Kayaking on the Hudson

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Kayak Safety: Spare Paddle

Hey mister, can you spare a kayak paddle?

One safety item that many kayakers overlook is the spare paddle.  It’s not that most paddlers are lazy; it’s just that most people never consider the need for a spare paddle.  It is rare that you will need a spare paddle on the water, but it isn’t that rare.  In the more than 16 years I have been paddling, I’ve seen at least a half-dozen paddles get broken out on the water.  Here’s the real problem- if you do break or lose your paddle, you are both proverbially and literally “up the creek without a paddle.”

Picture this scenario.  You are out paddling with a friend (because kayak safety rule #3 says don’t paddle alone) and it’s a beautiful day with calm water and no wind.  You paddle for a couple of hours when out of nowhere, the sky turns dark, the wind kicks up and the water gets very rough.  This happens frequently to kayakers.  You get hit by a big wave and lose your balance.  The next thing you know, you are upside-down and executing a wet exit.  This is nothing like you practiced when conditions were calm (safety rule #4) and you forget to hold on to your paddle.  You come up and the wind has already blown your paddle 10 feet away from you.  Your friend’s priorities are: 1-rescue you, 2-rescue your boat, 3-rescue your paddle.  By the time you are back in your kayak, your paddle is gone.  You might be able to go get it, but how?  Your friend can’t go get it, because he has to stay with you.  If only you had an extra paddle that you could use…

Another reason to carry a spare paddle is that you can bring two types of paddles along and switch them off mid-trip.  I sometimes carry a low-angle and a high-angle paddle so I have the choice of either while paddling. (See entry on choosing a paddle for more info or email me at:

Kayak safety rules say every paddler should have a spare paddle, and this is the safest way to go.  However, I use the rule of 1 spare paddle for every 2-3 paddlers when I am paddling with a group.  I figure the odds of everyone needing a spare are pretty low.  The key is then to spread out the paddlers who are carrying the spares so they are available when and where they are needed.

Finally, don’t skimp on your spare paddle.  It’s likely to be very bad conditions when you need to use it.  This is not the time to be using a cheap, flimsy paddle.  My spare paddle is a $350 carbon-fiber paddle, but you can get a pretty good paddle for $150-$250 these days.

See you on the water,
Don Urmston
You can reach me at:

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