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Kayaking Merit Badge Guide

kayaking merit badge guide

Kayaking Merit Badge – Kayaking has become one of the fastest-growing paddlesports in the United States. An estimated nine million Americans enjoy this sport.

The most popular style of kayaking is recreational kayaking (6.2 million), followed by touring/sea kayaking (1.8 million), and whitewater kayaking (1.2 million).

This merit badge will introduce you to recreational kayaking and help prepare you for advanced paddlesports such as touring/sea and whitewater kayaking.

The first kayaks were made by the native people of The Arctic, the Inuits, and Aleuts. They stretched seal or walrus skins over frames of driftwood or whale bones. The boats were used primarily for hunting.

The word kayak in Inuit means “hunter’s boat.” These early kayaks varied greatly in design from region to region. The kayaks of the Inuits were short, wide, very stable, and easy to use.

A similar boat called a baidarka by the Aleuts was long, fast, and very seaworthy. In the 1800s, Europeans began to make kayaks that were covered in fabric. This continued until the 1950s when fiberglass was introduced.

In 1984, the first plastic kayak was made. Today, kayaks are made of modern materials in
many designs.

Kayaking Merit Badge Requirements

  1. Do the following:
    • Explain to your counselor the hazards you are most likely to encounter while participating in kayaking activities, including weather and water-related hazards, and what you should do to anticipate, help prevent, mitigate, and respond to these hazards.
    • Review prevention, symptoms, and first-aid treatment for the following injuries or illnesses that can occur while kayaking: blisters, cold-water shock and hypothermia, heat-related illnesses, dehydration, sunburn, sprains, and strains.
    • Review the BSA Safety Afloat policy. Explain to your counselor how this applies to kayak.
  2. Before doing requirements 3 through 8, complete the BSA swimmer test: Jump feetfirst into water over the head in depth. Level off and swim 75 yards in a strong manner using one or more of the following strokes: sidestroke, breaststroke, trudgen, or crawl; then swim 25 yards using an easy, resting backstroke. The 100 yards must be completed in one swim without stops and must include at least one sharp turn. After completing the swim, rest by floating.
  3. Do the following:
    • Review the characteristics of life jackets most appropriate for kayaking and understand why one must always be worn while paddling. Then demonstrate how to select and fit a life jacket for kayaking.
    • Review the importance of safety equipment such as a signal device, extra paddle, sponge, bilge pump, flotation bags, and throw bag.
  4. Do the following:
    • Name and point out the major parts of a kayak.
    • Review the differences in the design between recreational, whitewater, and sea or touring kayaks. Include how length, width, stability, and rocker are involved in the design of each type.
    • Explain the care, maintenance, and storage of a kayak.
  5. Discuss the following:
    • How to use a kayak paddle.
    • Parts of a paddle.
    • The care and maintenance of a paddle.
  6. Using a properly equipped kayak with an open cockpit, a sit-on-top, or an inflatable kayak, do the following:
    • Safely capsize and perform a wet exit.
    • Reenter the kayak with assistance from a buddy boat.
    • Demonstrate a kayak-over-kayak rescue.
    • Demonstrate the HELP position.
    • Capsize the kayak, swim it, paddle to shore, and empty water from the kayak with assistance, if needed.
  7. As a solo paddler, use a properly equipped kayak to demonstrate the following:
    • Forward stroke
    • Reverse stroke
    • Forward sweep
    • Reverse sweep
    • Draw stroke
    • Stern draw
  8. As a solo paddler, use a properly equipped kayak to demonstrate the following:
    • Paddle a straight line for 15 to 20 boat lengths using appropriate strokes while maintaining the trim and balance of the kayak.
    • Spin or pivot from a stationary position 180 degrees (half-circle) to the right and left within two boat lengths.
    • Move abeam to the right 10 feet and the left 10 feet.
    • Stop the boat at one boat length.
    • While maintaining forward motion, turn the kayak 90 degrees to the right and left.
    • Move the kayak backward three to four boat lengths using appropriate and effective reverse strokes.
    • Paddle the kayak in a buoyed figure 8 course around markers three to four boat lengths apart.

BSA Safety Afloat

Safety Afloat Kayaking

The following version of the Safety Afloat policy has been modified for this merit badge. The complete version is found in the Guide to Safe Scouting.

1. Qualified Supervision

All kayaking must be supervised by a mature and conscientious adult age 21 or older.

The supervisor must understand and knowingly accept responsibility for the well-being and safety of those in his or her care and must be trained in and committed to compliance with the nine points of BSA Safety Afloat and Safe Swim Defense.

That supervisor must be skilled in safe kayaking, knowledgeable in accident prevention, and prepared for emergencies.

