Kayaking on the Hudson

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Kayak Safety: Seaworthiness & Bulkheads

Kayaking is a great sport, but it is inherently dangerous.  You’re going somewhere man was not meant to be for very long.  You had better respect the water or you will end up being a statistic.  So make sure you have the right kayak for the conditions you will encounter.  If you are going out on big water – big lakes, big rivers, the ocean- you need to have a kayak with 2 bulkheads or at least you need to use float bags.  You could be miles from shore and you can’t risk your kayak sinking while out that far.  Let’s look at some samples:

This is a kayak with 2 bulkheads that has had the cockpit completely filled with water.  Notice how Lou can still paddle the kayak. 
A sea kayak with 2 bulkheads can still be paddled with the cockpit full of water.
This kayak has 1 bulkhead in the rear.  Do you really think you’d be able to empty this boat and get back in while you are out at sea?  Note: If you must paddle a kayak with 1 or no bulkheads, make sure you put float bags in to displace the water.

Recreational kayak with 1 bulkhead that has been swamped
This kayak has no bulkheads.  Lou is actually sitting in the kayak which is now resting on the bottom of the Hudson River! 
Recreational kayak with no bulkheads ends up on the river bottom

I don’t like the idea of using float bags in a recreational kayak, because bulkheads are not the only issue.  I’ll post again in the future on why recreational kayaks are not made for big water.  

Now I get that these pictures represent a worst-case scenario, but with kayaking it’s not how likely a problem is to occur that matters.  What matters is how severe the consequences are if the problem does occur.  If you paddle out into big water with a kayak that isn’t built for it, you are risking your safety and your life.  Now you have an excuse to go out and buy another kayak!

See you on the water,
Don Urmston

Thanks to Lou Rudisch from the Mid-Hudson ADK for being such a good sport and paddling the swamped kayaks.

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