Sea Kayaking Articles from P&H Staff, Team Paddlers, and Friends

Author: NORTHSEAKAYAK Page 1 of 3


As you may know, we get to train a lot on rescues and if possible, we like to do this with external partners. We are one of the few that gets to train with professional, non-SAR shipping. For that we have to thank our social media and the network that comes with it. At this point we are befriended with some captains and their crews, who are actually sharing the same interest in safety at sea. We let the videos of our two last exercises speak for themselves, two different ships from the same category, both dredgers but with a different approach. There is always the “why”, obviously. To be short, safety is our priority. In case of emergency, it will not always be the Search and Rescue assets that will be first to arrive at the scene. In our particular case and venue, there is some commercial traffic that will respond fast to a mayday call. If we train with them, we know the possibilities and also the restrictions and dangers of such shipping and their crew. People tend to be afraid of the unknown, and therefore we sometimes get negative reactions for us being that close to such big ships. The opposite is true. Once in visual range, you are not going to be overrun! They will slow down and make their final approach slower than we paddle. Also, and that is a question we get a lot: no, you will not be sucked under water by the propellers. With these ships, the props are meters under the surface, and they can be turned off. If not, and in case you are in the water, you will be pushed away from the stern of the ship. This is information that comes directly from all the captains we are working together with, and rest assure, they know what they are doing. They will not, and I say again, they will not take unnecessary risks for the benefit of an exercise.

Rescue training dredger DC Brugge

Also, rescue training has become an important part of our sport. Besides the safety reasons, we just like doing these things and it is interesting to experiment different approaches. We hope that the day never comes, but should we find ourselves in such an emergency situation, we will know what to do… and what not. Let’s have a look at some details of the DC Brugge exercise. We are tethering ourselves to the bow or stern of our own kayak. This has two reasons. First of all, to avoid losing our kayak in the event the rescue and winching goes wrong. Secondly, bringing our line under tension will avoid the kayak from spinning around during the winching. Against pilot ladder protocol, we specifically asked to lower the pilot ladder below the surface. If not, it becomes hard to climb on the ladder when in the water. Having a few steps below the surface makes things amazingly easy. It’s a detail, but a particularly important one. We will always try to form up on the lee side. This big ship just blocks wind and waves like it’s nothing. It is a personal choice, but we will mostly opt to let the team leader board first. He/she will have an oversight on everything, he/she will have solid comms with the ship’s crew, and he/she can help the others to board swiftly. It can be done the other way around as well; team leader goes last. This will make a more difficult comms with the ship’s crew. Again, personal choice.

Rescue training dredger SCALD

On the DC Brugge, we
boarded via the pilot ladder and our kayaks were winched up with a big crane.
Very spectacular, it looked like we were special forces making a tactical
boarding. And all of this make this great fun, both for us and for the ship’s
crew. Every time we think that we have reached the limit of what is possible in
rescue training, we suddenly come up with something new! That was the case with
the dredger SCALD! Care for an exercise? But yes, off course! And how do you
want to board? Hmmmm…. what can you do with the drag head? The SCALD crew had
given this some thought of their own, when seeing us doing all these exercises
with their colleagues from other hopper-dredgers. And so, we went on, boarding
the SCALD dredger in a very, very unusual way. We got a solid explanation on
how the drag head works. There were no separately moving parts on the place
where we would board, which was important. They anchored the whole ship in a
matter of about a minute, just for this exercise. We experimented on how to
climb onto the drag head and in a matter of a few minutes we found it the
perfect way of boarding together with our kayak in a swift and responsible way.
The kayak was positioned between two tubes, and resting a rubber inserts of the
drag head. This means that we didn’t have to worry about scratches on our
boats. The whole team was lifted out of the water in no time. Same here,
everything was done in a responsible and safe way.

At this point, rescue
training takes it rightful place among other parts within sea kayaking in our
NORTHSEAKAYAK team. Like surfing, rock-hopping, touring, rolling …. rescue
training is equally fun, and it certainly highlights the way we manage

We do hope to shed some light on the way we train, and on the safety precautions we undertake before heading on with these big exercises. Before every exercise, we had a safety briefing with the captain of the ship.

Have fun and take care of each other on the water!

