Kayaking in Venice, Italy

Why Kayak?

Here are some good reasons for going kayaking:
It’s a fabulous way to exercise! Paddling with a consistent, sustained touring stroke is great exercise. With the correct paddle technique, it work out a lot of muscle, especially the abdomen, butt, arms and shoulders.

We live on a blue planet. More that 70% of the world is ocean. Kayaking is the ultimate way to explore our beautiful coastlines, bays, lakes and rivers.

Kayaks have a shallow draft, which enables them to go places that even boats cannot go. Italy is full with fantastic beaches, bays, inlets and inland waterways, with conditions to suit novices through to veteran paddlers.

Kayaking attracts people from all walks of life, however the sea is a great leveller. Egos soon disappear when conditions become challenging or new skills are being learned in a new environment, and it’s a wonderful way to build team spirit and to meet new friends.

Kayaking offers the ultimate escape from our increasingly busy lives. Want to take your mind off all those work and family pressures? Paddle 10 minutes out and you can enjoy the peace and tranquility of virtual wilderness.

Environmentally, kayaking is one of the least offensive marine sports. No noise or fumes, no massive wake from the hull and you’re sure to meet other like-minded individuals, who care about our planet and animals.

Learn new skills: Although the learning curve for kayaking is not steep (almost anyone can paddle on calm water), the curve is very long, stretching out for the life of the paddler. To sea kayak in a wide range of conditions, paddlers must not only learn competent boat handling skills, but also the many fine points of marine navigation and marine weather. Paddling conditions also vary in different parts of the world. Even the most experienced kayakers have much to learn about kayaking and a lot of new challenges to tackle should they choose to, making kayaking a rewarding experience to grow into for a lifetime.

Be self-sufficient and self-reliant. Especially on multi-day kayaking trips, paddling a kayak with all the gear you’ll need for days on end under your hatches is a satisfying and liberating experience (in the same way backpacking is) that will make you question our society’s materialist values.
Adventure Kayaking is one of the last accessible, legal forms of true adventure left to us in an overpopulated, ordered world. The experience of this ultimate freedom is addictive.

Mastering kayaking can make you into a competent paddler in a surf zone, as exhilarating and challenging a place to paddle as any river.

Differences between Kayaks

Kayaks come in two basic styles. You got Sit-on-Top (SOT) kayaks and you've got Sit-Insides and both are available as singles or doubles. They also come as hard shells or as inflatables.
Although there are some major differences between sit-inside and sit-on-top kayaks, they share many of the same parts. The top of the kayak is called the deck. The bottom is the hull. The front is the bow and the back is the stern. On top of the deck you'll often have deck lines or bungees.
At the stern of the kayak, you should find some grab loops and some kayaks have rudders. Rudders swivel side-to-side in the horizontal plane and are controlled by foot pedals. Skegs simple drops straight in the water and help the boat go straight.
Both sit-on-top and sit-inside kayaks have seats and some form of foot support, like the foot wells in this sit-on-top kayak. There are also foot pedals which slide on the track to adjust for different sized paddlers. Foot wells are convenient, but if you're going to be spending a full day on the water, you'll want to use foot pedals. They're a lot more comfortable and you get a lot more support from. The best kayaks will also have a built-in back rest, which makes sitting in a kayak a lot more comfortable.
The biggest difference between the two types of kayaks is that sit-insides are enclosed. There is an area called the cockpit where you sit. Around the cockpit is a cockpit rim where you can attach a spray skirt to keep water out. Inside the cockpit you will find a seat and foot-pedals that you can adjust according to you leg length.
With hundreds of options out there, choosing a kayak can seem overwhelming, but it doesn't need to be. And it's hard to make a wrong decision. The best way to narrow down your options is to identify how and where you'll be using your kayak.
  • Will you be paddling on a sheltered lake or at the beach?
  • Will the water will be warm?
  • Are you looking for a kayak that can travel quickly or you are more concerned about having a very stable boat that will be difficult to tip over.
Your first and biggest decision is whether to go for a sit-on-top or a sit-inside kayak. And there pros and cons to both.

