Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Connecticut Hunting & Fishing Day 2017

     Last year, I had the honor of being part of something special for the state of Connecticut. Here's how it happened:

     My friend lives across the street from someone that works for the Connecticut Department of Energy & Environmental Protection (CT DEEP). We had gone over there to deliver them some eggs (she has 11 chickens), and we were discussing something about fishing, which led to her mentioning that I have a blog page where I mention "DIY/How-to" stuff, and local fishing spots for kayak fishing. I also handed him a few "reminder" cards - which look like business cards but saves me time from cramping my hands writing out the web address and mailing address.

     Anyway, a few weeks go by, and she gets a letter from the state of CT's DEEP about an upcoming outdoor show. I also checked my Google email account, and find an email from the the state of CT's DEEP asking me if I'd like to take part in CT's 6th annual Hunting & Fishing Days. The CT DEEP had two days they were having the events. One on the eastern side of the state at the Franklin Wildlife Refuge (Franklin,CT), and the other on the western side of the state in the Burlington Wildlife Refuge (Burlington,CT).
     The eastern event was the first time it was being held in Franklin,CT, so even though it was a success, not too many people showed up for the event. There wasn't too much going on for the kids to get involved.
     The western side of state was way more successful because this had been their 6th year, and there was a lot of interactive activities for the children to get involved in.
     I was given the first spot on the right heading down the trail. It was the first "booth" the people saw walking down the trail. My Hobie Outback kayak was set up the same way I would be set up as if I was launching in the surf - gear basket, white light with safety mast/flag, red/green navigation light, anchor trolley, foot well lamp, GPS/Chart Plotter/Fish Finder, Beach Wheels, etc.. A lot of people took photos of the way my kayak was set up, noting to each other the "upgrades" I've done to my kayak, and asked how each upgrade is used in conjunction with the ways I fish.

     Now, I'm just an average guy, that "writes" in his spare time about some "how-to" stuff you can do at home, and maybe give up some of my favorite fishing spots, so you can add these hot spots to your arsenal of areas to fish. Any advertising I do comes out of my pocket. I don't have any "paid" sponsors because I fish mostly on a part time basis. Also, I'm NOT endorsed by Hobie, (my kayak of choice at the moment). I'm currently planning to get a longer kayak, but it won't be a pedal driven model. I'm looking at a used 2013 Feelfree Moken 14 - it's 14 ft., 7 in. long, 80 lbs., 450 lbs. weight rating,  and 30 in. wide. A member of our fishing club hurt his shoulder and is now selling this kayak. I had seen it at a "meet & greet" earlier this year and had noticed the structure cracks on the right side of the hull. I knew I could fix this kayak and have a decent spare kayak for offshore fun. Once I get the kayak home, I will begin the task of rigging it to the extreme.

     Anyway, this year's "CT Hunting & Fishing Day 2017" will be for one day only on Saturday, September 23, 2017 at:
 476 East Hartford Boulevard North
 East Hartford,CT
 from 10 am. to 4 pm..

     Included in this year's show: Hunting & Trapping Tips, Fishing & Boating Displays, Archery Shooting, Fly-Tying & Casting, Hunting & Fishing Clubs, Conservation Organizations, Birds of Prey, Kids Activities, Fish & Wildlife Exhibits, Equipment Vendors, Laser Shot/Dart Gun/Blow pipe, BB Gun Shooting Range, Hunting Dog Demonstrations - ADMISSION & ALL OF THESE ACTIVITIES ARE FREE!

     * Author's Note: I'd like to give Cabela's a huge "Thank You" for stepping up to the plate and sponsoring this show - without Cabela's support, there would not have been a show this year. It's sad how the state's careless spending habits nearly cancelled this year's show, but I feel that with this "new" location being that it's more centralized, I think we will see an increase in visibility to what CT's got in store for it's residents. The parking area here is huge and will allow for more people to attend being that it's located in the "center" of the state.

     I will be in a 10' x 20' covered space, shielded from the sun on the sides, . And, besides my reminder cards, I will also have some cards from Dave Morton of "Beavertail Rod & Reel Service", a member of our fishing club that services our reels, does custom rod repairs, and makes custom equipment from scratch for people who are disabled.
     Additionally, I'll also have a special soap for you to try out that I use after my saltwater outings. It's the only soap that lathers in saltwater. The high calcium content in saltwater won't let standard household soap lather properly.
     It's made locally in the USA by a friend of ours, and their product is called, "Tackle Buddy". You can contact them here on Facebook:

     So, this is one of the shows that I enjoy chatting with other people about saltwater fishing from a kayak. If you have any questions about the items on my kayak, or where I go for launch spots, just ask. Hope to see you there!

