Kayaking 101: 6 Tips for Beginners

Julie Bitely

| 3 min read

Summer in Michigan isn’t over yet! There’s still time to pick up some paddles and drop a kayak in a nearby river or lake. Jacob Brushaber, a sales representative with The Outfitter of Harbor Springs, gave us his top tips for kayaking beginners.
Choose the right boat. Kayaks come in two main styles: versions where you sit on top and models that you sit inside of. Brushaber said the sit-on-top models are designed for recreational paddling – if you don’t plan to go long distances or use your boat on choppy water, this style would work well. If you want to venture out on Michigan’s Great Lakes or an ocean someday, invest in a boat you can sit inside. Length is also a factor – shorter kayaks are easier to maneuver, while longer boats can stay the course for longer distances.
Be safe. Carrying a personal flotation device, or life jacket, for every person in or on the kayak is the law in Michigan. Brushaber said not complying will cost you a $60 fine if you’re stopped. Wearing your life jacket is advised, although not required by law. However, U.S. Coast Guard statistics indicate 90 percent of people who drown in boating or water accidents would have survived if they had been wearing a life jacket at the time. Why risk it?
Follow right of way rules, but use common sense. “Out on the water, kayaks have right of way over power vessels,” Brushaber said. Motor boats are supposed to give kayakers 100 feet of clearance, but that doesn’t always happen. Be aware of other nearby boats and try to steer clear as best you can.
Watch the sky. Before you head out, check the weather forecast. Brushaber said you should immediately head to shore if thunder or lightning appear. “You don’t want to be an object in a big open body of water,” he said.
Kayakers taking advantage of free demonstrations at this year's Petoskey Festival on the Bay.
Kayakers taking advantage of free demonstrations at this year’s Petoskey Festival on the Bay.
Pack your gear and dress for success. You might want to buy a dry bag, which seals up watertight and is great for taking along your phone, camera, and dry clothes. You’ll want to dress for the temperature of the water you’ll be in and wear water shoes in case you get tipped out. Liberally apply sunscreen and pack extra, along with some portable snacks and water if you’ll be out for a while.
Have fun! Michigan has so many great little inland lakes and rivers to choose from. Brushaber said he tries to avoid places with a ton of boat traffic and he enjoys kayaking in the harbor of Harbor Springs for its smooth, calm water. “Inland lakes are really great places to go,” he said.
Want more paddling and safety technique know-how? Find an instructor certified with the American Canoe Association to show you the ropes and get out on the water, pronto!
Photo credit: Paolo Lottini

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