Kick off your boots: Four ways to get off the beaten track

As adventures go, a day exploring the coast is difficult to beat. Here are our ideas for making the most of the water this season – plus some top tips for staying safe.
Kick off your boots: Four ways to get off the beaten track

Photo: RNLI/Nigel Millard

Kayaking

There’s no easier way to get afloat than in a kayak or a canoe, and it’s a great way of getting up close and personal to nature. But if rock pools and sandy beaches aren’t your thing, there’s always the challenge of whitewater kayaking.

British Canoeing and Canoeing Ireland are great sources of information. As the governing bodies for the sport in the UK and Ireland, they provide a one-stop shop for all your kayaking needs.

A great way to test the water is to go on a group paddle with a qualified kayaking instructor. If you find yourself hooked, you could then go on a kayaking course or join a club to learn how to kayak safely. Wherever kayaking takes you, it’s important to know your limits and stay within them.

Here are our top kayaking safety tips:

  • Always carry a means of calling for help and keep it within reach.
  • Wear a buoyancy aid.
  • Tell someone else where you're going and when you'll be back.
  • Get some training.
  • Wear the appropriate clothing for the conditions and your trip.

Boating

If it’s racing thrills and spills you’re after, or a cruise on a summer’s evening, sailing a dinghy could be right up your creek. And there are craft to suit all tastes, pockets and abilities.

Start off by going along to your local sailing club and finding out what’s on offer. Many have club nights or open days, which will give you a chance to test the water. If you don’t have your own boat, hire a club boat or offer to crew.

A short entry-level training course is a good next step. By choosing an RYA- or Irish Sailing-approved course, you’ll learn the basics from qualified instructors while being provided with all the equipment you need. ‘Training builds skills and confidence,’ says Michael Walsh, an RNLI Coastal Safety Officer. ‘With the basics mastered, you can go on to explore all types of dinghy sailing.’

Dinghy sailing is accessible to everyone, regardless of age or experience. And you don’t have to be super-fit to take part. Disability needn’t be a barrier either – see the RYA’s Sailability programme for more information.

Here are our top tips to stay safe while you’re having fun on the water:

  • Always wear a lifejacket or buoyancy aid.
  • Carry a means of calling for help.
  • Get some training.
  • Check the weather and tide times.
  • Tell someone else where you're going and when you'll be back.
  • Know how to contact the coastguard in an emergency.

Open-water swimming

There’s nothing quite like an open-water swim to make you feel alive. And because a wetsuit, goggles and hat are the only equipment you need, it’s the ultimate ‘go anywhere’ watersport. As one of the disciplines in the triathlon, open-water swimming has recently seen a huge surge in participation. Thousands of devotees regularly take to our rivers, lakes, lidos and the sea.

Swimming in open water is very different to swimming in a pool. You’ll need to think about the different risks, such as currents, tides, cold water temperatures, swells and the unpredictability of the sea.

Before you dive in, it’s important to do your research. For example, you’ll need to know when and where it’s safe to go swimming, and what type of wetsuit you should wear. A good place to start is to join an open-water swimming club.

Meanwhile, here are our open-water swimming safety tips:

  • Check the weather and tides before you go.
  • Never swim alone.
  • Tell others on the shore where you’re going and when you’ll be back.
  • If you’re on a lifeguarded beach, swim between the red and yellow flags.
  • If not, familiarise yourself with the area and heed local hazard warning signs.

Foraging

If wetsuits and goggles seem a step too far, there are delicious adventures closer to home.

Before the rise of agriculture, our ancestors were foragers. And lots of our vegetables – like carrots, parsnips and spinach – came from the coast before we started growing them in gardens and on farms.

All around us, whether inland or coastal, ancient varieties of food are just waiting to be rediscovered. From leaves like samphire and spinach to roots like parsnips and carrots, from blackberries and sloe berries to beech nuts and kelp – you’ll be amazed at the abundance and variety. And all that old washed-up seaweed on the shoreline provides the perfect food source for coastal plants as it breaks down.

Book onto a local foraging course to know where to look and how to determine poisonous and inedible species from edible tasties.

Our beachcombing safety tips:

  • Check the weather and tide times before you go.
  • Carry a means of calling for help.
  • Keep an eye on the tides and the time.
  • Go first with a guide so you know what you're picking - if in doubt, don't eat it!

Got another coastal activity in mind? Take a few minutes today to look at our safety advice. It could save your life.

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