How to effectively paddle with moving water by Bryant Burkhardt

Get Into The Flow

Eddy on the downstream side of the bridge abutment at the south tower of the Golden Gate Bridge. Photo used with permission from Sea Kayaking Safety & Rescue by John Lull

oving water comes in many shapes and sizes and learning to paddle with current can open up more options for paddlers in any boat. Whether you are on a white water river or paddling through tidal currents on an ocean bay, in a sea kayak or white water kayak, there are some simple principles to understand and basic techniques that will allow you to negotiate the moving water safely and efficiently. Where there is current there will also be eddies (calm water) cre- ated by anything obstructing the flow of water—a boulder in mid stream, a bend of shoreline or even an anchored navigation buoy in a shipping channel. Using these eddies for stopping, resting, scouting or moving upstream is the key to getting where you want to go and getting in and out of these eddies is the key skill to learn for paddling in moving water.

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I began my kayak career on the ocean so when I got around to paddling on the river I already had some basic skills–I could paddle in a straight line, edge my boat a little and even pull off a combat roll. But my lack of understanding of currents meant I used that roll a lot, constantly being flipped by water for no apparent reason. This was because I did not understand the fundamen-

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tal nature of how moving water interacts with a kayak. Understanding some basic hydrodynamics will go a long way to allowing you to avoid the upside down learning process.

The first thing to understand is that moving water is only important in a relative context—if a boat is moving the same speed as the current then the interaction between boat and water is exactly the same as if both are station- ary. It is when there is a difference in speed or direction between the boat and water that the dynamic interaction of the two comes into play. This occurs when a boater is moving from an eddy into current or vice versa. That transition is the critical moment and we will look in depth at how to handle it.

But first let us look at what happens when moving water hits a stationary boat (which is the same as when a mov- ing boat hits stationary water). If the water hits the boat head on then nothing much is going to happen. The bow (and generally the stern) of a boat is designed to split the water. So the water will be smoothly separated and flow around the boat causing the paddler no concern. But when the water hits the side of the boat it cannot simply go around – the obstacle is too large. In this case the water will pile up on the upstream side of the boat, and this resulting pile of water will catch and push down

Fall 2010

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