The Ten Commandments of Sea Kayaking

by Eric Soares on January 17, 2012

What is most important in adventure sea kayaking?  For fun and convenience, I’ve ordered my list, beginning with the most essential and progressing from there. Here are my Ten Commandments of Sea Kayaking:

Never turn your back on the sea!

1-Thou shalt not turn thy back on the sea.

Give the sea the reverence it is due. Make the sea a lifelong study, so you understand it well. From afar and near scout the sea to discover what is happening that day. Assess your capabilities as they relate to the observed sea conditions.  Learn to navigate at sea and respect the creatures that dwell in the sea.

2-Thou shalt paddle a seaworthy boat.

Find the right boat and paddle for you.

Paddle many kayaks until you find or build the one that is best for you. It may be that you need a different boat on a different day. Appreciate all boats, for each has its strengths and weaknesses.  And try many paddles until you find or build one that works for you.  Your paddle and boat are your best friends on the water.

3-Thou shalt wear protective gear.

On this cold, rainy winter's day in surf and rocks, wear a full wetsuit, gloves, booties, helmet, and PFD.

Humans are not sea creatures and need to be protected when exposed to water, air and sun. Wear apparel that will keep you warm and safe in the water.  If paddling in surf and rocks, don helmets and consider padding your body with armor.

4-Thou shalt not kayak where thou canst not swim.

Remember, sea kayaking is an in-water sport, not an on-water sport, so be able to swim comfortably in the place you plan to paddle.

Since extreme sea kayaking is an in-water activity, and you may end up out of your boat, be sure you can swim like an otter in the water.  You don’t want to fear the very environment you have sought.

5-Thou shalt learn all paddling techniques.

In a safe environment, go out and practice all paddling skills, including rolling.

Starting with the most basic paddling strokes, in increments learn and practice them all until you gain proficiency and power.  There are many ways to learn to paddle, but it is imperative that one can go in any direction at will, including down and back up.  So master the roll, sweeps, pries, sculls, draws, J-strokes, braces, and ninja strokes.

6-Thou shalt master the marine environment.

Kayaking in sea caves on exposed coastlines is the last and most mysterious place to learn to paddle in.

Anyone can paddle in a small warm pond.  A master kayaker can paddle anywhere. So, over the years, learn to feel at ease while miles from shore, in cold water, in strong wind, in big seas, at night.  Then learn to paddle in surf, rocks, and caves. Then, no matter the place, no matter the conditions, you likely will be able to paddle in the sea that day.

7-Thou shalt not smite thy fellow boater.

When in ocean rock gardens, position yourself to minimize collision with rocks and boaters.

Do not cause harm to others in the water—avoid swimmers, surfers, and congested boat traffic areas.  Do not let yourself be struck by other kayakers, toppling icebergs, or flotsam in surf.  Do not crash head first onto a rock or the sea bottom.

8-Thou shalt save others.

Practice every kind of rescue scenario, even swimmer-to-swimmer rescues.

Practice rescuing yourself and others from water predicaments.  Within your capabilities, assist anyone who needs help on the water.

9-Thou shalt go on quests.

Tsunami Rangers seek adventure and exploration on the northern California coast, near Albion.

By yourself and with others, explore the sea and seek adventure there.  Paddle every nook and cranny of a complex rock garden, and embark upon long journeys to distant shores.

10-Thou shalt teach what thou hast learned.

Please teach others what you know, as Helen Wilson is doing in this photo. She's teaching rolling, an essential paddling skill.

Teach others to kayak.  Pass on your unique take on the water world.  We all benefit when knowledge and experience is shared.  Tell your story.

Are these close to your Ten Commandments of sea kayaking?  What would you add or delete? Please feel free to add your comments below this post.

LET MY PEOPLE ROW! (courtesy of Michael Powers and Will Nordby)

Note to my readers:  I’m off skiing (pray for snow). My column will return by the first of February, 2012, so stay tuned. 

Like this post? Then please help us out and share it on Facebook, Twitter, and elsewhere. And don't miss any Tsunami Rangers posts: subscribe by e-mail or subscribe by RSS. And you can leave a comment below...

{ 74 comments… read them below or add one }

Steven King January 17, 2012 at 10:58 am

I love it!

Thou shall have fun!


Eric Soares January 17, 2012 at 11:13 am

Oh yes, the most important commandment–have fun!
Thank you Steve.


Nick Crowhurst January 17, 2012 at 11:39 am

Eric, excellent list. On a slight side issue, in the rescue photo the swimmer is wearing an Extrasport Rotaglide PFD. I regard this as by far the best sea kayaking PFD ever produced. I bought three of them a few years ago, knowing they are obselete. One for the UK, one for the USA, and one for my son. ( is his website). The company stopped making them years ago, and their replacements are no use to me. Is there any way we could get this company to reverse that decision? One dealer told me that the bean counters took over the company, and cheaper models of PFD were then produced.


