Tips for new Kayaker/Swimmer Team

Cole_GCole_G PhiladelphiaMember
edited April 2014 in Beginner Questions
So I am new to the forum and have spent the last few weeks reading old posts, commenting here and there, and just trying to get caught up on the world of marathon swimming. Now I have a few questions to ask of all you wiser more experienced swimmers.

I am currently training for my first ever 10 miler (the Kingdom Swim in VT). This is going to be the longest swim I have ever done, and the first time that I have had to really worry about nutrition, or have my own support kayaker. Rather than getting a random volunteer kayaker, my girlfriend is going to kayak for me. However she is a total newbie to this just like me. While she does some light recreational kayaking, she has never been support crew before. On top of the fact that we are both new to this, we are going to have very few chances to get out and practice together due to the cold winter we have had, and our crazy schedules.

So, I was hoping to get some general advice on things for us to consider/practice, so we can be as prepared as possible and make the most of what few time we will have to practice. I have already read through most of the beginner threads and understand generally what my plan is going to be for feeding (including a new widemouth bottle I bought with some rope/a dog leash as @loneswimmer suggests), and know from @IronMike's previous thread that sit on top kayaks are preferable. Other questions I have off the top of my head are:

What is the ideal kayaker/swimmer positioning?
What are some easy ways to practice sighting/following a kayak?
Best ways to organize feed for kayaker to store?
Tips for kayaker to keep a straight line?

And any other advice/anecdotes/dos and don'ts that you want to share would be greatly appreciated.


  • Leonard_JansenLeonard_Jansen Charter Member
    @Cole_G -
    First thing you need to do is assess your personalities, especially under duress. I say this because it is not uncommon for some tensions between swimmer and kayaker, doubly so when you are newbies. I'm very laid back and very slow to get upset under any circumstance, but would never have a significant other as my kayaker if there was any other choice.
    That said, I like my kayaker positioned on my right side about 5-10 yards away and with their butt in line with my head. I find it makes responding to changes in direction easier than any other position. If they are ahead of you, you will get tired from having to leift your head to find her, if she is behind you, you will "wander" too much. BTW, I say right side because I prefer to breathe on that side although I will switch sides if their is a compelling reason like sun in my eyes. If my yaker gets within a paddle length of me, I get distracted/nervous because I was once "run over" by a yaker and then he (accidently) smacked me in the head (HARD!) with his paddle.
    Organizing feed: A tough one because it depends on the kayak, yaker, etc. Two possibilities out of many: Either have your feeds in a bag strapped to the top of the kayak or put them in a mesh bag in the water and attached to the back of the kayak. I suggest you put your feeds in individual bottles instead of having a large container that she will need to pour into a smaller bottle. The local chain store here sells 16 oz bottles of spring water that have a "sport top" (i.e. you can pull it open with your teeth) and I will use those to make up my drinks and then pour 12 oz into each bottle. The missing 4oz means that the bottle will float. Don't have her hand you the bottle or throw it to you - have her throw it a few feet in front of you. When done, throw it in front of her to pick up. Since you are going to be in a lake without any real current, you don't need anything fancy like a bottle with a rope attached - my experience is that most kayakers don't like dealing with the rope.
    Keep in mind that even if you have dealt with a particular kayaker in past events, it still seems to take a little time at the start of each race to get in synch with each other, so don't get frustrated at the during the synching-up period.
    One more thing: Up until the race starts, YOU are in charge - you get to decide all the details. Once the race is under way, SHE is in charge. That means that if she tells you to do something, even if it is to quit the race, you do it - no arguments/grumbling or bargaining and no bitching her out about it after the race. The Court WIthout Appeal once told me I had to drop out of MIMS when I was 20 miles into the race and just moving into the top 10. Even though I wasn't convinced she knew what she was doing, I got out without complaint and then found myself being rushed to the hospital. If I'd fought her and delayed I would have likely ended up with kidney failure.


    “Moderation is a fatal thing. Nothing succeeds like excess.” - Oscar Wilde

  • gregocgregoc Charter Member
    @Cole_G, there is great advice above.

