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What Skills Do You Need to Sea Kayak Casco Bay

a boat floating along a river next to a body of water

Figuring Out Where to Start

Portland Paddle offers dozens of sea kayaking classes and workshops, so people often ask us if it matters which one they take first. It’s okay for experienced sea kayakers to skip to courses focused on advanced skills like kayak surfing and rolling. But most people are better off gaining the foundational skills and knowledge through our introductory course, and then progressing through our complete curricula in an order that moves from entry-level to intermediate to advanced.

The coast of Maine offers an incredible environment for sea kayaking, but it also presents risks and hazards that require paddlers to have specific knowledge and skills — most of which aren’t usually gained through other types of kayaking or other watersports. You’re sure to have more fun, be more confident and have a richer paddling experience if you invest the time and money needed to learn from experienced, ACA-certified sea kayaking instructors.

Our Recommended Course Progression

Below you’ll find a guide to our recommended progression through our courses. You’ll also learn about the capsize recovery skills we require for any group that plans to rent sea kayaks and paddle across the open waters of Casco Bay to the islands. We offer private lessons as well, and that’s a great option to consider if you have special needs or find that our courses don’t work well with your schedule or your learning goals.

Entry-Level Lessons

We recommend completing the first three courses in the following order. If you have received sea kayaking training in the past, it might be okay for you to skip the intro courses and just take the Rescue Clinic. However, we require all students in the Rescue Clinic to have experience with completing a wet exit, which is the process of exiting a capsized kayak.

  1. INTRODUCTION TO SEA KAYAKING: PART 1
    Introduction Part One offers a solid foundation in the essential skills and knowledge that’s specific to sea kayaking. You’ll learn about equipment, nautical charts, paddling techniques and strokes, and how to “wet exit” your kayak in the event of a capsize.
  2. INTRODUCTION TO SEA KAYAKING: PART 2
    Introduction Part Two builds on skills learned in Part One with lots of new topics covered and opportunities to further hone the skills already learned. You’ll learn how to cope with waves and winds, how to predict and assess sea conditions and how to use improve your boat control with some simple techniques.
  3. KAYAK RESCUE CLINIC
    The Kayak Rescue Clinic will teach you how to re-enter your kayak after a capsize and how to perform an assisted kayak recovery, including the “T- rescue”. Students will also learn about other considerations related to capsizes, such as hypothermia, group management, and equipment failures. These skills are vital to a safe sea kayaking trip in the ocean!A Note on the Skills We Require for Renting Sea Kayaks

    We require all groups renting sea kayaks and paddling outside of our “shore zone” include at least one person with capsize recovery skills. One of the most important skills in sea kayaking is knowing how to reenter a kayak after a capsize, or assist somebody else who has capsized and needs to reenter their boat. The kayak rescue techniques sea kayakers use are unique to our sport, and you won’t gain them through any other activity. The open waters of Casco Bay are cold and often turbulent, so without these important skills a fun outing can turn dangerous fast. Hypothermia is an immediate threat after a capsize, even on hot, summer days. You can learn capsize recovery skills by taking our rescue clinic or a private lesson. If you’ve learned from another outfitter, that’s alright too; just be prepared to describe to our staff the techniques that you learned.

  4. OCEAN SKILLS WORKSHOPS
    This series of workshops, usually offered during the winter or spring, provides an overview of the ocean-specific knowledge and skills you need to paddle on the Maine coast and other ocean environments. We’ll focus on navigation, trip-planning and understanding the dynamics of tides, currents, winds and waves. These workshops are taught either in a classroom or on Zoom.Intermediate-Level Lessons
    The order in which students take our intermediate lessons is less important. Once you’ve gained capsize recovery skills and are familiar with the essentials covered in our intro courses, feel free to take any of these courses.
  5. BRACING AND EDGING CLINIC
    This clinic is designed to introduce advanced sea kayaking maneuvering techniques, such as bracing, edging, and skulling. You will gain an understanding of better boat control and how to cope with high winds, choppy seas, and strong currents. Sea kayaks can be swift and responsive, and this clinic will teach you how to take full advantage of that potential.
  6. SEA KAYAK NAVIGATION FUNDAMENTALS: PART 1
    This course will provide a basic understanding of navigation on the ocean, including reading a nautical chart, plotting a course, taking and following a bearing, dead reckoning, and crossing boat channels and high traffic areas. Navigation is an essential skill for safe sea kayaking!
  7. NAVIGATION FUNDAMENTALS: PART 2
    Part 2 of our Navigation Course will build on the skills from Part 1 and provide plenty of opportunities for students to test their skills with challenging navigation scenarios.
  8. SEA KAYAK ROLLING CLINIC
    This course will teach you the essential (and fun!) skill of rolling a sea kayak. You will spend time learning and mastering the technique necessary to successfully perform this maneuver.Advanced-Level Lessons

    Experienced sea kayakers are welcome to take these courses in any order.

  9. ROUGHWATER RESCUE CLINIC
    After taking the Kayak Rescue Clinic in the relatively protected waters of Casco Bay, this is your chance to apply your skills to a more volatile environment. This course takes students to the waves and swells off the coast of Richmond Island near Crescent Beach to practice rescues and roughwater paddling.
  10. ROCK GARDENING WORKSHOP
    Rock gardening involves playing in and amongst the waves and whitewater of the rocky coastline. This workshop will lead you right into the turbulent waters that most people would choose to avoid!
  11. SEA KAYAK SURF CLINIC
    The Surf Clinic covers the theory and fundamentals of surfing a sea kayak, including launching, landing, and riding waves. You will also learn surf rescues and etiquette, strokes to use, and how to read the surf zone.

Looking for a learning experience that doesn’t quite fit with any of these offerings? Consider a private lesson with one of our instructors.

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