Considering, we're now on the cusp of spring and the lockdown restrictions are potentially being eased, we are going to look at the factors that should help you decide if it is safe to launch and when it is not.
First things first and a key mantra at Prime Paddling; always paddle with at least one other paddler and ideally two where possible. This allows for quick recoveries should you ever get into difficulty and more importantly those friendly chats where you put the world to right.
One thing that people fall into is the "well I know how to do it" complacency which gives them the ability to go off on a paddle on their own. If you are a competent paddler, with a solid roll and a very strong self recovery, then it is reasonable for you to launch in calm conditions within your local area. Ensuring you paddle close to shore with plenty of exit points should the weather change or things go wrong.
This is more than necessary after so long stuck indoors, skills fade is a big issue at the start of each year with people feeling more confident out on the water than their skills might allow them to be. We're not saying that you lose the ability to paddle during the winter months, but there's always that trepidation the first couple of times out especially when the water is cold.
So lets assume that you are going out as a duo and you both have a semi reliable skillset, you know how to roll or recover yourself and your boat and you've tried to maintain some form of exercise during lockdown. It all starts at the planning stage, this could be in a group chat, huddled round your dining room table or through those online chats that everyone loves right now.
There's some simple steps you can follow;
Plan your remit, ie the conditions that you are comfortable paddling in. It's all well and good your fellow paddler being an experienced sea kayaker but if you'd rather stay on your local river or lake then don't be forced into a situation that you are not happy with. Likewise, consider the skillset of your paddling buddies and don't force them into something that they wont enjoy.
Gather your weather reports. We're ruled by the weather conditions when out on the water so study your local weather stations as well as the national ones. In the Solent area, we can't praise Bramblemet enough as a trusted source of local weather.
Gather your tidal information if on the sea. Paddling with the tide can make a huge impact on the enjoyability of a journey.
Do the work at the planning stage, gathering as much information as possible. It's never an issue to shorten a journey or to plan potential "bolt-on" that you can add should you want to go further.
Once everything has fallen into place and you arrive at your launch spot, now is the opportunity to get that "eyes on" perspective of the situation. Look at the clouds, the water flow, any other water users and use it all to make your judgement. Most of all remember that nobody will judge you if you decide it's not the "right" conditions to go out. That niggling shoulder pain could have flared up or you spot a sailing regatta in the middle of your route. All these things add up when making your decision.
So you've decided to launch, what other things need considering?
Do I have;
Extra warm clothing
Drinks and snacks
Appropriate water clothing ie cag and salopettes
A means of attracting attention in an emergency
Somewhere dry for your car keys
Above all, make sure somebody at home is aware of your plans and they have a rough time for your return. This way they can call the emergency services if needed but do remember to let them know if your plans change or you decided to stop off at the pub post journey.
Remember the focus here is on good planning. At the end of the day, if you turn up and the conditions are against you, you've done the planning so can always use the route again in the future.