A safe days paddling is a great days paddling.
Review these Safety Management notes and use them!

Paddlers Ability

Sea Kayak trips are graded as a guide only as they are subject to weather and sea conditions.

The guide is to assist trip coordinators’ and members with a gauge to self-assess their current competence, skills, physical and mental condition and general ability to participate safely in a group paddle / peer based trip. When members make their self-assessment participants need to consider the following factors.

– What are my current limitations ?

– Can I cope if weather or sea conditions deteriorate and are different or worse than forecast?

– What speed can I maintain in the expected conditions, compared to the rest of the group?

– Am I able to paddle the distance necessary to complete the trip in a reasonable time?

– Can I paddle the distances necessary to get out of difficulty in worsening condition?

– What is the maximum time I will have to stay in my boat without landing, can I do this?

– Can I cope mentally and physically with all foreseeable hazards?

– Am I capable of carrying out self and assisted rescues if required?

– Do I have all of the items of equipment necessary for the trip?, are they in good condition?

Club members must be aware that paddling exposed coastlines is generally more physically and mentally demanding than it is on sheltered coastlines. Although all members must appreciate any stretch of coast can become challenging subject to wind strength / direction and sea conditions changing quickly and at any time, and may not always be forecast.

Therefore a reasonable level of paddle fitness will be required to paddle even moderate distances. Participants must be able and prepared to honestly assess their own abilities and not expect others to do this for them. All paddlers must be prepared and ready to care for themselves and others in the event of complications. Decisions will often be made through group discussion. All participants must be prepared to contribute, non-participation in the decision making process will be taken as acceptance of any consensus arrived at by other trip members.

If in doubt paddlers should adopt the precautionary principle and not attempt the trip.

Members wishing to extend their paddling experience can participate in organised trips one level above their grade if accompanied by a club member (who paddles comfortably at that higher grade) who is willing to act as a mentor or supervised by a club instructor.

Mentors: Ratio 1:3

Instructor: Ratio 1:6

Sea Kayak Trip Grading Guide

Any trip’s grade can be raised to a high level subject to deteriorating weather and sea conditions.


Trip Grade 


Paddler description  Paddlers’ ability pre-requisites Typical Location description Weather/sea limits
Green Beginner Novices with no previous skills or experience. Usually a Basic Skills instruction session or a social gathering. Protected beach, closed or flat water only. Calm to 5 knot breezeCalm Water


Yellow Novice Beginners with basic skills and some paddling experience.  Can self-rescue using a paddle float, has knowledge of assisted rescues. Able to paddle up to 15 km per day, on estuaries and lakes or other sheltered waters. Unsheltered Inland open waters such as estuary or lake. Sheltered coastlinesie Abel Tasman – astrolabe roadstead.    Currents to 2 kn. Crossings less than 1 km from land. 5 to 10 knot windWaves to 0.5 mtr.


Orange Novice + Paddlers with basic skills and some paddling experience. Can do assisted rescues and self-rescue using a paddle float.  Able to paddle up to 15 km per day on sheltered coastal waters.  Sheltered coastal waters.Ie; Abel Tasman, inner Marlborough Sounds

Crossings up to 2.5 nm from land. Currents to 2 kn. Possible wind against wave or tide effects.

Small breaking seas.10 to 15 knot wind.

Swell to 1.5 mtr.

Sea / surf to 0.5 mtr


Red Intermediate Paddlers with proficient skills plus ability to roll 50% of the time when required.  Can perform self-rescue paddle float re-entry roll and assist rescues. Plus bracing, towing, and entry and exit through surf. Able to sustain speeds of 4-6 km. hr. for up to 25 km per day in unprotected coastal waters. Able to make short open water crossings. Exposed coastal waters. Ie: Outer Marlborough Sounds. Crossings up to 5 nm from land but less than 3 hours paddling time. Currents to 3kn. Possible wind against wave or tideeffects.


May encounter steepening swelland breaking seas. Possible surf entries

and exits.

15 to 20 knot wind

Swell to 2.0 mtr.

Sea/ surf  to 1.0 mtr


Blue Advanced Advanced paddlers able to roll 100% and apply complex sea kayaking skills in difficult conditions. Able to sustained speeds of 4 – 6 km/hr for up to 30km per day in effects. May encounter steep swells and breaking seas. Possible difficult surf entries and exits. Exposed unprotected waters. Able to make extended open water crossings. Unsheltered coastal waters. Crossingsup to 15 nm from land. Currents to 4kn.

Possible wind against wave or tide.


20 to 25 knot wind.Swell to 2.5 mtr

Sea / surf to 1.5 mtr.


Black Expert Advanced Paddlers, able to self-rescue in all situations. Very reliable rolling, surfing, and rescue skills in severe conditions. Able to paddle up to 40 km per day at speeds above 6 km/hr with long open crossings or area with very limited landing options.  Exposed unprotected waters. Crossings ofmore than 15 nm from land. Currents to 4kn. Possible wind against wave or tide effects. May encounter steep swells and breaking seas. Possible difficult surf

entries and exits.


Paddlers know theirlimits



The weather is the main risk with sea kayaking; be sure to get a good up-to-date forecast for the area that you are paddling in (eg Sea Area Abel). Learn from an experienced person the weather signs from reading the clouds.

It is important to know tidal information check out the tide timetable.

Be visible! there are several products on  the market that help with this. Check out the results of independent tests that have been carried out. (click here to download).

Seakayaking in the Able Tasman National Park – DoC notes on visiting the islands.

Recommended Equipment

Sea kayak (closed deck type with rudder, storage hatches – watertight with bulkheads)

  • Spray deck
  • Paddle
  • Pump
  • Paddle Float
  • Sponge
  • PFD with; (Long & Short towline, Knife, Whistle, Stirrup, Watch)
  • Suitable clothing (not cotton) , footwear and paddle jacket.
  • Cell Phone
  • Head torch / white light (easily accessible)

Group Gear (each group of 8)

  • Compass
  • Map
  • Split paddle
  • Flares
  • VHF Radio and or EPIRB / PLB
  • 1st Aid kit
  • Sea Kayak Repair Kit
  • Spare warm clothing.


Risk Management

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