Wednesday, April 01, 2015

SKIES: three things small, independent paddling groups need to know before paddling with someone new.

Sea kayaking can be a challenging activity and the people you choose to paddle with can have a direct influence on your own safety, not to mention enjoyment. The BCU Star system is supposed to help match people and give some confidence in a new paddling partner's abilities. Certainly many clubs concentrate on coaching their members through the star system. Being in the club environment also lets you get some idea if a new member might match your aspirations for a suitable paddling partner. Clubs often set off on the water in very large groups, possibly in the hope that an unsuitable member will be diluted by the "safety in numbers" mantra. However, my old club had such little confidence in each others' abilities (regardless of how many stars that were held) that they constantly just practised "skills" without actually going anywhere.

So how is the independent minded paddler, who likes to paddle in a small group, going to find paddlers of suitable ability and compatibility?

The very first sea kayak trip that Mike and I ever did together was 30km one way in the winter with few places to land. How did that happen?

The first time Ian and I went paddling together was also in the middle of winter on a multi-day expedition. So how did we decide that it would be safe and enjoyable to paddle together?

Photo by courtesy of  OceanPax blog.

Duncan has eruditely written about "connections" and the first time, he Joan, Ian, Mike and I paddled together so successfully. How did that happen?

At the age of 70 (plus) David is a regular member of our little group both on the water...

...and (Aherm) ashore not to mention regularly starring in P&H adverts. How did that happen?

Phil didn't even have a paddle, never mind a kayak when David and I found him down Ayr beach one day. Look at him now, how did that happen?

Tony and I had never met until our first paddle, 15km out to Ailsa Craig. Calm on the way out, it certainly was not on the way back. So how were we sure about our respective abilities?

Jim and I had never met until our first paddle round St Abb's Head on a big spring tide and a lumpy swell in borrowed boats. How did that come about?

Some think we operate some sort of secret society with funny handshakes and initiation ceremonies but nothing could be further from the truth. The answer is very simple: SKIES, the Sea Kayaking Independent Evaluation System. This truly is an unparalleled system for the non club paddler to meet compatible paddling partners. And...

...unlike the BCU Star system....

...we do not hide our stars away in drawers.

Oh no! We wear our honours and...

...epaulettes with pride.


  1. Douglas, I love it, I simply love it...the SKIES system works! :) The epaulettes look simply dashing! :)) Duncan.

  2. Thank you Duncan, I am always surprised how few people know about SKIES. :o)

  3. Certification is not all it is cracked up to be if skills aren't practiced. Our group practices together so we are comfortable with each others abilities. Then there's the chemistry thing too. Not everyone clicks in a group. Once bitten, twice shy!

    Tony :-)

  4. Hey Douglas, a really timely post and FULL of information and fun. My goodness, I now have epaulette envy though! Josh.

    1. Thanks Josh, you will just need to complete your SKIES assessment and earn your own epaulettes :o)

  5. Hi Douglas do you have any contact/further details about SKIES? Mel

    1. Hi Mel you should get together with Josh and do your SKIES asessment together. I am sure Josh has the full details. :o)

  6. Shimply Swashbuckling Douglas, and what a very effective system it is


  7. Ian when we walk down the beach wearing our epaulettes we do so with a shwagger because we are so shimply shwaushbuckingly shtunning! :o)

  8. Who is the First Officer? I'm guessing April?