Jersey Kayak Adventures

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Easter Sea Kayak Development Course

February 9th, 2016

Designed for the sea kayaker who wants to tune up their sea kayak skills while exploring the fantastic coastline and reefs around Jersey. Book day or multi-day options

March 25,26,27,28,29,30. 1 April

Sea Kayak Self Rescues

February 2nd, 2016

Sea kayak self rescues feature in this months edition of Ocean Paddler. Derek has written a four page article with top tips to improve your sea kayak self rescue techniques.

Sea Kayaking in Fog and Poor Visibility

January 12th, 2016

We awoke enveloped in fog, not that misty stuff which creates a haze, but instead something that felt like we were in cotton wool. For the last two days by the time we’d had breakfast and broke camp the fog had started to lift so we not unduly concerned and the forecasts confirmed this would occur.

1 hour after launching we found we were paddling in visibility of less than 100m and sometimes Tony, paddling less than 50m away, was becoming a misty shadow. We were now 6 miles offshore and 12 miles from our destination.

Sea kayaking in fog and poor visibility is something most active sea kayakers encounter at some stage. Around Jersey (my local waters) fog and forecasts of poor visibility are an irritating occurrence which can stop flights and delay ferries. Annoyingly this often coincides with otherwise great paddling conditions. Over the years I’ve found myself paddling in poor to very poor visibility and with the right mindset the experience can be enriching.

What is fog

There are various types of fog and the causes of poor visibility which is covered in great detail on the UK Met office website: Fog is caused by tiny water droplets suspended in the air. In other words it is very low cloud and you can read more here: .

Fog is defined as visibility of less than 1 kilometre (1.2miles)

Mist is visibility between 1 kilometre (0.62 mi) – 2 kilometres (1.2 miles)

Haze from 2 kilometres (1.2 mi) – 5 kilometres (3.1 mi).

Forecasts define visibility as:

Very poor: Less than 1,000 metres (0.53 nautical miles)

Poor: Between 1,000 metres and 2 nautical miles (3.7km)

Moderate:Between 2 and 5 nautical miles (3.7km-9.26km)

Good: More than 5 nautical miles (9.26km)

Even in poor visibility the range is between 1- 3.7km. Paddle at the upper end of the scale and you fall into the trap of assuming that poor visibility on a coastal trip is no big deal.

The density of fog varies so plan for the poorest visibility forecast and do not assume it will remain at the upper end of the scale.

To add a bit of ‘fun’, fog banks also move about and on a number of occasions I’ve paddled in bright sunlight and good visibility while just a few kilometres away others were looking in very poor visibility of below 1km. <photos of contrasts insert images 6897/8 and 6907> Even if you have good visibility, when poor or very poor visibility is forecast, build into your trip plan the risk of visibility deteriorating.

Useful kit to carry in poor visibility when sea kayaking

If you expect to encounter poor visibility, a few items can make a big difference so long as you know how to use them.

Everyone needs a compass

Paddlers without a compass often end up having to follow the leader which is very demanding for everyone. Mount the compass away from you so you do not have to constantly look down. This allows your focus to move between the horizon, compass, chart and monitoring other paddlers. This helps break up the uniformity of the scene and may also reduce feeling sea sick. Small baseplate style compasses are often difficult to read.

If everyone paddles on a bearing, then life becomes easier, because the route of the kayakers across the water tends to average out. If you have only one compass in the group, everyone will be matching the slightest turn of the leader.

Years ago I watched fog descend while on Herm. Mutterings were heard around the bar as the ferry boat prepared to leave, and was followed by the mass exodus of small boats following one behind the other as they followed the ferry back to Guernsey. We wondered what would have happened, if the ferry had in fact been on a private charter and was heading to Jersey.

If you stop paddling, you will probably drift around a little and in good visibility this is usually irrelevant. In fog a pause may result in you facing a different direction. Without a compass bearing you’ll rapidly become disorientated and end up heading in the wrong direction.

Charts and communication

Charts are invaluable because they allow you to monitor your route and to identify any visible bits of coastline. Even familiar sections of coast may appear different in fog.

Carry some form of communication which, ideally, is duplicated within the group. This is especially important, if you are paddling where other craft may be about. They may be focusing on their radar and chart plotters and will not be expecting to see kayakers.

