Paddling for Preppers-Kayak Selection

Paddling for Preppers-Kayak Selection

This is the first article of a series of articles written for preppers who may choose to use paddlecraft when SHTF.

If some sort of SHTF scenario occurs, people will most likely be evacuating to the point that roads will be clogged to the point of being impassable.  One way out could be paddling your kayak!  This article will help you think about if this is right for you, and what type of kayak would work best for your area, what you need to carry, and how far you plan to go.

Most people are going to try to carry as much as they can, in which case they should be checking out kayaks with the most capacity.  Sea kayaks, tandem and solo fit the bill here.  If one only has sit on top kayaks there is limited storage, and most of your gear will be topside, exposed to the elements and causing drag with any wind.

There are countless different makes and models of kayaks on the market, new and used, and lots of ways to put them into different classifications.  To keep it simple this will separate by tandem and solo.

Stellar Sea Kayaks
Fiberglass and kevlar sea kayaks

Tandem, meaning two-person boats are great if there are two people together and there is a wide disparity in paddling ability.  Technique, speed, balance, experience etc all contribute to whether one paddler can keep up with another.  Most tandem kayaks can be paddled solo, giving one more room for supplies as well.  Below is a comparison of two typical expedition tandems.

Tandem kayaks comparison

The above picture shows two tandems, on the left is a Wilderness Systems Skookumchuk,a fiberglass, 21 feet long, 30 inches wide, approx 90 pound boat with 2 cockpits, 3 hatches, and an overstern rudder with is controlled by the paddler in the stern seat.  This boat hasn’t been in production for years but there are similar kayaks on the market today, and boats similar to this can often be found used.

On the right is a Folbot Greenland II, a skin-on-frame folding boat that is 17 feet long, 34 inches wide, just over 60 pounds with an overstern rudder that is also controlled by the paddler in the stern seat.  Unfortunately Folbot has gone out of business, but there are many of these on the used market, and several other manufacturers make these type of boats.

As for which one is best, that is subjective according to the needs of the individual. The fiberglass boat has more durability, by far.  Being longer and more rigid, it is also faster.  It will actually carry more cargo than the Folbot.  But-the Folbot is at least 30 pounds lighter.  It can be disassembled and hidden if the need arises.  Also, if one has a storage issue, this kayak can live in a closet!

Wilderness Systems Skookumchuk
Fiberglass Tandem Sea Kayak

Things worth noting on the pic above.   There is reflective tape on the bow and the stern, but in a SHTF situation you may be trying to remain less visible.  It’s likely one would be traveling at night, and without that tape the kayak is almost invisible.  There are compartments with hatches at the bow, stern, and midships.  This creates a lot of storage!  There are bungees mounted to the deck in front of both cockpits, handy for maps, snacks, water bottle, weapon, etc.  Also, there are cockpit covers attached to the rim of the cockpits.  These cut wind resistance and save you gas when it’s on the car, and they keep bugs, rain, and critters out of your boat when you aren’t it in (except bears, of course).


The two duffel bags on the ground hold everything you see, plus a couple life jackets and enough room for some other small items.  The spray shields on the ground attach to the hoops you see and tighten around the stomach to keep water out.  The hull is made of a very tough material called Hypalon.  It’s very durable but you can puncture or tear it if you hit the wrong thing.  Notice there are also deck bungees for attaching things you want available.  Also worth noting is it takes about 30 minutes for a novice to disassemble or re-assemble the boat.

From front to rear=Aquaterra Sea Lion, Stellar S16, Stellar S18, Folbot Greenland II, Wilderness Systems Skookumchuk

Solo sea kayaks are great choices for those with the skill to paddle them and who know how to pack.  However, if one didn’t have a tandem and needed to get two people out, a second solo can be towed from the first without too much effort, at least in flat water.

Stellar S18, Stellar S16
Fits nicely in sea kayak cockpit.

The pic above is from the Stellar S18, an 18 foot sea kayak made by Stellar.  The water bottle holder is standard on their kayak seats, and that’s a Beemon air rifle tucked in by the seat.  If one is going to the effort to travel silently, they may as well be able to harvest small game silently as well from the boat.

Sea kayaks are made out of everything from cloth, wood, plastic fiberglass, kevlar and carbon.   Most that one sees on local waterways will be plastic or fiberglass.  True sea kayaks tend to be at least 16 feet long, have bulkheads separating the cockpit from the bow and stern, and usually have either a skeg or rudder to help with steering.  It needs to be pointed out that every kayak is a trade-off of features.