- J

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Love it? Or, Lose it?

    We've all been there at some point. You're sitting out on the water (it could be freshwater or saltwater) having a good day, when all of a sudden, a careless boater (or, jet skier), maybe a rogue wave flips you over, and the gear you've been storing in your gear basket behind your seat becomes dislodged from its confines. Maybe, some of it floats? Other items? Not so much.....

    Fortunately, you had a cover on it........., right???  You did remember to put a cover on your basket, right?  No?  Uh oh!  Looks like you need to start thinking about a cover that will stay on and keep your gear where it's supposed to be!

    Over the years, I've seen some pretty good gear basket designs, and other designs, not as much went into thinking, that the average kayak angler would never think of flipping, or rolling over. It doesn't matter if it's freshwater, or saltwater, there will always be an uncertain future when it comes to an unexpected rollover. Because, no one anticipates a rollover. I would think that's the last thing we want to happen out on the water. For one, it's embarrassing. Number two, it's even more embarrassing trying to get back in your kayak, and lastly, collecting all the items floating on the water - which are scattered all over the place.

    Of course, not everything floats - your anchor, some lures, maybe your long nose pliers, sunglasses, etc.. It would be a shame that the cost of everything you packed your gear basket with, was suddenly lost at the bottom of whatever you're fishing on - a lake, a pond, a river, or even the ocean floor.

    Now, let's take a look at some gear crate designs that some people thought were "good enough" for their uses. The following photos are used for reference only. I'm using these as future references for how to set up your gear crate properly so you don't end up looking like a fool out on the water.

    These 3 photos are all from the same poster on the Kik Messenger #kayakfishing chat room. He is a beginner kayak angler, and this was his first attempt at "dialing it in" on his first SOT kayak.

    Photos 1 & 3 show a pretty cluttered area behind the seat. But, the first thing that caught my attention was the two bungee cords crisscrossed over the top of the crate. Really? Do you think this is a good idea in the event of a rollover?
    Photo #2, the clearest photo of the group, shows a lot of "technical" items on the front of the crate - (1 pr.) scissors, (3 prs.) pliers, and (1) knife. Hope he didn't pay a lot for all those items! Notice he has a leash for his kayak handle, but not for any of the items on the crate! I can also see he put foam floats zip-tied to his fishing poles. I can honestly say that those foam float tubes aren't buoyant enough to keep your rods afloat. Those poles, and gear crate, each need to be leashed as well!

    Here's another example of a gear crate with a top. It's a very simple design, but the top cover needs more "hinges" on it. Those green zip-ties aren't going to hold up well in the summer sun. The sun's ultraviolet rays will dry rot those zip-ties in a hurry. There should be at 10 -12 zip-ties across to hold that cover in place. If one or two zip-ties break, there will be plenty more to keep the lid shut should you rollover. Not exactly sure how it stays shut, though.....

    The next photos are of my old "prototype" gear crate. I was on another kayak fishing forum site, and adapted my own tricks to the forum leader's crate idea. I added acrylic plastic panels to the top cover, and the inside top box bottom. I also added a holster for my lip grippers and used an old phone cord acting as a leash to keep it in place. I also added reflective tape on the top box so that people using a searchlight will see the kayak better at night, or in foggy conditions.
    On the front of the crate, I added a Scotty Mount for my mast with safety flag. The mast also has reflective tape near the top for better visibility at night or in dense fog. I also added cheap plastic kitchen cabinet knobs to hold both the lid, and top box in place should you rollover. The strength of the mini bungee cords was strong to hold a 2.5 lb. weight in place ensuring the items inside would not be lost. On the inside of the lower crate, I added a piece of 1" foam on the bottom, so when you return a storage box back on the inside, the sound doesn't scare the fish away with a loud clunk. The foam at the bottom will provide a cushion for your storage boxes.

    So, with that said, if you don't want to lose it, you can either leash it, lash it down, or lose it. It's your wallet. You have to decide for yourself on how much you're willing to spend, and if you feel the need to spend more on quality stuff, or build it yourself, and save a few bucks.