Worst Case Scenario II

So, let’s talk about safety!  It has been a while since our first “Worst Case Scenario” video (where we are recovering an unconscious victim in awaiting of the Coast Guard) and our attention was drawn by a few real-life stories from fellow paddlers that lost their boat during their trips.  Why is it that a board surfer is tethered to his board, and a surf skier is also tethered to his surf ski….?  But I rarely hear sea kayakers tethering themselves to their boat?  Of course, it can be dangerous in specific situations such as during surfing, or during rock hopping.  But when one goes offshore than there are only benefits by attaching yourself to your boat.  We tried a few setups during the past year, going from the use of the long tow line on the belt to a mid-size safety line, to the short tow line just in front of the cockpit.  I chose the last option, where I hook the carabiner of the short tow line (a piece of bungie) to the loop of my spray deck.  That way I can still pull my spray deck in case of emergency, it is also not in the way of a roll.  There is also a minimum risk of entanglement.  This video shows what could happen if you lose your boat, and how you can prepare yourself for the worst-case scenario.  Feel free to comment or share experiences and what works best for you.  Have fun and be safe on the water!

Sea Kayak Training Camp 2019

With the success of the SKTC of last year it became clear that there certainly would be another chapter in this story. We were asked again to coach this training camp a second time. Of course, we joined in, to share our passion and knowledge with other sea kayak enthusiasts. The advantage of this SKTC is that everyone can join and that we can start with basic things in a calm and beautiful environment with low risks. That way it’s possible to give a very personal approach what was very much appreciated by the participants. Safety and making fun are key in the program, if there is no smile on your face, then there must be something wrong. The camp takes places over five days with both theoretic lessons and a lot of practice on the water. We start with basic things and then move over to combined exercises and even worst-case scenarios where the participants must solve the problem. Working as a team is equally important, the first day we immediately said that we don’t want a group, but a team! I want to thank the team members for their positive spirit during the camp, my assistant Winoc to be at my side during coaching and Boris & Ivka from for again a perfect organisation. Let us not forget NSK team member Sylvie! Without her it would not been possible to make this video, she spends hours on the beach to take a lot of footage…. Maybe we will see you next year? Paddle safe and take care of each other!

Cleopatras Needle Flooded Sea Kayak Rescue

This time we are showing you how we fix a worst-case scenario, as in “my kayak is sinking”! We are 4 kilometers offshore and we pulled of one of our hatches, leaving the front compartment exposed to the sea water. With a little leaning our kayak is flooding. It’s scary when doing this training exercise for the first time. We trained on this a lot in the safety of the harbor, and we advise you to get started in a safe environment when doing this training for the first time. You will be surprised how easy this rescue is. Of course, the harder the conditions, the harder it will get. But most important, we know that it is still possible to rescue ourselves when the worst thing happens. Follow up the top tips that we are giving in the video and you will do just fine. Make sure to carry a grab bag at all times, and make sure that you have duct tape with you. Trust us, this can happen (we have seen this happen only once, but still…) in real life.

The North Sea Crossing 2018

After my previous record back in 2015, I had no idea that I would go for a second attempt, but the past year the sea began to call again.

I waited together with a Spanish team last year (2017) on perfect weather, with no success.  It was only this summer, after waiting a few months, that I saw an opportunity.

I had also contact with Eddie and Jens, a German team that had the ambition to attempt to cross the North Sea. We shared information and knowledge.  We agreed to stay in contact and start together if possible.  They would make the same trajectory as I did in 2015.

So, we got together during the night in Nieuwpoort harbour on Wednesday 1st of August 2018. Both the German team and I had made practically the same navigational planning and we wished each other success.  I must say that it was an honour to depart together with them.  I said goodbye to my wife and children.  My wife Sylvie is my support team and keeps keep contact with Oostende Radio on the Belgian side, and Dover Coast Guard on the UK side.  Both services were informed properly about our intentions.

At 01 o’clock (local time), I started from the slipway at Nieuwpoort harbour, Belgium. I had some light from the full moon.  I started at a pace I could keep up for hours without stopping or resting.  When I left the safety of the harbour, all stress was away, I felt alive!  Although it was too dark to see a thing, I knew my way around.  This first part was a home run in my backyard so to speak.  I chose to leave at this hour because of the tidal stream.  I wanted the stream against me during the first six hours.  I rather have it along the Belgian coast where it less powerful (but not to be mistaken) than on the UK side, where it is almost double the speed.  I passed the Trapegeer buoy when the stream was still building up against me.  Between here and the next buoy, the DY1, is a real battle.  A battle against the tide, a battle against a shortage of sleep, and I must be alert for other ships who couldn’t see me.  During the night I had only a force 2 headwind.  I was relentlessly pushed back by the tidal stream and the wind during the very short breaks.  One of the things I enjoyed most was sunrise.  I took a very short break at that moment, so I could see the sun coming up.

