Kayaking Equipment

All you ever wanted to know but were too afraid to ask. This page has information on types of boat and what to look out for, water safety, earning a welcome, different kayaking kit and what to wear.

We have put together the following from information available on the British Canoe Union website bcu.org.uk as a helpful introduction to kayaking essentials.

The club have a range of equipment available for members to use on club trips and non club trips. If used on non club trips there is a £6 per day fee. Kit includes: sea kayaks; white water kayaks; a surf kayak; general purpose kayaks; and canoes. Keys for the store in Johnston are held by Rich, Aileen, Ben, Stuart and Simon.

Types of kayak or canoe

Canoes and Kayaks come in a bewildering array of types, sizes, materials and colours. As a start, this guide tells you the main types. Boats made of fibreglass are often lighter than the equivalent plastic model, but are much easier to damage because they are shiney and brittle.

Kayaks - paddler sits down and uses a two bladed paddle


Between 2-3 metres in length (fits inside your car)

Flat hulled for planing and easy spins. Hard edges for wave speed and carving.

Slicey ends for easy vertical moves. (turning on end)

Central Volume for stability and balance on end.

Very slow in a straight line, would not want to take on long trip

Difficult for beginners to handle. Little room for extra kit.

Good for: whitewater playboating, park and play and playing the river.


Designed for rough water so bigger volume, heavier and longer

More controllable. Room for spare kit

A bit slow in a straight line

A curved keel-line. Between 3 and 4 metres in length

Good for: intermediate or beginners; white water, slalom, surfing, short sea trips, general use for all kinds of fun paddling.


Large, roomy cockpit area

Holds a straight course easily..

Long non-curved keel-line - easy paddle in a straight line, requires more effort to turn.

Between 4 and 5.5 metres in length

Good for: Flat water touring, beginners, sheltered lake and coastal trips, low level marathon racing.


Like a touring kayak but narrower and therefore smaller cockpit. Good for long trips, handling a variety of sea states, carrying camping equipment. Cuts through waves well and is more forgiving in rougher water than a touring kayak.

Sea kayaks are available in a number of different materials including single layer plastic, triple layer plastic, GRP and carbon kevlar. Triple layer plastic provides a good compromise between stiffness and robustness. GRP gives a faster lighter boat but requires more care.

Boats are available in a range of sizes and lengths to suit different uses and paddler sizes. A boat in the order of 16ft will be more manouverable and therefore better suited to day trips. A longer boat about 18ft long will have more storage space, be faster and better suited to multi day trips and expeditions.

Canoe - Paddler kneels and uses single bladed paddle

OPEN CANOE (often called a Canadian Canoe)

Can accommodate four people at a push

Much less manoeuverable than small kayaks

Open means no deck

Generally between 4.5 and 5.2 metres length

Can be great fun on white water once experienced

Can be sailed, very elegant and satisfying to paddle singly

Good for: Family canoeing, canal and river touring, beginners with special needs, (disabled, blind, very young), carrying more than one person, carrying camping equipment.

What to Look out for when buying a boat

All canoes and kayaks should contain built-in flotation material (buoyancy), sufficient to float the fully swamped boat at the surface in a horizontal position. The buoyancy is usually solid plastic foam - it must be fixed securely in place or it can be lost when you capsize. Kayaks must be fitted with adjustable failsafe footrests and a grab handle or toggle at each end. Look out for a British Standards label for the Code of Practice for Canoe Manufacture and Recommendations for Safety Features in Canoes.

Always take advice from someone more experienced and try out the boat on the water before you buy. Finally don't spend all your money on an expensive boat, for beginners a reasonable general purpose second hand boat will do. It is just as important to get decent paddles, spraydeck, wetsuit, wet boots and cagoule, as these all make a big contribution to whether or not you have an enjoyable time on (and sometimes in!) the water.


The Paddle Length and Grip

Hold the kayak paddle with it's mid point on top of your head. Position your hands so that a right angle forms at each elbow. This is the correct grip. The same applies with the canoe paddle - start with one hand on the T-grip. This also gives a guide to the correct length - to find the one which suits you best first take up the correct grip. The distance from the outside of your hand to the start of the blade should be approximately 20cm (8 inches). Paddles for use purely on white water are a few centimetres shorter than this, while those used for sea kayaking, racing, or touring on flat water are quite a lot longer.

Choosing a Paddle

Kayak paddles have their blades offset or feathered. This means you have to swivel the shaft in your hand by gripping with one hand and 'slipping' with the other. Whichever hand you choose to grip with will determine the 'handedness' of the paddle you need. Left handed people often prefer left-handed paddles and vice versa, but after a while anyone can paddle with either hand. For a beginner, an alloy shafted paddle with moulded plastic blades is adequate for most purposes. Try not to get ones with a big ridge down both sides of the blade they are difficult to progress with once you move onto intermediate paddling skills. However, personalising the paddle to your preferred aspect of the sport, your own size, etc. will give best results. Carbon moulded paddles for example are strong and light providing a positive grip with the water and a smoother action.