The club has a fleet of 20 plastic sit-on-top kayaks and a half-dozen SUPs for member use. Kayaks and SUPs are most commonly used to help support our swimmers, but may also be taken out recreationally too.

This page will help prepare you to paddle and take care of our sit-on-top kayaks. It is meant to accompany an in-person kayak orientation from one of our instructors. 

Initial Orientation

Remember: All rowers, kayakers and paddlers must become a member of US Rowing. Membership costs only $10/year and ensures you, and the club, are covered by insurance. You’ll need the club code: FM7HD. Go here to sign up or renew: https://membership.usrowing.org/ 

Kayaking orientations are typically offered to small groups every month. You can find out about them on the notice board, the club calendar, and the mailing list on groups.io.

If the scheduled orientations do not work with your schedule, email kayaks@dolphinclub.org and there may be opportunities for one-on-one instruction.

An orientation is required before you may use a club kayak. The orientation typically takes about 2 hours and will cover the following ground: 

  • Overview of our boats
  • Club Procedures and Rules
  • How to prepare and launch the boats. How to use the dock. 
  • We’ll paddle kayaking around the cove along with a capsize practice.
    (Yes, you will get wet.)
  • Learn how to put away the boats correctly.

Once you’ve taken your orientation, you may use a club kayak any time in the cove. You may also accompany certified paddlers out of cove, and help pilot club swim events.

To go further afield alone, you’ll need to become a certified paddler. This is described at the end of this document. If you’re already comfortable kayaking, certification will likely be a quick process. 

What to wear

The time on the water during the kayaking class is about one hour. The weather on the water can be quite changeable, but you’ll want to be prepared to be wet. Your bum will may be in a puddle of water, and you may be splashed with water from spray. At the end of the class, you will practice falling out of your kayak and getting back in. 

…in Winter

In the winter months, the water can be cold in the low 50’s, and the air temperature is not much higher. Combine this with wind and you’ll quickly realize that you need to dress well.

Winter paddling gear? Wetsuit is good… doesn’t need to be full length. Windproof smock/windbreaker. Windproof Pants. Layers.  Polartec shirt. Booties. More dependent on air temperature than water temperature. Wooly hat.  

…in Summer

Summer months (June-Oct) are much more forgiving for kayakers. We advise you wear layers of synthetic clothing with a waterproof top layer.  More detailed suggestions of what to wear kayaking at the end of this document. 

You can leave your dry clothes on the dock for the capsize practice, and do this in your swimsuit if you prefer. 

More information for how to dress for longer trips at the end of this document. 

The Kayak Fleet

Our kayak fleet is stored in the boat shed. The main garage doors are unlocked during club hours. 

<< Picture >>

Many of the kayaks are owned by members. You may use any of them, but please take care of them as if they were your own. 

Sit-on-top Kayaks

Most of the kayaks at the club are of the ‘sit-on-top’ variety. These are easy to use, robust and very stable. They’re great for recreational paddling and swim piloting.

Sit-inside Kayaks

The club has two sit-inside kayaks. These should only be used by people with significant sea-kayaking experience. You should already know how to eskimo roll, or self-rescue. Always take a paddle float, water pump, and kayak skirt with you


The ‘Epic’ brand kayaks are surfskis. These are longer and narrower than the regular sit-on-top kayaks. Please don’t use these until you’ve had an orientation in these too.


A successful trip starts with good preparation: 

  • Sign out your kayak
    The log book is at the podium in the main boathouse. 
  • Check weather and currents
    You will learn more about this in the Bay Safety course and during the in person lesson
  • Paddle
    Paddles are kept beside the Boat Shed.  << Paddle Leash >>  << Move indoors? >>
  • Life Vests – The club has a range of life vests available for use. For kayaking, we recommend you use standard (non-inflatable) vests that will keep you buoyant and keep you warm.  

Before you launch your kayak perform a safety check:

  • Scuppers – Most kayaks have ‘scuppers’ to allow water to drain out – check to see that your kayak has plugs in place; they may be in the front, back, side, or middle of the kayak.  Some kayaks have corks in place of plugs – this may be ok for some trips but make sure the cork is secure in the hole.
  • Hatch seals – If your kayak has hatches – check to make sure there is a seal under the hatch cover and that it is in good condition – check the hatch to make sure it fits properly and if it has straps that they have a snug fit. 
  • Damage / leaks? – Give the kayak an inspection to ensure there is no damage. If you see anything significant, please report it to the Boat Captain. 

