MIKCo’s Fundamentals I Course Notes


Introduction and Objectives
  • Weather Summary: H and L tide, wind direction and speed, water temp, dew point.
  • Goals for the Day: What are your individual goals for the day? Do they align with the weather, group and equipment?
  • Safety & Personal Responsibility: Be responsible, first to ourselves, then to others.
  • Risk factors: Awareness of realistic dangers, individual fears and other possible problems.
  • The Captain: We are captains of our ship, legally and morally. The Captain of the ship balances environmental, personal and equipment variables in choosing a route.
  • If it hurts, don't do it. Warm up, then stretch before activity.
 First Concepts for the Beginner
  • Boat only where you can swim ashore.
  • Beginner/novice friends are false safety.
  • 4 B’s: Body, Boat, Blade, Brain.
  • Your kayak is your life raft.
  • Cautious judgment should override excitement and “really doing it” – be afraid.
Sea Kayaks and their Fittings
  • Hatches and bulkheads are for reduction of water in an emergency and storage of gear.
  • Function of deck and fittings. Deck lines for rescues & handling. Elastics for storage. How durable are fittings? What about pumps, compasses, etc.?
  • Cockpit. What’s its shape? How much contact with your knee and thighs? Look at the depth between underside of deck and top of seat. Do you prefer back rests or seat backs? How solid and comfortable are your feet, knees, thighs & hip contact. Eventually will fit for control as well as comfort. Do you walk in a shoe too big?
  • Rudders and Skegs are to make a boat go straight in a variety of conditions: i.e. to counter internal (paddle and hull) and external (wind, wave) influences on boat direction.
 Kayak Materials
  • Injection or roto-molded plastic is common plastic.
  • Laminated or Composite (fiberglass, carbon, and kevlar.)
  • Wood, strip or ply (stitch and tape.)
  • Canvas, rubber around a wooden or aluminum frame.
Performance Considerations
  • Volume, how much and where. Fatter ends rise up through the water faster, thinner ends cut through water easier.
  • Length. Water line or overall? Longer = faster and tracks straighter.
  • Thinner no longer means tippier but does mean less power to go faster.
  • Hull Shapes and Designs:
  • Round = less wetted hull surface (friction) but often tippy. Less initial and secondary stability but smoother riding waves.
  • Rowboat/Flat = high initial stability but rough ride over waves, low secondary stability, little slide down waves.
  • V shapes = good tracking. Low primary, high secondary stability.
  • Soft or Hard Chines = good secondary stability can feel confidence when riding waves. Some of our favorite hulls. Hard chine is edgier
  • Symmetrical wide (waterline) point in the middle.
  • Fish-form wide point forward = less power to go fast.
  • Swede-form wide point astern = better handling in following seas.
  • Maneuverability. Shorter, flatter, more rocker, softer chines and less V at bow or stern allows for more maneuverability for play and in rough water.
  • Speed and straight-running. Longer, stiffer stern, harder to get back on course or general maneuvering.
The Art of Paddles
  • Blade shape: Flat, Curved, Spooned, Symmetric, and Asymmetric.
  • Style & Usage: Touring, Greenland, Winged, Surf – Rodeo – White Water, Competition.
  • Materials: Plastic, Composite, Aluminum, Wood, Nylon, Carbon, Kevlar.
  • Length: Longer for cruising. Shorter for acceleration and power in difficult conditions. We recommend shorter lengths and adjust blade shape for your size
  • Shaft: straight or crank. One to four pieces.
  • Feather: Angle between blades should match your paddling style. Greater angle for more vertical stroke.
Connecting with Your Paddle
  • Hand position on shaft. Grab paddle for strength as if you were going to wrestle from someone.
  • Hand Position. Don’t grip too tightly, it won’t keep you upright. Upper hand should relax into an open grip when it pushes forward.
  • Align Hand with Forearm. Keep wrist relatively straight. Proper technique avoids wrist rotation side to side and up and down.
  • Control hand stays in a fixed position on shaft. Usually the hand you write with.
  • Angle of Paddle Feather. It’s personal. Generally more feather = more dynamic paddling style.
  • Avoid injury by keeping your hands in your field of view on all strokes.
  • Maximize efficiency by using whole body not just arms.
Dressing for Paddling

First rule for paddling (in Northeast as a beginner/novice): Dress for the water temperature. What is the water temperature? Is it raining, windy, warm, cold? How active am I going to be? To avoid hypothermia, clothing needs to protect from at least two of the following three: Temperature, Moisture, and Wind. Remember that we also must protect ourselves from the sun.