    For more info on how to build a quality gear basket, go here:

Thursday, June 22, 2017

How to Fix a Broken Kayak Handle

    As with everything in life, something is bound to break sooner, or later. Whether or not your kayak has solid plastic handles, or cheaper woven nylon handles, (and depending on old age and/or frequent use) your kayak handle's strength over time will weaken at some point and break at the most inopportune time when you need it the most.

    Such is the case with my friend's kayak handle - a cheap woven nylon handle with a hard rubber grip portion that started to tear near the anchor point. Her kayak is an inexpensive sit-on-top model, a Future Beach Angler 160, with basic components - cheap parts that helped keep the price down making it affordable to own. The only problem with this kind of kayak is that there isn't a dealer nearby that can do this type of work. And, to ask a kayak shop to do this, is very expensive. She is on a limited income, so I stepped up to the plate, and decided to tackle this job myself.

Above photo 1: This handle has seen better days. The rip in the nylon is 80 percent torn. It has served its purpose. But now, it's time for an upgrade!

    I worked in the auto body industry for 7 years before getting hired with the state of Connecticut. So, I have a lot of unique power tools that are perfect for this type of job. It will require some bolt cutting, gas torch use, and plastic welding to attach an aftermarket handle.

    First, I had to cut the handle off so I could get to the screws better. After I cut the handle off, I tried to turn the screws. I used good amounts of WD-40 on both screws and couldn't get the screws to budge. In fact, I put so much torque on the screwdriver's tip, that it mangled the tip of the screwdriver - but it didn't do anything to the screw head itself.

Above photo 2: The mangled tip of the screwdriver after losing the battle with the screw's head.

    My next plan of attack, was to cut off the screw from the bottom, on the inside. I removed the storage hatch cover and took a look inside to see what I'm up against. At first, I thought it was a couple of bolts with lock nuts holding it in place. But instead, they were held in place with a molded fastener - like the nut was in a molded cup built into the kayak's hull itself.

Above photo 3: The view from the inside of the hull. Before cutting these two "knobs", I unplugged the drain cap to the right of the front "knob".

    Here's what I used to get into that tight area: a mini Electric Body Saw. It's like a Sawzall, but it's about 75% smaller than its big brother, which is the perfect tool for the job. It's lightweight design will enable you to get into this tight area while utilizing just one hand to operate it. And, it's only $35!

Above photo 4: This tool sells for just $35, and is probably one of my most widely used tools in my shop. It comes in handy for a variety of projects.

    Whatever bolts the manufacturer used in the assembly process, they were "iron clad", as they were a pain to saw through. They eventually cut through after spending nearly 10 minutes per bolt. I chose to not only cut the bolts, but also the  bulbous plastic lump as well. Trust me, you won't miss it.

Above photo 5: Be persistent in the cutting process, eventually the bolts will give in. You might experience some cramping from trying to get the best angle when tackling that forward bolt.

    Now, I have to prepare the handle's area by filling in the old bolt holes with the plastic welder. I started out by melting down the raised "walls" on either side of the old handle (photo 6).
    Once they were leveled flat, I began filling in the old holes with plastic shavings that were saved from a previous project (photo 7). If you don't have enough plastic material, the plastic from old milk crates makes for a good substitute. The color won't matter because you won't see it once the new handles are installed.

    Above photo 6: Taken before I removed the handle. This shows the raised "wall" area on either side of the handle.

    Above photo 7: Both "walls" on both holes were knocked down to make way for the filling the old holes. After sanding the area with 36 grit sandpaper, I used a propane torch to "smooth" out the rough area. 

    Above photo 8: The old holes were filled in using a plastic welder. I tried to level it out as flat as possible. The above photo shows the area is now ready for re-drilling the new holes to make way for the new handle.

    I wanted the next handle to be as comfortable as possible for her to use. The old handle wasn't as good when it came to lugging the kayak up steep boat ramps. So, I bought this one from a Hobie dealer. It was longer in length, thicker in diameter, and much better quality too. It will also reduce the pain in the user's hands when lugging the kayak over long distance walks to the water.

Above photo 9: This handle came from a Hobie dealer and it wasn't cheap at $20, but comfort is king when it comes to lugging the kayak a good distance to the water. But, that will be up to YOU on what you choose to do when it comes to replacing your old handle.

