Seafreedomkayak Development Stages

To help you work out what group trips might be suitable for you to join in on we have compiled our very own Seafreedom ‘development stages’. These are just rough guidelines so if you are still unsure what sea kayak skills course or sea kayak trip is suitable, or you would prefer to talk to us, don’t be afraid to pick up the phone.

If you are joining an open group with people you have not met before, we will try and make sure that you are matched with others of a similar level of ability. Don’t worry if none of the skills levels 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.

sea kayaking

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 6 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.

Stage 0

Skill and knowledge level

You havn't sat in a sea kayak, canoe or river kayak before... but you are keen and enthusiastic to give it a go!

You would like to learn some sea kayaking skills so that you can over time become an independent and self-sufficient paddler so as to join other groups of people and friends who may already sea kayak. 

Typical suitable trips

Somewhere local and probably sheltered from wind and sea state so that we can coach you in the basic sea kayak handling skills, straight line paddling, stopping, turning etc. We will combine skills coaching with a short journey, or tailor the day to what you decide once you have been in the kayak for a while.

Stage 1

Skill and knowledge level

You can make progress but the kayak tends to wander about a bit. You can stop quickly and 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 capsize.

You are dependent on the guide for safety and navigation. You prefer flat water!

Typical suitable trips

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!

Stage 2

Skill and knowledge level

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 and 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.

Typical suitable trips

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 too is Seil Sound and upper Loch Etive.

Stage 2.5

Skill and knowledge level

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 15km 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.

Typical suitable trips

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 it’s 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.

Stage 3

Skill and knowledge level

You can plan simple trips safely and 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 and 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 have a basic roll that works most of the time in flat water.

You can navigate simple routes accurately and confidently and you have an appreciation of moderate route planning. You would know what to do if a simple incident occurred.

Typical suitable trips

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

Stage 4

Skill and knowledge level

You can plan moderate trips yourself and can handle the kayak confidently in up to force 4 winds and on 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 and you will enjoy surf riding moderate waves. Your paddling is smooth and efficient with good body rotation and you can manage sustained bursts of high speed paddling.

You can probably roll up again after a capsize in most situations and you can rescue and tow others. You can navigate tide-ways confidently in good visibility or simple situations in poor visibility.

Typical suitable trips

Now we can paddle in really wild places. We will camp on fairly remote islands and 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.

Stage 5

Skill and knowledge level

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

Typical suitable trips

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.