Expedition kit list

Some thoughts about the gear that you may take with you. Gavin M

Any canoe sailing expedition kit list will be a personal selection and depend on the intended expedition duration, anticipated conditions, time of year and sailing area. This is my selection for a five day trip in company in the Inner Hebrides in summer and reflects my personal preferences and prejudices. It is intended as a stimulus for debate, or thought, rather than as a prescription (and might just be useful for someone's Christmas or birthday wish list).

An ability to use all the items is presumed. I take no responsibility for omissions and make no claims for the quality or completeness of the list. Other canoe or dinghy sailors may be better qualified than me to suggest a kit list, but the important thing is to think through for yourself what you'll need, and what you can do without, in a variety of potential scenarios, for example; rain, gales, fog, delays, a long day's sailing, emergencies, rest days and good weather. Shorter and less ambitious cruises will require much less kit but even a short day's sail in familiar waters usually deserves some consideration of what you should take based on; how you'd deal with a delay, or bad weather, or an emergency, e.g. a capsize of your boat or another, or summon assistance, etc

For convenience and to assist the thought process I've divided the list into sections. The first 7 sections of mainly sailing related items are not dissimilar to what might be carried on a small cruising yacht. However, for sailing canoe purposes the items are necessarily generally lighter weight, more compact and often fewer in number. The overall weight of kit should not unduly compromise sailing performance or freeboard. And don't forget, for longer expeditions, you'll need to move your boat and kit safely above the high-water mark for overnight stops and you may also want to be able to portage; so it's important to avoid taking too much.