    I have a bunch of spare bolts, nuts, lock washers, and washers at my disposal for this project. You may want to visit your local hardware store to pick up the parts you'll need for this project. I chose to utilize both the two holes in the front and back of the handle. You will also need a drill, to punch through the webbing material, as well as the plastic hull.
    I chose to fold the end units inward, so they're facing each other when I go to drill the handle bases in. It should look like this when you're done:

Above photo 10: The finished product!  I wanted to keep a small "curve" in the handle by keeping it confined to the recessed space provided. 

In the end, you will have a great looking handle on your kayak that will last for years to come. And, this project will give you a sense of pride in knowing that you did this by yourself while saving your wallet from being raped at the local kayak shop.

As usual, keep those lines wet & tight!  - J

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Custom Kayak Cart for the Beach

   There's a lot of kayak carts on the market today aimed at your kayak, but which one do you choose? Some manufacturers have carts that use ratchet straps and a frame-style cart. While others use a plug-in style cart that utilizes the kayak's scupper holes. That choice will be up to you on what you can afford, and how quickly you want to get out on the water.

   Frame-style carts

    You've seen them. It's usually a bulky contraption with foam padding and basic wheels (a combination of hard plastic ball-bearing free rims and thin airless rubber or hard foam tires). Some of these tires may be air filled. While some of these frame-style carts will either break down for easy storage in your forward hatch, or fold up for storing under your front or rear lashing areas for carrying. A few problems arise with these setups.
    First, they're cumbersome to setup under the kayak - especially if you have a fully loaded fishing kayak. Then, you'll have to position it just right so it doesn't fall over, or slip out from under the kayak, while going over uneven terrain. Don't forget to ratchet it down good so it doesn't slip out from under the kayak (but not too much that it warps the hull)!
    Second, there's the problem of storing it while you're out. If you choose to leave it at the launch site while you're out, they might, or might not be there when you get back in. Good luck getting back to the parking area.
    You could store it up front in your forward hatch - if it's big enough. For those of you that have kayaks that are 10 feet long, or less, you may not have a cargo hatch area big enough to store a collapsible cart. Or, your cart may not collapse at all. You could try to "lash" it down using the bungee cord material (aka "shock cord") that's usually located either up front, or out back. That's fine for the front, but it may take away from carrying your fishing gear (or, crate) out back.

    Plug-in style carts

    Plug-in style carts are just what they seem. They usually "plug" into scupper holes for easy transport to, and from where you decide to launch from. The nice thing about some plug-in style carts, is that when you get to where you want to launch, where you chose to put the cart after you've pulled it out, is usually the same place you'll put the cart into the scupper holes from the top to take with you. In some rare instances, if you plugged in the cart into the scupper holes located in the seat area, then you may have to find another way to take your cart with you, so it doesn't get stolen.

    Homemade PVC carts

    If you've been on some of the many online forum sites, or even YouTube for that matter, you've seen many different ways someone has made their own kayak cart out of PVC. I'll admit I'm guilty here. I made a few for a friend that resulted in a rather overly bulky cart that was a big pain-in-the-butt when it came to stowing it, or it was a bigger pain when it came to securing it to the kayak for bringing it somewhere. And the cost of materials usually resulted in spending more money, and time, on a project that ended up going to the scrapyard at some point.

    So now what?  Well,.....it goes like this:

    I have a friend that has a relatively decent kayak that cost a mere $400, but it is on par with some of the big name kayaks out there. So, over the last few years, I've tried the homemade route on at least 5 different versions of a custom made cart - all of them a failure, to say the least.
    One day, while flipping through a Bass Pro Shops flyer, I noticed a Adjustable Kayak Cart that could be adjusted in width from 10" to 22" wide, and it was nicely priced at $55. It was made by Ascend Products, a top name in kayak accessories with everything from anchor trolley kits, kayak carts, kayaks, clam shell cleats, paddle leashes, etc. - just to name a few.
    I went outside to their kayak, and measured the width between the scupper holes, and finally found a cart that would fit their kayak perfectly.
    Over the last few years, our kayak fishing club has had some newer launch sites added to the itinerary that are difficult to get to the shoreline. Though, they are "hidden gems" to our club member's leader, they also require the use of beach wheels on some of the beaches. Because, NO ONE wants drag a fully loaded kayak across deep sand.
    So, I checked into adding a set of Wheeleez beach wheels to their cart. Unfortunately, the Wheeleez hub size on some of their hubs were either too big (10" tire), or too small (6" tire) to fit the cart's axle hub. And a set of their tires was way out the budget range we were looking for. Up to $250 for the larger 10" tires, and up to $180 for the smaller 6" tires. Plus, their hub size was too wide for their kayak cart's axle.