Fog horns and laser flares

In some countries e.g. France a fog horn is a required item of kayaking kit. They can be powered by a small compressed air container (which usually gets discharged by your friends having fun) or a simple plastic horn you blow into. The range is usually greater than a whistle.

Modern laser flares can penetrate fog more effectively and powerful LED strobes used in conjunction with recently released retro glow tapes produce up to 3000 times the reflection of a beam of light to increase detection even in fog. Small and low cost high visibility glow patches can also help especially when available in different colours < editor- consider using img 5330-002>. However, if the group becomes separated, you are heading into deep trouble and then technology is not the key but maintaining group awareness.

Sea kayaking in poor visibility

If you are heading out with forecasts of poor or very poor visibility, add a few compass bearings into your trip plan. Even a short point to point crossing of a bay may become very challenging. Consider hand-railing (following the coastline rather than jumping from one point to another) your way around the coast.

Expect your speed to drop in poor visibility. It helps to have a good idea of your normal paddling speed so you can revise your ETA to allow for a probable slower crossing.

When the land is rapidly vanishing into the haze try and get a few compass bearings on any headlands or features. If things deteriorate and you lose sight of land this information will be your last accurate bit of information and can be used to counter mutterings from others (and even yourself) that maybe you are being pushed by the wind/currents more off course than expected. This will also give you a dead reckoning of you position. Returning to Jersey on a 6 mile crossing from les Écréhous we found ourselves in fog about half way through the trip with a 3 knot cross tide. Within minutes of the fog arriving came the comment “I think we need to head east a bit more”. Had we not grabbed a last bearing on a distant headland we might well have changed course and found ourselves well offshore.

Trust your pre trip navigation, assuming you normally trust it, as this is not the time to start doubting it. Apart from your speed perhaps being a bit slower than planned your pre trip chart work should remain valid even if fog. Why start changing your bearings because self doubt or the doubt of others has crept in? Even a hazy bearing on a distant landmark helps validate your navigation. The data and preparations made are going to be your only solid bits of information, so trust it, it’s all you have got.

Involve others in the trip planning to share responsibility within the group and reduce the risk of small but possibly significant errors creeping in. If your paddling partners are part of the process they must share some of the responsibility for the outcome of the trip and cannot blame you!

Attending a practical kayak navigation course is a great way to develop your confidence and navigation skills especially, if you have the opportunity to practice micro and night navigation and tide streams.

Wind, sun and sound

Wind can clear or push fog banks on to you. In poor visibility you can sometimes use the sensation of any breeze or even swell patterns to maintain a rough course. Keep wind or swell coming from the same direction as you paddle. However, both wind and swell directions may change and should be used with caution and are best combined with maintaining a compass course.

Sound can seem to travel a considerable distance in fog but is very deceptive. Tiny waves washing onto a beach may sound like crashing surf. Use sound as an additional source of information and rarely make major course changes based solely on this. If the sounds validate your navigation and dead reckoning, that’s great.

During a very foggy 18 nautical mile crossing from France to Jersey we heard vehicles an hour before our planned ETA and wondered, if we had drifted along the more populated south coast of the island. We stuck to our course and later realised that the vehicle sounds were caused by a couple of cars going up and down a hill a short distance from our destination.

If you are lucky, the sun sometimes makes an appearance and can indicate the fog is thinning. The position of the sun relative to your course can act as a handy guide and may let you relax from staring at the compass.

Tune in to the environment

Poor visibility is an opportunity to focus on small changes in the sea and tide streams. Look for variations in the colour of the water which might indicate changes in depth. Link this to your chart work and it may indicate you are approaching the shore or moving into shallow or deeper water. Changes in the swell may warn of an approaching beach long before you see or hear the waves.

In rocky areas look out for boomers especially in areas exposed to swell. Even the passing swell of ships and motor boats can seem to come out of nowhere.

Work as a team

How you manage the group will depend on many factors such as their previous experience. Often there will be a range of skills and experience of paddling in poor visibility within the group. It usually feels more comfortable for everyone to see each other rather than buddy up which can result in paddlers focusing only on their partner and losing contact with the rest of the team.

