Thinking of taking a kayaking vacation? Here are five tips on what to look for and questions to ask when booking a kayaking tour guide company.
by Jen McGuinness
1. Experience & Certification of the Guide(s)
Make sure that you pick a company that has a certified Lead Guide or Full Guide. Some companies save money by hiring Assistant Guides to lead the trip, and calling them the ‘Lead Guide.’ If this is the case you could get a less experienced and knowledgeable guide(s), which could lead to a less enjoyable trip and may even compromise your safety. Guides should also have a valid First Aid certificate. There are 3 organizations that certify guides in Canada: the Canadian Federation of Kayak Educators, the Association of Canadian Sea Kayak Guides, and the Sea Kayak Guides Alliance of BC; all are unique but offer professional training.
2. Guide to Client Ratio
This number depends on what type of water you are paddling in. There is sheltered water or exposed outer coast with ocean swell. Decide what type of trip you want, ask the outfitter about experience level required for the trip, ask whether the area you are paddling is protected water or open coastal waters. The maximum number of clients on any kayak trip should be 12 clients to 2 guides, one Lead Guide and one Assistant Guide. You can learn more about safety standards and ratios at www.cfoke.ca
Secondly you need to consider the dynamics of group size, the smaller the group, the more intimate, the larger the group the more diverse.
3. Qualities of your Guide
Find out what talents your guides have. A good guide totes many talents and pulls them out of the bag at the opportune moment. Some good qualities to look for are: A Good Cook, Story Teller, Naturalist, Cultural History Buff, Musician, and above all else personable and a good sense of humour.
4. Time on Water & Type of Trip
Find out how long you will be paddling on the water each day. Beginners tend to find 2-4 hours adequate, while those who have previous experience or for the adventurous type 4-8 hours on the water is not unusual. Ask the outfitter how often you will be moving camp. Some kayak trips have a Base Camp, which means they go for day paddles and return to the same camp each night. The other type of trip is a Moving Camp, which involves packing up your belongings and literally stuffing camp in your kayaks. Obviously the Base Camp requires less energy, but it also means you will see less scenery. Most beginner kayakers prefer a Base Camp or only moving camp once or twice, while the adventurous will find themselves moving camp more often.
5. Type of Equipment
A well organized outfit will have good equipment. Kayaks and associated gear will be well maintained and no more than a few years old. This will add to your comfort and level of safety. Ask what type of kayak you will be paddling. Double kayaks are very stable, hold more gear, and tend to be good for new paddlers. Single Kayaks are more maneuverable, and give an incredible sense of being connected to the ocean, but also require more fitness and skill on your part.
Find out what other gear is supplied, and what you are expected to supply on your own, such as tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, gear bags, etc. If this is something you intend doing only once you may want to find a company that supplies everything other than your clothes and personal effects.
Jen McGuinness is an expert kayaker and guide with British Columbia – based Ecosummer Expeditions. www.ecosummer.com