  • Insulation materials - Synthetic clothing dries quickly and is relatively warm when wet. Wool works but can be bulky. Cotton + cold kills: it dries very slowly and its evaporative cooling makes us very cold when wet.
  • Layering & wicking to keep dry layer next to the skin. Thin layer next to body (polypropylene) with thicker insulation layers to trap warmth on top (fleece or wool), all covered by a windproof/waterproof outside layer.
  • Wetsuits, neoprene rubber suits, ‘fuzzy rubber’ materials should fit to trap a thin layer of water next to the skin, which your body warms up. Good for in the water and swimming but cold when wet in the wind. Can be uncomfortable if dry for long periods. Different thickness of neoprene for different levels of warmth, and possibly parts of the body for movement.
  • Drysuits/drytops have latex gaskets to seal out the water at neck, wrists and ankles. They are basically waterproof bags that should allow freedom of movement, keep the insulation dry, and keep wind out. Add or reduce insulation under the dry suit for temperature control. Good for floating, but not for swimming. Comfortable in the boat for long paddles. Can be too hot, but it’s usually easier to cool yourself than warm yourself
  • Extremities. Head: wool, fleece, or neoprene hat, baseball cap. Feet: wetsuit booties, with or without soles. (We strongly discourage sandals and long laces as there is a very real entrapment issue, and stiff sandals can slip/trip walkers on wet rocks and seaweed). Consider wool or synthetic socks. Hands: light, thin gloves or pogies (paddle mitts).
  • Eye Protection from water or the sun: glasses with croakies or floating strap.
  • Helmet: If you have a $10 head, wear a $10 helmet.
  • Extra Clothes needed to protect from temperature, moisture (rain or immersion), wind and sun. How and where do you pack them?
Connecting with your Boat
  • Closed cockpit kayaks allow for greater body boat contact. Boat fit should allow for comfort, support, and loose hips. Loose hips allow you to use the kayak’s secondary stability, to avoid being controlled by the sea.
  • Points of contact: feet, thighs, side of hips, small of your back.
  • Seating and position of feet, thighs, and hips should allow you to have flexible hips side to side, to rotate your torso, to allow the boat to move independent of your upper body.
  • Sit fully upright, with your sit bones as far back as possible in your seat. Feet should be in natural relaxed position. Adjust pegs accordingly.
  • Proper seating position. Top of pelvis should be rolled forward to align vertebra
  • Rock around, adjust your knees, wear the boat. Do you walk in a shoe too big? See a professional about custom foam fitting for thighs, hips, back support.
  • Remember: Loose hips don’t sink ships.
On-the-Beach Wet Exit and Assisted Rescue Practices: Getting over the fear of entrapment!

Dry-land Wet Exit Fundamentals:

  1. relax
  2. lean forward (fingers along rim) and locate skirt’s release handle
  3. staying forward - pull release handle away from you, out and up
  4. slide hands back along cockpit and place beside hips
  5. push kayak off you like a pair of pants.

You should soon attempt to always maintain contact with your kayak and paddle.

Relax, don’t panic.

Visualize an Assisted Rescue:

  1. There are just two steps - get water out or the person in, you pick the order.
  2. Listen to your rescuer’s instructions.
  3. Think about the group position on the water while any rescue is taking place.
Carrying the Boats
  • Get someone to help you, grab under the hull, not the fittings – many of which are not well fixed to the boat. Other ‘handles’ are designed and should be saved for towing a swimmer in the water.
  • Lift with your legs and keep a vertical spine.
  • Be wary of boats up on racks above your shoulders/head.
Preparing to Get on the Water - Practice before Launching
  • Entering and exiting your kayak for launching and landing.
  • Either step into the larger keyhole cockpits or use paddle for support if you must.
  • Practice managing your spray skirt.
Getting on the Water
  • Safety: Is it still safe? Staying out of the way of boat traffic. Spotter for a rescue.
  • Group: Everyone still ok and agreed on what you are doing? Where is your first, second safety/rest spots to make needed adjustments, solve problems?
  • On the water: What distance between paddlers, what group shape?
  • Environmental analysis: Always make a computation of anticipated wind and waves, tides and currents, effect of landforms, lightning, fog & navigational traffic. Learn the effect on your paddling ability of wind and waves, temperature and wetness. Learn your limits.
Fundamental Stroke Skills – Working to Integrate

Boat - Interacting with water. Flat or edged. Speed through water.

Body - Basic body positions and mechanics, efficiency, and injury avoidance. Connects boat with blade. Use of whole body, not just arms and shoulders. Centered, on or off balance. Relaxed and flexible. 

Blade - Horizontal or flat blade on water. Climbing blade angle for stability. Direction of force from paddle blade, push or pull, turn or go straight.