Sit-on-Top Pros & Cons 

Sit-on-tops are the most user-friendly. They're very stable, easy to get in and out of and there is no feeling of confinement on them. They're also self-bailing, which means they have small holes (called "scupper holes") that allow the water to drain right through them. Another big thing about sit-on-tops is that you can slip on and off them as you please. All these features make the sit-on-top kayak a great choice for nervous paddlers, for warm environments and for paddling with kids who love to swim.
The downside to sit-on-top kayaks is that you're guaranteed to get wet while paddling, while sit-inside kayaks allow you to stay dry.

Sit-Inside Pros & Cons 

Sit-insides shelter your lower body from the wind, which makes them much warmer. Sit-inside kayaks are great for paddlers who'll be on cooler water and who want to stay dry while paddling, and they consider the kayak more than a vehicle for travel than a toy.
One downside of the Sit-inside kayaks is that you don't have the same freedom to move in and out of the water. And if you do flip for some reason, recovery is a complicated process because your kayak will likely be filled with water.
Like sit-on-tops, recreational sit-inside kayaks are very stable, fun, and easy-to-use. They've got large cockpits so there's no reason to feel confined in them. Some even have waterproof compartments that are accessed through hatches in the deck.

Boat Length 

Once you've decided whether to go for a sit-on-top or sit-inside, you'll need to decide on the length of a kayak. It's a general rule the longer and narrower the kayak is, the faster it will travel and a wider kayak is the more stable but slower it will be. Most sit-on-top kayaks are considered recreational (or "rec") kayaks because they're wide and ultra stable.

Rec vs. Sea Kayaks 

Sit-inside kayaks can vary a lot more in shape and size and in purpose. In fact, sit-inside kayaks can be broken into two distinct categories, you've got recreational sit-inside kayaks, and you've got touring (or sea kayaks). The recreational boats are wider, they're shorter, and they have these big cockpits. So they don't feel confining it at all. 
The touring or sea kayaks are longer, narrower, so they're a lot faster. They also have thigh hooks or knee-cups that can give you a lot more control over the edging of the boat. The cockpits are a lot smaller. So you tend to feel a bit more confining, although it's very easy to get out of these boats as well.
If speed is not important to you, let us now choose a shorter kayak, they're lighter, and they're easier to move around.


Most kayaks have a hard shell made from a durable plastic that'll last forever and it doesn't require much maintenance. There also kayaks made from composite materials like, fiberglass, carbon, and Kevlar. They make them significantly lighter. The downside, is they don't take abuse as well. They also tend to cost a lot more.

Inflatable Kayaks 

You also have inflatable kayaks like this one from Innova. They're very comfortable to paddle and they can be deflated, rolled up or folded down and actually carried in a backpack. These kayaks are made with coated fabrics and are surprisingly durable. Inflatable kayaks don't tend to be as fast as hard-shell kayaks, but they are incredibly versatile. 

How fast can a kayak be paddled?

Paddling speed depends on many factors, including, but not limited to paddling technique, paddler strength and endurance, sea conditions, hull design, and hull load. As a general rule of thumb, an average kayaker of moderate experience and moderate strength, paddling in a calm sea in a standard plastic 5 metre long, 60 cm beam (wide) kayak without much cargo, can sustain a speed of 3 knots (roughly 5.5 kilometres per hour) for long stretches of time. This is a brisk, yet comfortable walking pace. (1 nautical mile = 1.829 kilometres)

Beginners are usually a bit slower, paddling at 2 to 2.5 knots on average.

Experienced paddlers in fast boats can do better. As a general rule, the narrower (and consequently, less stable) and longer a boat, the faster it is. The fastest boats usually have a beam of 56cm or less.

The theoretical maximum speed a kayaker can paddle without beginning to plane (referred to as the "maximum hull speed") is 1.34 times the square root of the length of the hull at the waterline. However, only strong, experienced kayakers ever approach the hull speed of a 5.3 metre sea kayak. With shorter (4 metre) boats, hull speed plays an important role and moderately experienced paddlers will quickly run into the boat's maximum speed.