    While reading through my "Kayak Angler" magazine, I came across an ad for Malone Auto Racks. They're a major supplier for everything related to transporting your kayak. Custom built trailers, kayak racks for storage, kayak carts, etc.. American made products from Portland,Maine and in business for the last 18 years. I went to their website here: Malone Auto Racks .
    I checked out the brand new 2017 catalog online (clicking on "Catalog" will open up a new window) and on page 35, Malone now offers their own version of inflatable beach wheels called, "Soft Terrain BeachHauler Wheels", Part# MPG513, and are sold in sets of 2.

Above Photo: Soft Terrain BeachHauler wheels. Photo courtesy of MaloneAutoRacks.com

    After speaking with regional agent at a recent trade show, he said that the set of 2 wheels w/hubs would be selling for $100. We brought an Ascend kayak cart with us and tried on one of the BeachHauler wheels. It was possible with the unique "deep dish" design of the rim. The Ascend adjustable kayak cart's outside axle length is only 4" long with a small press in button at the end to help keep the hub in place on the axle.

Above Photo: Deep dish rims like these will be a different color on the BeachHauler wheels. Photo courtesy of MaloneAutoRacks.com 

    Although it was an extremely snug fit, this is EXACTLY what we're looking for! This would bring the price for the cart & wheels to just under $160! And the best part? Even YOU can "build" this project will no tools needed!

    So, if you're looking for a set of beach wheels, and a great way to transport your kayak over deep sand, then check out these two great options - Ascend Product's "Adjustable Kayak Cart", and Malone's "Soft Terrain BeachHauler Wheels".

    As usual, keep those lines wet & tight!  - J


Monday, February 13, 2017

How to Use a Plastic Welder to Fix a Cracked Kayak Hull

    There are a lot of things that can go wrong in life when dealing with your kayak's hull. Take for instance, a recent "upgrade" I tried to do with my kayak.

The story:
    About three years ago, I had an Eagle Cuda 350 (Sonar/GPS), a small, gray scale, entry level fishfinder with GPS. It served me well for about 3 years during the day, but I mainly used it at night to help me find my way back to the boat launch area. But, there came a time when I needed it the most, and it failed to start - even after I had just finished charging the battery.
    So, I finally caved in and got a Lowrance Hook 5 DSI fishfinder/chartplotter/GPS. It was like stepping into the future with this new unit. It has a much larger 5" viewing screen, color display, a micro SD card with 6000+ lakes pre-loaded for all 50 states, and a state-of-the-art GPS system. It also came with a much larger transducer measuring in at 2" wide and 4" long - way bigger than the previous version. The way I had my transducer set up, it shot through the hull. This setup provided protection from the rocky bottom and other underwater obstructions that couldn't be seen by my eyes -  day or night. The transducer sat in 2 foam spacers that were doubled up together and affixed to the inside of the kayak's hull using Marine Goop. I would fill the spacers with water, then press my transducer in slowly to squeeze out the excess water and air bubbles, to give me a solid reading every time. But, with the bigger transducer, it wasn't going to fit my spacer setup. So, in order for me to make a new spacer, the old spacer setup had to come out.
    I figured I would use a scraper first, to see how that goes, then switch to something heavier duty later. I knew Marine Goop was pretty durable, but instead, it was harder than a rock. The fact that the air temperature in my unheated garage is around 30 degrees doesn't help. The scraper just wasn't cutting it. So, I switched to a heavy duty chisel, and a small ball peen hammer to help scrape away the spacer blocks. At first, it was going pretty smoothly, but then the inevitable happened - I thought I was making headway, but I ended up driving the chisel completely through the bottom of my kayak, tearing a 3" gash in the hull! While I'm usually patient at doing things to my kayak, I'm pressed for time for an upcoming saltwater show in early March, so my impatience led to me trying to cut a few corners, and it cost me by compromising the hull.