Check how the team feels about the forecast and actual conditions both before and during the trip. All to often incidents have occurred in which others felt uneasy with the plans but had felt uncomfortable to voice their feelings. A simple method is to ask the team to stand with their backs to you and then indicate (by the number of fingers raised) on one hand how comfortable they feel about the trip. No-one except the team leader will know who gave the 1 finger (not at all happy) sign compared to the 5 fingers -no hassle/great- rating. If you are feeling uncomfortable about the trip, you can be fairly sure others are also thinking the same.

Ultimately, if things get very difficult, rafting up and waiting may be the best option providing you have some form of communication.

GPS and technology

“It’s okay we have a GPS” sounds fine until you learn it is the only one in the group. Some years ago on an 11.5m tide we set off from La Rocque harbour to paddle 8 nautical miles to Les Écréhous. We’d planned the navigation and all that was stopping us was some poor visibility. But it was okay, we had GPS. Only by using the GPS did we locate Les Écréhous because visibility remained under 1/2 mile for the entire trip. In hindsight the power of technology had influenced our decision and had been over reliant on a small battery powered unit. A single GPS shared between the group is not sufficient. Nowadays, if faced with a trip in very poor visibility I’d hope to see everyone carrying a GPS which in the event of separation might make the risk of separation less catastrophic.

Having a GPS can also cause the navigator to feel over confident and keep paddling at their normal speed while the others play catch up and become separated -as once happened to a group of experienced kayakers heading to Les Écréhous. Luckily the rest of the group appeared out of the fog 10 minutes later.

If you wish to tune up your navigation skills while maintaining a safety backup then the GPS is invaluable, so long as it is not your sole aid. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that because you have a wonderful bit of technology all will be okay. Batteries go flat, water seeps in and gear gets washed overboard.

Other Vessels

If you are in an area where other vessels are likely to be sailing, be afraid, very afraid …

In poor visibility, the crew will be busy monitoring the radar and trying to maintaining a watch for known hazards and other vessels. Sea kayakers may literally fall beneath their radar.

Writing about a 60 mile crossing of the English Channel from Alderney to Weymouth Kevin Mansell describes how in poor visibility he has “…seen the bow wave of a large ship at close quarters and it frighted the life out of me….The forecasts said fog patches soon clearing so we were not unduly worried. In this case the fog patch was about 58 miles across”.

In March 2011 a high speed ferry travelling in fog at 35 knots cut a 9.3m fishing boat in half killing the skipper and injuring the crew. The enquiry revealed that despite of the radar echo showing a collision course the crew failed to notice the boat due to a lack of attention. Read the report here.

On my practical navigation courses I highlight how, if a large ship cannot notice a 9m aluminium boat with radar reflectors etc. in fog, we should not be surprised, if in better visibility vessels of any size may not detect sea kayakers. Ditch the idea other craft are going to see you and assume you are invisible. Fog is not the time to be crossing shipping lanes and if you are in areas where you expect to encounter other craft inform the Coastguard so other skippers are made aware and be ready to put out a call on your marine radio to alert other vessels of your presence.

After 6 hours kayaking a faint outline formed in the mist. Land ahoy! Suddenly we burst through the fog into bright sunlight within yards of our target. I’d like to think this was down to our navigational skills and not just good luck.

Since then I’ve been rather more cautious of forecasts that say the fog will soon clear.

This article first appeared in Ocean Paddler Magazine.

Derek Hairon

Coastal Navigation & Tidal Planning Course

January 7th, 2016

Develop your knowledge of weather, tides and navigation skills around Jersey. This course is suitable for kayakers, small boat owners and anyone wanting to explore the low water zone safely.

Tuesdays 1900-2130, January 12, 19, 26, February 2. Course outline.

Venue: St Helier Yacht Club.

Costs: £85. All equipment is supplied. Book online. T.07797853033

That Sinking Feeling …

July 10th, 2014

Wear and damage to drain holes on sit on top kayaks P1010945-001I recently helped Terry repair his kayak after it developed a leak around one of the recess holes. The depth sounder/drain holes are common wear spots because the plastic tends to be raised in these areas and is therefore prone to damage. The plastic is often quite thin around these spots due to the design of the hull.

Another common wear spot is at the stern of the Prowler kayaks. This can quickly wear through if the kayak is frequently dragged over beaches.

If you use the metal trolleys which ‘plug’ into the drain holes, take great care to check they do not damage the seam around the drain holes, as this is a common weak point.

Check your kayak for wear spots otherwise you may find your kayak filling with water and becoming very unstable.

