Kayaks are an ideal water vessel for many activities. Traditionally, the kayak was used and is still used by the Inuit people. The Inuit people live in the harsh cold icy conditions of Greenland. In this environment food is hard to come by and they depend mostly on fish, seals, whales, and other marine life for their food. To hunt in the icy treacherous waters, they needed a special vessel.
The perfect solution was found in the invention of the kayak. The traditional kayak was a light vessel that was made with a rounded frame made of whale bones or light wood. The frame was then covered by tight skin that was made waterproof using whale fat. The hollow vessel had an opening where there was a cockpit where the pilot could fit in. A pilot would sit inside the kayak with only the upper torso being exposed. The cockpit had a special skin jacket called a tulik that was fastened to the kayak that would be worn by the pilot. The jacket was waterproof to prevent water from getting into the kayak.
Kayaks were specially built for individuals. Kayaks were personal property to fish and to hunt. Actually, the name Kayak means a man’s boat, or a hunter’s boat. A man usually made his own kayak; maybe with the help of his wife who helped to tightly sew the skins together. The kayak was made with precise specifications fitting the man who would use the vessel. Each kayak was made such that it would provide maximum maneuverability for the man’s weight, height, strength, skill in kayaking, and preferences. If a person drowned while in a kayak, then it was said that the man had stolen another person’s kayak.
Kayaks major strong point is probably their maneuverability. This was a top concern for the Inuit people. In case the vessel capsized, it was important that the pilot would be able to correct it and restore it back to the upright position using his body. This was a very important lifesaving technique that the Inuit kayakers valued.
Inuit people are not very good swimmers and many of them do not know how to swim. This is because it is almost impossible to swim in the icy waters of the North Pole. One would die within a very short time of exposure in the icy waters due to asphyxiation. Again, the heavy clothing that they wore would soak the water and quickly drown them.
Apart from being able to correct a capsized vessel, the kayaks are also made such that they can be used in diverse places in the water. Unlike other water vessels, the kayaks can be used in very shallow water. A kayak can be comfortably navigated through water only six inches deep. They can also be navigated through very narrow channels in the water due to their narrow hull.
The rounded shape of the kayak is designed thus to make it easy to turn. The rounded shape with a pointed bow and a slender sleek shape also makes the vessel very fast on water.
Today there are many new kayak designs including the sit on top kayaks, inflatable kayaks, and special kayaks made for different kinds of sporting action.