New member, or existing member new to paddlesports? Please email: Mandy at

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General Information for Paddlesports Members

Safety matters

DYC organized paddles are always led by qualified Coach or Sea Kayak Leader. Members are expected to stay with the group. Do not paddle off out of communication distance. See the risk assessment further down of this page for more safety information.

Welfare officer:  The club has a welfare officer, Kate Brown, a former commodore, who can be contacted using the email address . Your email will be forwarded directly to the welfare officer. The club has adopted the RYA safeguarding policy for both kayaking and sailing.

Using club boats on your own

You can use some boats on your own. The sit on tops in particular are easy for people to use from day 1 if someone helps you launch the first time. Contact the Rear Commodore Paddlesports if you are unsure which craft you are authorised to use and under what circumstances. You will need some experience before you can use the sit in kayaks on your own.  We do recommend paddling in groups of 2 or 3 persons but within the estuary solo paddling is permitted for certain members judged of sufficient ability. Skills are obtained by attending the group paddles.

Club paddles  

The DYC Paddlesports programme for 2024 is now available. For details, please click on the link "Link to Members' Page" above. The club paddling season starts in late April and runs until September. Peer paddles often continue over the winter months, weather permitting.

Taking your visitors out on the water  

In the event you have a relative/close friend staying with you, provided that you have first requested permission, and received confirmation from, the Rear Commodore Paddlesports, you may be able to take your visitor(s) out for a taster session. You would only be eligible for permission if you already have sufficient experience as a paddler, and in particular, are able to carry out a rescue. You would be accountable for the safety of your visitor(s). All such visitor(s) must agree to abide by the rules, regulations and best practices of the club. It is imperative that buoyancy aids are worn. A donation to club funds of, say, £5.00 per visitor would be much appreciated. 

Gaining skills

Attend pool sessions, and midweek paddles where skills are taught. If you live up country try joining your local canoe club as well and getting some tuition there, so you are better able to make use of the boats we have here. You will need to know about tides, see the guide on the previous page. 

DYC Paddlesports Section

Risk Assessment and Operating Procedures Document

Clubs are expected to have a document detailing risks and ways to mitigate those risks. The document is written specifically for the Dart estuary and the area immediately outside including the Mewstone (areas likely to be visited during normal club paddles) but applies to all club paddles. The objective is to identify risks and to list ways to reduce them. Effort is made to allow leaders and members to use the document to learn safer ways to paddle. It is acknowledged that kayaking is a risk sport and as such some hazards cannot be eliminated.  


Club paddles will generally be programmed with a named leader, these people act in their capacity as experienced members who the club believes have sufficient experience for the job tasked. They might have a current Coaching qualification, or a Leading qualification but often will not.  It has become very difficult to obtain qualified coach status of an appropriate level and the club is not able to provide qualified coaches for paddles as a general rule.  Experienced members chosen as leaders may or may not have first aid training.

Risks  (each with suggested Control Measures as Operating Procedures):

Entrapment by Spray decks

Beginners should not wear a spray deck until they have done satisfactory practice capsizes in a carefully chosen location such as Warfleet creek or in a pool.  The less strong should start with nylon decks and swap to neoprene when confident.    

Early directional instability causing beginners to drift into danger

Beginners using shorter sit in kayaks should have skegs fitted at the start.  Forward paddling basics should be covered on land so they have the correct wrist action and know how to effect a turn with a backstroke before they are on the water. Launch from north end of pontoon may be best if wind or tide is towards lower ferry.

Larger paddlers capsizing on launch

Very heavy paddlers should get into boats that are on the water rather than being slid off the pontoon as is our normal mode of entry.  Ideally an assistant or leader should be on the water first to hold their kayak as they sit into it.

Lower Ferry

The ferry reverses out of its slipway. Ferry drivers see kayaks well when the ferry is going forwards but not when it is reversing. If the ferry has just arrived and the cars are still pointing to the shore it is safe to go round the back as the ferry will not leave suddenly.  Once cars are pointing away from the shore do not go round the back.  Do not rely on there being no driver in the cab, they have been known to jump in and start reversing without looking. There are two recommended options

  • Wait until the ferry leaves, then go past the slipway as a group (as soon as you can so as not to delay the other ferry).
  • Paddle out to the middle of the river, then turn and cross the line of the ferry in an area where the ferry driver is not reversing. 

The Higher Ferry is less of a risk as it can stop easily without drifting or turning and it never reverses.  It is however quite fast and to avoid disrupting its operation paddlers should generally pass behind it and not in front of it.   

Difficulty of counting/managing large groups

Leaders should always seriously consider splitting groups into two (beginner/advanced etc) appointing another person to look after one group.  Normally there are other suitable persons present who can be asked to lead the other part.  This makes counting numbers easier and makes it more easy to keep each subgroup operating as a unit as faster/slower paddlers are separated.