Brain - Pre-emptive, pro-active, forward thinking, handling the “what ifs”. Good seamanship. Coordination, fluidity and timing. Efficiency and working smart.

Introduction to Edging & Leaning. Edging is using hips and knees to angle the hull while body remains centered and vertical (called J Lean). Leaning is use of body off center to tilt the boat. Edging and leaning are additional applications to each stroke. Edge your deck toward a wave!


Forward Stroke. Trunk rotation. Recovery, Catch, Pull, Exit.

Reverse Stroke. Trunk rotation. Place back of blade on the water and push/pull down and forward.


Stopping & Paddling Backwards. Using back of the blade, paddle out to side, just behind hip. Do this gradually, not all in one go. Try and keep boat straight.

Sweep Strokes-Forward and Reverse. To keep boat on course in conditions, to change direction, or to spin around when stopped. Horizontal paddle shaft. Paddle path from bow to stern in semi-circle. Extending sweep out from center of boat. Paddle arm extended but not locked. Use body’s trunk for power.

Draw Stroke. Body rotated to direction of travel. More vertical paddle shaft. Blade remains in water and moves in and out from hips. Pull boat towards paddle and slice blade away to start again. Beginning of rescue practice.

Stern Rudder. Blade in the water at stern. Blade upright in water. Shaft parallel to side not across boat. Turn towards the paddle.


Low Brace Sculling for support to give stability when stationary. Boat upright or close to upright. Back of blade swept forwards and backwards on surface, with a climbing blade angle.

Low Brace Recovery for getting back to upright when knocked over. Body and non- power side of paddle used to bring boat back to upright from off balance position. Paddle flat on water at 90° to boat, push down, rotate hips or lift lower knee, slice blade back to surface. Hip flick, hips to ribs and push with knee to bring boat upright. Slap, snap, retrieve.

Rescues and Emergency Procedures

Rescues are critical to sea kayaking, you must know how to rescue yourself and your friends in any conditions you paddle in.

Rescues are simply getting:

  1. You or your victim back in the boat, and 
  2. The water out.

In any order. Take your pick. Just make it quick. Be positive and in control. You are the physical and psychological rescuer. Don’t become the next victim.

Emptying the Boat

Boat construction is critical here. Properly positioned bulkheads or good fitting buoyancy make life very easy and safe.

X Rescue. Necessary for boats without bulkheads. The ‘no lifting required’ method. Start with boat upright, slide the bow on to your deck and roll the kayak over. The cockpit should now be clear of the water and emptied quickly. Roll the kayak back upright and slide it in to the water. Victim can assist but mind heads and fingers

T Rescue. Bow lift, with or without victim assistance. The ‘don’t damage your boat but mind your back’ method. Lift the bow while the victim pushes down on stern. Roll the kayak upright and put it back in the water. Lift safely, mind your back. Alternatively use rescuer boat roll to lift.

Ipswich. Seen in books: uses the paddles across 2 boats as the support X.

Pump. The “pump or bail ” method. Turn the kayak upright, get the victim in the boat and pump it out. Involve the victim for recovery and warmth.

Rescuing your partner. Getting the victim back in the boat.

Boats facing same vs. opposite directions. Focus on holding onto the boat with both hands on cockpit coaming or decklines. Use your whole body weight/ribs on the deck of the victim’s kayak. Get your partner back into the boat, between the boats, across the back, or across your bow. Do what works. Practice all ways.

Hold on until the victim is fully stabilized and ready to paddle.

Work together to avoid injury.

Protect victim from rudders, etc.

Speed counts.

Practice, practice…practice: in the conditions you paddle in and with the people you paddle with.

Eskimo Rescue. Useful primarily as a training exercise for underwater comfort, hip snaps, and bracing and rolling practice. Is occasionally an effective rescue.

  • Hold the bow of your partner’s boat, lower your torso into the water and snap/pull back up keeping hold of rescuer’s bow all the time.
  • Minimize the work done by your arms by using hip flick and keeping your head in the water as long as practical - until the kayak is upright.
  • Capsize a short distance from your partner and remain seated in your cockpit. Reach and feel for your partner’s bow who is trying to place it into your hands. When you find the bow use it to right yourself as above. Rescuing partner should be quick and precise in placing their bow within  victim’s reach.
  • Try from a short distance. Try pulling up from different parts of the kayak or the paddle shaft.

Solo Rescues & Eskimo Rolling Demo and Discussion.

How to get back in your boat without assistance. Commit to trying to learn these skills.

  • Paddle Float Rescue.
  • Cowboy.
  • Paddle Float Re-entry & Roll.
  • Sweep or Combat roll.
  • C to C roll.
  • Pawlata or extended paddle.