The solution:    
    But, being a former auto body technician, I have a remedy to this unlikely situation. While most people would've freaked out, and possibly thrown away their damaged kayak in the garbage. There is a cheap alternative that will save you a ton of money and it's called a Plastic Welder.

So, let's get started:
    If you've never heard of a plastic welder, they're usually used in auto body shops to repair front and/or rear bumper covers on today's newer cars. Some plastic welders can cost several more dollars, but this one that I have costs around $17, and it's a decent 80 watts, more than enough to get the job done. It was purchased at Harbor Freight

    The nice feature about this model of the plastic welder is the flat triangular head that makes it act like a very small iron (much like its big brother that you use to iron your dress shirts with). This will enable you to smooth out the plastic better.

    Because I've already sealed the crack in my Hobie kayak's hull, I'm going to use a scrap piece of plastic that I found at the transfer station. The piece in question came off an old Honda Quad (a fairing vent, I think). 
    Anyway, let's pretend that this is a crack in the kayak hull. Yeah......., it looks pretty deep.

    Above photo: from the front.

    Above photo: from the back.

    Okay, after assessing the damage, you want to get a screwdriver, and from the back (or, bottom of your hull) you want to press the raised edge back in so that it's "level" again. The nice thing about a kayak's hull is you can flip it over to work on it.

    Then, once you get it as close to level that it was, you take a razor knife and slice a thin piece off the exposed raised edge. This should form a "valley", or a V-like channel that you're going to fill in.

    Above photo: Prepping the "valley" for a fill in.

    Using the previous piece of plastic that you trimmed off earlier with that razor knife, you're going to use that piece to fill in the crack. Lay the trimmed piece in the valley, and with smooth strokes, melt the piece into the valley. 
    You'll know when the plastic welder is hot enough when the plastic begins to melt under the head of the iron. 

    (As seen on the Plastic Welder's carton in the above photo)

    * Note: DO NOT leave the iron in one spot! Keep moving it around so it doesn't burn through!

    Above photo: Melted plastic piece inside the valley.

    If you need more plastic to really completely fill in the damaged area, you can use an old milk crate. It's made of the same material as your kayak. But, instead of stealing a milk crate, you can buy one here (to match your kayak's color): The Container Store - Milk Crates

    To get the plastic shavings you need, you can use different size drill bits make the shavings you need. Small drill bits will make thinner and stringy shavings. While larger drill bits will make thicker and longer shavings. Color shouldn't be a big concern. You're filling in a crack that nobody will see.


    * Tip: In the photo below, when filling in the valley with the desired plastic, to keep the plastic "clean" and not to have it discolor the area by turning black, you should use the small wire brush (provided) to clean off the iron's head frequently. As the plastic melts, the built up melted plastic will burn on the end of the iron's head causing it to turn a blackish color, further discoloring your damaged area.

    Above photo: Patched area discolored from a dirty iron's head. Clean the head with a wire brush frequently, so as to do a nice clean patch job.

    To strengthen the back (or, inside hull) of the damaged area, repeat the same process.

    Above photo: After the welded patch is complete, you have a nice weld that is waterproof inside & out.

    When you're finished, unplug the plastic welder and set it on the angled metal rest provided, (preferably on top of a piece of scrap wood board) and keep it away from anything flammable while it slowly cools down.

    Above photo: Using the metal rest provided, this will make it easier to keep the iron clean.

    If you need more practice, use some old milk crates. Pretty soon, you'll be plastic welding everything in sight - helmets, kayaks, bumper covers, water jugs, etc.. Be sure to save the scrap milk crates when you're done cutting them up. You never know when you'll need them. I have lots of containers with scrap & colored shavings from all kinds of "donor" plastics, such as ATV/Dirt Bike fenders and scrap milk crates. So far, I have shavings in the following colors: Red, Yellow, Orange, Black, Grey, and Olive Green.
    I hope this "How-To" article is helpful to you and your friends in making the right decision to save money on a simple fix, rather than to spend several hundred dollars on buying new equipment. That way you'll have more money to spend on better fishing equipment.