Kenny Howell January 17, 2012 at 12:02 pm

Nick, where do you live? There are is a vast selection of extremely comfortable life vests on the market, and I should think you can find one that approximates the Extrasport model you liked. I use a Kokotat Orbit for most of my paddling, it is super low-cut, with minimal restriction, and the choice for many surfski racers. It is also US Coast Guard approved…Astral makes amazing life vests, including a very comfy model made from kapok, a natural fiber. They are the choice PFDs for many paddling pros.


Padre Jack January 17, 2012 at 11:46 am

May I join your church? (I’m already ordained in two others!)
Padre Jack


Ed Anderson January 17, 2012 at 11:49 am

Brilliant Eric! I think pretty much everything you wrote derives from the First Commandment’s “Give the sea the reverence it is due. ” I have certainly learned that Mother Ocean does not tolerate a lack of respect. Thanks!


Nick Crowhurst January 17, 2012 at 12:08 pm

Kenny, thanks for your reply. I live in Cornwall in the UK. I’m set up with my PFDs (bought in the USA) for years to come, but I’d like this PFD to be available for others in the future. Several of my paddling buddies here would buy one. The comfort and adjustability, together with the layout of the pockets for GPS, PLB, radio, flares etc is the best I’ve seen.


Kenny Howell January 17, 2012 at 12:23 pm

Cool Nick. I’m not sure exactly what your needs are in terms of pocket layout, but guys I paddle with are able to stash all their safety gadgets into various life vests availble now. Full disclosure, and a shameless one: I am in the paddlesports industry, and we sell Kokotat. Check this mother out, you can fit an arsenal of electronics into the pockets; tell your buds to but it online and we’ll ship to the UK:

Note: Kokotat is an amazing company, owned by paddlers, and they support many cool expeditions. Their stuff is the best.


Sean Morley January 17, 2012 at 12:08 pm

#11: Thou shalt respect the sport’s pioneers, of which you are most certainly one.


Ron Wagner January 17, 2012 at 12:18 pm

Thanks for the article. Here are a few of my own.

I am a solo kayaker, because I can’t find anyone that shares my passion. Plus I enjoy the adventure of it.
1. Don’t solo if you can bring a buddy for safety. You could have a heart attack, equipment or some other problem.
2. Maximize your safety gear: cell phone,compass, marine radio, gps, map, quality life preserver, rope, light, whistle, foghorn, medical kit, flare, extra paddle, maybe a collapsible oar, or paddle. Of course you won’t do all this, but think about it.
3. Keep your paddle and kayak connected to yourself with a strong cord and a quick release snap. You can make it yourself.
4. Don’t go out in the fog unless you have a GPS or compass, and then have extra batteries.
5. Make sure you are in good enough physical condition to get back to shore even if you dump.
6. Tell people what your plans are, and where you intend to be.


Tony Johnson January 17, 2012 at 12:22 pm

I think having a roll should be one of the commandments.
Thanks, enjoy your ski vacation!



Michele Sorensen January 19, 2012 at 3:17 pm

Having a bomb-proof re-entry of any type is most important. Less than 5% of kayakers can reliably roll, and I’ve read many a rescue story of rollers who couldn’t re-enter once they’d landed in the water. Every kayak I try out, I first jump out of the cockpit into the deep blue, and if I can’t get back in within ten seconds, it’s not the boat for me! (I’ve taught hundreds of paddlers over the last twelve years.)


Kenny Howell January 19, 2012 at 5:41 pm

Michele, just out of curiosity – where do you get the “less than 5% of kayakers can reliably roll” figure? Is that your guesstimate and observation, or based on some real survey, and if so, where? I would guess the figure is much higher among the “devoted” sea kayaking population, depending on how one defines “kayaker”. By the time a closed-deck boater is negotiating exposed open coasts and playing in rock gardens, a reliable roll would be mandatory, and anyone attempting to paddle in that environment without the proper skills is just foolish (or a student (;-). Whitewater kayaking is similar. You’re never going to have much fun or improve your skills in challenging conditions if you can’t roll.

What I notice is that a lot of rollers only have one “good” side – they can’t roll on their offside, or not reliably. I agree 100% that you need a back-up re-entry method; re-enter and roll, scramble, etc. And solid off-side roll…

All that being said, I’m a big fan of open-deck boats for all the obvious safety reasons. But, sometime the cold is barely tolerable while paddling my WET surfski in chilly NorCal. Everything is a compromise, eh?


