Safety Information

Kayak Safety for Olympic Peninsula Paddlers Club Members

by John Lull, Penny Wells and Fred Gillam BASK, with contributions from the OPP membership

All members should read this!

The following is a general statement of OPP policy/philosophy regarding sea kayaking trips and safety. We also have suggested some specific skills important for paddling in certain areas (such as the open Strait of Juan de Fuca, exposed coast, etc).

Our intent is not to dictate a set of rules or to tell anyone how or where they should paddle. The purpose is to inform new OPP members, and remind all members, of the way OPP trips function and of what we consider to be a relatively safe way to sea kayak, based on a considerable amount of past experience. This is open to review and revision; if anyone has any better ideas, please make them known (contact the OPP Paddle Board).

We do not discuss group dynamics here. Decisions regarding teamwork, group formations, signals, etc. must be tailored to each trip and will be made by group consensus or by the trip initiator. Our goal is to function as safely as possible. However, be advised that risk cannot be entirely eliminated when paddling a kayak.

Personal Responsibility

On any OPP trip, each and every participant is responsible for his/her own safety. Use your own judgment. Never blindly follow anyone into a situation you are unsure about.

Be prepared to take care of yourself. This does not mean that the other members of the group won't assist anyone who needs it, but such assistance should never be taken for granted, especially in difficult conditions. Be aware that, despite all good intentions, there is always a real possibility of being separated from the group.

Be sure your skills are adequate for any given trip. There is nothing wrong with bailing out at the put-in; everyone has done it.

It is up to each and every participant to know the trip agenda. Use a map or chart, carry a compass, and consult with the trip initiator if you are not familiar with the area. Approach the trip as if you were planning it. Paddle POC's have been known to screw up or bail at the put-in; don't be over-reliant on them.

Assume that benign conditions will deteriorate, and be prepared for the worst possible scenario. Also be prepared to take advantage of conditions that turn out to be better than expected.

Make sure you have the appropriate equipment for the trip. Check to be sure your kayak and other equipment is fully functional and in good repair. In cold water, wear a wetsuit or drysuit. Always wear a helmet in surf and ocean rock gardens.

A Paddle POC is the trip organizer, not a tour guide. Commercial outfitters get paid to be responsible for their customers' safety. OPP is a club, not an outfitter, and does cooperative, not guided, trips. POC's are no more responsible for the safety of others than anyone else in the group. Everyone has to paddle their own craft; a "leader" can't do it for them.

POC's are not responsible for evaluating participants' kayaking abilities. However, they have the right to eliminate anyone who is not prepared. Participants should evaluate their own skills. Try to be realistic; it might save embarrassment later when you become the subject of a safety talk.

The POC can organize (or not organize) the trip in any way he or she wants. Feel free to talk to the POC beforehand to find out how the trip is to be structured. If you don't like the way a trip is organized, initiate your own trip and do it your way.

OPP Skill Levels

To help OPP members evaluate whether they have the necessary skills to go on one of the club’s paddles, we have listed essential criteria to best describe the level of skills that apply to each of the three categories given.

The best way to increase your skill level is in a “controlled” situation:
  • Take classes from one of the local outfitters or ACA or BCU instructors.
  • Attend OPP skills practice sessions, workshops, and pool sessions.
  • Practice in areas with easy bail-outs.
  • Fine-tune your skills (especially strokes and rescue skills) on easy trips.
  • Above all, take your time, learn in increments, and have fun.

Remember: you participate in OPP paddles at your own risk and are completely responsible for your own safety. 

Skill Categories

Level 1 

1.  Previous basic instruction (beginning class or equivalent).

2.  Ability to perform basic paddle strokes with reasonable boat control.

3.  A working knowledge of assisted rescues.

4.  Can paddle up to 8 nautical miles during a day’s outing.

5.  Can negotiate tidal flow up to 1 knot.

Level 2 The above plus

6.  Ability to paddle with good boat control in 2-3 foot chop and brisk wind while traveling in  any direction.

7.  Knowledge of tidal currents, wind patterns, and potential bail-out locations for the area you are paddling.

8.  Ability to hold a course during crossings, taking wind and current into account, using ranges and/or compass.

9.  Ability to paddle 10-15 nautical miles during a day’s outing.

10.  Knowledge of shipping lanes and ability to deal with boat traffic, familiarity with “Rules of the Road."

11. Ability to launch and land through moderate surf.

12. Can negotiate currents of 3-5 knots.

13. Knowledge and practice of towing techniques.

14. Ability to self-rescue from an unpremeditated capsize.

Level 3 The above plus

15.  Ability to paddle in large seas (6-8 feet or larger) and strong wind (15-25 knots) in reasonable comfort.

16.  Ability to launch and land through surf associated with above sea conditions.

17.  Good boat control in rough water and following seas; good balance and reflex bracing.

18.  Have effective kayak roll or reliable self-rescue skills.

19.  Have tested your skills in rough conditions, know your limits, and be totally self-reliant in event of separation from group.