The longer days and warmer weather mean it’s time to pull your kayak out of the back of the garage or from the depths of the gear room. However, before you hit the water, make sure you’re prepared for your first adventure of the season by ensuring your gear is sea-, river-, or lake-worthy, your safety equipment is accounted for and in working condition, and you remember the protocols for a safe, fun trip.

Spring paddling
Credit: Luke Foley

Boat Inspection

It goes without saying that it’s much easier to deal with any issues your kayak may have on land, rather than water. Before shoving off this spring, take a few minutes to confirm everything is in working order and there are no hidden surprises by checking these items.

  • Critters: Make sure no mice, snakes, or other unwanted passengers have come aboard over the off-season.
  • Handles, lines, and fittings: Check the condition of decklines and handles—replace if necessary. It’s also a good idea to go over any nuts and bolts on your boat to ensure they’re tight.
  • Footpegs: Confirm that your kayak’s foot pedals still move and are adjustable. If not, clean (sand and grit are often the culprit) and lube them as needed.
  • Seat: Take a look at your seat and make sure the adjustment straps are in working order.

Finally, apply a layer of 303 Protectant to your kayak (it’s like sunscreen for your boat).

Spring paddling checklist
Credit: Luke Foley

Safety Gear Check-Up

Your PFD is arguably your most important piece of safety equipment and warrants a few minutes of your time before heading out for your first paddle of the season. Try it on and make sure it still fits—it’s not uncommon to put on a few pounds over the winter. Next, check the material. If your red life jacket is looking more pink, it’s a pretty good sign that it’s time for a new one. Make sure the zippers work and there are no cracked buckles. Lastly, wax the zippers to keep them running smooth and treat your PFD to a coat of 303 Protectant.

It’s also an opportune time to examine the rest of your paddling gear as well as your first-aid kit. For the first-aid kit, restock anything that’s missing and replace anything that’s expired. If you have a dry bag full of paddling necessities like extra layers, sunscreen, bottled water, and snacks, now is the time to inspect it and make necessary additions or subtractions. While you’re at it, don’t forget to re-mark your gear.

Transporting Your Kayak

While some of us are fortunate enough to launch right from our homes, many of us will have to travel to paddle. And that typically means attaching your boat to your vehicle. Before hitting the road, check that your rack’s padding and tie-down straps are in good condition. If it’s been a while since you last loaded your boat onto a rack, take a few minutes to refamiliarize yourself with the process.

Spring kayaking
Credit: Luke Foley

Planning Your First Trip of the Paddling Season

The acronym KISS (keep it super simple) is a good guideline for getting on the water for the first time in spring. Your skills are likely rusty, you probably haven’t used your paddling muscles much, and there’s a long season ahead—in other words, there’s no need to push your luck.

Check the weather when planning a trip and plan for the unexpected. New England is notorious for its quick-changing conditions and spring storms can roll in fast, especially in the afternoon. You’ll also want to make sure you leave a float plan with someone on shore. Include when and where you’re going and when you plan to return. In the event something goes sideways, this will speed up assistance.

It’s nice to have a paddling partner, especially early in the season. It’s always more fun to paddle with someone and a great opportunity to connect with your kayaking friends, particularly if you haven’t seen them since last season. It’s also nice to have an extra set of hands when shuffling boats for the first time of the year.

On the Water for the First Time of the Season

Always wear your PFD! The air may be warm in the spring, but the water is still cold and consequently dangerous. Another good reason to put on your PFD: it’s the law in many places. For example, in Massachusetts, canoeists and kayakers are required to wear a lifejacket between September 15 and May 15.

A phone is a valuable tool on the water, provided it’s accessible and dry. Carry it in a dry case and attach it to your PFD to ensure it’s always within reach. A whistle is another piece of safety gear to attach to your PFD—it carries farther than your voice and won’t give out. Make sure to have one made specifically for use on the water (i.e., one without moving parts to jam, freeze, or deteriorate).

Remember to pack the dry bag you just went through; you never know when you’ll need a first-aid kit, an extra layer, or a few additional calories.

Spring kayaking list
Credit: Luke Foley

Have a Fun and Safe Season

Set the tone for a fun and safe paddling season by hitting the water properly prepared. Check your gear, refresh your skills, play it smart, and get out and enjoy your time on the water.