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In sea kayaking we have a number of “statements”, methods that are taught, instructions on how to do things, in supposedly the correct way. But how correct are they? Have you ever thought of questioning them? Are some of them “Chinese Whispers”, a suggestion by someone that has been repeated and repeated and repeated….?

A few to be considered are, High & Low angle paddling, Drinking enough water, Rescues, Paddle length, Paddle grip width, Drowning stats.

High vs Low Angle

These two terms are commonly applied to paddling styles. Low angle means the blade is further from the hull leading to the kayak zigzagging. Not very good.

Maybe the terms should be Efficient & Inefficient Paddling Styles.

Drinking enough water

This was in the older editions of the KASK Handbook – it states 1.8 litres of water for men, 1.2 litres for women. Why? Weight difference? Take a 60 – 70 kg man and a 100+ kg woman. Should it be or is it sensible to state 1/3 more water for a man than a woman?

Maybe sex doesn’t come into it at all?

The ambient temperature is under 20°C. Add wind-chill. How much water is needed? The temperature is nearly 40°C and no wind chill and the sweat is pouring off you. Do you still need the same water intake?

Some sources say tea and coffee drinks don’t count. Why? So we have someone who has for decades had 1/2 cup of milk with breakfast cereal and 5 cups of coffee during the day. Are they are dead? Are they dehydrated? No?

Drink before you feel thirsty. Why? We have a thirst reflex honed by a 500,000+ years of evolution. You mean it doesn’t work?

From studies in the States, leaders in ultra-marathons tend to be slightly dehydrated while middle field runners can be so over-hydrated that some die. So you can over drink.

Maybe, sensibly, how much you need to drink should be graphed (if you don’t have a thirst reflex) – body weight, air temperature, power output (activity), fitness, ethnicity.

Maybe there should not be a blanket number as there are too many variables?

Rescues – kayak over kayak

The first part of a two-boat rescue always talks about dragging the capsized kayak on to the rescuer’s kayak to empty it.

There are things that should be considered, questions to be answered.

A loaded plastic kayak, ~50 kg and you need to lift or drag 25 kg of kayak, in choppy seas and probably a strong wind blowing, drag it on to your foredeck. The foredeck, not the cockpit and sprayskirt otherwise you will damage the sprayskirt or drag it off. Your arms are long enough to reach to the front of your cockpit rim to remove the sprayskirt. How much further can you reach and lift/drag a heavy kayak?

A plastic kayak usually has the aft bulkhead some way aft of the cockpit opening. How much water can you actually get out with the rescued kayak’s bow on your kayak and the stern in the water? Do it with the kayak completely across your kayak and it is blowing 20 knots? How stable are you while doing that?

How long does it take to do that emptying manoeuvre and then rescuing the person in the water versus rescuing (“swimmer” into their kayak) and pumping out afterwards and with the kayaker not getting chilled by being in the water?

You are often told to hold the cockpit rim of the kayak being rescued – with cold wet hands on slippery plastic? Maybe decklines are easier to grasp. Maybe every kayak should have decklines all round.

Once rescued, an assisted tow is a good idea to get the rescued to somewhere safer. Would it not be sensible to do the rescue with both kayaks facing the same direction? Yes it is possible to see what is happening during the rescue (look over your shoulder) and give a hand if necessary while facing the other way.

Paddle Length

“Tall paddlers need longer paddles than short paddlers.” However the tall paddler’s lower hand is the same distance from the surface of the water as a short paddler’s hand as they are both sitting down. Does shoulder width come into the equation? Do some short paddlers have a much greater shoulder width than some tall paddlers? Does it really make any difference? Why do tall, experienced, kayakers paddle with short paddles, 210 cm (or shorter) when the charts suggest that up to 240 cm must be considered?

Paddle Grip Width

“Hold the paddle over your head with elbows at 90 degrees.” Have you ever watched that on YouTube? Ever noted that the elbows are at 70 degrees or if 90 degrees, the upper arms are not horizontal?

Why the “error” and why do YouTube videos always say 90 degrees? Because the person on the video doesn’t actually check to see if what they are saying and what they are showing are the same thing. If they can get their elbows to 90 degrees, their wrists will be canted with hands angled inwards.

Having done a survey, having measured my own and others grip width and the distance from inner elbow to inner elbow, and the distance from wrist to wrist, the elbow angle is actually nearer to 70 degrees.

How to Hold a Paddle at 70 degrees

70 degree hold

Where the 90 degree grip came from isn’t known at present though there are suspicions as to who came up with it.

Hold your paddle in the normal manner that you usually hold it. Measure inner finger to inner finger distance. Now measure inner elbow to inner elbow with arms horizontal. The same? An appreciable difference? If the latter, holding your paddle over your head must introduce an error somewhere.


We are told (by Jonty Mills, WSNZ CEO) we have the worst drowning rate in the OECD. He states “New Zealand has one of the worst rates of preventable drownings in the OECD.” We’ve been told this for the last decade. So what are the figures?

This site gives the rates for all of the countries in the world. Make up your own mind, are we the worst?
Drownings by country

Another source of rates is produced by the WHO and their Full Report PDF here. Again, NZ is way down the list of OECD countries.

Our quoted rate? 1.39 per 100,000 from one source, 1.6 per 100,00 from another.

We are either 13th out of 34 or 13th out of 30, which could be considered a lot less than “worst”. Where countries are equal they all count as one and the total OECD number of countries is 35.

No gold, silver or bronze medal there. In a race the TV cameras wouldn’t even notice you crossing the line.

Some of the other OECD countries with a higher rate than NZ – Czech Republic 1.68, Ireland 2.22, Chile 2.26, Japan 2.53, Greece 2.70, Poland 2.89, Slovak Republic 3.23, Latvia 7.66.

You might also like to look at which countries have a lower drown rate than New Zealand and consider their climate and access to water. USA is the country next below NZ. What percentage of the population live more than say, 40 km, from a reasonable expanse of water?

Which countries are OECD? These ones.

Are the figures given correct? WSNZ has a study that places New Zealand 9th, just below Mexico, not something WHO agrees with.

However WSNZ comparing NZ with countries like Switzerland, Luxembourg, Belgium, just because they are OECD, is not logical. How much seaboard do they have (Luxembourg and Switzerland none)? Just how much do their inhabitants use uncontrolled water?

Comparing NZ with OECD countries is not logical.

This is only a question of stated statistics. Water Safety and all things concerned are still exceedingly important and the wearing, not just carrying, of a PFD is a legal requirement in most Regional Council areas.




KASK's aims are to:

1. Promote and encourage the sport of sea kayaking
2. Promote safety standards
3. Develop techniques and equipment
4. Deal with issues of coastal access and protection
5. Organise sea kayak forums around the country
6. Publish the Sea Canoeist Newsletter and the KASK Handbook