paddle it first. And while many kayak sellers have a place to paddle nearby, a demo event where there are lots of boats to compare is both fun and instructive.

• April 27-28: Demo/sale, Collinsville Canoe and Kayak (, Collinsville, Conn.

• May 4, 5: Demo weekend, The Kayak Centre of Rhode Island (,n North Kingstown, R.I.

• May 18-20: Adirondack Paddlefest, Mountainman Outdoor Supply Co. (, Old Forge, NY. (Great excuse to visit the Adirondacks)

• May 18: Demo/sale, Kittery Trading Post (, Kittery, Maine.

• May 19: Demo/sale, Contoocook River Canoe Co. (, Concord, N.H,

• June 4-29: EMS traveling kayak demo at different locations throughout New England. For the complete list go to and type "kayak demo" in the search box, or call your local EMS store.

• June 7-9: Paddle Fest, LL Bean ( Freeport. Maine.

• June 29-30: Demofest 2010 Zoar Outdoors (, Charlemont, Mass.

• Saturday, May 11: A Day On the Water With Friends -- First Annual Naugatuck River Greenway Paddle Day on the Naugatuck River in Thomaston, Watertown and Waterbury, 11 a.m. Sponsored by Connecticut Outdoors (, $10 per paddler. Costumes are encouraged.

Tim Jones is the executive editor of the online magazine and writes about outdoor sports and travel. Email:


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