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PFD (personal floatation device) contents

The contents in your PFD, paddle west, is something that can make or break a sticky situation on the water. Whether you are a leader or a participant on the water, you should consider your contents and have a purpose with it. If you have the right tools in your PFD it is possible to fix or temporarily fix a lot of issues with sea kayaks and people. This means you are not dependent on digging out stuff from your kayak nor landing your kayak to fix stuff. Both can be tricky or impossible given rough enough conditions.

Below is what I choose to have in my PFD. I am using the Palm Kaikoura PFD, as it has plenty of space for all the things I want to bring.

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  1. A piece of string to tie stuff together. Has a large number of applications.
  2. Nut tool for getting stuck skegs out.
  3. Hand held flare, for signalling.
  4. Whistle, for signalling.
  5. Knife to cut rope
  6. Cling wrap. First aid: Open wounds, sling. Boat repair: Lost hatch, small cracks in kayak.
  7. Sun factor stick, prevents sun burn.
  8. Spare carabiner. In case loss of primary carabiner used for towing and coupling sea kayaks.
  9. Ferro rod. Used in combination with knife to create sparks to ignite fire. With this in your west you can possibly create a fire within a minute of exiting your kayak. Seal ferro rod with tape to prevent salt water degradation.
  10. Wet notes. A waterproof notebook.
  11. Electrical tape, for cuts on fingers and hands.
  12. Compression bandage. For cuts on head and hands.
  13. Mouth to mouth protector. For own safety when performing mouth to mouth.
  14. Means of communication. Either a VHF radio or a mobile phone in waterproof case.
  15. Denso tape. Used by plumbers to repair leaking pipes. Works in wet environment. Allows temporary, on the water,  fix of leaking kayak (sold here).
  16. Strap. To fix skeg stuck in the out position. Simply tighten strap around kayak and skeg to force stuck skeg in.
  17. A piece of waterproof tarp and bungie cord. To fix lost hatch.
  18. Compass.
  19. Watch with stopwatch. To tell time and to keep track of distance travelled when night navigating.
  20. Light. A shoulder mounted light to signal other boats and kayakers.


I always find it useful to learn from other sea kayakers, so heres what sea kayak coach and guide Matt Skuse has  in his PFD.

 Flares, whistle and VHF for communications. Plastic sheet, shock cord and a beach ball for replacing lost hatch cover. Denzo tape and wax to patch holes. Nut key for clearing jammed skegs. Tape and crab for towing harnesses and providing tail drag. Knife, compass, lip-salve and sun cream. Aquatherm hood.

Feel free to comment and say what you think should be in a PFD for sea kayakers.

BCU 4 Star Leader

If you are going for the BCU 4 assessment these notes may give you an indication of what you may need to prioritise in order to pass.

Remember the latest relevant remit for this course. When I took it, it was:
– Leading 4 participants.
– Sea state 4: 1,25 – 2,5 m. waves (moderate sea state).
– Wind, Beaufort 4: Moderate breeze 16 kn, 8 m/s.
– In an area where tide is not moving faster than 2 kn, according to available resources (tidal atlas).
– Landing spots no longer than 1 mile away from where you are. So 2 miles open crossing or 2 miles of steep terrain is possible.
– Surf landings 1 meter.

Repair kit:
You must be able to fix common boat problems such as:
– Lost hatch (bungee and tarp)
– Skeg stuck up or down (strap, nut tool)
– Hole in boat (gaffa tape, denso tape, cling wrap, soft wax)

Paddling skills:
Confidence above remit should be achieved before assessment, so that you have the capacity to lead within remit.

Learn the relevant rule of thumbs for briefing and leading your group, CLAP (communication, line of sight, avoidance of danger, positioning), SAFER (stop, assess, formulate a plan, execute plan, review), SHEETS (Safety, human, equipment, environment, time, signals).

Delegate tasks to participants so you can maintain an overview of the situation. If convenient/fastest, perform detailed task (rescue etc.) yourself, otherwise delegate. Show initiative and decisiveness when a serious rescue occurs at assessment. Do not be afraid to bring out the whip on the participants if someone is simulating an injury during the assessment. If you require external help, use VHF to simulate a coast guard call. Pan-Pan for serious but not life threatening situations (shoulder out of socket) and mayday for life threatening situations (unconscious or serious injuries).

Leadership is also about giving the participants a great experience. Do not be afraid of pushing them close to the remit, remember they are 3 star paddlers and they hired you for a fun afternoon! Give them some fun, get them inside caves, surf, rockhopping etc. Use CLAP to show you can handle the risk and take care of the participants.