Ron Wagner January 21, 2012 at 10:36 am

I would say that the vast majority of kayakers are intermediate in skill, at best. I would fit into that category. I am strong, and a good swimmer, but not aerobically fit as I should be at 66. I use a sit on top. In cold weather I use a farmer john wet suit, with a polyester underclothes. I layer on top of that. I end up unzipping and taking off clothes most of the time. I live in Central Illinois, so the water is colder than most ocean paddlers are in. Since I recognize my limitations, I stay close to shore, except when I have to cross from point to point. I don’t own a “sea kayak” but also have a 17 ft. inflatable Ocean kayak by Sevylor, that is self bailing optional. This limits me to about
45 degrees and partially sunny days, but I will live with that until I can afford to add a sea kayak and a river kayak to my collection. Then I will also want to add a dry suit.


Tony Johnson January 19, 2012 at 5:56 pm

Please remain seated!

Cold water quickly saps the strength of even expert swimmers, and the time spent in practicing climbing back in a kayak would be far better spent in Eskimo rescue practice/Roll.
My concern is that the wet exit and reentry method has become widely accepted in training programs as a first option for rescues. It should be the last thing to try, because it puts a capsize victim and others at unnecessary risk.
We have lessons that we might learn from traditional kayakers who developed rescue methods that have stood the test of time.



Kenny Howell January 19, 2012 at 6:10 pm

That is a really refreshing viewpoint Tony. I have a good relexive brace, and it has kept me upright, warm, and in the boat in super gnar-gnar situations. John Lull has written about a “heirarchy of rescue skills”, and I’ll probably get this wrong but, first comes balance, then bracing, then rolling – you get the idea. Last thing in the heirarchy is some kind of rescue that involves exiting the boat!

We were recently required to demonstrate “working knowledge” of the cowboy/scramble re-entry method in rough water as part of the ACA Level 5 instructor certification. I can do it no problem, but I have about as much admiration for this method as the Tea Party has for Barack Obama.


Moulton Avery January 19, 2012 at 7:10 pm

Good points, Tony. My concern with the reenter-and-roll that seems to be the “Rescue de Jour” these days is that it’s often presented as if the deal is done at the end of the roll. In fact, the tough stuff is just beginning: reattaching the skirt, pumping cockpit, stowing float or whatever. It’s a sequence of linked steps. Blowing any step & capsizing again = failed rescue. Try finding that caveat on a video extolling the technique.


Moulton Avery January 19, 2012 at 7:15 pm

I don’t know about the stats, but most of the kayakers that I’ve encountered over the past 2.5 years did not appear to have a roll at all, let alone a reliable on-side roll.  On most SK outings that I’ve attended in the DC area, I’m usually the only paddler who rolls when we’re out on the water. It’s pretty weird, and it’s hard for me to see how anyone can maintain a complex skill like that without regular practice.  River kayakers seem to have gotten the Roll B Good / Roll B Cool memo, but I don’t think we can’t say the same for most sea kayakers.

Balance / Brace / Roll is good stuff, Kenny, and what you said about the relationship between having a roll and having fun is spot-on.  It’s also a whole lot easier to extend yourself in conditions and in practicing various paddling skills if you know you have good braces and a reliable (not bombproof, remember) roll.


Tony Johnson January 19, 2012 at 8:41 pm

The cowboy/scramble is an important method of re-entry, one worth practicing. Kenny, its good to see this method is part of the ACA Level 5 instructor certification!

Moulton, I agree, the reenter-and-roll sucks, I like the scamble much better, but its also useful as Sergey demonstrated in our video Trapped on Devils Slide. He was able to reenter-and-roll a flooded boat to safety.

Self rescue without leaving the kayak (rolling, sculling, bracing) is a basic skill, one that many believe should be learned before paddling. Greenlanders of old, in their bitterly cold waters, largely practiced the ” roll or die” philosophy. Rolling was a very big part of kayaking! A kayak, combined with a tuilik (full kayak jacket) was considered a drysuit and PFD.
Greenlanders developed different rolls in order to deal with the hazards of hunting, and a harpoon line. For example sculling rolls allow you to recover even if you are entangled in line and can’t sweep your paddle. Many of the rolls are useful for specific situations. Learning to roll will go far to help make us all safer kayakers. Of course, there is much more to safe kayaking than just rolling; having the skill, knowledge and judgment to prevent a roll (except in circumstances such as an “offensive” roll ), is much more important


Bill Vonnegut January 17, 2012 at 12:55 pm

Love it!!


Johnny Johnston January 17, 2012 at 1:13 pm

If thou be in doubt, thou shalt not paddling go!


