MIKCo’s Fundamentals IV Course Notes


Introduction and Objectives

The essence of safe and effective boating is good seamanship. The Captain of her ship chooses the right route for that group, on this day, within defined goals, and well within the group’s skill set, in the full range of possible conditions, and with due regard for the equipment limitations

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. What’s our plan? What are the options? How or where do we decide?

Risk factors: Awareness of realistic dangers, individual fears and other possible problems.

The Captain: We are captains of our ship, legally, morally and effectively. The Captain of the ship balances environmental, personal and equipment factors as good seamanship.

If it hurts, don't do it. Warm up and stretch before activity.

Route Selection Today

What are our route options today for: safety, adventure, opportunities, dangers, escapes, avoidance of unwanted conditions?
How might route change when we factor in: wind and waves; tides and currents; nautical traffic; desired scenery; exposures; weather changes; type of day the group desires?
Where are our safety/rest spots, crux points, and danger/exposure areas?
How do we determine if the next route leg is okay for everyone in the group?

Review of Fundamentals I, II & III Course Content

Dressing for paddling
Wet exits, safety and rescue
Kayak control skills
Basic Conditions
Simple Navigation
Paddling in Conditions
Bracing & Support Strokes
Solo and Assisted Rescues

Fundamental Skills

It’s time to develop the big picture, to work on being Captain of our ship, to balance the big three of People, Environment, and Equipment continually during our journey. We want a holistic view of the environment we are operating in.

Good judgment is aided by pro-active forecasting, predicting and planning.
Good boating skills allow you to react effectively through observing, understanding and adjusting technique and position to the environment.

Remember the 4 B’s of boat control: Body, Boat, Blade and Brain.

Summary of Strokes

In the real world our strokes blend and meld together. I think there are only two strokes, one on the right side and one on the left. Steve Maynard thinks so also, but describes them as: one to get you into trouble and one to get you out. There are seldom pure, showroom strokes when paddling in conditions; rather, we pull elements of many strokes out of our tool box and apply them to each stroke. For example, when applying a forward stroke on our port side, we might add a climbing blade angle, a bit of a sweep, and a slight stern rudder at the end, while being ready to drop into a high brace. We want the correct application of tools for our needs at the moment.

Propulsion Strokes are also about economy, efficiency and injury prevention.
Maneuvering Strokes involve linking and adapting elements of strokes for effectiveness.


To assist turning and maneuvering, to hold a straight course in conditions, or to prepare our hull angle for receiving a wave (edge into the wave).

We want to be comfortable applying appropriate edging:
Across the waves
Through the waves
Down wave

Then we want to integrate the amount of edge with the chosen stroke, wave slope angle, and blade inclination.

Rescues and Emergency Procedures

About dealing with incidents, solving problems before they worsen, helping out our fellow paddler.

Remember we are the psychological as well as physical rescuer.
You must practice your rescues in conditions you might paddle in!

New Tools

Sometimes someone can’t easily/quickly get back into their boat, are incapacitated, maybe unconscious.

Scoop Rescue. For injured, unconscious or person unable to otherwise climb aboard.
Hand of God. Getting an unconscious person upright while still in their kayak. With both of these we need to use our body weight and torso muscles, not arms. Push down through elbows on upper edge of victim’s boats. With both of these the victim if often best on back deck of their kayak not bolt upright. Use you kayak as a lever. Slide them over an upturned kayak.


Towing equipment is a crucial part of your gear. Unless we are complete novice paddlers, we should all have a towing system ready to use when paddling in a group. A waist tow, a contact tow and/or a long boat mounted tow. One towing system is a minimum and many of us will choose to carry a contact tow plus one of the other systems to cope with different situations and possible equipment failure. Remember that water and lines are dangerous. Only with lots of practice will you reduce entanglements. Recommend that the whole system be able to float. The system must have a quick and easy way to get it away from you and your kayak.

Waist tows. Line attached to the paddler via a quick release belt. Requires no adaptation of the kayak. Some strain on the paddler especially in rough seas, but is our most used tow system.
Boat mounted tows. Line attached to the kayak right behind the cockpit via a quick release mechanism. Less strain on the paddler. Generally used in more testing conditions and for longer distances.
Contact tows. Practice with or without a line. Useful for keeping a victim supported on your deck or person. PFD tethers.
Serial or in-line tow. Sharing the effort of towing between two plus paddlers in line.
Husky or fan tow requires more practice.
Towing swimmer in the water. Understand the differences in maneuvering ability of varying wind and currents, of having person on your fore or aft deck.
Anchoring a rescue. Keeping everything in position, in safe area.
Towing a raft. Holding a group in position or towing to safety. Possible use if have an unconscious person across decks. When towing a victim, one or more assistants can be working on victim. Kayaks can be facing the same way or opposite directions. Raft members should be aware of reducing tower’s friction.

Study how to connect lines correctly to aid release and to avoid capsizing the kayaks. Practice how to change towers quickly.


The selection of an appropriate course with a known result by applying good judgment, your skills, experience, and knowledge to your equipment, group, and conditions. Ken Fink refers to Judgment, Skill, Knowledge and Experience as the “Four Cornerstones” of good paddling.

The Essence of Good Seamanship is a Safe Route

Where best to choose a course for safety, adventure, and opportunities with awareness of dangers, escapes, unwanted conditions. Always factor in wind and waves, tides and currents, lees and eddies, traffic patterns, exposures and weather “opportunities”.