Lighter kayaks are easier to lift and may accelerate more quickly however there comes a time when strength is sacrificed. Light kayaks are not good in very windy conditions and if they flex too much will cause drag in the water. Composites (Fibreglass, Diolen, Kevlar, Carbon and Kevlar / Carbon) are generally lighter and stiffer than polyethylene (PE), and being more rigid also tend to be faster . Consequently experienced paddlers desiring speed often choose more expensive composite boats. Composites also develop fewer deep and nasty nicks and scratches than PE boats. These nicks, which can also be repaired, add turbulence to the boundary layer of water on the hull's surface and significantly increase drag. Foam core 3-layer PE boats offer better flotation and thermal insulation and are more rigid that single layer PE. As a general rule of thumb, the use of composites may increase a kayak's speed by about half a knot over its PE equivalent. PE kayaks are more forgiving and bounce better than composites.

Sea conditions have a tremendous effect on paddling speed. If you normally paddle 2.5 knots, but there is a 2.5 knot opposing current, you'll paddle in place! On the other hand, if the current is in the direction you want to go, you'll paddle at 5 knots! Current speeds of 1.5 knots or more are common in the River, so it's essential to check a marine chart and tide table before setting out. Wind is also a significant factor. At 10 knots or less, wind causes few paddlers significant trouble, but a novice paddler will likely be unable to make any headway paddling into a 20 knot headwind! Knowing the wind forecast and understanding the prevailing wind directions in the area you're paddling is also very important.

So how fast can a sea kayak be paddled? Experienced and fit paddlers in long, narrow, PE or Composite boats should have no problem holding 4 to 5 knots for long stretches in average conditions, which is practically a jog.

Where can a sea kayak be paddled?

Answer – any body of water, except rapids. A sea kayak's seaworthiness is entirely dependent on the paddler. The sea kayak was designed and in use millennia ago by native people in Greenland, Alaska, and the Aleutian Islands. The ocean waters in these regions are some of the roughest and most turbulent in the world.

A lifetime of enjoyable kayaking can be spent paddling in protected waters. However, it's satisfying to realise the sea kayak was invented to cruise the open ocean, and epic ocean expeditions are taken routinely with sea kayaks. Experienced paddlers can successfully negotiate surf of virtually any strength.

Given that conditions at sea are subject to change without too much notice, its best to get local knowledge before racing off into the unknown.

One caveat to all of this – think twice before taking a sea kayak on a flowing river! A sea kayak is designed to track straight, and not to execute the tight manoeuvers necessary on most rivers.

How far can a kayak be paddled?

Just like the answer to the question, "How fast can a sea kayak be paddled?," it really depends. All of the items effecting kayaking speed also effect kayaking distance. Most novices with improper paddling technique are exhausted after only a couple of kilometres. With proper technique and a moderate amount of practice, 20 - 25 kilometres in one day should be no problem.

Experienced paddlers should have no problem paddling 35 or more kilometres a day. Very fit, very experienced paddlers can go 50 kilometres a day, and occasionally you'll hear stories of 80 kilometres! Of course, sea state, wind, current direction, and current strength have a lot to do with it.

Why is hull shape so important?

Whether you are buying a cruising yacht or a kayak, its all about the design of the hull.  For this reason alone it is essential that you test paddle the kayak you like before you pay for it.

Ask the seller about the stability characteristics, both primary and secondary. Ask how the kayak performs in a following sea, or in windy conditions. Most of the big shops won't have a clue, they're just box movers, any yachtie can confirm that. Talk with someone who has built or designed hulls and hopefully has actually paddled the kayak in a variety of conditions.

This is a complex craft and you life could depend on hull shape.

What about rolling?

Some kayaks are more easily Eskimo rolled than others. Many kayaks, such as the P&H and VENTURE range, anticipate this need by providing solid thigh bracing into their boats, to expedite the kayak roll. Rolling is a combination of your connection to the boat, hip movement and to a lesser extent, use of the paddle.  It’s a great skill to have and a neat way to cool off in summer. Learning to roll is like eating an elephant, best done a mouthful at a time. It should be taught, by a qualified instructor.