    The most important think for you and your kayaker to understand is that you will set the pace and the kayaker will set the course.

    What is the ideal kayaker/swimmer positioning? Kayaker on your preferred/dominant breathing side, or side away from the glare of the sun. As @Leonard_Jansen states, your head should be in line with your kayaker, mid-kayak, so that you can sight off of the kayak when you breathe. Also, you can see the kayaker's face when you breathe and this helps with communication.

    What are some easy ways to practice sighting/following a kayak? Always sight off the kayak. If you practice swimming next to the kayak you will learn to read the direction you should be swimming in without ever lifting your head. This makes a huge difference over 10 miles.

    Best ways to organize feed for kayaker to store? I personally prefer liquid feeds and just one type. This keeps it easy for the kayaker. Use 12-24oz bottles, nothing bigger. Make sure they can be clipped on and off of a line easily.

    Tips for kayaker to keep a straight line? This should not be a problem at Memphremagog. The next buoy is always in sight for the kayaker. If they kayak straight to the next marker every time there should not be a problem. There usually isn't an issue with wind and waves on the lake.
  • I agree...great advice. My only other advice would be if you are using gels and are doing this race to compete, not complete, it could be helpful to store them in your suit, as it makes feeding a little faster. If you can/want to take your time with feeds a little more, then you can package your feeds by attaching gels to your feed bottles. I only recently switched to CarboPro, but used to use half water/half Gatorade and a gel for my feeds. With CarboPro, I use a little less gel.
    Also keep in mind if you want solid food. I like solid food at 3 hrs usually but some people don't like to chew. Some people like things like candy too. There are some really weird foods that marathon swimmers eat during their swims...but that's another list for another topic! My point is if you have a "special feed" for a special time...make sure your kayaker knows this! For example, my three hour feeds are unique because of the solid food and I have severe asthma and pre-treat with albuterol before a swim. But the medicine only lasts four I re-pre-treat at three.
  • ttriventtriven Senior Member
    All great advice, but I want to know about kidney failure LBJ. What happened? Are you ok?

    I have only done 2 long races with a kayak but that is enough for me to have learned plenty, from the practices for those swims and from my mistakes. Does your kayaker know how to identify you easily? Sounds so easy, but I have been in more than one race where the kayak couldn't identify me, or someone else had that problem. It's extremely stressful when that happens. Is your friend a swimmer? If so, she could recognize your stroke from afar. If not, is there a way for her to identify you? Have at least one practice where she waits for you from afar, and can take a look at what you look like. If everyone is wearing the same color cap in the race it can get a little hard.

    I'm not sure how many people do that race, but expect it to be a little disorganized for a while before you guys can get where you want to be. Don't stress, she will find you (now that you know to plan for it).

    Whatever your feeding plan is, she is responsible for getting it to you. She has the watch, she knows when it's time, she alerts you then gets it to you. Make a plan for what the alert is, could be a simple shout. Once, somebody walked up to my kayaker before my race and told him, "she'll let you know when she wants a drink." Whut? No. I won't be looking at my watch! Luckily I overheard this strange intervention.

    Personally I like the rope, and it is all about me! I like to drink and drop, let the kayaker drag it in. I continue to swim. I don't have to throw anything. My arms are tired enough as it is usually. The one drawback to that is the kayaker might fall a tiny bit behind and have to catch up to you, so you will be swimming a few strokes maybe not having her right by your side.."

    Lastly, let her know if you want her to cheer for you and how much. Once my husband kayaked for me and looking back it was hilarious. He never said a word that wasn't absolutely necessary. About 5 hours in he said, "You look good." That's it. Those were his only words of encouragement. At the time I was shocked, but I had never told him to cheer me on. And, it was true, I was doing fine. Some people have a preference of how much the kayaker cheers you on. Sometimes swimmers don't want to hear it, especially if they are not doing fine. Maybe talk about it ahead of time.