Weather analysis

Invest in a reliable weather radio, learn to apply information to your area, and don’t trust it to be completely correct all the time.
Develop your information gathering (sources), analysis, and understanding of what it means in your waters on this day.
With lots of practice you can predict air and sea conditions from forecasts.
Work at matching the forecast that you religiously monitor with the conditions you experience.
Realize the exposures and possible dangers of:
Wind speed and direction and its anticipated changes on the sea.
Approaching warm and cold fronts and their effect.
Dew point, water/air temperature and fog.
Causes of lightning and methods of protecting group.
Influence of the above conditions on swells and their integration with landforms.

Wind direction is where it comes from.
Current direction is where its going to.


"The secret to not getting lost is to always know where you are.”


Use of different charts and maps.
Adapting to and understanding the variety of information available.

Dead Reckoning and Piloting

Dead Reckoning. The intended or assumed path through water. Plotted as a line on chart. Based on a course and speed computed at home, and based on simple formulas.
Piloting. Use of all available information. Develop a navigator's eye: i.e. chart, wind, waves, weather landmarks, buoys, awareness of every slight change.
Your speed can be determined over a measured distance. Divide the distance by the time it takes to paddle that distance.


Types of compasses and their use.
Nav-Aids and their use.
GPS and its limitations.

Important Navigational Terms

Heading - Direction we point our kayak.
Course - Path of our kayak over the ground.
Bearing - Taking a compass reading of a point or place 1 to 360 degrees, Magnetic & True.
Ferry Angle - Angle between heading and course needed to compensate for drift caused by wind or waves.

Compass accuracy

How accurate is your compass as the kayak yaws, heaves and turns on the sea?
One (1) degree of compass error is roughly 100 ft in a mile. So a 10 degree error is 1000 feet in a mile, 2,000 feet in 2 miles. Can you follow a course with only a 10 degree error?
“Aiming off” - Putting something (safety and reliability) in the bank.

Ranges and Transits

The most used tool in piloting.
Navigational Ranges are the many imaginary lines a seaman constantly draws in her mind. She is lining up two (usually) fixed objects, such as lining up a tall tree behind a boat at anchor, or a house with a steeple behind it, a near and farther away buoy. Any two things can create a range. Ranges allow use to locate ourselves on a straight line. Intersecting ranges locate us into an area. Ranges can show us how far we are drifting because of wind or current (or poor directional stability). If we are on a possible collision or crossing course with a moving boat, the amount the other boat gains or loses on their horizon point informs us of whether it’s passing off our bow or stern – or is going to hit us.

Chart preparation

Preparing and transferring information for use from your kayak.
Course and other information is best plotted before launch. Plot course lines. Adjust courses based on computing tidal current info and its effects on relevant legs. Determine and label compass headings for each leg of the course. Scale off miles. Set range lines, handrails or other safety lines. Determine what to do if dead reckoning doesn’t work. Note and look up important buoyage: port hand mark, starboard hand mark, channel separation marker, isolated danger mark. Know color, order and shape. Understand there are several buoyage systems around the world and inland.

Tides and Current

A sea paddler knows when H and L water happens all along their route, and predicts that effect on sea conditions, wave shape, and surf.
Also knows and predicts likely current directions, strengths, eddies.
Is able to understand and predict tidal anomalies.
Sea conditions and information is written on the face of the sea. Notice the wave shape. Learn to see the boundaries of currents, the depth of water, where the wind is strongest. Be the sea!
Set - Direction toward which current flows.
Drift - Direction boat is pushed due to current or wind
Ferry Angle - Angle between heading and course needed to compensate for drift caused by wind, current or waves.

Additional Safety Equipment

Coastguard Requirements. At night you must be able to display a white light as needed plus carry one of three approved devices:
Three legal flares, OR
Approved emergency strobe, OR
Approved spot light. In fog or reduced visibility, you must have a fog horn, and toot one long blast every 2 minutes.

Signaling and Communications

Cell phones.
VHF radios.
Day and night flares, dyes, flags.
Reflective material.
Sound Signals: horn, bell, whistle.
Visual signals: paddle, boat, hands, SOS.
What are the emergency numbers in your paddling area?
What does it mean if you hear 3 short toots from a boat?

Marine Medicine

Importance of good first aid training. We strongly recommend taking a Wilderness First Responder (WFR) or Wilderness First Aid (WFA) course. They are excellent and will empower you in traveling outside. Regardless, we need medical skills that actually work in the situation.
Know the dangers, prevention, and solutions to problems from cold water paddling, immersion, hypothermia, cold shock and long term exposure.
Cuts & wounds.
Dislocations and breaks.
Are you mentally and physically prepared to deal with the likely problems you will face in journeying outside, the possible scenarious?

Group Management on the Water

Buddy system. Pairing up and watching out for each othe.r
Count heads. How often? 3 times a minute?
Develop hand or paddle signals. Go left, go right, stop, come, go.
Paddle side by side. Pleasant for chatting and good for communication. Easy to check on the group. Blocks less of a shipping lane when crossing channels.
Lead and sweeps. Usually two experienced kayakers are leading a less experienced group. Can be safe but impersonal and inflexible. Is definitely overused. Recognize its limits and dangers. Often results in long strings of paddlers, some of whom are unprotected by leads. Makes contact with group members and communication between leaders difficult.
Formation paddling. Good for formal group control. Good kayak control exercise.

Stay within communication distance. What about when windy?
Where do you position yourself with your group? Up wind? Down current?