John Lull January 17, 2012 at 1:40 pm

Keep it Simple! would be one I’d add. Or to quote Steve Sinclair, “lean and mean.”

For one example, taking Ron’s #4 commandment: “4. Don’t go out in the fog unless you have a GPS or compass, and then have extra batteries.”

I would say always have a compass handy and know HOW TO USE IT! Then you won’t have to rely on an electronic gadget and carry extra batteries.


Ron Wagner January 17, 2012 at 2:35 pm

A compass is good, and should be kept with you, but it cannot tell you where a safe landing site is. Both are better.


John Lull January 17, 2012 at 2:48 pm

True, both are better, but the compass is more reliable. No, it can’t tell you where to land. That’s what the chart is for, and your own eyes and good judgment, of course. Then again, I’m amazed at how few people know how to use a compass or a chart. So in this day and age, when everyone knows how to use electronic gadgets, the GPS might be what most would prefer. Until it inevitably fails as all electronics eventually do in a kayak at sea.

“Thou shalt not worship false electronic devices in a salty, stormy environment.”


Moulton Avery January 17, 2012 at 8:27 pm

Well said, John. Getting lost is no joke, and far more serious than most folks realize. How serious? Read “Analysis of Lost Person Behavior” by William Syrotuck and find out. I wince as we move into this brave new era of electronics, not because the gadgets aren’t cool, but because the time-tested “hands-on” skills are getting tossed overboard.


Eric Soares January 18, 2012 at 8:50 pm

John, Moulton, et al.,

I plan to write an essay on “natural navigation” either near the end of February or early March, so check it out when it’s published. As for high tech stuff, I’m for it, but feel similar to John and Moulton above. Check this link for my take on kayaking gizmos and gadgets:


Moulton Avery January 17, 2012 at 1:57 pm

Great post, Eric.  The first and last pix are a riot!  By the way, isn’t Wellen Hilson teaching her famous “Possum Defense” in that photo?  You know, the one that works wonders deterring Salties, Great Whites, and Humboldt Squid…

Reading Ron Wagner’s sage comments, I’m thinking – hmmm, this mate should hook up with Doug Lloyd.  And kudos to you, Ron, for your Number 3. I often feel like I’m barking into deaf ears on the wisdom of using a boat tether…

As you perhaps suspected, Eric, I also have a few commandments that I’d like to share:

1) Poketh not with thy paddle the sleeping tigress that is Mother Nature, lest she awaken and bitch-slap thee with it.

2) Laugheth not at other paddlers, yea, even though they paddle foolish boats, for they, too, loveth the sea, and that is good.

3) Braggeth not upon thy skills and exploits, for big words and hot air are of no use upon the sea, and ariseth Neptune’s anger, which is not good.

4) Remember well thine own beginnings, when thou were but a bright-eyed and clueless newbie, and take care to passeth what thou knowest with a gentle and empathetic hand.

5) Stack up upon thy deck any demons that torment thee, for the sea shall washeth them away, and leave thee cleansed.


Ron Wagner January 17, 2012 at 2:37 pm



Eric Soares January 17, 2012 at 5:30 pm

Moulton, I agree with Ron, that was beautiful, especially your #5.

BTW, Moulton, can you find yourself in the essay? You’re there….


Moulton Avery January 17, 2012 at 6:29 pm

I did, Eric. Thanks again for giving me the podium; writing that essay was uplifting and a lot of fun. Truth is, without the support and friendship of mates like you, I can’t imagine how I could have weathered that storm.


Tony Moore January 17, 2012 at 3:21 pm

I would add two (well, one could be considered an extension of #8, as it deals with responsibility and safety)
1. Never ever leave paddler alone (unless, of course, s/he wants to leave the group). I’m talking about when someone falls behind in the group, don’t continue on, assuming everything is O.K. Laurie Ford, a prominent New Zealand kayaker, is very big on this point, and I’m right there with him.
2. Never assume you have skills that you maybe have read in a book, but have never practiced…and not only practiced, but practiced in real conditions.
Great post, Eric…love the photos


Eric Soares January 17, 2012 at 5:24 pm

Great comments, everyone! Thank you so much. I want to address the “paddle alone” issue. As Tony points out above, don’t let a paddler drop behind. I would definitely consider that a useful addendum to Commandment #8 “Rescue others.”

As for paddling solo (as mentioned in Commandment #9), I can’t safely do it anymore because of medical issues. Sometimes I get dizzy or go blind or my arms don’t work right, plus I’m not supposed to get all tired or stressed out. But for those who can do it, and plan for it with redundant back-ups [see various comments above], paddling alone is an important part of self-development. I had to paddle alone when learning how to surf kayak in Santa Barbara, as I was the only boater out there (Wayne Horodowich moved there after I had left–dang). Paul Caffyn and later Freya Hoffmeister paddled solo around Australia. What a feat!

