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Sea Kayak skill levels


When you come paddling with Seafreedom, we will make every effort to plan a suitable program for you that matches your skill level and aspirations. 

If you are joining with people you have not met before, we will try and make sure that you are matched with others of a similar level of speed and ability. Please have a look at the material below and see if you can decide which stage you think you have reached already. None of them will fit exactly, just choose the one that is "best fit" and then we can use that as a basis for discussion when we talk to you

Clients often ask us how long it takes to become a competent paddler. It's that "how long is a piece of string" question.

People vary so much. As a very rough guide, here are our* 5 stages of development. Stage one we can do in hours. Stage 2 in days, Stage 3 in a week or two. Beyond stage 3 you will need lots of practice, perhaps paddling with competent friends or a club. Maybe with some coaching along the way. Stage 4 can be achieved in months Stage 5 can take years

What stage are you at?

Stage Skill and knowledge level Typical Suitable trips
1
  • You can make progress but the kayak tends to wander about a bit.
  • You can stop quickly
  • You can turn the kayak through 360o on the spot
  • You can steer using the paddle like a rudder
  • You can paddle about 6km and enjoy the trip but you will probably be tired.
  • You have good safety awareness and know what to do if you do capsize
  • You are dependant on the guide for safety and navigation
  • You prefer flat water!
  • Short sheltered trips along the shore of the sea lochs or. Good scenery, plenty of wildlife and a good picnic spot.
  • If the weather is calm, we can go out to and possibly land on, some of the small inshore islands.
  • We might use Loch Awe, Etive or Sween. Clachan Sound on Seil is ideal. Kilchurn Castle on Loch Awe and Castle Stalker are interesting objectives
  • We will not be taking you out in choppy water!
2
  • You can steer and manoeuvre the kayak fairly accurately in all directions in calm water or light winds.
  • You can paddle up to 12 km in a day with fluid paddling action
  • You can move sideways
  • You can steady yourself with the paddle if you wobble.
  • You will be comfortable in waves that sometimes slop over the deck of your kayak.
  • You co-operate with the guide in a rescue and rescue others in sheltered situations
  • You can navigate in simple situations and good conditions
  • Longer trips in the larger sea lochs and sheltered coastal waters are appropriate.
  • We can probably tour some islands and make crossings of up to a 1km in safe areas in good weather
  • There will usually be plenty of wild life to see
  • The Lynn of Lorn and northern Lismore are good venues. So to is Seil Sound and upper Loch Etive
2.5
  • You can steer and manoeuvre the kayak fairly accurately in all directions in bumpy water in winds up to force 3
  • You can paddle up to 15m a day with smooth paddling action.
  • You can steady yourself with the paddle if you wobble and while turning.
  • You can manoeuvre accurately sideways
  • You will be comfortable in waves that sometimes wash over the deck of your kayak.
  • You co-operate with the guide in a rescue and rescue others in sheltered situations
  • You can navigate in simple situations and good conditions
  • Trips in coastal waters with a moderate degree of exposure are fine.
  • We can probably tour some islands and make crossings of up to a mile in safe areas in good weather
  • There will usually be plenty of wild life to see
  • Now its time to circumnavigate some of our beautiful islands such as Kerrera and Seil as long as the conditions are gentle. The islands and headlands of Loch Craignish or Sween are well worthwhile
3
  • You can plan simple trips safely
  • You know what kit you need to take and how to stow it in appropriate locations
  • Up to 20 km a day is fine. 25km is possible
  • Force 3 winds are fine and you are happy in moving water provided it is smooth
  • You can cope in force 4 for a while, though you might not be too happy about it.
  • Your paddling is more efficient and you don't need to think about it.
  • Bursts at speed are possible
  • You have a repertoire of support and recovery strokes which are becoming instinctive
  • You take an active part if rescued and can rescue others in real situations.
  • You can navigate simple routes accurately and confidently. You have an appreciation of moderate route planning
  • You have a basic roll that works most of the time in flat water
  • You would know what to do if a simple incident occurred 
  • More remote and exposed coastlines are possible now as long as the wind is not more than the lower end of force 4.
  • Paddling along by shear cliffs and around the islands in a swell will be enjoyable.
  • We can cross to some of the larger islands and camp overnight if the conditions are suitable.
  • We could run through some of the narrow channels with the tide and thereby extend our range.
  • Now we can tour the more exposed islands and coasts, including Kerrera and Seil in more interesting conditions and we can do an overnight on the Garvellachs
  • You will probably want us to take you out in waves you can ride on with some wave crests breaking

 

4
  • You can plan moderate trips yourself
  • You can handle the kayak confidently in up to force 4 winds and choppy seas
  • Moving water is fun and you enjoy crossing eddy lines and using the waves
  • 15 miles a day will be possible without feeling too tired the next day
  • You will enjoy surf riding moderate waves
  • Your paddling is smooth and efficient with good body rotation
  • You can manage sustained bursts of high speed paddling
  • You can probably roll up again after a capsize in most situations
  • You can rescue and tow others
  • You can navigate tide-ways confidently in  good visibility or simple situations in poor visibility
  • Now we can paddle in really wild places. We will camp on fairly remote islands.
  • We can stay at sea for several hours at a time without discomfort or feeling unduly tired.
  • We might go and find some of tide races just for fun.
  • You will be confident to plan and paddle your own routes without a guide, assessing and managing the risks.
  • In the right weather, the Garvellachs are reachable with their dramatic cliffs and mysterious ruins. Or a circumnavigation of Rassay, maybe a tour of the western coast of Mull and a visit to Staffa
5
  • You can plan complex trips
  • The kayak seems to respond to your thoughts. Inch accuracy is possible even in rough water.
  • Cruising seems effortless. 25 miles in a day is no problem.
  • You are capable of sustained high speed paddling
  • Big waves with breaking crests are a source of fun.
  • Your rolling is bomb-proof but you almost never capsize anyway
  • You can rescue and assist others in nasty conditions
  • You can accurately navigate in poor conditions and complex tidal situations
  • We can play in the tide races and surf the ocean swell. In the right conditions we will paddle long and exposed coastlines and We will do long crossings in tide-ways and perhaps even in poor visibility. We will paddle by moonlight too.
  • We can paddle to wild and remote places that hardly anyone else can get to. Jura, Coll, Mingulay. Not just in Scotland or the rest of the UK but in Norway, New Zealand, Greenland....anywhere we can get a kayak to.  We are not afraid of what the weather might throw at us, but we will still take care because, we have immense respect for the sea

*Seafreedom development stages are not to be confused with the excellent BCU Star system which also covers alternative craft and leadership issues. We have tried to make the skill level description broadly similar. 

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