Nikon Monarch 7

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Kayak Kam 2

A couple of years ago I posted about a photo rig for kayaks.  I like the setup but it is mainly for pretty committed bird & wildlife photography (serious tripod & head, big lens, etc.)  As I was getting ready for a little paddling trip a couple of days ago with my 7-year old son, I devised a simple little way to have a camera at hand in the boat without the major rigging job.  This method works well for moderate setups like 100-400mm or 80-400mm zooms on DSLRs, for a smaller kit like a mirrorless DSLR rig, or for a super-zoom camera.  

Heading out into birdy territory by kayak.  Probability of splashes coming on board:  HIGH

The thing about kayaking is that lots of splashes come on board from the alternating paddle strokes.  The little cups on the paddle shaft help to keep much of the water outboard, but even on a sunny day there's going to be water droplets sprinkling down into the boat.  Putting your camera in a dry box (such as a pelican case) or in a dry bag will keep it snug but deployment will be slow if a bird suddenly appears.  As a compromise, I put a boat cushion down on the keel in front of me to rest my camera rig on (this pads the camera and keeps it up out of any water pooling up on the bottom of the boat.)  Then I drape a dry bag over my camera to shed any droplets coming aboard.  If a photo opp presents itself I can just pull off the dry bag & grab my camera.  Also, if things get dicey (like heavy rain, waves splashing into the boat, etc.) my dry bag is immediately available to slip my camera into for a more secure storage situation.

My fairly compact Nikon 80-400mm rig is in reach between my feet, resting on a boat cushion and draped with a dry bag.

Incidental splashes are kept off the camera by the dry bag.  If conditions worsen, the dry bag is immediately available to properly seal in my camera rig.

My camera is immediately ready for action by just pulling the dry bag aside.

Bird photo opps appear quickly, so having your camera at the ready can pay off.  Trumpeter Swans, Crex Meadows Wildlife Area, Burnett County, Wisconsin, June 2013.

As I said before, mixing camera gear with watercraft amplifies the risk factor significantly.  When deploying a camera in a kayak or other small boat you are always one mistake or accident away from unrepairable disaster so get real familiar with your boat and check your rig on dry land before attempting!  Oh, and have fun!!


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Bill Schmoker

Bill Schmoker

Bill is known in the birding community as a leading digital photographer of birds. Since 2001 he has built a collection of digital bird photos documenting over 640 species of North American birds. His photography has appeared in international nature publications, books, newspapers, interpretive signs, web pages, advertisements, corporate logos, and as references for art works. Also a published writer, Bill wrote a chapter for Good Birders Don't Wear White, is a past Colorado/Wyoming regional editor for North American Birds and is proud to be on the Leica Birding Team. Bill is a Colorado eBird reviewer and is especially fond of his involvement with the ABA's Institute for Field Ornithology and Young Birder Programs. Bill is a popular birding guide, speaker, and workshop instructor, and teaches middle school science in Boulder, Colorado. When he isn’t birding he enjoys family time with his wife and son.
Bill Schmoker

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