If the adult with Safety Afloat training lacks the necessary paddling, safety, and rescue skills, then he or she may serve as the supervisor only if assisted by other adults, camp staff personnel, or professional tour guides who have the appropriate skills.

Additional leadership (adults age 18 or older) is provided in ratios of one trained adult, staff member, or guide for every 10 participants, with a minimum of two adults. At least one leader must be trained in first aid, including CPR.

It is strongly recommended that all units have at least one adult or older youth member trained in BSA Paddle Craft Safety to assist in the planning and conducting of all kayaking activities.

2. Personal Health Review

Personal Health Review

All participants must provide a complete health history, signed by a physician, parent, or
legal guardian, as evidence of fitness for kayaking activities.

Participants should let their leaders know if they have had any recent illnesses or injuries so supervision and protection can be adjusted to anticipate potential risks.

For significant health conditions, the adult supervisor should require an examination by a physician and consult with the parent, guardian, or caregiver for appropriate precautions.

3. Swimming ability

Swimming ability

The operation of a kayak is limited to youth and adults who have completed the annual BSA swimmer classification test: Jump feetfirst into water over the head in depth.

Swim 75 yards in a strong manner using one or more of the following strokes: sidestroke, breaststroke, trudgen, or crawl; then swim 25 yards using an easy, resting backstroke.

The 100 yards must be completed in one swim without stops and must include at least one sharp turn. After completing the swim, rest by floating.

Anyone not classified as a swimmer may ride in a kayak as a buddy with an adult swimmer who is skilled in that craft.

Also Read: Swimming Merit Badge

4. Personal Flotation Equipment

Properly fitted, U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jackets or personal flotation devices
(PFDs) must be worn by every person in a kayak. Type III PFDs are recommended for general recreational use.

5. Buddy System

Buddy System For Kayaking

All kayaking participants are paired as buddies who are always aware of each other’s situation and prepared to sound an alarm and lend assistance immediately.

When several kayaks are used on a float trip, each kayak on the water should have a buddy boat. Buddies should ride in the same kayak or stay near one another in single-person kayaks.

6. Skill Proficiency

Everyone in a kayaking activity must have enough knowledge and skill to participate safely. Passengers should know how their movement affects the kayak’s stability and should have a basic understanding of self-rescue.

Paddlers must meet government requirements, be able to control the kayak, know-how changes in the environment influence that control, and participate only in activities within their or the group’s capabilities.

  • Participants should be instructed in basic safety procedures before launch and allowed to proceed once they have demonstrated the ability to control the kayak adequately to return to shore.
  • Before embarking on a long float trip or outing lasting more than four hours, paddlers should have three hours of kayak training and supervised practice or should be able to successfully complete a 100-yard course and recover from a capsize.
  • Unit trips on whitewater above Class II must be done with a professional guide in each craft or after all participants have received American Canoe Association or equivalent training for the class of water and type of craft involved.

7. Planning

Planning For Kayak

Proper planning is necessary to ensure a safe and enjoyable kayaking experience. All plans should include a scheduled itinerary, notification of appropriate parties, communication arrangements, contingencies in case of inclement weather or equipment failure, and options for emergency response.

  • Preparation – Any kayaking activity requires access to the proper equipment and transportation of gear and participants. Determine what state and local regulations apply. Get permission to use or cross private property. Determine whether personal resources will be used or outfitters will supply equipment, food, and shuttle services. Lists of the group and personal equipment and supplies must be compiled and checked.
  • Float plan – Complete the preparation by writing a detailed itinerary, or float plan, noting put-in and take-out locations and waypoints, along with the approximate time the group should arrive at each. Travel time should be estimated generously.
  • Notification – File the float plan with parents or participants and a member of the unit committee. File the float plan with the local council office when traveling on running water. Check in with all those who should be notified when returning.
  • Weather – Check the weather forecast just before setting out, and keep an alert weather eye. Bring all craft ashore when rough weather threatens.
  • Contingencies – Planning must identify possible emergencies and other circumstances that could force a change of plans. Appropriate alternative plans must be developed for each.

8. Equipment

Equipment For Kayak

All kayaks must be seaworthy and suitable for the activity and must float if capsized. All kayaks and equipment must meet regulatory standards, be properly sized, and be in good repair.

Spare equipment (such as paddles), repair materials, extra food and water, dry clothes, and emergency gear must be carried and should be appropriate for the activity. Life jackets and paddles must be sized for the participants.

Properly designed and fitted helmets must be worn when running rapids rated above Class II. Emergency equipment such as throw bags, signal devices, flashlights, heat sources, first-aid kits, radios, and maps must be ready for use.