    Good luck. Sounds like a great race to start with.
  • gregocgregoc Charter Member
    As for the 10 mile Kingdom swim, you will start on the beach, run in a ways and then swim to a marker that is about 100 yards out. At the marker you will turn right. After that the kayaks are spread out by #, but there are so many swimmers and so many kayaks that it can take up to a half mile before you match up. Have something distinctive on your kayak so you can spot it easily.
  • Leonard_JansenLeonard_Jansen Charter Member
    ttriven wrote:
    All great advice, but I want to know about kidney failure LBJ. What happened? Are you ok?

    The short version: I had an enlarged prostate but didn't know it. The water was cold that day - lower 60's if I recall correctly - and it caused the prostate to constrict and it gradually slowed my ability to urinate and then completely cut it off after about 4 hours. I was drinking 12 oz every 30 minutes and as it was processed, it was backing up in my bladder and creating incredible back pressure into the kidneys. At about 6 or so hours, I stopped to try to relieve myself (for the 100th time), but after 10 minutes of being unable to do so, She Who Must Be Obeyed told me I had to get out. At the hospital I was catheterized (with no regard to HIPAA laws - I was basically in the middle of the wide-open, main ED room - embarassing) and they got about 1500 ml out and there was still more, but the doctor got nervous that something would happen to the bladder if they took any more out. Take a look at a 2 Liter soda bottle and 1500 ml is 3/4 of that.

    Am I fine? Well, my kidneys are OK, but my mental state is always up for debate.


    “Moderation is a fatal thing. Nothing succeeds like excess.” - Oscar Wilde

  • Kevin_in_MDKevin_in_MD Senior Member
    gregoc wrote:
    @Cole_G, there is great advice above.
    Tips for kayaker to keep a straight line? This should not be a problem at Memphremagog. The next buoy is always in sight for the kayaker. If they kayak straight to the next marker every time there should not be a problem. There usually isn't an issue with wind and waves on the lake.

    It's not at all unusual for kayakers to get blown off course on the cross lake leg or the long leg coming back south depending on wind direction. Just paddling straight toward the next bouy as she paddles will cause her and the swimmer to travel a curved path if the wind is blowing her from the side.

    Need the line up the buoy and whatever is behind it, make sure that she is paddling to the bouy and that the funky looking rock or whatever she sees behind it stay in the same line.
  • Cole_GCole_G PhiladelphiaMember
    Wow this is all really great advice. I feel so much more prepared for the race now, even without having done any practice. Thanks all!

    @Leonard_Jansen: I completely agree that having a significant other might not be ideal for a kayaker, but as it stands she is the only one willing to put in the time to train with me, drive the 16 hour round trip, and sit in a kayak and watch me swim 10 miles.
  • gregocgregoc Charter Member
    @Cole_G, they will supply you with an escort if you need one. I only say this to save you from driving a kayak 16 miles to an event (and maybe save a relationship).
  • sylmarinosylmarino San FranciscoMember
    Great advice here and you will do fine @Cole_G !

    While it probably goes without saying - the briefing is vital. At most events the kayakers/pilots will have a briefing and the swimmers have a briefing. It is extremely important that your significant other attends the briefing and feels free to ask any and all questions - what's the course, what to sight on at different points, what to do if the weather gets ugly and/or there is an emergency, etc. I'm sure she will be well supported - and in turn - give you great support during your swim.

    In a similar length swim, I didn't know the kayaker assigned to me and for most of the swim he kept asking me "so, do you know where we're going?". He wasn't joking. It made for an interesting and a wee bit mentally challenging swim. I had to keep telling him what to sight on during my feed breaks, keep him calm and cheer him up in addition to giving him my watch and reminding him when he needed to feed me. Hey, sometimes you're the windshield, sometimes you're the bug.

