The Nocturnal Yak

If someone mentions the word "yak" you normally think of a large cow-like animal which can be found somewhere in the Himalayas. For some strange reason Australians seem to be a bit obsessed with these creatures but that shouldn't concern you for now. I am actually talking about a different type of yak - a kayak. Yes I know what a punt but I didn't come up with it - if you want to blame someone for that, choose covert.
Anyway. If you are just buying a yak, you have a lot of options of types, shapes, materials and prices. The local anaconda, bcf or ray's outdoors might help you with choosing one that suits you however they probably fail if you tell them you need the yak for geocaching. "Geo-what?". Exactly. How should they know if they never heard of it and this is where this little post comes in.

I think I did place one of the first if not THE first combined night-water-caches but it took me six more years to finally get a proper kayak. Now I want to share some of the experiences I made in the past months with the new toy :) I started with a little recreational kayak (Miss Piggy) which has been superseded  by a new one (Mr Kermit).

  • Sit-on-top or Sit-in
    That's the question of all questions when it comes to a yak. As the name says you are sitting on top with the first and in the yak with the latter. Both have pros and cons but in the end there is no right or wrong when it comes to the usability for geocaching. In the end you have to make your own choice.

    Sit-on (SOT):
    + easier to handle for beginners
    + unsinkable / if you capsize just flip it and you're good to go
    + easier to get back on if you fell off
    - you are exposed means warm weather use only or you have to wear a neopren
    - limited storage (except for fishing yaks)
    - higher point of gravity means less stable

    Sit-in (SINK):
    + higher storage capacity
    + protected from elements which allows cold weather use
    + better performance in choppy water because of lower centre of gravity
    + option to roll instead of falling off
    - has to be drained with a bailer if you capsize (but most of them are unsinkable as well)
    - difficult to get back in if you capsize

    Personally I prefer a sit-in kayak since I like to paddle all year around and I like putting stuff into the yak without having to worry if they can fall of the deck.

  • Type
    You got a lot of types to choose from. The last four aren't exactly kayaks but are still interesting if you have one of those anyway:

    • Recreational (both) - short and wide, very stable but slow
    • Whitewater (sit-in) - extremely small and very manoeuvrable but slow and uncomfortable
    • Ocean Kayak (sit-in) - long kayak which is around 5m and has a rudder
    • Ocean / Surf Ski (sit-on) - very long, very fast, very unstable >> you will get very wet (The difference between the ocean and the surf ski is just that the nose (bow) is a bit different)
    • Waveski (sit-on) - similar to a surf board but you sit on it and use a kayak paddle
    • Stand Up Paddle Board (stand-on) - bigger surf board which can be used with a special paddle
    • Canoe (sit-in ... sort of) - often designed to be used with two paddlers, bad performance in surf
    • Dinghy (sit-in ... sort of) - dead cheap, very slow, small river / lake use only

    All kayaks are purpose build but unfortunately there isn't a geoyak. The watercaches in Victoria do vary from the easy island in a pond over a paddle along a river to a paddle literally kilometres off-shore. This is what makes picking a yak for geocaching so difficult because in the end it is a compromise. If you go for a cache you don't want to spend a lot of time with setting-up the boat. Take it of the car, toss it into the water, done. On top of that the point of entry might be a bit away from the car park which means less weight is handy as well. That said basically all longer (heavy / bulky) yaks are out of the picture. Covering some distance on the other hand asks for a longer yak which makes me to recommend a recreational kayak for geocaching.

  • Material
    It's basically the choice between carbon-fibre, glas-fibre and polyethylene (PE) hulls and this one is easy: PE it is. While geocaching you well get close to get a lot of solid objects and obstacles. Your yak is in constant danger of being damaged. PE hulls will take a fair amount of hits before they have to be repaired. In the field duct-tape does the trick for a quick fix and the repair itself at home isn't hard either. Just check youtube or if you've ever fixed the base of a ski or snowboard: that's the same principle and material.

    On the other hand glass-fibre or even carbon kayaks are lighter and faster but you wont be happy with the dents and punctures. Both aren't really fixable in minutes.

  • Rudder
    A rudder has an impact on pricing and going backwards can be a bit more difficult if it's not retractable. That's about it with the things speaking against one. Longer kayaks have one anyway but especially shorter yaks do profit in terms of handling.
    But the real advantage is the ability to use a Windpaddle. If you try this with a yak without rudder, it will be a pain.

  • My Choice
    Sit-on-top or Sit-in: Sit-in >> night means cold. Cold means sit-in.
    Type: Recreational >> easy to handle and affordable
    Material: PE >> I am very experienced in fixing that from my snowboard
    Rudder: With a rudder >> keeping course in choppy conditions without it isn't much fun

    Easy handling is important for me so I did go for a Emotion Comet (Meanwhile Emotion Kayaks have released the Comet8 which is a bit better than the old one and still reasonably priced). It is short enough to fit into a SUV and small & light enough so a single person can handle it. Just recently I replaced it with a Point 65 N Martini which is a split-yak and has a rudder. You can take it into pieces so a 416cm tandem yak fits into a 463cm car. In the solo configuration you still have a rudder and a lot of storage space. 
Alright - to sum it up you don't need a fast kayak. Steady and robust wins most caches. Of course you can get yourself a long and fancy ocean kayak but keep in mind that there are these sneaky hides where a big boat is something between you and the cache.
You got yourself a kayak but what else do you need? There are a lot of accessories available but in terms of geocaching not all of them make sense. Trust me: You don't need a fishing rod holder. Just to give you an idea I marked the stuff I own in green.
  • The Essentials
    No questions: You do need a paddle and a PFD (Personal Floatation Device) / life vest. With that and the kayak you are good to go. In Australia you need to have a PFD by law - any fine exceeds the cost of them by far.

  • Additional Safety Gear
    There are a couple of things you can add to your kayak and your safety. Depending on where you are paddling, some of them are required anyway due to regulations. 
    • If you have a SINK - a bilge-pump or bailer. That's the thing to get water out of the yak. A cut-open 3L milk bottle does the trick.
    • Paddle-Float. Again this is something you'll only need if you have a SINK. It's for self-rescue in case of capsizing.
    • Paddle leash. Losing propulsion can be really annoying.
    • SPOT or PLB
    • Flares and Smoke

  • Spray Skirt
    This is another thing which you only need for a SINK. It makes paddling way more comfy since you won't get wet by the water dripping from the paddle, it's warmer and if it's choppy you won't see much water splashing into the cockpit. Of course if you have a spray-skirt you can roll your yak as well. 

  • Anchor or Leash
    I must admit that I can't think of many caches where an anchor would be handy but a leash is definitely a must-have. Every now and then you are forced to leave your kayak behind and then you don't want or can't pull it out of the water. 

  • Boat Trolley
    Normally a yak doesn't come under 20 kg which means it can be a bit of a pain to carry it all the way to the water. Most trolleys can be disassembled and put into the yak so you don't have to leave them behind or bring them back to the car.

  • Storage
    Well you are a geocacher so I don't have to tell you anything about waterproof containers. Just pick the one which is right for you to keep your keys / phone / wallet dry. I use some small peli-cases.  Make sure to fix them to the yak so they don't disappear when capsizing (trust me - it happens more often than you think).
    And yes: a cup-holder is a very handy thing for a yak :o) Fortunately my yak came with two per cockpit
  • DashboardThis is something I still want to build. The idea is to have something in front of me where I can clip on my GPS, the SPOT, a pouch for the camera and something to scribble / a map. There are some you can buy off the shelve but the fun is to have something self-made. Have a look at fishing-yaks: These guys are experts for mounting all kinds of stuff to their boats.

  • Light
    Yes I didn't forget about this one :o) By law you have to have a white light if you paddle at night. After just strapping a torch to the deck, I decided that's kind of stupid because I can only be seen from the front and the life-span of the torch doesn't really extend by being splashed all the time.
    What I came up with is a simple light-pole made of PVC water pipes screwed to the kayak. You can also build something which goes into the cup-holder. Another big advantage is that you can attach a flag to it which makes you more visible in daylight as well.
In the end you don't need a fancy piece of equipment for the watercaches in Victoria. If a kayak and the usual gadgets don't get you there, you'll need some other stuff anyway like for diving or snorkelling. The most important thing is that you feel comfortable in your yak while doing other stuff e.g. playing with the GPS or taking pictures. And if it gets dark you do want to be familiar with your yak and everything in/on it. But always remember: Safety first. No cache is worth dying for.

Happy Paddling

Watercaches around Melbourne
Maritime Kayaking Safety

Light Pole

Pole Base

Pole Top

Night at the beach




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