Still, I prefer sharing the adventure with my trusted Tsunami Ranger friends. There’s nothing like sharing a nice little fire, a hot meal, and a bottle of rum with one’s mates after an exciting day on the water.

Tony Moore also points out that one should not rely on skills read in a book, and that one should go out and practice. I heartily agree, and I believe that #5 (on learning paddling skills) emphasizes practice–especially the roll (as in the photo). Note that some words are in blue. If you click on them, you will be directed to a post on that topic. For example, under Commandment #5, it says “many ways to LEARN” (in blue). If you click on “learn” it will take you to “Four Ways to Learn Sea Kayaking,” which discusses book larnin’, mentoring, and practice, practice, practice.


Moulton Avery January 17, 2012 at 8:00 pm

Eric, I agree wholeheartedly with Tony’s commandments about group safety and the importance of practicing techniques in real-world conditions. In my experience, whether on land or on water, the ground rules for individual behavior in a group setting are the same: to leave someone behind is both a very serious safety issue and a gross violation of common human decency. The closely related and odious practice of letting the tired straggler(s) catch up and then immediately sprinting away is not only unsafe, it’s also a really nasty and reprehensible thing to do. I posted rather extensively on this problem and offered what I believe to be a good solution on the West Coast Paddler forum:
A lot of paddlers, including myself, have learned that skills unattended quickly grow stale. The only solution is regular practice, which means practicing something – rolls, rescues, braces etc. every time you go out. There’s simply no other way to maintain your edge.


Tony Moore January 19, 2012 at 1:17 pm

Great point, Moulton, about clearly defining unacceptable behavior beforehand…I’ll definitely use this in future trips I coordinate.
I have an additional tactic I sometimes use. I created a new kayaking “position” (by “position”, I mean things such as sweep, scout, leader, etc.). This new position I call “liaison”. The responsibility of this position is to serve as a communication link from the tail end of the group to the lead. This involves hanging out with the tail end for a couple of minutes, then power-paddling up as far as the leaders, checking on everyone along the way, and communicating any concerns. Then, once in the lead position, the liason either stops paddling until he is at the tail end again, or paddles back to the tail. This involves more effort than any other position, and would be assigned to a strong paddler (who otherwise might be a candidate for leaving everyone else in the dust…er…spray). I originally developed this position for myself, when on paddles that were not challenging enough for my tastes, as I rellay enjoy paddling hard. There was no way I was going to let anyone on the trip fall behind, so this seemed like a “best of both worlds” situation, in that it increased group safety, and also gave me a better workout. Assigning others this role seemed like a natural extension.


Michele Sorensen January 19, 2012 at 3:29 pm

Thanks for the great tip, Tony. I’ve always got a couple of club members who have one speed – full-ahead. I’ll see if they respond to the liaison invite.


Eric Soares January 19, 2012 at 5:13 pm

Yeah, thanks, Tony, for the liaison tip. That is a smurfy idea, and when i write a post later on “team kayaking formations” I will remember to put in that Liaison role.

If I forget, either you or Michele please remind me, as I ain’t getting any younger.


Kenny Howell January 19, 2012 at 5:23 pm

I call the liason role a “rover”. We use them all the time – it’s a great position for an intructor-in-training. Nice description of the concept by Tony. Thanks for sharing.


Tony Moore January 20, 2012 at 1:50 pm

Kenny, I like your term, rover, better than liaison…it’s just simpler, more primal, and, yes, easier to spell! Thanks! Eric, take note for your future “team kayaking formations” post.


Moulton Avery January 19, 2012 at 6:19 pm

Thanks, Tony! I love your Liaison position. These issues can be solved. It just takes recognition and a little creative thinking. Backed up by the cat-o-nine tails, of course.


Rakia December 27, 2012 at 9:42 am

Anna Posted on Wish I could have gone with you guys. I always want to look back at Hunter and then I amoslt fall over. Typical me LOVE these pictures of the ride.