When I finally arrived at the DY1 buoy it was almost slack water. Taking it easy now is not an option, since I need this advantage badly to reach the final section in time (also tidal stream related).  From the DY1 buoy, I hopped to the SE Ruytingen buoy and finally the NW Ruytingen buoy, where the international shipping lane starts.  I was there a bit too soon.  I set course to the WSW Sandettie buoy.  I saw that my speed was decreasing very much due to the stream that was still heading SW.  Soon I took the decision to deviate the planned route and head towards the Sandettie lightship.  The downside was that I crossed this part of the shipping lane at a sloping angle instead of as straight as possible.  I had no other choice, because my speed was almost gone too, which makes a straight crossing of the shipping lane in this case even more dangerous.  So, to the lightship it was!  Except for one sailing vessel, I did not pass any professional shipping on this section.  My speed increased and so I could take all the benefit I needed to go on.

When reaching the Sandettie lightship I was excited. I always had an interest in ships, beacons, buoys, and now this one was ticked off on my list.  The second thing I was excited about was that I could now see the white cliffs of Dover in the distance. The next buoy, SW Sandettie, was close and so was the second part of the shipping lane.  I was able to cross it straighter.  During the crossing of the shipping lane, I only saw two merchant ships, that was all.  Leaving the shipping lane behind it set course to the Goodwin lightship.  Also, not on my initial plan, but since I deviated I had to adapt.  There was very little tidal stream during this part, I could reach it without compensating a lot.  It was slack water, but a bit choppy due to the area I’m in, the Goodwin Sands.  I took a last break and I made a call with the VHF to the Dover Coast Guard to state my position and status.  In turn, they informed my wife (aka, the support team).

I knew from the previous time that the last section should be worse now due to the wind. The wind was increasing to force 3-4 from the side (WSW) and the current would soon pick up in the northerly direction.  So, I started heading to the harbour of Ramsgate, which I could not see at this point.  The waves were there all the time from this point on, due to the current pushing over the Goodwin Sands and the wind.  It decreases the much-needed speed to aim for the harbour.  The more I closed in on land, the harder the tidal stream was pushing from the port side.  With a lot of persistence, I reached Ramsgate harbour, finally!!  My wife and two children were there, waving and yelling.  I was relieved, happy, excited, exhausted and had a feeling that I could take on the whole world while being so tired that I could capsize in the blink of an eye, all at the same time.  Just to be correct, after greeting my family, I paddled on to the slipway.  It was only there that I switched off my GPS.  I had paddled 107 kilometres and spent 17hours and 48minutes doing so.  After taking a shower and eating a hot meal, we went back home by ferry.

My first time in 2015 was perfect, the weather was perfect, the sea was flat. This time the weather was good…  only good, not perfect. No kayaker talks about force 3 or 4 unless you’re on a mission like this one.  I could adapt, as I’m usually doing.  But the constant headwind in the first half and the portside wind on the last section took their toll.  I have no regrets, but I made it more difficult by crossing during these conditions.  Make no mistake, the sea is boss, you’re not.  Even with a lot of training and preparation, it’s the sea that will decide whether you’re ready for it, or not.

I wish to thank my family from all my heart for their continuously and unconditional support on all that I do or undertake! Were it not for them, I would not have done this.  Thank you, thank you!

Special thanks to the people from Ostend Radio (MRCC Oostende-Belgian Coast Guard) and Dover Coast Guard (UK) for virtually watching over me during the crossing, again!

The specifications:

Sea kayak: P&H Cetus MV (Expedition Kevlar/Carbon)

Paddles: VE Explorer (medium blades + spare paddle)

Full safety gear including VHF radio, PLB, pyrotechnical flare, ODEO flare, mobile phone, first aid kit, repair kit, paddle-float, pump…

The video report of this crossing:


Paddle safe and take care of each other on the water!