Difficulty in returning to base due to tide or wind

Direction of initial travel should be chosen to make return easy where possible.   Eg a falling tide which will still be falling when you want to return suggests going upriver to start with.   An understanding of spring and neap tides and how to read tide tables should be encouraged in all members.  Leaders should know which beaches etc offer a get out and walk option just in case.

Communication difficulties in event of incident

It is worth taking the club VHF radios on all trips.  Even those with no VHF certificate can use one in an emergency without risk of prosecution so spread the basics on how to use one. Mobile phones in suitable cases are also useful.  Flares may be taken as required but note there is a risk of hand injury in their use. 

Paddler disabled by minor injury or tiredness

A splinter or minor finger sprain can stop someone paddling effectively.  Take the club towlines, more than one is useful.  Leaders should consider delegating a tow to other group members so they retain freedom to operate unencumbered themselves.  A one on two tow is best for more serious injuries as the towed person has support and cannot capsize in this configuration.

Paddler hit by weight or hooks cast by a fisherman

The most dangerous fishermen are unsupervised children, the most dangerous time is the mackerel season when shoals appear on the surface.  The safest way to go past is right in immediately next to the bank, not out past the furthest point you think they can cast to (which is often further than you would believe).

Collisions with other vessels

Generally kayakers should be the pedestrians, keeping to the footpath (edge of the river) rather than the road (centre of river). Then when crossing they should try to do so as a single entity putting the slowest paddler at the front of the group to minimize the chance of the group spreading out. Returning home from Dartmouth Castle to DYC paddlers sometimes aim straight for home, which means down the centre of the river; this should be discouraged and a shore hugging route advised.  There are fewer vessels to collide with at the river edges and they will be keeping a better lookout in amongst moorings.

Paddler stuck between yachts by tide

Plan ahead so weaker paddlers do not get taken into narrow gaps by the tide between yachts.

Shoulder injuries

These are a perennial risk for paddlers as a paddle is just an extended arm and it can have big forces acting on it. Try to avoid any recovery strokes being practiced by paddlers with an unbent active arm.  A slight bend at the elbow reduces the risk considerably.

Paddlers blown out to sea

In this location offshore winds mean there will be shelter close in to our (very high) cliffs and as long as groups stay near the shore they should not face any risk of being blown offshore.  If the wind is strong additional care should be taken near the castles when re-entering the river.

Onshore winds

A capsized paddler could be blown onto rocks by an onshore wind if strong, so keeping far enough out to effect a rescue is useful. Have enough towlines and the knowledge to deploy them to slow the drift of a rescuer toward the rocks while an X rescue is effected.  

Area by Western Blackstone

When proceeding west outside the harbour there is a sheltered area close to the cliff near the island known as the Western Blackstone that groups should pause and regroup in.  The final 100 metres of water between this area and the island itself is quite dangerous. It is the first place one is exposed to the full westerly wind. Groups should not enter this area in windy conditions unless extreme care is being taken. It is unhelpful if newer members or weaker members are exposed to choppy conditions - turn the group round and return homewards if necessary or split the group into two. Paddlers who tend to drift off ahead of the main group should be told not to. It is in encouraging those paddling behind them to venture into areas like this that they are causing needless danger and doing damage to the club. Leaders should take care to keep groups together as they approach this area.


All members should be encouraged to read the tide guide on this website until they understand how to use tide tables.

Sit on Tops

Users of sit on tops should be encouraged to view the several training videos covering towing and rescues and how to fix seats.  They should purchase a proper case for a mobile phone and take this with them in a further waterproof box or bag.

VHF issues

Test batteries by turning radio on briefly before you leave for longer trips.  Don’t leave radio on, keep it off and use for emergencies only. Don’t use it for inter group chats. Take more than one, this is helpful if the group decides to split.  Club radios are fitted with non-rechargeable batteries as the rechargeable type so often have reduced life after a while. Spare batteries are kept by the VHFs.  No VHF- look in buoyancy aid rear pockets (explorer type) for the VHFs if they are not on shelf as its easy to forget to take them out again at the end of a paddle.  From time to time do a radio check call, and learn where the blind spots are (near cliffs).

Manage the risks that you can appropriate to the circumstances

If you can see risk increased because of one factor, try to take compensating action to reduce the risk on another area. A good response to having increased risk in one area is to adopt a tighter group paddling formation and a more cautious route plan.  If you find you have some larger inexperienced paddlers who are more likely to capsize in waves, alter your route to avoid waves.   If you find you are out without a towline or radio, don’t go so far from base.

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