This column was first published April 8, 2006

First off,  I apologize for the return to winter. It’s my fault. I took one of my kayaks out of the garage a week ago Friday (remember how balmy and sunny it was?) to give it a good cleaning and waxing and the lousy weather landed the next day. It’s been with us all week!

I’ll put the boat back in the garage, I promise.

By the way, despite the questionable weather, the ducks are returning, at least in the Bangor area. Fellow paddler and self-proclaimed duck nut Dave Morrill called me before work Wednesday morning and sent me out to the Fields Pond area to look for ring-necked and blue-winged teals. I missed the blue-wings (I think – there were a couple of possibilities way out there) but got a good look at a half dozen ring-necks in their spring finery. That white band around their beaks caught my eyes.

Looking ahead to warmer times

Last week we talked about cold water and how deadly it can be.

This week let’s look at some ideas for spending some enjoyable time in the cockpit of your kayak.

Guess what? That time starts long before you launch from shore. And we’re not even going to talk about selecting a kayak. We’re going to concentrate on the “other-than-boat” items that can, and will as the years pass, add up to more than the cost of your boat. (If you’ve had kids, think Barbie and Ken or GI Joe here.)

There’s a list of essential equipment as well as another of “nice to have” and a third of “wouldn’t it be nice.” Another part of your enjoyment may involve some not-so-enjoyable time in the gym, getting your body in tune. Believe me, being out of tune doesn’t add to the enjoyment.

If you’ve taken a clinic to learn about getting out of your boat in the event of a capsize (wet exit), you know the first few items on the “must” list.

First is a PFD (personal flotation device), formerly known as a lifejacket. Get yourself a good one, one that fits properly and is comfortable to wear. Make sure it has adjustments to make it conform to your body and that you can move freely with it cinched snugly. If you plan to spend any time on the water, you’ll want a couple or more pockets and lash tabs for items you’ll wind up wanting close at hand.

A quality paddle is a must. Don’t go cheap here. It’s your means of propulsion and you’re going to rely on it for your life. You’re also going to be swinging it around all day, so before you buy, try as many as you can get your hands on. And don’t forget, if you’re going to be away from shore, you’ll want to have a spare paddle.

For the sake of time and space here, let’s assume you’ve done your research and have tried out the boat and paddle.

Next you’ll want a paddle float, rescue stirrup, bilge pump, and spray skirt, and you need to know how to use them. A pool clinic would be a good idea here. When you capsize (that’s right, when, not if) you’ll want to know how to get out of your boat by freeing the spray skirt from the cockpit rim and getting out of the upside-down boat.

It’s good to have a spotter standing by when you try the first wet exit, but it’s only intimidating for a second. Once you’ve tried it, it’s second nature.

Once out of the boat, you inflate the paddle float and put it on the end of your paddle to allow you to use the paddle as an outrigger to help you get back into the boat. Once aboard you’ll need to pump the water out of your cockpit. It takes some work, but you’ll be back in business in less than 10 minutes.

The spray skirt acts as a seal to keep out splashes and waves that would otherwise tend to fill your cockpit with water. Some folks paddle without a skirt. I don’t and I don’t recommend it.

More essentials

Some might not call the following items essential, but I think most of us who head out on salt water wouldn’t leave shore without them.

Let’s see: paddling jacket and pants (or a dry suit or wet suit – see last week’s column), spare clothing and/or additional layers, flares, fog horn, VHF marine radio, a strobe light, a good safety knife, loud whistle, dry bags, rain gear and hat, first-aid kit, chart, deck compass, and water bottle or hydration pack.

Even if you believe your hatches are watertight, put all your gear in dry bags, you’ll appreciate it when you go to get whatever it is you put in the bag – it will be dry.

If you’re heading out for more than an hour or two, you should pack a snack bar or power bar and by all means don’t forget the sunglasses and sunscreen (yes, we’ll have sun sometime…). If you treasure your glasses, use a safety strap. (I donated a pair of prescription glasses to Branch Lake back about 10 years ago.) A hat with a wide brim will help keep some of the sun at bay, but not all of it. You will get sunburned if you do not use sunscreen – even under your chin. And don’t forget the back of your hands.

If the weather is cool, you should have a vacuum bottle with a warm drink in it. If you plan to stop now and again on shore, a small stove and pot will come in handy to heat up water for soup or a warm drink.

I always have a flashlight or two. A headlamp is especially nice if you’re going to be on the water after sunset. Not only is it handy seeing what’s ahead when you’re on the water, it’s really useful when you’re loading your boat and equipment on your vehicle when you’re done.

If the weather is chilly, pogies or neoprene gloves will keep your hands warm. Two things you don’t want are cold hands.

And don’t forget to have a multi-tool and repair kit for those unexpected problems that crop up. Duct tape is handy and has brought more than a few boats home afloat. If you have a boat with a rudder, have some spare nuts and bolts and sundry spare pieces. The farther away from home you go, the more elaborate your repair kit should be.

Then there are items like small dry boxes to keep your camera from getting drowned, or your GPS safe. You could put your cell phone in one as well. Just remember, a cell phone is not something to count on in an emergency. Sure you might get lucky and reach someone, but a VHF radio broadcasts a signal to all mariners as well as the Coast Guard. If you were in an emergency and needed help, wouldn’t you want a large audience of potential helpers instead of just one person you might not be able to reach?

There you have it. I’m sure there’s something I forgot. I tried to cover all (and then some) of the items on the “From Store to Shore” gear list that the Maine Association of Sea Kayak Guides and Instructors, Maine Sea Grant, and Maine Island Trail Association started a few years ago. Its list of sponsors includes the Marine Patrol, Cadillac Mountain Sports, L.L. Bean, Eastern Mountain Sports, Maine Sport, Kittery Trading Post, Lincoln Canoe, Kayak and Ski, J.S. McCarthy Printers, Seaspray Kayaking, Maine State Sea Kayak, and the U.S. Coast Guard. Next time you visit any of these pick a brochure up, you’ll want to read and know all the information that is packed into this brochure. Or check out for an online copy.

Jeff Strout’s column is published Saturdays.