  • In past years (and therefore I assume the same will be true this year as well), swimmers and kayakers have been able to take a boat ride the previous day to review the entire course, identify shore objects to sight on, discuss where the lake typically gets choppy, wave at the international border, and so forth. It's a fun and useful activity.
    The meet organizer rounds up kayakers, many of whom have paddled the course year after year. I might be happy to have someone who has been tested in weather and who knows the lake as a kayaker.
    Have fun!
  • jendutjendut Charter Member
    one other thing to consider for Kingdom Swim is that unless you are at the front of the field you have MANY other kayaks and swimmers with you (if you are the back you get a lot of attention from the support boats). Just make sure your kayaker goes to the briefing; mine didn't and I spent my first Kingdom Swim getting very snippy with him (we are married). Also, make sure you give your kayaker plenty of sympathy the next day for all s/he had to endure during your swim- I always say "we" did the swim!
  • tortugatortuga Senior Member
    I have a related question. On a 6+ hour swim, how does your (female) kayaker pee?
  • jendutjendut Charter Member
    Very carefully, I imagine- it is a delicate balance in a kayak!
  • flystormsflystorms Memphis, TNSenior Member
    edited April 2014
    Tortuga I asked the same question a while back, 'cause that's my fear for my kayaker too. LOL! Fortunately, she's done a lot of adventure races and has her "pocket Richard" and will go into a cup.
  • Looks like a good feed bottle Niek.
  • SpacemanspiffSpacemanspiff Dallas, TexasSenior Member
    Safety issues aside, the biggest issue is making it very clear who is in charge of setting the heading. Most swimmers (myself included) want the kayak to set the heading. This has huge advantages, including: (1) the kayaker is higher in the water and can see much better and (2) you won't have to lift your head as much. If you go with this (and I think you should), then your girlfriend needs to set the nose of her kayak on the buoy and keep it there!! She need to be disciplined to stay focused on this. It is not as easy as it seems. Small errors add up. 15 degrees off heading (which is easy to do) will add 1.74 miles to your swim over 10 miles!

    So when the other posters say "the ideal position" is even with you, 10-15 feet off of your favorite breathing side (which I agree with), remember that YOU are the one responsible for maintaining the 10-15 feet, not your kayaker. Her job is to stay on heading and even with you. But if you get 30 feet of separation, YOU correct, NOT HER. If she is correcting off of you, then she is not maintaining heading. So, to summarize, for navigational purposes: kayak is responsible for (1) heading and (2) staying even with swimmer; swimmer is responsible for maintaining separation. Even she is in charge of heading, you should definitely still check, however!

    I also have 4-5 hand signals I like to use (like a forward karate chop for "stay on heading"). You might want to come up with some of your own, so you don't have to stop and have a discussion every time you need to communicate.

    "Lights go out and I can't be saved
    Tides that I tried to swim against
    Have brought be down upon my knees
    Oh I beg, I beg and plead..."

  • ColmBreathnachColmBreathnach Charter Member
    I can confirm the importance of setting who is navigating. One of my first swims, my teenage son kayaking. Usual safety briefing performed. Neglected to tell him that I was following him and he was to set the course. Turns out he was following me and I was following him. Made for an interesting first 20 mins :-)
  • wendyv34wendyv34 Vashon, WASenior Member
    Ladies- you can make a disposable pee funnel by cutting off the top of a 2 liter bottle.

    It's always a bad hair day when you work at a pool.

  • j9swimj9swim CharlestonSenior Member
    would like to also add my thanks to all for the great i'm also doing my first kayak/feeding swims this year - Stage 6 & Ederle.
  • Cole_GCole_G PhiladelphiaMember
    I just wanted to follow up on this post and say thank you for all the great advice! My kayacker and I only actually had 2 opportunities to practice together, but with those practices and all this advice we still managed to finish the 10 mile Kingdom swim in 4:25:17 and take 2nd place overall :)

    I also want to add my own bit of advice and say make sure you trust and listen to your kayacker! I spent the first 20 min or so bickering with my kayacker about navigation because I believed she was leading us astray. In reality I was following a pair of swimmers who were heading to the wrong buoy while my kayacker was following the right line. Once I realized this error I put my head down and trusted her navigation 100% the rest of the way, but in the last mile of the race I was certainly feeling the pain in my shoulders for all the spotting I did during the first mile.
  • BrendanBrendan Portland, ORMember
    edited July 2014
    I recently did a swim with a kayaker for the first time. We worked out a couple of hand signals beforehand for feeds, if my stroke rate was dropping, and if i was going off course. I was sighting off him and he would give me a signal if i was drifting one way or another(I'm pretty rubbish at swimming in a straight line if left to my own devices). I have to say, we were pretty much killing it. Unfortunately the swim was canceled due to lightening, we got pulled out around hour two. I think why we worked so well together was because I trusted my kayaker and he knew how important this swim was to me and how much training i had put in.
  • NeilEugeneNeilEugene Member
    edited July 2014
    Trade Secrets:

    Rubbermaid Chug Bottles
    ... for various reasons - each swimmer should scoop them up at your local grocery store or CVS ... and make sure you get the flip tops not the sip tops (switch with others if you have to). Rule of thumb: a bottle per feed = at least 8 bottles for a 4-hour supply etc. so your single source of nutrition is not spoiled for all future feeds if bad water gets in accidentally. Remember, if the kayaker has all 4-hours of empties on hand, you will need more to support during transition from empties to new refills. Buy them over time if you have to.

    Shock Cord Clips
    Regular metal carabiners won't cut it when throwing feeds (some unfortunate swimmer heads can testify) - go for a couple of good plastic shock cord clips. A rope can be thread through it, glow sticks can be added easily through the hole with cable ties, and clip-on bottles can attach fairly easily. Rust proof guaranteed and pay once only. (Mfg# 652100 - 7/16" White - go for the ones with the big hole for larger gauge rope).

    Glow In The Dark Polypropylene Rope
    Glow in the dark - 'nough said but also a decent size gauge that won't knot up too easily during normal feeding and handling procedures. I feel like I need a liability clause after that sentence referring to "normal operating procedures" :-)

    All kayakers might want to tell their swimmers about these low cost and maximum efficiency products.
  • swimmer25kswimmer25k Charter Member
    If you've got the time, check out my English Channel video on YouTube. I'm having a hard time copying the link to this message, so put my name (Chris Derks) in the search function and it'll pop up. It's in two parts.

    There are some good segments of me swimming and feeding off of a kayak (and a fishing vessel).

    I prefer drinking out of an old-school red cup on a string. I prefer hand-to-hand transfer, but use a PVC feed stick when necessary. I've felt that squeeze bottles take too much time. The few times I've used one, the transfer has been hand-to-hand. I've seen trainers lob the bottle to the swimmer who then has to "prairie dog" to find it, and then have to swim to it.

    Feeding from a kayak takes a little practice to be efficient. Here's how I do it when escorting a swimmer:

    (A few ground rules first. The swimmer follows me. Not the other way around. Kayak is in charge of where they're going. The swimmer is directly amidships and is across from the paddler.)

    - I like to strap milk crates directly in front of and behind me filled with whatever the swimmer is drinking. Extra bottles inside the cockpit of my sea-kayak.

    -I like it have my old Ironman watch attached to a milk crate with a timer running to whatever interval the swimmer wants.

    - about a minute before feed time, I'll paddle ahead of the swimmer 15-20 yards. Be carefull to maintain your heading. Having a rudder controlled by your feet is handy. (The swimmer knows that it's feed time and to sight to where the kayak is. This is the only time the swimmer should have to look forward during the swim except for the finish.)

    -Position your red cup between your legs down in the cockpit. Fill the cup, and dump the bottle back into the milk crate.

    -Your swimmer should be right with you.

    -Hold the cup out as far as possible. When I'm swimming, I'll roll onto my back, grab the cup, hammer my Gatorade, roll away from the kayak, and keep going.

    -if you miss the swimmer (who should keep going and not stop to wait for you) don't panic. Clinch the cup between your teeth and re-acquire the swimmer as necessary.

    -if you drop the cup or if sea water contaminates the feed, go ahead and do it over. Neither the swimmer or kayaker should worry if it takes a few tries.

    I'm pretty low tech when it comes to gear. The only thing I've ever used has been an old school GPS. It's a great tool in a point-to-point swim. I'll go to the finishline and punch it in as a waypoint. Fire it up at the start and follow the line. In long swims that are wide open, we will all have taken arced courses if navigating by eyeball and adding time/distance to the swim. GPS will fix this. Keep your nose into the wind or current. My GPS draws a straight line to the finish, so all I need to worry about is staying on the upwind side of the course.