Plastic sea kayaks can take a beating!  Their durability is unmatched, but downside is that they are going to be heavier and slower than their composite counterparts.  They need to be stored out of the sun, as UV radiation is the great destroyer.  The biggest advantage to them is price.  They are usually much less than a composite boat.

The composite boats are typically lighter as they are made of fiberglass, wood, or kevlar.  What makes them significantly faster is the fact that hull shapes can be designed for them that are impossible to re-create with plastic boats.  Also, the added hull stiffness makes them more efficient than plastic boats.  And although brand new boats are more expensive, used composite kayaks can be found at great deals.

I am a kayak tour guide, instructor, racer, and Stellar dealer, so I have more experience and kayaks than most.  That being said, in a SHTF scenario, I would probably bug out with one tandem and two solo sea kayaks, assuming all four of my family members were home..  In my situation, I have a family of four-my wife is supportive but doesn’t paddle, really.  My two children are now young adults, grew up paddling, and work in the paddlesports industry.  They’re competent and smart paddlers.  IF I didn’t have a tandem, I’d rig a tow rig and drag another solo kayak behind my solo.

Whatever boat you are interested in, try it before you buy it!  The fastest boat in the world will do you no good if you can’t keep it upright!  Sea kayaks have wide variability in stability and you won’t know if it will be suitable until you actually paddle it.  Also, most manufacturers give maximum weight limits on their kayaks, but take them with a grain of salt.  They can be more or less, so you need to experiment with your boat to determine what your boat can stand.

Upcoming in the series-How to load a kayak, how to handle/figure out tides/currents/wind/waves, navigation on the water, and ??  Any requests?




Paddling with your kids

Paddling with your kids

Here at the end of 2017, I have a 21 year old son and a 19 year old daughter.  I often have people tell me how lucky I am that my kids will still paddle with me, and I am!  As a kayak instructor and competitive paddler I was in a good position while they were growing up to foster their interest and love of paddling, and it has paid off.

I figured out early there were three main things-don’t go too long, don’t let them get cold, and forget a “plan.”  If I wanted to go from A to B, but it turned out we only made it a little past A, then hunted for pirate treasure or had the snack then that I thought would be a while later, it was good.  If the paddle turned into a swim, or a hike, or a shell-finding venture, that was good too.

Our early paddling was in sea kayaks, recreational sit on tops, and canoes but we ultimately graduated up to tandem racing canoes, sprint boats, and surfskis.  Eventually they paddled them solo, and got into SUP now and again.

me and logan tandem ski ck
Son and I in one of our first tandem surf ski races.
logan mako
14 year old son handling a tippy surf ski like a boss!
Happiest Dad around.
onancock start
Daughter and I leading the start of the Onancock Challenge, 2010


Patience is the word of the day when paddling with your kids.   When you first start, if they have a paddle, they aren’t going to use it TO paddle.  It will be a shovel, gun, guitar, and device that slows forward progress.  That’s okay!  Today’s paddle is about paving the way for future paddles.

Daughter with her paddle backwards, but having fun
She’s got her paddle backwards but who cares?! Her brother is solo in the blue boat next to us. Six and eight years old here.

Always-bring snacks and drinks.  Fruit is good, orange and banana peels aren’t as bad as plastic wrappers if they fall overboard.  Let the kids make their own water bottle with their choice of drink.  Have a toy or two, but nothing precious unless it floats.  Nothing ruins a fun day in a boat with your kid than an unplanned sacrifice to Neptune.

Happy fishergirl!
Happy kayak fishergirl!

Competitive paddling is awesome with kids, but your expectations have to be realistic.  Until they reach a certain age, they won’t be doing anything that makes the boat go faster.  In fact, they’ll likely be doing things that make it go slower!  Expect it in advance and you’ll both be happier.  If you paddle something less stable like a tandem surfski or K2, be ready to brace!  And if your partner keeps rocking the boat, don’t get loud!  Encourage them to keep it flat, they’ll learn eventually!  We were fortunate to have a great local racing community that gave my kids a ton of encouragement.

Racing in Toronto with my son.
me and sarah low five
Post win “low-5” with daughter.
Son's first award ceremony, 4 years old!
First post-race award ceremony for my son and I, at 4 years old!

Eventually, they can handle their own boat!  It’s awesome!  But they might not be able to keep up with you for a while.  Slow down, stay close, keep it fun.