    As usual, keep those lines wet and tight! - J

Friday, November 11, 2016

Communication Breakdown

    If you haven't guessed by the title above, this article isn't about Led Zeppelin, but a look at some of the ways we can't communicate with each other while we're on the water when something goes wrong. There's nothing worse than not being able to communicate with anyone should something go awry. Here's a prime example:

    A few months ago, I rolled my kayak in the surf at Rocky Point Park in Warwick,RI. I was leading an outing there with our kayak fishing group. I had been here previously in the past and it's been relatively calm for the most part. But, this outing was "doomed" right from the start. I should've exercised better caution and canceled the outing, but the four of us launched anyway - in rough seas and high winds. After about an hour and a half of fighting the incoming tide, I decided it was time to head back in. After not pedaling the Hobie fast enough, and not turning the rudder hard enough, I ended up flipping over the kayak.
    Anyway, during the time I was bobbing in the water next to my kayak, I wondered if anybody else in our group saw me go over. I had my friend's marine radio on me, I remembered that I was the ONLY person smart enough to bring a radio. It would've been a waste to use the radio when no one else has a radio on them that day. I had my safety whistle. But who's going to help me, if they can't hear me?
    I ended up getting my kayak righted and back in the saddle in under 5 minutes - by myself. Another kayak angler in our group came over to help with the recovery of my items that were floating in the water. Fortunately, he was only 100 yards away.

    So, how DO we communicate with each other while out on the water?

    Well, for starters, you could get yourself a good quality floating marine radio. There are many brands on the market and most are reasonably priced, depending on your budget. They will often have decent range of up to a mile or more depending on conditions. A floating marine radio will be sealed with some type of O-ring gasket to help keep the batteries dry and the water out. Some will have up to 10 Weather channels, as well as, an emergency channel (ch.16) - which is monitored by the US Coast Guard. And, trust me, they're listening all the time, and will be there quickly if the situation is serious enough. If the Coast Guard isn't nearby, they will often request that any boaters nearest to that location, to please respond, assist, and monitor that situation until the Coast Guard arrives.
    There's plenty of radio chatter of other boaters looking to zero in on where the action's at, maybe looking for other friends in the area, or what's hot for lure & bait combinations.

    Having your marine radio fully charged is also a big factor, too. The last thing you want to happen in an emergency, is your radio's battery failing at the worst moment by not working when you need it the most.
    You will also need to keep it close by at all times. My radio, a Standard Horizon HX 290, came with a small cord attached to the clip, which is removable from the radio housing. I have the cord attached to a D-ring hoop inside my life vest, so all I have to do is slide the clip onto the radio, and attach the radio to the inside pocket on the front of my life vest. If it should become un-clipped from my pocket, the small cord will keep it tethered close by.

    If you don't have a marine radio, you should probably stick close by to someone who does. Though, we don't normally use the "buddy system", it probably wouldn't hurt. It would make life a little easier for you both.

    Another choice would be to use your cell phone. But, you better have a good quality dry bag to keep your cell phone dry. It should have some type of "clear window", so you can see who you're talking to and/or texting. If that cell phone comes into contact with saltwater, you'll have an instant hand warmer in a hurry, as saltwater & Ni-Cad rechargeable batteries don't get along together.

    These are just a few tips on what you should have with you while out on the water. Your choice of what brand of radio you want will be based on what you can afford. These are just a few of the popular brands on the market today: Standard Horizon, Cobra, Uniden, and Sitex. Having a floating marine radio with you will mean the difference between having a good time on the water, or just not being prepared for the inevitable.

    As always, keep those lines wet & tight!  - J

Monday, October 10, 2016

Be Seen and Be Safe

    A lot of people don't think about safety when purchasing their first kayak. They figure they'll just go out and take their time, nothing fast, and paddle normally. That's usually the case with most people. They're impatient because they can't wait to get out and enjoy the water.

    When I got my Hobie Outback kayak in September 2009, I wanted to go out so bad, but couldn't because I didn't have the proper gear - no life vest, safety mast with flag, and no white light. Having used my Dad's big boat (a 23 ft. Grady White) on a few occasions, I knew he had his safety gear on board up front inside the cuddy cabin, and even he wasn't stupid enough to go out without the required gear!

    So, what does all this have to do with "being seen"? We often take for granted, that when we're out on the water, our kayaks are close enough to shore that the bigger boats will go around us. This isn't always the case. Most responsible boaters will avoid us and steer clear of what we're doing - whether it be fishing or paddling. Then, there are some who just don't care and will often "show off" for their friends by trying to splash you, or worse, try to flip you over. YOUR safety is obviously none of THEIR concern.