As an added precaution we have installed airbags in our kayaks which you can buy from Stuart at Gone paddling: 07797728040.

Never underestimate how unstable a kayak can become with only a small amount of water sloshing about inside the hull.

If you spot an area getting thin, get in touch as I may be able to help fix it before it gets any worse.


Free Kayak Skills Safety Class

April 16th, 2014

Our free 2 hour kayak safety class is a great opportunity to get safety and paddle skills training.
Saturday 26 April 1700-1930
Safety class information.

Using the mark one eyeball

October 25th, 2012
Rock formations in Jersey

Sheltering from the wind and rain in a gully caused by a Basalt intrusion

Last Sunday (14/10) our kayak trips saw a mix of weather conditions which demonstrated just how fast weather systems move through the Channel islands, and how localised conditions can be.

For most of the week the forecasts had been pretty mixed -to put it mildly- but by Friday night things were looking more settled with little rain forecast and a north to north east wind. Ideal for a trip out of St Brelade going west.

Mick and I were scheduled to lead a couple trips for the Outdoor Writers and Photographers Guild conference being held in Jersey.

The morning session started with sunshine. I even nipped back to the van to put on my sun glasses. The forecast said sunshine and a shower. A winter coat would have been a better option….

30 minutes later a “monsoon” like rain cloud decided to dump loads of rain on us. At the same time the north wind increased to around a force 5 and the temperature dropped rapidly. Luckily we were in a sheltered bay. Things might have been very different had we been some way offshore. By 1115 the sun was back out and the wind had dropped.

walking to Seymour tower

Note the big dark cloud.  4 miles away it was very heavy rain and wind

In contrast Trudie was leading a guided walk to Seymour tower with some conference delegates. I assumed she was going to be pleased to have the key into Seymour tower so they’d be able to dry out. I was wrong. When I phoned at 1230 she’ reported no rain at all. We were less than 4 miles apart and experienced very different weather.

When I checked the weather observations at Maison St Louis it showed no rain during the morning.

By the afternoon we were back in sunshine and exploring the coastline with light northerly wind.

Using the “mark one eyeball”

We increasingly rely on weather forecasts. This shows just how important it is to keep an eye on the weather around you and be prepared to change plans- or just hide in a sheltered bay or gully  until things improve. Even with forecasts getting more and more accurate, things can change rapidly. Keep an eye on the weather by using the mark one eyeball!

Instant weather forecasting” by Alan Watts remains a good guide to cloud formations.

Here are a couple of good long range forecast links:

Weather on line

By Derek Hairon on Google+

Check the straps!

April 1st, 2012
Roof rack strps broken due to excessive sun light

Check roof rack straps for fading as this may cause weakening

As I pulled one of our kayak straps down to secure a kayak onto the roof rack today it snapped. Luckily I was pulling downwards and not diagonally. Otherwise I’d have take a nasty fall.

The strap looked okay except that it hard torn apart and I know I’m not that strong! A closer inspection revealed the webbing had become brittle and I could even tear it by hand.

The straps were less than 2 years old. There was no sign of excessive wear and tear. The only clue was the faded colour which suggests it had weakened as a result of the sunlight?

We use our straps a lot running a kayak tour company in Jersey so there is a lot of loading going on.

However, there are lots of people who drive about with their kayak loaded onto the roof rack. If this is happening perhaps it is a good idea to test your straps. I’m not sure if it is just the red straps or a problem common to other colours. The thought of losing a kayak from the roof rack is not a nice thought.

I’ll be replacing our straps annually from now on.

Tip: Have you checked your kayak roof rack straps?

“Thunderbirds are go…”

March 25th, 2012
kayaker towing an SUP ashore at St Brelade due to offshore winds

Offshore winds can be very deceptive

A great day afloat in St Brelade today doing BCU 3 Star training.

Wind came up a bit and Keith ended up doing his “International Rescue-Thunderbirds are go” bit to help a lad on an Stand Up Paddle-board (SUP).

3 SUPs had headed into the middle of the bay (near the rock in the photos) where they found the NE wind (average 10 knots peaking 15 knots) hard work. The group broke up into a dash to shore so Keith gave some help to the young lad. One problem was the lack of any towing point on the paddle board so he had to hold the tow line by hand. An option might be to tow from the SUP stern where there is often a leash point.

