kayaker on Lake Ontario

basic kayak skills

Entry Content

The basic kayak skills course is designed for people who are new to kayaking. If you have never kayaked before, this course is for you.

basic kayak skills

course length
8 hours
class ratio
1 instructor: 4 participants

Note: italicized therms are explained at the bottom of the page.

While focusing on safety and comfort, we will work on developing these skills:

paddling skills

lifting and carrying

Learn how to get your kayak from the car to the water without hurting your back or worse… damaging your boat!

entering a kayak

Never capsize again before you’ve even started paddling! Look like a pro on the beach. Learn how to enter your kayak with grace and confidence both from the beach and on the water.

forward and reverse paddling

The forward stroke is the stroke you’ll be using the most, so we’ll spend quite a bit of time working on it so that you can paddle efficiently and keep your boat on course. We’ll also cover paddling in reverse, without bumping into other kayakers. If you can keep your boat going straight for 100 metres, you pass. Going backwards you only need to show me you can do that for 20 metres.

forward and reverse sweep strokes

These are steering stokes. You’ll learn how to pivot (turn around in place).  Sweep strokes are cool because you can also use them to turn without slowing down.

draw stroke

Learn how to paddle sideways. Sounds crazy? It’s not. How else are you going to pass the sunscreen to your paddling buddy who’s right beside you, only 3 metres away?

low brace

If you don’t want to keep having to practice your wet exit when you didn’t plan to do so, you’re going to need a stroke that will keep you from capsizing when you loose your balance. This stroke does just that. You’ll look like a monkey, but you’ll stay dry.


Putting a kayak on its side (we call that ‘on edge’) is a key skill to becoming a better kayaker, because it gives you a whole new level of control over how the boat behaves. If you can show me you can hold your kayak on edge for 5 metres or more,  you’re golden.

rescue skills

wet exit

You’ll learn how to get out of a kayak in the event of a capsize. This is an essential safety skill. You’ll never get trapped upside down in your kayak! I’ll teach you how get out safely. Yes, we’ll cover getting back in your kayak later. I need to see you perform a capsize, protect your head, alert people around you, release your spray-skirt and get out of your kayak. That’s a lot simpler than it sounds.

retrieving a swamped kayak

A kayak can fill with water during a capsize and make the boat unstable. You’ll learn how to swim the boat back to shore and get the water out quickly. You should be able to swim a boat 25 metres to shore. That’s the length of a swimming pool.

assisted rescue

Getting back in your boat is a lot easier with the help of a friend. We’ll show you what to do when someone is helping you get back in your boat and also how to help a fellow paddler. We’re trying to mimic a real rescue scenario. You’ll capsize, wet exit and get back in the boat, then remove the water from your cockpit, put your spray-skirt back on, and be ready to paddle again.


When paddling in a group, we sometimes have to stop and take a break on the water. We’ll learn how to ‘raft-up’, and build a stable and safe platform that keeps everyone together. How else were you going to share the snacks you brought? Oh, and we’ll play silly games.


In-between our on-the-water exercises, we’ll have a few breaks so we can talk about these important topics:

boat design

There are all kinds of kayaks, and we’ll explain the differences in design and how they affect the boats behaviour. Confused by terms like “rocker” and “chine” or the merits of rudders vs. skegs? We’ll sort those out for you.

boat outfitting

I’ll show you how to ensure proper fit of your kayak, and what to bring besides a paddle.


We’ll go over what clothes to wear on the water. Hint: no cotton. And yes, you MUST wear a Personal Flotation Device (PFD), aka life jacket.

safety equipment

You are required by law to have safety equipment in your boat. Unfortunately, you’re not required to know how to use it. We’ll fix that.


We’ll also cover some of the different paddle types. You’ll never been caught with your paddle up-side down again. Promise.

warm-ups and stretches

Warm-up exercises (before paddling) and stretching (after paddling) help keep your body in shape.

equipment care

Let’s be nice to the people that rent out equipment and those that have to use it after you.

kayaking resources

There’s a lot of material on kayaking in books, videos and on-line and via clubs/associations.  I’ll show you what’s good.


Kayaking has a long and proud history, going back thousands of years.


Kayaking is a great way to enjoy nature with as little environmental impact as possible. Still, there are some do’s and don’ts. We’ll discuss how to “leave no trace” while paddling.

 journeying and seamanship

In this section we’ll cover how to make good decisions as a beginner. We’ll go over some scenarios and play games.

I’ll provide an introduction to kayak navigation.


the area where you sit
the amount of curvature along the length of the hull
transition from the side to the bottom of the kayak; chines can be hard or soft