What About Stability?
Hull shape is everything. It dictates performance and handling characteristics, especially in rougher conditions. My preference is for a moderate V shaped hull with soft to hard chines. This gives a nice mix of tracking and speed while maintaining good initial and secondary stability. Kayaks with flat hulls and round bilges may offer good initial stability and speed, but offer little to no secondary stability. At the end of the day, it’s all about how it feels for you. Don't let self-appointed experts select a kayak hull shape for you. You must try the different designs to learn what will work for you. Just as 'beauty is in the eye of the beholder', so then, 'stability is in the mind of the paddler".

Which kayak is right for me?

In short, it’s the one that you feel at home in, and that will meet your performance criteria. If a boat doesn’t feel right don’t buy it. As the paddler, you want to feel part of your kayak. Ask yourself “what do I see myself doing and what will my skill level be in 12 months time?”

Definitely try and compare the on-water performance of different kayaks before you buy! You wouldn't buy a car without test driving it, would you? Please remember that there are inherent dangers in kayaking and it is an unwise practice to buy a kayak with price as the sole criteria. Your life could depend on it.

Which is the best paddle to buy?

Fundamentally, the one that feels right when you paddle with it. Paddle design is both an art and a science. Length of shaft and paddle width and shape dictate performance characteristics. High tech composites provide strong lightweight paddles, while fiber-glass is always a strong favourite in the mid-price range. Paddle length depends on many factors, including: your height, boat width, torso length, shoulder width and seat height.

Paddle shafts can be straight or bent and be made of aluminium, fiber-glass, carbon, or carbon-kevlar. Blades can be offset or feathered and are made from plastic, fiber-glass, carbon, or carbon-kevlar. Well-designed blades enter the water cleanly, grip the water well without slipping, and pull straight through the water without a side-to-side fluttering movement.

Wing or propeller blades are designed for sprinting or racing, and are not recommended for long distance touring.

Do I really need a rudder?

Reliance on a rudder for steering is a popular and unfortunate trend in Europe, with some manufacturers having a rudder that is not retractable. This style of rudder can severely restrict beach or rock landings. However, contrary to popular belief, a rudder on a kayak is not designed to help you turn. It is designed to help you paddle straight when wind and waves conspire against you.

Turning a boat is actually quite easy – just a few sweep strokes and a casual lean will set you on course. Kayaks are designed to raise the keel out of the water during extreme edging (or leaning). However, paddling a steady course when a strong wind is blowing from abeam can be challenging, not to mention exhausting. This is a situation when you might desire a retractable rudder.

Advanced kayaks, have a retractable skeg (fin) as standard equipment and only offer rudders as an option. This improves tracking with less drag than a rudder. There is much to be said for learning the skills necessary to control a boat without a rudder. With the rudder as a crutch, many paddlers never take time to develop the skills of a kayaker.

Is it necessary to wear shoes in the kayak?

Footwear in the kayak is optional. Many people find it more comfortable to wear some foot cover to prevent their heels rubbing against the kayak. Rubber water socks or sport sandals are ideal. Some people just wear thick socks but be aware that any foot gear will get wet.  Always take some light walking shoes that can be stored in a dry bag in case some walking is necessary.

What should I wear?

We enjoy glorious weather, summer and winter. Temperatures can be crisp in the mornings and cool in late afternoon with summer sea breezes. Bring a warm layer of wool or polar fleece to keep you warm when you stop for a break. Bring a spare set of clothing and warm layer to be stored in the kayak so you can change into dry gear if necessary. Always bring some shoes you can walk in, in case weather causes you to land on a beach where some walking might be necessary.

NOT RECOMMENDED: Cotton clothing (especially denim) is very heavy and cold if it gets wet, and takes a long time to dry. Thermal, quick-dry fabrics are best eg. Polypropylene, polar fleece, wool.