Doug Lloyd January 17, 2012 at 11:55 pm

Doug’s Decalogue:
1. Thou must keepeth thy nails trimmed lest thee suffer a traumatic nail avulsion during re-entry when the sea is evil and doth cause you to groaneth and travaileth in pain.
2. Go big or go home…BUT do forthrightly maketh it back home.
3. Be led not into temptation but placeth beeswax in thy ears if thou cannot resist the sweet melodies of The Sirens in the Place of the Dangerous Rocks (SCRS Class VI).
4. Thou must worship no false idols; simply emulate the best in them…Eric Soares, Paul Caffynn, John Dowds, Franz Romer, Ed Gillet, et al.
5. Thou shalt not bear false witness – that fricking wave was only 6 feet, not 16…puh-leeeze! (Commandment #5 may be waved at local post-paddle pub gatherings during temporary celebratory times).
6. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s ass, even if she looks so dang fine in her poly tights loading the front hatch…
7. Thou shalt thinketh outside the box…which is more than just contemplating something new like developing solo canoeing skills as you leaveth Home Depot parking lot…
8. Thy craft is thy life; maintain seaworthiness, hull integrity, and know that a True Man of the sea knoweth his materials and doth develop repair skills.
9. If thou must use tethers, know that it is easier to pass a camel through the eye of a needle than untangle thyself from a mass of tangled cordage in rolling water. Ensure a safe system and use it smartly.
10. Wear bloody immersion apparel when and where indicated. Please! Bless you my children, you have the right to be called the sons of True Man.


Doug Lloyd January 19, 2012 at 9:58 am

Here’s the not-so-tongue-in-cheek version.

1. Take care of the small things too!
2. Be safe!
3. Don’t exceed training!
4. Learn from others!
5. Understand relative sea state values!
6. Keep the right focus!
7. Develop new skills/creative solutions!
8. Maintenance!
9. Be smart!
10. Cold water -always dress for the water temperature!!!


Homer Simpson January 18, 2012 at 2:46 pm

Drysuits are not to be trusted in nasty conditions.


Homer Simpson January 18, 2012 at 3:10 pm

Don’t take yourself or anyone else too seriously; avoid hero worship.
And the beast was taken, and with him the false prophet that wrought miracles before him, with which he deceived them that had received the mark of the beast, and them that worshipped his image. These both were cast alive into a long surf zone burning with brimstone


Doug Lloyd January 18, 2012 at 6:56 pm

Yeah, but if there’s anyone who has been to hell and back it’s Eric – notwithstanding he might want to scout out and new routes first!


Moulton Avery January 18, 2012 at 7:41 pm

Sounds like this Somer Himson has given some considerable thought to the old fire & brimstone racket. A long line of flaming surf, no less. Mix in a little Nostradamus, align a few planets, add a pinch of Armageddon, a few dark horsemen, and a crafty pitch for cash, and he’ll be rolling in dough and awash in credulous dupes. Yea, for they are more numerous than the grains of sand on a beach with dumping surf and seek only to be commanded as to how and when to serve their perfect master.


Eric Soares January 18, 2012 at 9:05 pm

I like Doug’s commandments above, and though tongue in cheek, still worth noting! “I shalt not covet my neighbor’s new surf ski.” Homer’s “don’t take anyone too seriously” and “avoid hero worship” are good; I agree with those sentiments. His “beast” and “false prophet” stuff sounds like real religion–which we don’t cover in this blog, so I hope you are joking!

As for the “long surf zone burning with brimstone,” I know where that is. Go to the Big Island of Hawaii, paddle along the coast near Kilauea, and you’ll find it. Be careful, the water is scalding in places. 🙂


Doug Lloyd January 18, 2012 at 10:54 pm

Eric, you always have amazingly well thought out answers/replies to absolutely everything…may your wisdom, balance, and gift of sharing never cease…


John Lull January 19, 2012 at 8:53 pm

Kenny wrote: “John Lull has written about a “heirarchy of rescue skills”, and I’ll probably get this wrong but, first comes balance, then bracing, then rolling – you get the idea. Last thing in the heirarchy is some kind of rescue that involves exiting the boat!”

Thanks for pointing this out Kenny. You basically got it right. What I actually described in my book (I had to look it up, lol) was 4 levels of defense (the rescue skills don’t come in until level 3):

1) Judgment & Primary skills. Such as seamanship, boat control, stroke technique, experience, etc.

2) Recovery skills: Bracing & rolling.

3) Rescues: Assisted and self-rescue (re-enter roll especially).

4) Outside assistance: Flares, radio, etc.

That’s just the basic outline, but the point is if you have all these things in place, especially the first two categories, a lot of backups would have to fail before you even reach level 3, and hopefully you’ll never reach level 4. I describe it in some detail in the book. But that’s the general idea.


Moulton Avery January 19, 2012 at 10:58 pm

Tony, I’m fine with the reenter & roll, but like other self & assisted techniques, my point is that the rescue isn’t over and cannot be considered successful until the paddler is proceeding on course with skirt reattached, cockpit emptied of water, and any rescue gear stowed & ready for re-use. What’s lacking in every one of the reenter & roll videos that I’ve seen is an acknowledgement of that simple fact. I realize this invites the term “Duh!”, but experience shows that this point is not readily apparent to a whole bunch of folks; I suspect it’s because they just haven’t thought the concept through from start to finish. It’s unwise to assume otherwise.