I still see a few kayaks without any tow points or toggles on the water which can be an even bigger problem.

Breakdown of kayakers group control in headwinds

The reality is that this could just have easily been a group of kayakers. I’ve seen similar things happen with a group of kayakers and the same break up of the group in almost the same spot.

An option is to avoid paddling directly into the wind. Paddle across wind to the nearest shore. You may find this easier even though it might result in a longer walk back to the car.

This was followed by a lad on an inflatable tyre/ring needing a hand ashore.

Tip: Watch out for offshore winds. It may seem sheltered close to shore but the wind will be stronger as you head away from the land.

Tip 2: Dress for immersion. It may have been 19 Degrees but the sea is still 9 Degrees in March. 

Kayak Registration in Jersey

March 20th, 2012
calm day sea kayaking in bouley bay

Ensure your kayak has your contact details on it to comply with the new law

A new law is about to be debated in the States to update the old regulations for Boats and surf riding craft.

This is now lodged for voting in the States on 1 May 2012.I learned of this by chance and was concerned as it requires kayaks to be registered.

I’ve now been in correspondence with Piers Baker at Regulatory Services. He says the consultation has taken place with user groups.

My only recollection was a discussion about 3 years ago and then nothing more was heard. Harbours say it was up to Regulatory services to do this and Regulatory Services say it was Harbours job to arrange consultation and contact user groups. Hmm…!

I put specific questions to Piers about the requirement to register your kayak. His replies are in italics.

1. “If a private-use kayak is marked with a contact telephone number, there will be no insurance or registration requirement.” So you will not have to pay the £20 fee.

2. “If, instead, a person really does not want to put a contact telephone number on it at all, he or she can register for a one-off (not annual) fee of £20 and will get a registration number from Harbours. He would also need to show insurance at that stage.”

3. Surf riding craft such as surf kayak can be more than 1.6m. Many sea kayaks are around 18ft- can they be used in surf if insured? “Yes.”

registering your kayak in jersey

Add your phone number and that's it- you comply with the law.

4. Some kayaks have sails- where do they fit into the regulations? “If over 3m in length, they will have to be registered once on purchase / change of ownership. They will also need to be insured.”

5. Kayaks with outboards (Yes they do exist!). “They are boats so if over 3m in length they will need to be registered.”

6. No need to pay to register a kayak with peddles – I was thinking of some of the Hobi-cat designs. It is “…still a kayak if the propulsion is from your physical effort.”

7. Will this mean all beaches can be surfed if the old surf law is repealed providing they follow good practices e.g BCU/BSA surfing guidelines? “By and large yes, the old restrictions will go but the Harbour master will replace them with some form of regulation such as a prohibition of surfing within a patrolled & flagged safe bathing area on surfing beaches such as St Ouen, St Brelade and Greve de Lecq.”

8. Will this mean clubs with a fleet of craft have to pay to register them as clubs are a bit of a tricky area especially if they hire the craft out to people? “Club fleets will not have to register the kayaks. They will have to get a permit to let them out under regulation 4 and be insured, which is what they have to do now.”

9. My brief reading is that every kayak must be insured (whether it is used in surf or not) with third party liability insurance, the name/contact details of the owner clearly displayed and no further costs to the owner or need to register with Harbours. Is this correct? “Not quite –There will be no need to register or insure, if it is a privately-used kayak and it has some form of contact details marked on it.”

kayaking near beauport bay

Marking your kayak may help you get it back if it is stolen or lost at sea.

10. Will it be a requirement for people using a kayak in surf to have insurance? “Yes.”

11. Visiting sea kayakers to Jersey will not need to register their sea kayaks in Jersey if they are only visiting for a short time. However, it makes sense to mark your contact details on your sea kayak in case it is lost at sea.

If you need more information have a look at the draft Harbours (Inshore safety ) Jersey) Regulations or contact: Piers Baker at Regulatory Services.

If you have any issues about the new Regulations it is now best to contact your local Deputy as the vote is scheduled for 1 May 2012.

Tip: When marking your kayak with your contact details it is a good idea to put the details in a visible and also a more  hidden spot. Should your kayak get stolen the thief may not spot the hidden registration details but it might help you prove ownership. I know of a couple cases where the owners got their kayaks back as a result of this.

I hope this helps. Derek Hairon, BCU Local Coaching Officer, Jersey.

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