Skills Checklist

I am a big believer in The Checklist Manifesto. Checklists are the way to get things done right, so I have included here a checklist of all the things I think you should know and do before embarking on a thru-paddle.


First Things First

  • Do you have all the necessary gear?
  • Have you test-packed your kayak? Does everything fit?
  • Have you paddled your kayak fully loaded?


  • How do you fix your camping gear if it breaks?
  • How do you fix your rudder and/or cables if they break?
  • How about the paddle?


  • Are you comfortable setting up camp in bad weather?
  • What are the principles of Leave No Trace camping?

The Cold

  • Have you experienced cold-water conditions?
  • Have you tested your cold-weather clothes in the field?
  • Have you tested your rain gear in the field?
  • What are the symptoms of hypothermia?


  • Have you tipped over and exited your boat?
  • Have you practiced reentering your boat after a capsize?
  • In what sea conditions are you capable of doing this?
  • What is the plan if your partner capsizes?
  • Have you practiced towing another kayak?
  • What is the plan if you and your partner become separated?
  • What is the plan if someone gets hurt?

Know Your Limits

  • Are you comfortable paddling in bad weather?
  • Have you only paddled in calm seas?
  • Have you landed your kayak on the beach through surf?
  • Have you launched from the beach through surf?
  • Do you know when it is unsafe to paddle?
  • As a group, how do you decide when conditions are unsafe for paddling?
  • If the weather turns before reaching camp, what are the bailout points?
  • Who is the weakest / slowest paddler in your group?
  • How far you can travel in a day with a loaded boat?
  • How about in a headwind?
  • How about with following seas?


  • How do you fire a signal flare?
  • Does everyone have easy access to signal flares from their cockpit?
  • How do you ask for help with a marine VHF 2-way radio?  


  • How do you navigate if you can't see your destination?
  • What is a second method of navigation?
  • Have you programmed every waypoint from the Data Book into your GPS?
  • Have you marked your NOAA charts with these waypoints?

Tides and Currents

  • Can you read a tide chart?
  • Do you understand the information broadcast over a weather radio?
  • How do river mouths and other topographical features affect seas?


  • Have you gone on a “dry run” of at least 3-days, 2-nights?
  • Have you taken a kayaking class?


**This checklist was inspired by one created by Todd Leigh at, which has been copied and pasted onto other websites without crediting Leigh. I have preserved Leigh’s format and a few questions but this checklist is more thorough, focused, and relevant to the thru-paddler.