Get Afloat!

PUBLISHED: 01:16 08 September 2011 | UPDATED: 19:57 20 February 2013

Sit on tops are great fun in gentle surf

Sit on tops are great fun in gentle surf

Chris Parker explains the dos and don'ts of sit-on-top kayaking and why it is perfect fun for all the family

Chris Parker explains the dos and donts of sit-on-top kayaking and why it is perfect fun for all the family

No one who spends time exploring Devons beautiful coastline will have failed to have noticed the tremendous upsurge in the use of sit-on-top kayaks over the past few years. This relatively new phenomenon is a great way of getting out on the water and is fantastic fun for the whole family.

Some people are put off kayaking by the fear of being trapped if the boat capsizes; but with a sit-on-top, in the rare event of a capsize, you just fall off and get back in again no problem! The versatility of these kayaks is amazing. You can use them for coastal and river touring, gentle surfing, taking the kids for a paddle around the bay, exploring hidden coves and reefs, and if you have the correct equipment, they make great little fishing boats. They are low maintenance, easy to transport by car, and tough enough to take whatever you or the conditions can throw at them.

A great advantage of sit-on-top kayaking when compared to many other water sports is that a complete novice can be paddling around happily within a few minutes of getting into the kayak. They are much safer than inflatables as they are more robust, faster and much less affected by the wind. A kayak can transport you to many places inaccessible on foot, and can also be a good way of getting close to Devons varied wildlife. If you are setting out on a longer trip, then dont forget your camera (keep it well protected) as you get some great views from the water.

Which sit-on-top kayak is best for me?
Sit-on-top kayaks come in a great range of sizes and specifications, starting from 285 for a basic model, rising to 800 or more for a fully kitted-out fishing kayak. As well as single kayaks, many are available which will take two or three adults, and some have specifically designed seating for children. There are many different kayaks available from an increasing number of manufacturers, but some popular models include:
Perception Scooter: a versatile and popular single kayak
Ocean Kayak Malibu 2: a tandem kayak for two adults
RTM Disco: a faster touring kayak
Ocean Kayak Prowler 13: a popular fishing kayak

Sit-on-top kayaks hold their value well, so second-hand bargains are rare, but this does mean that you can sell on your kayak after a few seasons without making a big loss.

Buying a sit-on-top kayak
There are several outlets in Devon, including Kayaks and Paddles in Ivybridge and AS Watersports in Exeter. eBay is also a great place to look, although as kayaks are large items, many private sales will be pick up only.

What if Im not sure that kayaking is for me?
A good way of finding out whether sit-on-top kayaking is for you is to hire one out for an hour or so and see if you like it.

What other equipment will I need?
In addition to your kayak, you will need a paddle and a buoyancy aid for each paddler. It is also advisable to have a dry bag, water bottle and a paddle leash to prevent your paddle floating away! You may also need roof bars to transport your kayak by car, and a book of tide tables is essential for longer coastal or estuary trips. Many paddlers wear neoprene shorts or a long john wetsuit (one without arms).

Your choice of clothing will be very dependent on the weather, but do remember that it can often be colder on the water, especially if you get wet, so always have spare warm clothes handy in a dry bag if you are going on a longer trip, and if its a sunny day you will need plenty of sun cream, water, a hat and sunglasses.

Where can I use my sit-on-top kayak?
Anywhere where there is water! They are well suited to safe coastal waters, estuaries, rivers, lakes or reservoirs. Some locations, however, may be private or have boating restrictions, so check first with the landowner if unsure. Good locations include Plymouth Sound, Exeter Canal, Lee Bay near Ilfracombe and Salcombe.

Devon is blessed with numerous river estuaries, especially in the south of the county, and these make for a fantastic paddle. Start at the river mouth about an hour before high tide and the tide will help you up the estuary, before the ebbing tide, combined with the river current, will whisk you back down to the river mouth in no time at all. River estuaries to explore include the Yealm, Erme, Avon, Dart, Teign, Torridge and many more. I have spent many happy hours poring over Ordnance Survey maps planning my next trip.

Sit-on-top kayaking tends to be a summer activity, but you can have a great paddle from March to October if conditions are right. At first, go on calm, warm days, but as your skill and confidence increase, you may enjoy more challenging conditions.

To buy:
Kayaks and Paddles, Ivybridge;
AS Water Sports Equipment, Exeter;

To hire:
The Quay, Exeter;
Blackpool Sands, near Dartmouth;
River Torridge, Bideford;

Kayak safety
Learn to paddle in a safe, contained environment (eg inland lake or canal.)
Get together with fellow paddlers if you are going on a more ambitious trip there is safety in numbers!
Choose a brightly coloured kayak this will help other boats see you!
Always wear a buoyancy aid.
Tell someone where you are going and when you are expected back.
If paddling on the sea, check the weather forecast first, and avoid paddling when the wind is offshore.

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