by John Lull
When sea kayak paddling in rock gardens it is very handy to be able to launch or land on a rock, an island, or the rocky shoreline, even in the absence of a nice sandy beach. In this situation you need to use a seal landing or launch. Eric covered seal landings in an earlier blog, so I’m going to follow up here with some techniques for seal launches.
The basic idea is to get off the rock and into the water. There are numerous variations on this basic idea. I’ll outline the three fundamental methods below.
If you’ve ever watched a seal slide into the water off a rock, you’ll already have a good picture of this method. In a nutshell, you climb in the kayak and push off the rock into the water. Ideally, you want a gently sloping rock, with either a ledge at the top or a reasonably stable spot to place the kayak as close to the water as possible, but above the surging waves. You’ll also want to look for a reasonably smooth rock surface to reduce friction and abrasion on your hull. A drapery of kelp covering the rock is best of all.
Once you have your launch site, sit in the kayak, attach the spray skirt if you’re in a closed deck boat, then push off using your paddle blade on one side and your knuckles on the other (just like pushing off the beach). Try to time it so you hit the water as it surges in to help minimize friction. Then simply paddle away from the rock.
It is possible to launch off a fairly steeply sloping rock, but you’ll need to anchor yourself at the top while setting up. A handy ledge will suffice. It’s also possible to launch off a vertical surface, as in the photo above. This is more of a stunt, and can be a lot of fun, but use your judgment.
With this method, you are going to ride the surge off the rock, similar to riding the surge onto the rock in a seal landing. Of course, for a launch, you are letting the surge carry you off the rock. Look for a relatively level wash rock, with only an occasional wave surging high enough to cover it. Watch the waves and time it so you have time to get in your kayak and be ready to go when the wave surges high enough. Allow the surging wave to pick up your boat. Then paddle vigorously off into the water. Be aware that your stern might snag on the rock if you don’t quite get carried off. In that case, relax, brace with your paddle if necessary, and wait for the next wave to allow you to paddle off.
Technically, the water launch is not a seal launch, but I include it here because it can be used to launch off the rocks and may be the only way to go if you don’t have a good surface to launch from or the rocks are seriously jagged and abrasive. It can even be used to launch off a cliff, assuming you can dive in after tossing the boat in the water.
Pick a good place where you can get close to the water. Also look for a relatively calm area out of reach of breaking waves. Toss the kayak in, swim out to the boat and climb on. If you are using an open cockpit kayak, swim onto the deck on your stomach and rotate around into a sitting positon. With a closed deck kayak, pull yourself up over the cockpit onto your stomach. Then rotate your head toward the bow, staying low, and hugging the kayak for stability (if you sit up too soon, you’ll capsize). Once facing forward on your stomach, sit up straddling the cockpit directly above the seat. Then pull in your legs one at a time while dropping into the seat. Instead of climbing on, you could re-enter and roll, but then you’ll have to pump water out.
One variation when you can launch at water level, is to jump in with the boat in one smooth movement. This is more practical with an open cockpit kayak than with a closed cockpit (see photo of Eric).
The three methods outlined above will cover most situations, but there are other variations on the basic theme.
Please feel free to comment with your favorite methods or refinements and critiques of the methods outlined here. I think it is important to be able to get on and off the water wherever possible, both for safety reasons and to increase your ability to explore the area.