When you choose your kayak – ask for help with bringing it to your launch area (usually the beach) constant dragging or dropping the kayak will weaken the shell and it may crack and leak.


Video how to get off the beach and launch 

  • How to get through the surf
  • When (and how) to use the dock

How to Kayak

How to paddle.

Explain the difference between paddling with straight blades and feathered blades. Where possible learn how to kayak a feathered paddle. It’s easier to get into a good habit from the beginning than change a bad habit later on.  


  • Paddle straight, stop, back up, draw stroke.
  • How to turn
  • How to brace
  • Paddling backwards

Drift to determine winds and current.

To paddle push as well as pull. Low elbows.  

Point the kayak into wave or lean into waves.

There’s a lot more.. add some YouTube video. 

Capsize Practice

The Bay is cold, and eventually you may find yourself taking an unexpected dip in the water. With our kayaks, this should not be a big deal, but you should practice how to recover before that happens

  • Stay calm. 
  • Stay up wind. 
  • Hold on to the paddle. 
  • Scooch up over the side
  • Go to end of boat if really windy and no chance of getting back on the kayak or if you need to catch your breath. 

Return & Wash Down

Wash sand off your boat. Pull apart your paddle and rinse it. 

It is not unusual for kayaks to take on some water when so when you finish your outing – drain the kayak for the next person.

Put boat and paddle back. Most kayaks are placed on the shelf based on size so try to place your kayak back in the same shelf location.

Help others do the same. Sign yourself back in.

Certification for Out-of-Cove

Aquatic Park is fairly protected and safe. Before paddling out cove alone, we want to make sure you are prepared for what you will encounter, and you’ll need to go through our certification process. This can be fairly quick if you already have kayaking or rowing experience. 

  1. Gain experience.
    Become comfortable kayaking on the water in the cove.
  2. Study the Bay Safety Guide.
    You can read the documents and watch the videos online. There is a short test that you can take on your own time. 
  3. Go on a checkout paddle with another certified kayaker.
    This might often be associated with a small swim. You’ll plan a trip, explain safety considerations and demonstrate your competence at paddling. At the end of this paddle, and if all goes well, you’ll be certified.


The following members have significant kayaking experience and are able to provide mentoring and certification.

  • Duke Dahlin
  • Terry Horn
  • Simao Herdade
  • Tim Dumm
  • Kent Redwine
  • Add pictures…. ?


Once certified, you’ll be able to: 

Paddle further afield

Beyond the cove, there are many fun destinations to kayak. Particularly the stretch along the north shoreline of the city towards Chrissy Field. 

Do not paddle in conditions above your ability. If the wind is blowing more than 10kts, consider staying in. If there is a strong ebb or flood, plan your outbound trip against the current, so you have an easy ride home.

Build experience before planning more exposed journeys. If you plan on crossing the Bay, or to Alcatraz, please bring a buddy, and be aware of currents and shipping traffic as you learned in the Bay Safety course.


These advanced kayaks are a lot of fun, particularly in the afternoon winds. They do require extra agility and more care. Email surfskis@dolphinclub.org

Pilot private swims on a kayak

Club swimmers rely on pilots to complete longer and more adventurous swims. If you are willing to help pilot such swims, please join our Swim Piloting Class and join our non-motorized pilot mailing list. 

Crabbing and Fishing

Bring a rod or a hoop net and see if you can bring home dinner. Have a valid fishing license, and be aware of regulations

Join Expeditions

Several times per year longer “expedition” paddles to faraway places are conducted. Destinations include China Camp, Petaluma, and Sacramento. These trips often involve overnight stays and by definition require a certain degree of skill and fitness.

The key to these longer distance rows is preparation and planning. If you’d like to organize an overnight trip, you must arrange with the Boat Captain well in advance. New rowers should keep an eye on the mailing list for opportunities to join experienced club kayakers on such trips. 

Borrowing Kayaks 

Four of the club kayaks are available for you to borrow. (which four). Suggestions for destinations further afield include 

  • Tomales Bay
  • China Camp State Park
  • Sausalito
  • Oakland Estuary
  • California Delta

Use this form to request to borrow a kayak. It needs to be approved in advance by the Boat Captain.  You are responsible for any damage that occurs while the kayak is in your care. 

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