John Lull January 19, 2012 at 11:41 pm

Moulton, you are absolutely right of course. The re-entry roll isn’t complete until water is pumped out and spray skirt re-attached. This might be the more challenging part of the process, but at least you are back in the boat and not shivering & and losing heat in the water. It takes practice to do it in wind and rough water, which is where you are likely to be doing this. OTOH, in a rock garden, you may just be re-entering and paddling out fast to safety, then pumping out.

I can say I’ve never had to use a paddlefloat rescue for real. But I have used the re-entry roll on at least two occasions that I can recall. One time was in a powerful and rough tide rip on a windy day and yes, pumping out the water while bouncing around was a challenge. But it worked. And I was in my boat in a fraction of the time it would have taken to do a paddlefloat re-entry. And you have to pump out after that type of rescue also. However, you do have the paddlefloat to help stabilize you.

Regarding the “cowboy” rescue, it’s a great way to climb in the boat in calm water in a rock garden where you toss the boat in and climb on. As a rescue in wind and rough seas, it has no advantage over the re-enter roll. If you can do the balancing act of the cowboy rescue in gale force winds, then you surely could pump out water and re-attach the spray skirt after a re-entry roll. And you’d have to do that after the cowboy rescue anyway. I wouldn’t trust it.

Finally, there are conditions (strong gale force winds, for example) under which any sort of rescue will be nearly impossible. It’s better not to be in such conditions to begin with, but if you are you better have all your paddling skills in place, be able to brace, and not capsize in the first place. And if you do capsize, don’t miss that roll.


Tony Johnson January 20, 2012 at 11:10 am

Excellent points. I’ve never done a cowboy or any re entry in gale force winds, (I agree, re entry will be nearly impossible) but was able to do it while practicing re entry’s in the rip tides at Yellow Bluff. If done properly you can remove most of the water before the scramble. I think boat design has a lot to do with the success of the cowboy/scramble in bumpy water conditions.
With most traditional sof boats due to the size of the coaming the re enter & roll seems to work better. Although a scramble can be done in bumpy water it just takes SKILL, and like you said you will need to still pump out water.
One thing I’ve noticed regarding sofs is that water in the boat does not effect the boats handling in the same way as other designs. I think the frame with its ribs and chines buffers the water movement in the boat.


Kenny Howell January 20, 2012 at 11:22 am

I want to mention a BIG downside to the Cowboy/Sramble that hasn’t been brought up here: some very good paddlers simply cannot do it reliably in rough water due to their body type and other factors like their boat designs. These individuals have reliable rolls, can re-enter and roll, and are otherwise experts in rough water, rock gardens, surf kayaking, etc. But for them, the Cowboy re-entry is a total waste of time.

The supposed advantage of the Cowboy re-entry is the ability to empty water from the cockpit before remounting. This seems to be a negligible advantage in rough water; the water is going to get in the cockpit during the remount one way or another – espeically for the Big Fellas I’m talking about that are challenged by it.

But, as John Lull has pointed out, what’s most important is getting back in the damn boat one way or another.


Eric Soares January 20, 2012 at 10:22 am

Let me horn in here, guys. The discussion above regarding rolling vs rescues of various types (e.g., re-enter/roll, cowboy) is why I put rolling as an essential paddling technique (commandment #5) and rescue (including self-rescue) as commandment #8. Commandment #5 is more essential than #8, for all the reasons that John said. And relating to John’s hierarchy above, he puts judgment and seamanship as #1. Note that that is my #1 Commandment also.

Bottom line: “Never turn your back on the sea.”


Kenny Howell January 20, 2012 at 10:42 am

Thanks for keeping us on track Commander.

I have one exception to the commandment about “never turn your back on the sea” – although that may be a metaphor for general awareness in a potentialy dangerous environment. So, when paddling across the Molokai Channel on a surfski, looking back just scares the holy crap out of you. The seas are so gigantic, it’s unbearable. I tried it a couple times, and regretted it. So, you just look forward, never look back, and keep paddling.


John Lull January 20, 2012 at 10:54 am

“So, you just look forward, never look back, and keep paddling.”

Kenny, I think Michael Powers would second you on that! There’s a famous Michael quote on the topic after a day we launched at the Pistol River mouth and paddled south in a horrendous wind with 12 ft seas at our backs.

I can’t remember the exact quote, but maybe Eric can. Or Michael if he’s reading this.