The kids are adults now, our schedules rarely coincide, but we still paddle together!  SUP, surf ski, sea kayak or a combo of craft gets us on the water enough to make me happy, and proud.  Both my kids have followed in my footsteps and work professionally in paddlesports, again making me proud!  Good luck to all you parents getting your kids on the water, and keeping them stoked for it forever.

All adults here!

Lock her up! (Your boat, that is!)


The first thing to say about locking your boats to a vehicle?  Just like locking up anything, the effectiveness of your system really depends on the tools and opportunity a highly motivated thief may have.  Locks keep honest people honest, and keep lazy thieves from taking things.  Just making something harder steal will often be enough to discourage an opportunist.  Now with that out of the way….

In general, I never lock up my boats around town, only when on road trips.  I always use Yakima racks with locking cores, and then lock the boats to the racks.  Below are a few of the methods I use that work and are easy to get in place.

  1.  Two cable loops and a lock.

    This is easy enough to make, and there are some commercial versions out there.  Take a couple of pieces of coated cable, use the crimps to make a small loop and a large loop on each.  The large loops fit over the bow and the stern, and the two lines will reach each other somewhere in between at the small loops and they can be locked together.  As long as the cable is run under the racks, the boat can’t be taken without some heavy cutting equipment.

  2. FCS Bungee Locking Straps

These straps have a metal cable core inside them, and have a locking buckle.  Not only a locking buckle, but a combo lock buckle!  For the win, for those of us who lose keys occasionally!  No other parts to lose either.  First time one uses it there is a short learning curve getting it all to come together.

3.  Thule Locking Strap

These work just like any cam buckle strap, only the buckle has a sliding cover that locks in place.  And, these straps have an embedded steel cable.  High quality and easy to use, just have to be careful not to let the sliding part get lost as it does come off, and of course, don’t lose your keys!

A few notes-I typically paddle surfskis and sea kayaks.  Locally there hasn’t been a big problem with theft of either.  Fishing kayaks, SUPs and surfboards are a different story though.  If you have on of those in your rack, you might want to lock it, especially if it’s out in public overnight.

Write down the serial numbers of your craft.  Keep them at home and in your phone.

If something gets stolen, the cops will tell you to check pawn shops.  Don’t start at the top of the listing in the yellow pages, instead start checking the closest ones to the the site of the theft and work your way out.

Good luck staying safe on the water and keeping your gear safe off the water!




Garment Brilliance

One of my favorite pieces of winter gear deserves recognition.

I’ve paddled multiple times a week year round in southeast Virginia for almost three decades now.  Dressing right for paddling in winter is actually pretty easy.  What to wear after the paddle while standing around the launch enjoying a couple cold ones with the boys (and girls) is the challenge.

With the help of a neighbor who sews, I figured it out!  A robe!  But not a Wal-Mart robe, no, a tricked out badass mult-purpose garment!  From a distance, one  would even mistake me for a Jedi Knight!

But this is no costume, and its not just for looks.  Constructed entirely of wind-stopper fleece this keeps me warm in the worst of the worst.  It has doubled as a sleeping bag before.  And it has enough space for two people!

And notice the volume on the pockets.  With enough for six cans of your favorite beverage, this wearable drink transport system holds a 12-pack!  Of course you could otherwisen carry something useful like your phone, pistol, knife or a dachshund.

Paddlers, preppers, and all you other outdoors folks owe it to yourselves to get one of these in your kit.  You’ll be glad you did!

Camping out of a 14 foot surfski?


Years ago I backpacked quite a bit, and was thrilled when I started canoe/kayak camping with all the extra room, especially since the weight didn’t matter as much in the boat as it did on the back!

I haven’t yet camped out of the new Stellar S14S or any of the other smaller skis that have hatches, so I loaded it up to see how it would fare.  As the pictures show, it will work great!



This is what fit in the rear hatch-sleeping bag, pillow, sleeping pad, clothes, coffee pot, water bladder and spare bladder, and cooler with food, drinks, and beer!


The front hatch is big enough for some food, water filter, stove and eating utensils, tent, and tarp.

With a little more careful packing I could easily get more items loaded.  The life jacket holds another 2L of water, camera, chapstick, snack, and cell phone.  The deck bungees behind the seat are still open for more gear as well.

Looking forward to actually taking her camping now!



Hard Day, Great Outcome


In my defense, this event happened before I became a special education teacher.