Dimitri Vandepoele

The Deck Lines – Upgrading the Rescue Handles

Let us talk you through a small upgrade on the deck (or perimeter) lines of your sea kayak. In the video you will see Sylvie putting some flexible tube (from the DIY store) over the deck line near the cockpit. The benefit of this is very simple and convenient. It allows you to put good tension on the deck lines as it should be, and still be able to put your fingers (even when wearing gloves) underneath it at the right place. This is where the rescuer will grab, and stabilize, your boat when performing an assisted rescue during your re-entry. Also, another kayaker can grab them to stabilize you in rough water when you want to pick something out of your day hatch. It’s also easier for you to operate your short tow line with the carabiner hooks. It’s nothing revolutionary but it comes in very handy!! Feel free to share your own “sea kayak upgrades”, we’re always on the lookout for new ideas! Paddle safe and take care of each other on the water!

Cold Water Safety Test

After receiving a few questions from fellow paddlers about our survival time in cold water during a distress situation, we wanted to test things out. We often see other paddlers go on the water, poorly dressed and without even a clue that cold water can kill someone within minutes. In our team everybody is aware of that, and so the team members are dressed for immersion. We never had problems, or even cold, when doing exercises during the cold winter periods. During training we do a few rescues, get back in our crafts and paddle further on. That way, we keep up our body temperature. But, we wanted to know what to expect in an emergency situation when we are unable to get back in our craft, or worse, when losing our craft. We don’t want to know what happens when we are well rested, when our undergarment is perfectly dry (no sweat) and when we just begin our training. No, we want to know what will happen when we are tired (or exhausted), when our undergarment is wet from sweating, and when the water temperature is as low as possible in our area. So, we paddled a fast-paced tour (as fast as possible) to sweat a lot, lose energy and get tired. We succeeded in that when entering the safety of the harbor to commence the test. The water temperature is 2°C, which is the coldest the water gets in our area. Safety precautions were taken in advance and the Coast Guard was aware of our test. In the video you will see the stage we went through, from entering the water until we got ourselves in the first stage of hypothermia. After thirty minutes we experienced uncontrolled shivering which was the signal to get out of the water. Of course, it would be possible a lot longer in cold water, in case of a real emergency. But we don’t want to take risks, our goal was already achieved. We were able to conduct a cold-water safety test that was as realistic as possible. That way we can share our knowledge with the rest of the team, and with other paddlers. Our main message; don’t be afraid of going out when it’s (very) cold, but be well prepared. Wear a good quality PFD and good clothing that protects you against the cold water (dress for immersion), field and swim test your gear on a regular base in the conditions you paddle in and last but not least, imagine the worst that can happen and prepare for it! We sincerely hope that our test can help you get a better understanding of cold water safety. We also advise you to have a look at the website of the NATIONAL CENTER FOR COLD WATER SAFETY. You can find a lot of good tips, together with real life stories. Paddle safe and take care of each other!!




The Recap #2

In the Recap series we share our best cut scenes, experiences and other footage. If we can share the vibe with others and make other people longing to go out with a sea kayak on the water, than our mission has succeeded! 🙂 If you are not a sea kayaker already, maybe now is the time? There’s a wide range of things you can do with this craft, and some training. Most important of all, it’s all about the smiles and the companionship! Enjoy!


The Locks

We must be a bit resourceful over here. It is not because we don’t have tidal races over here along the Belgian coast that we cannot train on breaking in and out of one.  Somewhere in the back of Nieuwpoort harbor there is a complex with different locks called the Ganzepoot (goose foot, because it looks like one when seen from the air).  In the periods with heavy rain there is too much water in the five adjacent canals and in the river Yser.  The locks are then opened a few hours before low tide, until a few hours after.  The amount of water that comes like an unstoppable force trough the locks is phenomenal.  It also makes a perfect practicing area for us, sea kayakers.  The different canals and locks have their own characteristics.  We always start our training on the slower flowing water, and then build up until we go on the Yser lock.  The Yser lock releases the most amount of water, at the highest speed.  We train on breaking in, and back out, of fast moving water.  You need a good angle of approach, some speed and a good lean-brace position.

The Self-Rescue Training Drill

Training is about the repetition of techniques and skills. Training should enable you to do things automatically, without thinking about it, without hesitations.  We have the good habit in our team to do some of those so-called training drills every time we go out for a paddle.  There’s absolutely no excuse for not doing it, it only costs you a few minutes at the beginning, at the end or somewhere in between your paddling session, your choice.  This drill on the self-rescue is about gaining extra stability when you are on the back deck.  It makes you aware of your sea kayaks behavior when you’re out of the cock-pit.  It gives you the needed confidence should you capsize.  Start with it on calm water and then build your way up so you can do this drill in the conditions you normally paddle in. We give you a few extra tips in the video.  Enjoy your training!  Paddle safe and take care of each other on the water!


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