Kenny Howell January 20, 2012 at 11:03 am

Oh no! To be associated with a Michael Powers scenario is a dubious distinction. OK, make my day. What happened to Michael at Pistol River? Do tell!


John Lull January 20, 2012 at 12:18 pm

Actually it was a scenario involving all of us who were there, but Michael played a special “non” role in the scenario. He ended up on his own.

It’s a rather long and involved tale that deserves the full treatment. Probably more than would fit in a simple post here. I’ll tell it at some point if there’s a real call for it. Meantime, Eric, can you remember the memorable quote from Michael on that day?


Eric Soares January 20, 2012 at 7:43 pm

Okay, here’s the story. We launched from the Pistol River in laden boats in 35-40 knot winds w/50-knot gusts and 8-foot constantly breaking surf. We immediately got separated (duh) and Michael ended up paddling on his own through the maelstrom to our designated camping spot a few miles downwind.

We reconnected later at the campsite. Michael told his tale, indicating that he kept his eyes straight ahead in the howling wind and swirling whitecaps which pursued him down the coast. He was so worried that he would tip over that he had tunnel vision the whole way until he made it to the safety of a lee behind a sea stack near our proposed camp. His exact words: “You could look, or not look. I chose not to look.”

John, you wrote the complete story up for the book EXTREME SEA KAYAKING. Could you reconstruct it and I’ll post it in a month or so? It’s a good tale, worth repeating.


John Lull January 20, 2012 at 7:57 pm

Sure thing Eric. I can reconstruct the story. It actually has a lot of lessons regarding group dynamics, how to plan, scout, improvise, and paddle in a challenging situation, with surf, rock gardens, AND strong wind & large seas. Signalling, rolling, picking a route. It’s all there in one story. I think it deserves a thread of its own.

Hey that was the quote. Thanks for remembering it.


Doug Lloyd January 20, 2012 at 10:40 pm

Oh man, you guys have so much fun!!!


Eric Soares January 20, 2012 at 9:11 pm

Thanks, John. Be sure to put in the “lessons learned” section.


August Howell February 2, 2012 at 6:16 pm

Eric these are briliant! Ill never forget you and you loving passsion of kayaking you shared with me. Ill miss you forever


Slake60 February 15, 2012 at 12:38 pm

I say – Well done sir!.
These will stay with us…


Sherri Mertz February 18, 2012 at 8:05 pm

To Nancy, John, Jim, Michael, or whomever may be monitoring these comments in Eric’s stead, I would like to ask your permission to share these “10 commandments” with my sea kayaking students. And I pray that your pain will ease and you will find comfort and joy in the many memories you have of Eric. He was truly a special person.


Kayaker March 17, 2012 at 6:33 am

Can thine share this post? Lol. This is really great! Not to mention that this site is an awesome tribute to Eric Soares.


Eric Soares April 30, 2012 at 12:56 pm

Please share!


Dave Grainger January 29, 2013 at 4:24 pm

Beware the GoPro dumbdown effect, as in, “my GoPro made me do it”… “my GoPro made me stupid”, etc… Remember that your GoPro will keep filming long after you’ve drowned, and it will save everything before it runs out of battery, so if anybody finds that thing you’re going to be posthumously embarrassed.


Mike Mayberry February 1, 2013 at 4:38 am

A great list to abide by on the sea. I particularly like the advice “4-Thou shalt not kayak where thou canst not swim” and “respect the creatures that dwell in the sea” tucked in with the first commandment.


G C Hunt July 1, 2013 at 2:12 pm

Thou shalt know and respect the waters on which you paddle. In so doing they shall grant you life.


Nancy Soares July 5, 2013 at 2:22 pm

Nice, G C! Thanks for reading and commenting.


Boise Bathroom Renovations January 24, 2016 at 9:12 pm

Thanks for finally talking about >The Ten Commandments of Sea Kayaking <Liked it!


Satisfaction comes from helping others essay PLEASE HELP !!!? April 2, 2017 at 1:56 am

First of all I want to say awesome blog! I haad a quick question in whifh I’d like
to ask if you do not mind. I waas interested to find out how you center yourself and clear your mind before writing.
I’ve had trouble clearing my mind in getting my
ideas out there. I truly do take pleasure iin writing but it just
seems like the firet 10 to 15 minutes are wasted simply just trying to figure out how to begin. Any ideas or hints?

Appreciate it!


Jon L April 26, 2017 at 8:01 am

What about, thou shall pack they boat wisely with everything needed for thy venture?
It’s easy to plan a trip then forget some crucial aspect such as not enough potable water or food, an emergency whistle, rain gear, etc…


Leave a Comment

{ 4 trackbacks }

Previous post:

Next post: