The list below contains specific skills important for paddling in certain areas (such as the open Bay or exposed coast). It is not all-inclusive or absolute. Judgment and common sense are as important as any of the skills listed below, but are more difficult to quantify objectively. Assess your own skills honestly. Also remember that skills need to be practiced. Rescue practices are a great way to brush up on all kinds of kayaking and rescue skills, and to try out your safety equipment.
BASK maintains a curated list of videos and articles on the most essential kayaking skills, as well as a list of local outfitters, many of whom offer instruction to help you gain these skills.
For the easiest trips in sheltered water:
- Previous basic instruction (beginning class or equivalent).
- Ability to perform basic paddle strokes with reasonably good boat control.
- A working knowledge of assisted rescues.
For exposed areas of SF Bay, including any crossing longer than two miles:
The above plus:
- Ability to paddle with good boat control in 2-3 foot chop and brisk wind while traveling in any direction.
- Knowledge of tidal currents and overall wind patterns for the area you are paddling.
- Ability to hold a course during crossings, taking wind and current into account, using ranges and/or compass.
- Ability to paddle several miles without becoming totally exhausted.
- Knowledge of shipping lanes and ability to deal with boat traffic; familiarity with "Rules of the Road".
For the open coast:
The above plus:
- Ability to launch and land through surf.
- Ability to paddle in large seas (6-8 feet or larger) and strong wind (15-25 knots is common in northern California) in reasonable comfort.
- Good boat control in rough water and following seas; good balance and reflex bracing.
- Eskimo roll or reliable self-rescue skills.