    Hope this helps.

  • IronMikeIronMike Northern VirginiaCharter Member
    Chris, thanks for your videos. I watched them a couple times before StS 2012, and attempted to take feed for the first time in the race (first time I swam with a kayaker), which didn't go too well. I chugged the feed directly down the wrong tube. Definitely something that needs practice! I do still use the plastic cup with the hole in it as my preferred feed vessel.

    I'm copying your instructions above for the future. My uncle escorted me in StS and would occasionally disappear ahead of me, which confused me (time to drink already?), only to find out later he was paddling ahead to remove flotsam from my path. We talked about it later, so whenever he kayaks for me again in the future I think this won't be a problem.

    It took a bit to get comfortable with him navigating for me, even though I told him from the beginning that was his job. He did a great job navigating, but the desire to lift my head prevailed. I think that is one of the most difficult things for an open water swimmer to get used to, especially if s/he has done many unescorted races.

    We're all just carbon, water, starlight, oxygen and dreams

  • SpacemanspiffSpacemanspiff Dallas, TexasSenior Member
    edited July 2017

    I remember seeing a checklist for escorts on this board some time back but l can't seem to find it. Anyone know where that is?

    Admin note: new thread merged into previous one on same topic.

    "Lights go out and I can't be saved
    Tides that I tried to swim against
    Have brought be down upon my knees
    Oh I beg, I beg and plead..."

  • david_barradavid_barra NYCharter Member
    edited July 2017
    • Kayak
    • Paddle
    • Spare paddle
    • PFD
    • Skirt
    • Hand held radio
    • Cell phone
    • Whistle
    • Bow line
    • Deck bag for feeds
    • Pump
    • Sponge
    • Large cup/ can
    • Wide leg shorts
    • Hat
    • Shades

    ...anything worth doing is worth overdoing.

  • loneswimmerloneswimmer IrelandCharter Member

    I very rarely put my blog posts on the forum but I wrote a blog post a couple of years ago, with advice for swim escort kayakers, not because I'm an expert kayaker (I'm not), but because even expert kayakers who have never swim-escorted may not understand the swimmer's perspective and we've all swum with a lot of yakkers over the years. The post is not about equipment, but about working with the swimmer's perspective.

    How To: Escort Kayaking for Open Water and Marathon Swimming.


  • SpacemanspiffSpacemanspiff Dallas, TexasSenior Member

    "Lights go out and I can't be saved
    Tides that I tried to swim against
    Have brought be down upon my knees
    Oh I beg, I beg and plead..."

  • curlycurly Issaquah, WASenior Member

    loneswimmer said:
    I very rarely put my blog posts on the forum but I wrote a blog post a couple of years ago, with advice for swim escort kayakers,

    How To: Escort Kayaking for Open Water and Marathon Swimming.

    I've always liked this line in the blog post. "Think of any swimmer as a kind of large stupid helpless baby whom you must carefully shepard and look after, and you will be well served!"

  • curlycurly Issaquah, WASenior Member

    To add to @david_barra list. We just bought one of those orange "skier down" flags that the ski boats in our lake use. It's actually a law in many states to have this flag and use it with your ski boat and/or jet ski. Technically it means there is a swimmer in the water. We figure that we will keep it furled and in the cockpit, ready to wave madly if a jet skier or boat approaches too close.

  • curlycurly Issaquah, WASenior Member

    Since it's that time of year again, I thought it would be a good time to resurrect this post. Some great thoughts and checklists to review. I know that the first time out always is a bit of a shakedown cruise, so it's good to have a little study time before you hit the beaches, or rocky outcroppings...

  • MLambyMLamby Senior Member

    For long swims we keep a styrofoam boogie board strapped to the kayak and an extra life vest in case I were to become distressed. What could my kayaker do, other than call for help if I cramped up badly or something? Also, we use a neoprene sleeve on a long lanyard for transferring feeds. It works very nicely....especially in really choppy water where getting close to the kayak without touching it is very difficult. Always have extra goggles and shorts on hand as well.

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