Early on when I was running my first running kayak tour and instruction business I was introduced to a fellow who ran a program in Virginia Beach for adults with mental retardation.  He was a big believer in experiential education, and was super excited to get some of the people in his program on the water with me.  I knew it would be a challenge, but I figured if I kept them in tandem kayaks and kept a close eye on them that it could be a fun time for all.  Plus, to be honest that was back when I still knew everything.

We went to the boat ramp at what was then called Seashore State Park in Virginia Beach.  It is flat water and it’s easy enough there to stay in the shallows away from motorboat traffic.  The pre-trip brief went just like any other.  Everyone stood there nodding their heads that they understood what I was saying, mimicked my “air-paddling” technique, and put on the life jackets. They totally played me, as I found out as soon as we launched.

Instantaneously, I knew I had overestimated everything about this trip-the participant’s grasp of the pre-trip brief, their ability to paddle given the amount of instruction given, and mostly my ability to keep this a smooth evolution.

There were seven participants from the program, along with one of their staff, and me.  I had figured a four to one ratio would be fine, and we had actually exceeded that.  The staff member shared a tandem with the one individual he thought would be least able to figure it out, and I was in a solo sea kayak.  The remaining six participants were in tandem kayaks.

I started launching the boats.  Immediately one did a big turn and paddled straight into the marsh and stuck there.  One just started paddling in a big circle, and the third headed for the channel.  I figured the boat stuck in the marsh wasn’t in danger, so I had the boat with the staff guy try to straighten out the circle boat.  I chased down the boat heading for the channel and coached them back closer to the other boats.  The guys in the boat that was stuck in the reed were still paddling forward.  It took a lot of yelling, but finally I got them to stop paddling.  Then I showed them how to paddle backward.

The conversation went this way-

Me, paddling backwards  “Like this!”                                                                                                 Them paddling forward “Like this?”                                                                                                 “No, like this!”                                                                                                                                         “Like this?”                                                                                                                                               “No, Like THIS!”  Admittedly I somehow thought more volume might be helpful about now. This went on until I jumped out of my boat, pulled them off the shore and turned them around.

The one boat kept trying to get to the boat channel so I leashed it up and got that under control.  Then one big fella was on the verge of getting seasick with the six-inch chop.  And so on, and so on.  It was by far one of the hardest guiding trips with the level of “mother henning” I had to do, and I was redlining on effort and stress.  Thankfully, about  the time we hit the beach I had an epiphany, these boys were having fun!!

We had a little lunch and some laughs.  My stress subsided, but I was still worried about the trip back.

We were able to paddle back to the ramp with no more drama and everyone enjoyed it.  As the crow flies, we went about 500 meters, twice.  We had two more great outings that summer.  I learned a lot.

Don’t get rubbed the wrong way

Don’t get rubbed the wrong way

During a good paddle, many of us surfskiers have found out all of a sudden that the shorts we decided to wear that day were rubbing a hole in our backside.  Actually, it might not be the back side, but the front side!  And since I usually carry a tube of something with me on long paddles, I’ve saved many friends from the rash monster over the years.  Depending on the shorts, the bucket of the boat, and one’s anatomy this can be a recurring issue, so here’s how to fight back.

I have experienced this enough times to become a bit of an expert in the field.  Usually the problem is right above the crack.  Yes, the butt crack.

There are commercial products out there for this, but since like most paddlers I’m a bit on the cheap side, I’ve found some other things that work.  All are pictured above, and described below.

  1.  Vaseline-any petroleum jelly will do.  Does a great job and can be bought almost anywhere.
  2.  Bag Balm-Made for cow udders, this is a great product.  Greasy and antiseptic!  Cost for a tin this size is around $8.  Downside is I only find it online, or at a farm  supply store.  It’s petroleum jelly and lanolin, and for some reason it wipes off the  hands before you paddle much easier than just Vaseline.
  3. Chapstick-Upside, I usually have some in the life jacket pocket, and it works.  Downside, my paddling partners think it’s nasty when I use it on my backside, then my lips.
  4. Butt-Aid-Fantastic stuff, and it’s sold at the Dollar Store!  Wipes off the hands pretty easily, but turns a bit of a funny color after a while.
  5. Diaper Rash Ointment-The king of protection against not only rubbing but any rash you might get.  Also, another Dollar Store product!!  And one day I scored points with some skim boarders by letting them have some after their shorts were rashing them up.  Also wipes off the hands without much effort so it doesn’t interfere with paddle grip.

If you need it, apply liberally and go paddle!