Click here to download the Expedition Kit List

  • Navigation - Knowing where you are may be straight forward in daytime and in good weather but how will you manage in bad weather, poor visibility or at night? At times accurate knowledge of position can be critical, for example when it is important to avoid hazards, or find a desired landfall, or safe haven. A handheld GPS is a great navigational aid but can fail or just run out of battery at the critical moment. Besides, I don't trust myself not to make an input error or misinterpret a GPS without some feel for what the answer should look like. Maps, charts, compasses and simple navigational instruments are the alternative, the backup and help develop a feel for navigation. For a canoe sailor, more interested in landmarks and the quality of beaches rather than the quality of the bottom, OS maps can often be more helpful than charts. Very shallow draft and closeness to the water means rocks are not the hazard they are for larger craft and I know canoe sailors who often dispense with navigational charts completely. I prefer to have both for expeditions in unfamiliar waters.Tidal information (times and stream directions) is often useful and can be essential for passage planning or for avoiding dangerous overfalls or wind against tide situations. Making sense of land or navigational marks may be greatly assisted with a small pair of binoculars. In addition to a small Silva type compass, my preference is to have a steering compass for the boat, which doubles as a handbearing compass, but others manage well without.
  • Communication - For the purposes here, this includes everything from a call to home to give an ETA to distress signaling to being able to receive the shipping forecast. A mobile phone, in a suitable waterproof case, is a good thing to have on any sailing trip but a waterproof handheld marine VHF is strongly recommended for expeditions. A mobile phone may run out of battery and reception may not be available in more remote or mountainous areas. Besides, in a rescue situation it's far better to be able to communicate directly with the Coastguard, lifeboat or helicopter. Being able to communicate with others in the party may be a bonus but low aerial height means that reception between handheld VHFs is often poor. Distress flares for night and day should be carried. I generally take; a white collision flare, a red handheld, an orange smoke and a small double ended red / orange smoke to carry in my buoyancy aid (in case needed if I fall overboard). Mouth blown fog horns are inexpensive, compact and lightweight but a Vuvuzela could be a good alternative. A whistle should be carried in a buoyancy aid pocket on any sailing trip. Long summer days and short nights may make the possibility of sailing at night remote, but at minimum some sort of torch should be available to signal position to other craft at night. Alternatively, something like a lightweight white LED 360 degree Navlight can double as a very effective navigation light and camping light. Ability to obtain daily or more frequent weather forecasts is essential. A small compact radio with longwave is a reliable source but a smart phone or marine VHF are alternatives. Having recourse to at least two out of these three is strongly recommended.
  • Anchoring - There are many types of anchor with differing abilities to hold on sand, mud, gravel and rock but two found to be good as general purpose anchors for sailing canoes are the Bruce and collapsible Fisherman's types. 2kg is probably a minimum weight for a sailing canoe anchor. A bit heavier could well be better for some situations but there are obvious limits on the weight conveniently carried aboard. A short length of chain between the anchor and warp improves holding and helps to avoid the warp chafing on rocks. For safe holding, each meter of anchoring depth requires an absolute minimum of 3m of chain or 5m of warp but more chain or warp is generally better and essential for rough or exposed situations. Remember to consider the possible tidal range for your chosen sailing area in case you may need to anchor for a time. Nylon rope is strong, sinks, and has good shock absorbing capacity. 7mm is sufficient. Floating line is a potential hazard for other boats and should not be used for anchor warp. Consider how you are going to stow the anchor and warp, yet keep to hand for quick deployment. As a stop gap, I found a canvas shopping bag with zip in TK Max and have  found the combination of strength, capacity and ability to easily hold other bits and pieces is ideal. Some sailing canoeists like to carry a sea anchor but in my view the only reason for having them is for an extended period at sea in a severe storm, which is to be avoided at all costs in a sailing canoe. For short stops in deep water, heaving to, or a bucket on a rope are good alternatives.
  • Safety and First Aid -A buoyancy aid with pockets of sufficient capacity for things like; a sailing knife, whistle, personal distress flare and marine VHF radio may be preferred so these items are to hand at all times and all available if you become separated from the boat at sea. However, I'm contemplating as an alternative, an inflatable life jacket with safety harness and line to keep me attached to the boat. A decent length buoyant throwing line in a bag can and has been used very successfully to rescue a man overboard. The need for a First Aid kit is obvious and a space blanket may be useful in cases of exposure.
  • Tool kit and Spares - Breakages, gear failure and a holed boat are all possibilities on any sailing trip. In a remote area, outside assistance is likely to be unavailable, so a selection of spares, small tools and repair materials should be carried. However, space and weight dictate you can't take the contents of the garden shed, so you need to be fairly selective. In my experience everyone takes a different selection and it's surprising what can be achieved with a bit of time, ingenuity and by scavenging through others' spares and tool kits, or on the beach. It's also good practice to carry a small kit of spares and a multi tool on all sailing trips, no matter how short.
  • Ancillary Boat Equipment - This refers to boat gear which is not an integral part of the boat. The items are mostly self explanatory. Apart from doubling as a seat ashore, and also in the bottom of the boat when sailing in little wind, the flat fender is sometimes useful for a bit of extra hull protection for the boat ashore. I prefer to rig a short floating bow line when sailing as another thing to grab hold of in the event of a capsize. Having suffered a flat tyre prior to a mile long portage on Jura I now plan to carry a spare small trolley wheel.