    There are a few ways to deter such incidents and I will go in order of necessity. These are the most important as far as your safety is concerned. Let's start at the top.

    1.) Life Vest - A lot of people don't realize the importance of a good quality life vest. This could mean the difference between a life saved at sea, or the unfortunate knock on the door by law enforcement informing your loved ones that you won't be coming home today. My life vest is a bright yellow. They come in a variety of colors, so pick out the color you like best, and keep it on whenever you're on the water - regardless of how hot it is outside. Unexpected surprises are just that - a "surprise" when you least expect it!
   *In early 2016 in Connecticut, there were 6 fatalities concerning kayakers - and ALL were not wearing life vests or dry suits, as the water is still a chilly 50 degrees in April/May.

    1b.) The author is seen here wearing a Stohlquist life vest on Pachaug Pond in Griswold,CT.

    2.) Safety Mast with Flag - Why? Because it will mean the difference of being a "target" out on the water without one, or being seen by other boaters with one. When I'm out on the water, usually saltwater, the seas can go from 1-2 ft swells (mild seas), to a hairy 4-6 ft swells (rough seas) in a matter of hours, thanks to the weather. For every drop you encounter inside the lowest point in a swell, you & your kayak, literally "disappear" from another boater's view. With my mast that I made, I cut the PVC pole to 50", because when it sits in its holder on my gear crate, it is literally 12" above the water, then the mast makes it sit 62" high. The pole is mostly white, with the top 8" marked out with reflective red & white tape, then below the tape I have a 9" x 12" orange safety flag that aids in keeping me visible in all directions. The purpose of the reflective tape, helps amateur boaters that use a spotlight at night, aids me in standing out in the black of night (I also have 1"x 2" white reflective strips above the water line, from front to back, on the sides of my kayak, and around the top of my gear crate as well).

    2b.) An earlier version of the safety mast I made using a 12"x 12" safety flag from Cabela's. Notice how the flash makes the reflective taped area glow. Great for unlit parking areas when an oncoming motorist pulls in, because they will see the mast first.

    2c.) The difference is clear. My tan kayak (flag). My friend in a red kayak in the back (no flag). Photo taken by Mona Rodriguez, a kayak fishing club member, from shore at Monahan's/State Pier #5 in Narragansett,RI, over a quarter mile out.

    3.) White Light - Now, during the daytime when the sun is out, you won't need this feature. But when it's foggy, sunset, or pitch black dark outside, federal requirements say you NEED this light on. If you feel that you don't need this feature at night, you may have a surprise visit at the parking area by the local Game Warden looking to hand out a fine of $75 (or, more) for Improper Lights or Failure to Display Lights, depending on your state's boating laws. YakAttack & Scotty both make lighted safety masts with flags, but their flags look more like a sock, and the white light puts out a dismal yellow color. They are priced around $65 - $75. The big problem here, is their "masts" aren't very tall at 30" in height. While USCG regulations require you to have a 360ยบ white light visible in all directions, you need to insure proper placement in order for that to happen, otherwise your body may block the light from being shown when lit. I can show you how to make a lighted safety mast with flag for under $50. The most expensive part is this kit from Attwood Marine (Wal-Mart) which is around $30. Unbelievably bright for an LED light, and the 3 AAA batteries will last a long time. The nice thing about this kit, is the light can be taken off, because you don't need it during the daytime.

    Part 1 - Lighted Safety Mast:

    Part 2 - Adding a Flag to your Lighted Safety Mast:

    This is what the mast should look like when it's done. If you can't find the flag, you can find a similar flag at Home Depot, but you may have to cut it down. Look under "safety flags" at Home Depot. You can also buy one online at the link provided below.
    Go here for safety flags: http://www.homedepot.com/s/safety%2520flags?NCNI-5

    Photo 1: Finished product.
    Photo 2: When the light is lit.
    Photo 3: Flag in use at Rocky Point Park in Warwick,RI (daytime).
    Photo 4: Sunset at Fort Adams in Newport, RI (night time).


[Photo credit above: Mona Rodriguez]

[Photo credit above: Mona Rodriguez]

    The whole point to this article is in order to "Be Safe", you must first "Be Seen". As always, keep those lines wet & tight!