Also Read: Canoeing Merit Badge

9. Discipline

Rules are effective only when followed. All participants should know, understand, and respect the rules and procedures for safe kayaking provided by Safety Afloat guidelines.

Discuss the applicable rules with everyone near the boarding area just before the activity begins. People are more likely to follow directions when they know the reasons for rules and procedures.

Consistent, impartially applied rules supported by skill and good judgment provide steppingstones to a safe, enjoyable outing.

Kayaking Safety Equipment

Every paddler should have a personal set of safety equipment. Here are few items to consider.

Whistle. The U.S. Coast Guard regulations require that all paddlers carry an audible
distress signal. A whistle is simple and easy to use. It can also be attached to your life jacket. As an emergency signaling device, a whistle can be used to attract the attention of other paddlers if assistance is needed.
Spare paddle. In case the original is damaged or lost.
First-aid kit. A simple kit to manage common injuries such as blisters or cuts.
Sponge. An easy way to keep the inside of the kayak dry and clean.
Bilge pump. A short, hand-operated pump that can quickly empty a kayak full of water.
Dry bags. Specially made bags of waterproof material with a roll-down closure at the top.
Throw bag. A bag containing a disk of closed-cell foam at the bottom and a length of polypropylene rope (which floats) attached to the bottom of the bag through the disk. The rest of the rope is loosely stuffed into the bag with a drawstring at the top.
Map and compass. Using these devices will keep a paddler on course and out of trouble.
Water and food. Kayakers have high water needs, and extra water is a must. High-calorie
food provides an important source of energy for kayakers, who can burn thousands of calories in a day.
Kayaking Safety Equipment

Kayaks and Equipment

Paddlers today have many choices of kayaks, paddles, life jackets, and other equipment.

Selecting the best boat for where you want to paddle, the correct paddle size, a good life jacket, and appropriate rescue equipment can make the difference between a safe and enjoyable experience and an unsafe, unpleasant one.

No matter where you want to paddle, there is a kayak best suited for that location and water conditions. To make the best choice for your needs, you will need to learn the parts of a
kayak, the types of kayaks, and the effects of various design features.

With all of these choices, look at where you want to kayak and do your best to match your boat to that location.

Types of Kayaks

Often, one boat design can be used in different locations and conditions. However, using a boat in conditions for which it was not designed can result in an unsafe situation.

As you grow in the sport of kayaking, you will better understand the importance of boat design and choosing the right boat.

1. Recreational

Recreational kayaks are designed for the paddler interested in a peaceful paddle on a lake, on a flat-water stream, or in the ocean near the shore. More recreational kayaks are sold than any other type.

Compared with other kayaks, recreational kayaks have a larger cockpit for easier entry and exit. They are also wider for increased stability.

They are usually shorter than 12 feet and have limited cargo space. These boats are relatively inexpensive. They do not perform as well on the ocean as on quiet water.

2. Touring or Sea

The touring or sea kayak has a longer hull, usually at least 16 feet. The cockpit will have a lip around the edge for attaching a spray skirt, which is used to keep water out. A spray skirt
is made of nylon or synthetic rubber and looks like an odd- shaped donut.

The edges have elastic cords that fit around the paddler’s waist and around the edge of the cockpit to keep water out of the boat.

Because touring/sea kayaks are often used for trips, they have below-deck storage areas for cargo called hatches. Sea kayaks may also have rudders or skegs and upturned bow or stern profiles for wave shedding.

Sea kayaks often have two or more sealed compartments called bulkheads. Bulkheads with air in them provide flotation for the boat. Some models can accommodate two or three paddlers.

3. Whitewater

Whitewater kayaks are generally less than 10 feet long with a rounded hull. They can turn quickly but don’t easily travel in a straight line.

They are equipped with foot braces and have foam blocks attached to the inside of the hull and deck to brace the knees, thighs, and hips. As in sea kayaks, paddlers normally use spray skirts.

There are many different designs for different kinds of rivers. Creek boats are about 8 to 9 feet long and perform well on narrow creeks and big waterfalls.

Play boats are also called “freestyle” or “rodeo boats.” They are short and designed for surfing waves and holes and doing acrobatic tricks.

Between the creek boats and play boats are the river-running kayaks. These are medium-sized boats designed for rivers of moderate to high volumes of water.

Kayak Strokes

Once a kayaker has a solid paddling foundation, it is time to work on specific paddle strokes. The strokes can make the kayak go forward, backward and sideways, turn, spin, and stop.

By learning six simple strokes, a paddler can perform each of these maneuvers. Each stroke has three phases—C.P.R., or catch, power, and release/recovery. During the catch phase, the
body is wound up to obtain power and the paddle is anchored in the water.