  • Sailing Clothing - A drysuit will keep you dry when clambering in and out of the boat in varying conditions of wind and waves and is a valuable survival aid in the event of prolonged submersion in cold water. However, a drysuit is far from essential for summer sailing, assuming there is no excessive risk of capsize in cold water. Dry trousers (a sailing version of chest waders) are also handy for keeping dry when getting in and out of a sailing canoe and are a good alternative to a drysuit, but don't provide cold water protection in the event of a capsize. However, they do have the advantage of better ventilation and are easier to get on and off. On sunny, less windy days, when sailing with Solway Dory outriggers (making capsize much less likely) I sail in shorts with a windproof jacket to hand. Waterproof shorts avoid a wet backside when sitting on a spray covered deck. Footwear for sailing should also be suitable for clambering over rocky ground, perhaps when carrying a boat with others.
  • Storage - Dry-bags are strongly recommended for waterproof kit storage. My Solway Dory Shearwater sailing canoe has watertight compartments fore and aft but dry bags keep everything completely dry in the event of drips getting into the compartments. There are two schools of thought on securing dry bags in open, non decked, sailing canoes. One idea is to lash everything tightly down and the other is to have dry-bags secured on lanyards so they can float outside a capsized boat, thus assisting righting.
  • Food - Keep it simple but with a bit of variety. After a long day's sail and making camp, you'll not feel like peeling spuds and frying onions so it's best to have meals which can simply heated before eating. Also, take a variety of snacks and other items which can be eaten on the move or at lunch stops. A few condiments and tasty bits and pieces, in small containers, will add a bit of interest. Couscous, with the simple addition of boiling water, can form the basis of a quick hot meal. I prefer to avoid butter which can go off easily and rely on olive oil instead. One or two self heating meals in cans or pouches are a good fall back option for emergencies, bad weather or delays. If travelling to somewhere remote without shops, remember to provide for an extra day or two's worth of food for any of enforced waits for weather to improve. A cool bag helps keep perishables fresh for a bit longer. A frozen carton of fruit juice keeps things cooler for a bit until it thaws and is drinkable. Freezer blocks are just dead weight. Unless there is likely to be a ready supply of water en route, there's little point in taking dried food as you'll have to also take additional water to reconstitute it, so no weight will be saved.
  • Cooking and Eating Kit - There are a wide variety of lightweight camping stoves available and several options for fuel. Meths stoves are simple but slow. Pressurised liquid fuel stoves are often preferred by climbers and backpackers for their combination of light weight and performance. Gas cartridge stoves are very convenient and reliable but mean taking non recyclable cartridges. And there are two or three well designed small lightweight wood fired stoves available if you hunt around on the internet. On environmental grounds, but more for the fun of playing with a small fire outdoors, I was very taken with the idea of one of the latter. But then daunted by the prospect of lighting a fire in the rain and having to carry a bag of dry kindling in the boat, I opted for speed and convenience in the form of a ‘Jetboil' stove which uses gas cartridges and can boil a mug of water in a minute. The commonly available and inexpensive type of gas cartridge stove available in all camping shops is fine, if a bit unstable on uneven ground.
  • Water - Depending on the cruising area, potable fresh water may not be available on route. I allow for 2 ½ litres per day with a little in reserve. My backup is a microfilter drinking straw which enables safe drinking of stream water without boiling, but there are other sorts of micro filtration systems available. I used to take more water but found myself pouring several litres away near the end of expeditions to cut down on weight. Clean or boiled seawater can be used for washing dishes.
  • General Clothing - Allow for a wide variety of weather conditions and assume any forecasts of settled warm weather may be wrong. Work on the layer principle.
  • Shelter - My lightweight two man backpacking tent is just a bit too much of a squeeze for me and all the clobber I sometimes want to keep to hand and out of the rain. I also need to be a bit of a contortionist to get in or out of a drysuit in the dry if it's raining hard. So I've concluded it's worth paying the weight penalty of an extra two or three kilos for something a little larger. The bivvi bag provides a means of keeping my sleeping bag dry if everything else is damp and allows for the possibility of sleeping in the open in any fine midge free nights.
  • Lighting - A head torch means you can have both hands free when doing stuff at night, like pitching a tent in the dark. Also take an additional back up torch.
  • Miscellaneous - Unless there's likely to be frost or snow on the ground prepare for ‘The Curse of the West' and ensure you have a midge net to cover your hat and face. Some swear by ‘Avon Skin So Soft' as a midge repellent but I hate the smell almost a much as the midges, so rely on more conventional insect repellent. However, if you're lucky a light breeze will keep the little blighters at bay in the evening, which is otherwise their favourite time to attack. Ticks seem to have become more of a problem lately so it's worth taking anti-histamine cream and a tick removal tool. If you're a hardy, a daily dip in the sea will keep you fresh. Wet wipes are the alternative for less hardy types. Don't forget to take some spare batteries for the electronics and torches. I've been singularly unsuccessful at fishing on sailing canoe trips but remain optimistic I'll catch a fish for supper on the next trip. An umbrella, suggested to me by another OCSG member, will be included on my next Hebridean sailing trip as; a rain shelter, a sunshade, an additional downwind sail, a walking stick and as a cooking stove windshield, but also as a homage to Digby Tathum Warter.

Your selection of kit should be your own and will very much depend on where, when and how long a sailing trip you're planning. Living in Southampton, I'm hoping to get better acquainted with the Solent this summer. Lack of anywhere much to camp ashore means I'm planning on sleeping in the boat under a Solway Dory designed boom tent. Fortunately, the Solent area has many attractive anchorages in creeks, rivers and natural harbours. Fore and aft anchoring may be needed to keep the boat secure at night, so another anchor and warp will be required. Weekends away and some good possibilities for meals ashore in waterside pubs mean much less food and water will be needed. OS maps won't be so much use, but with the Solent tides and some busy shipping lanes to contend with I'll take plenty of charts. And there'll be no midges.


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