You may be put in a situation in which you will have to say:  “Stop, this is above remit”. Keep remit in mind all the time.

Prioritise yourself, group and then swimmer/casuality. Show you understand that safety for yourself and the group must first be organised before a rescue is to be performed.

Surf landings:
Brief the group, skeg up and helmets on. Go in first, stand on beach and bring them in one at a time. Use hand signals to help them paddle faster or slower, right or left. Reverse this process when going out ( you are the last one going out).

Need to know your lat and long and OS map coordinates. Chart symbols, tide tables and weather resources.

In conclusion, be prepared to argue your logic of your A and B plan at assessment. My impression is that if you have a well thought out logic for a plan, piece of equipment or procedure the assessor will simply say: “Show me”. If it works, it works. Furthermore technical paddling skills is important but in the larger picture it is a smaller piece. Planning, Leadership, navigation and tidal awerness is perhaps equally as important.

Finally, assessment is your chance to shine and show you know what is required. Communicate this to the assessor by explaining and speaking whenever you can and by actions whenever you can. Fortunately the assessor is not a mind reader!

Why risk is necessary

Why would anyone in their right mind paddle in 4 meter waves or rockhop over skerries in their sea kayak?  “Because it’s there” said Mallory when talking about his ascent of Mount Everest in 1924. It seems that thrill addiction and adventure is something we humans can enjoy even though risk is present.

The sensation of thrill comes when  endorphins (a hormone-like chemcial) are released into the bloodstream during stressful experiences. Endorphins resembles narcotics such as opium, only without the negative side effects. Humans need a certain amount of stress in their lives to maintain the level of endorphin secretion we have become used to. Some have enough stress as it is, while others have greater needs and seek out stimulation through risk taking adventures.

The brain’s level of arousal depends on the amount of information the brain is receiving. An experienced sea kayaker paddling on flat water might be underaroused. A new sea kayaker paddling in 2 meter waves might be overaroused. This suggest that there exists a level of optimal arousal for each individual.

Optimal arousal

Optimally aroused

Stages of adventure
Colin Mortlock proposes four stages of adventure a person can experience in outdoor activities:

Play: Absence of fear, fun or boring.
Adventure: Some fear, participant is in total control but challenged.
Frontier adventure: High degree of fear, risk of physical harm and lack of complete control.
Misadventure: Too much fear and failure is likely. Dissatisfaction, physical and psychological damage is likely.

A representation of Mortlock's stages of adventure
A representation of Mortlock’s stages of adventure

“You learn good judgement from experience; you gain experience from poor judgement” – Reg Lake

The qoute above indicates experience is hard to gain without some risk involved. The key is to gain experience without getting into serious trouble.

Sea kayaking involves risk, but so does everything else in life. With too little risk the experience becomes boring, with too much risk the experience becomes dangerous. Risk is therefore necessary to make your experience interesting, challenging and valuable for learning. If you remain within your comfort zone and play you will not grow as a sea kayaker. If you constantly find yourself in misadventures you are likely to stop sea kayaking. With a mix of frontier adventure and adventure you are likely to increase your competence level as you adapt and master new risk levels.


Source: Simon Priest & Michael A. Gass “Effective Leadership in Adventure Programming”.


Lofoten is one of the most exciting sea kayak destinations to explore in Norway.

During July 2014 Tomasz Furmanek (www.furmanek.com) and I had the opportunity to paddle from the small island of Vaeroy up along the uninhabited west coast of Lofoten to the small town of Ramberg.

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The plan was to paddle from Værøy, cross the Mosken tidal current and explore the exposed west coast of Lofoten.

Værøy is a beautiful island with many sea eagles, puffins, numerous other kind of birds and lots of fish. There are white beaches with no one on them, awesome campsites and fantastic mountain peaks from where you can see Røst to the south and Moskenes island to the North.

Campsite on Værøy
Exploring Værøy on foot as the midnight sun is shining
From a peak on Værøy, looking south.
Værøy padling


On day 2 we had nearly circumnavigated Værøy island and we were ready to begin the crossing of the Mosken tidal current north of Vaeroy. However, the weather had other plans for us, as thick fog and strong wind moved in from the west. Visibility was poor and unacceptable for crossing this tidal current. We had to pitch our tents and wait another 12 hours before conditions were acceptable.

