You’ve cleaned up your kayak, gone over your gear, tuned up your body, the ice is out, and you’re eager to get to your favorite pond or bay and get on the water.
Before you throw your stuff into your vehicle and strap your kayak to the roof, take a few moments and go over your checklist — whether it’s in your mind or on a piece of paper.
Your roof racks and saddles are tightened and secure, right? Double-check them because fasteners often need re-tightening after being installed for the first time in the season (and occasionally throughout the season).
See that the tie-down straps are not frayed, that the cams are not corroded and stuck in one place. Salt water has a knack of eating metallic fixtures. If you use ropes (lines) to tie your craft to the roof, check them to be sure they’re fit. The worst thing that could happen is to head out for a paddle and have your boat become an airborne missile, endangering others on the road and destroying the kayak.
If you use bow and stern lines (it’s recommended) check them as well. (Helpful hint: Don’t be overzealous when you tighten them, you don’t need to reef down hard. Just snug them up. That way you lessen the risk of deforming your boat.)
Got your paddle (and a spare)? How about your PFD, bilge pump, sponge, stirrup? Water bottle? Small dry bag for your wallet, cell phone and keys? A dry bag with a change of clothes (Hey, spills do happen)? A paddling jacket? Dry pants? Gloves? Spray skirt? Booties? An insulated cap? Eyeglasses retainer strap? A snack? Bug deterrent? If you’re headed for the ocean, make sure you have a chart, compass, strobe, whistle, flashlight and your VHF radio.
The folks at NRS have a couple of comprehensive checklists you can print out for your own use. The first is for boat gear, the second is for clothing:
My clothing preference for this time of year with water temperatures in the 40s, 50s and 60s is a drysuit instead of paddling jacket and pants. It’s less likely to take on water, provided that all the gaskets are intact. My next choice is dry pants and paddling jacket that “mate” by overlapping to form a “waterproof” connection.
The accepted advice throughout the kayaking community is to dress for the water temperature not the air temperature.
After you’ve gone over your equipment and everything’s in order, double-check the weather forecast. Winds greater than 15 knots might not be what you want to encounter on the first day out. Ditto for snow, rain, sleet and fog (each has its own charm, but not on opening day).
Another piece of advice is to plan this first outing with someone else. Two or three make for a safer outing and for good conversation.
If the ocean is your destination, make sure you know what the tide’s doing. Even if the weather is cooperative, the tide may not be. Your launch site may be flooded when you arrive, but a mass of mud when you return — been there, carried the boat across the mud, don’t want to do it again. There are also currents associated with the tide’s ebb and flood so plan on using, not fighting them.
Take one more moment to let someone know where you plan to be. It’s called a float plan. Let them know when you plan to return so that if you don’t they can initiate a search by wardens (inland) or the Coast Guard (on salt water).
You should be good to go. Enjoy yourself. Come back safely and share your adventures with others.