Power is then applied to the paddle and boat by torso rotation. Finally, in the release/recovery phase, power is released from the blade and the blade returns to its original position for the next catch phase as the boat glides.

At the beginning of each stroke, the paddler should be looking forward with the paddle held comfortably in front of the body. Each stroke below is described as if performed on the right side of the body, but all strokes can and should be done on both sides of the body.

In some cases, reference will be made to the working blade (the one in the water), the working hand (the one close to the working blade), and the top hand (the hand farthest from the working blade).

1. Forward Sweep

Kayaks turn easily, so the first stroke taught to new kayakers is often one that helps them turn while maintaining control. The forward sweep can make a kayak spin in place or, once the boat
is moving ahead, turn and continue moving forward with speed.

The forward sweep also helps a new kayaker learn how to generate power from his torso instead of his arms, leading to stronger and safer strokes. A forward sweep on the right side
will make the bow of the boat turn to the left, away from the paddle.

2. Reverse Sweep

The reverse sweep also spins the boat or turns it while underway. In addition, it can help
slow or stop the boat. As its name suggests, the reverse sweep looks like the opposite of a
forward sweep.

To begin the stroke, rotate the torso so the right blade is behind you. Make sure to maintain a strong shoulder position when doing this.

The catch begins when the blade drops in the water, with the right elbow tucked close to the paddler’s back and the left hand raised to about shoulder height. The blade should be roughly parallel with the midline of the kayak.

3. Forward Stroke

The forward power stroke (or “forward stroke”) is the boat’s engine, the stroke that moves the boat forward. It is the most commonly used stroke in kayaking.

It can be used to go in a straight line or to paddle on a curving path. The forward stroke’s starting catch position is similar to a forward sweep’s catch position. The torso rotates forward and the right blade enters the water near the right ankle.

However, the top hand is higher than in a sweep, allowing the blade to turn so it will move the boat forward rather than sideways. The blade should be roughly perpendicular to the midline of the kayak.

To apply power, unwind the torso and keep the top hand at the same height, so the blade stays close to the boat. The top hand should move toward the center of the boat.

Release power by slicing the blade sideways out of the water once the blade reaches the thighs. This will set the left blade up to take a stroke on the left side of the boat.

4. Reverse Stroke

Reverse Stroke There are times when it is important for a kayaker to paddle backward. The reverse power stroke, or just “reverse stroke,” will move the kayak backward.

To begin, rotate the torso to the right and put the right paddle blade in the water next to the
boat near the hips. Keep the left hand fairly high and the blade perpendicular to the centerline of the boat.

To apply power, unwind the torso and push the back face of the blade forward, alongside the boat. Power is released when the blade nears the ankles and is lifted out of the water.

5. Draw Stroke

The draw moves a boat sideways. It’s very useful when trying to get next to a pier or to raft up next to another kayak. The draw can be done two ways a side draw (often just called a
draw) or a sculling draw.

For this merit badge, only the side draw will be used. The draw stroke starts by rotating the
upper body so you are looking out to the side of the boat.

It may help to imagine you have eyes on your shoulders, and those eyes need to see the direction you want to move. For the catch position, place the paddle in the water out away from the boat and your hips so the power face of the blade faces you.

Keep the top hand high so the shaft and the blade stay fairly straight up and down (vertical). From this catch position, apply power by gently pulling the boat toward the paddle. The top hand should not move.

When the boat comes close to the paddle and your lower elbow comes close to your body, release power by rolling your hand so your palm moves toward your forearm. This will turn the blade so that the paddle blade can slice back out to the starting point.

6. Stern Draw

The stern draw is a powerful turning stroke that most often is used to help keep a kayak going straight. It can be done alone, at the end of a forward stroke, or at the end of a forward sweep.

Advanced kayakers use stern draws to help with surfing and other fun maneuvers. To start a stern draw, place the blade in the water away from your boat, so the blade looks like it is near the middle of a forward sweep.

If the boat were sitting on a clock, the paddle would go in between 3 o’clock and 4 o’clock. The
left hand should be fairly low. From the catch, apply power by bringing the right elbow in toward the small of the back and the blade toward the stern.

At the end of the stroke, the paddle should be nearly parallel to the length of the kayak. Release power when the blade is close to the stern by slicing the blade out of the water. After the blade comes out of the water, rotate the torso to set up for the next stroke.

I'm a Mechanical Engineer and lifelong Eagle Scout. My passion for scouting guides my writing, aiming to inspire fellow Scouts on their path. Thanks for reading, and best wishes on your journey to Eagle!