Landing in thick fog


The word maelstrom originates from the Norse word of male, which means to grind. The Moskenstraumen or Mosken tidal current, was in the old days marked on maps with enormous whirlpools and dragons. The phenomenon has also been described by poets, explorers and authors as something very dangerous. It seems this may have created an undeserving reputation, as it is possible to cross it with a sea kayak.
The Mosken tidal current forms between the small island of Mosken and the larger island of Moskenes. As the tide pulls and push a large amount of water through the narrow and shallow Mosken strait, the water speeds up through this overfall. At its strongest the tidal current forms a system of eddies and currents which, given rough conditions, is risky to cross with a sea kayak. However, given low waves, low wind, good visibility and good weather the tidal current can be crossed fairly easily.

Approaching the Mosken island in the middle of the Moskenes strait.


Given that all the risks above are eliminated, there only remains the risk created by the tidal current itself. So how is it possible to eliminate this remaining risk? It is essential to understand how tide and this specific tidal current works.

Looking over to Mosken island and Moskenes Island from Værøy island. The Mosken tidal current is between the Mosken island and Moskenes island.


The tide moves in and out with an interval of 6 hours. So after high tide, low tide occurs after 6 hours.

The flow (speed) of the tide increases with 1/12 of the total difference between low and high tide in the first hour.
The second hour = 2/12.
The third hour = 3/12.
Fourth hour = 3/12.
Fifth hour = 2/12.
Sixth hour = 1/12.

Landing on the small Mosken island for a break.


In Lofoten the total difference between low and high tide is about 3 meters. So in the first hour after high tide, the water level decreases with 1/12 of 3 meters. So the water level will decrease in the following manner:

First hour: 1/12 of 3 meters = 25 cm
Second hour 2/12 of 3 meters = 50 cm
Third hour: 3/12 of 3 meters = 75 cm
Fourth hour: 3/12 of 3 meters = 75 cm
Fifth hour: 2/12 of 3 meters = 50 cm
Sixth hour: 1/12 of 3 meters = 25 cm

So, knowing this we can see that the third and fourth hour is when the flow of the tide is the fastest, while the first and sixth hour is the slowest. The first and sixth hour is of course when the tide is turning, and hence there will be a brief moment when the tide is standing still before it starts moving in the opposite direction again.

Knowing this we have to find out how the tide behaves locally at the Mosken tidal current. There is a Norwegian Pilot guide (a rather large PDF document, see page 234) which describes in Norwegian the Mosken tidal current in detail. According to the pilot guide, the Mosken tidal current turns 1,5 hours before high tide and 4,5 hours after high tide. Knowing this we can use the tide chart for Bodø and plan to be in the middle of the tidal current either 1,5 hours before high tide or 4,5 hours after high tide.

In the middle of the Mosken tidal current, low tide.


We left Værøy at 10 am and paddled over to the small Mosken island in the middle of the Moskenes strait. At Mosken island we took a long break waiting for the optimal time to make the crossing to Moskenes island.

The crossing itself went fine as all the risks above had been eliminated with careful planning and favourable conditions. The crossing would not have been attempted if any of the above risks had been unacceptable. This place can kill you and it is certainly not worth risking anything, to cross this tidal current. As we were crossing we noticed that waves were moving in a very gentle current. There were a few hotspots where eddies and stronger currents formed. I can imagine these hotspots will be rough when the flow is at its strongest in the third and fourth hour. The waves were mostly 0,5 meters with some 1 meter waves. All in all it went well and we felt in control.

After arriving on the uninhabited and exposed west coast of Moskenes island we landed at Refsvika for a snack and a rest.




Our aim, due to pretty much perfect conditions, was to paddle as far as we could in order to avoid being stuck due to bad conditions. So we paddled on towards Bunes beach, which we knew had water and a possible escape by portage to civilisation if conditions turned ugly.

Reaching Moskenes island after crossing over from Mosken island.


The west coast is wild and truly an awesome place to be. There are several large caves and tall, steep, craggy mountains all along the coast.

One of several caves along the west coast of Lofoten.


We arrrived at Bunes beach 11 hours after leaving Vaeroy island. The midnight sun was shining from a blue sky and we were two very happy and tired paddlers sipping whiskey and soaking up the atmosphere.

Approaching the Bunes beach,
Campsite at Bunes beach.
Enjoying the midnight sun view.


The next day, fog was forecasted to set in at 3 pm. We knew that part of the trip would be encased in fog, so we started early towards Ramberg.

We just had to stop at the Horseid beach, it is awesome.
The fog moved fast at 3 pm, exactly as forecasted.
Staying close to land due to fog


After a couple of hours in the fog, it cleared as the wind picked up. We ended the journey with some following wind and waves, allowing us to surf towards our destination. A great end to a fantastic, challenging and most memorable kayaking experience.


Surfing towards our destination in Ramberg.


Here’s a video from the trip:


And here´s a video from a trip done in July 2015 in the same area:


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