Mistakes to Avoid When Sea Kayak Camping

sea kayak

There are a few mis­takes that every sea kayak­er dreads mak­ing. They’re usu­al­ly learned the hard way, or through a friend who learned the hard way. Rang­ing from embar­rass­ing to seri­ous­ly threat­en­ing, here are some mis­takes to avoid while camp­ing on wild coast­lines out of a small boat.

Los­ing A Boat
On a long-ago trip to the west coast of Van­cou­ver Island, one moment I was sit­ting on a beach log eat­ing lunch. The next, I was run­ning at a dead sprint because my kayak was float­ing away. I was able to retrieve it quick­ly, but if I hadn’t, with a strong wind blow­ing par­al­lel to the coast­line, I’d have been left on an island sans bateau. I’ve wok­en up at night to real­ize tides were high­er than we thought and moved boats again. It’s an embar­rass­ing mis­take because it’s so pre­ventable: tie the boats up, even if you think you don’t need to.

Holey Kayak!
Putting a hole in a kayak by hit­ting a rock isn’t some­thing any­one intends, but the risk comes with play­ing on rugged shore­lines. Plas­tic kayaks are much more resilient to loaded impact, but if you pad­dle a fiber­glass kayak, know how to repair it in the field. I’ve fixed boats in var­i­ous ways on beach­es. It’s not ide­al, but it works.

Up the Creek With­out a….
I once ran into a group in the San Juans that had lost a pad­dle and not brought spares. Like not tying up your boat, it’s an easy mis­take to avoid. They end­ed up pad­dling two dou­bles with the bow pad­dlers using halves of a break-down kayak pad­dle-like canoe pad­dles. I don’t know how they man­aged to lose their pad­dle, but bring­ing a spare is stan­dard practice.

Get­ting Lost
It’s phe­nom­e­nal­ly easy to get lost in islands. From sea lev­el, islands, inlets, and penin­su­las are hard to tell apart—islands can all look the same. Get­ting lost in a sea kayak can be more than a has­sle; if you end up in the wrong place, ocean cur­rents can make it hard, or even impos­si­ble, to get where you want to go. Learn how to read cur­rent tables and nau­ti­cal charts: which are very dif­fer­ent from maps and tide tables. GPS can help, but rely­ing on it too much puts you at the mer­cy of batteries.

Let­ting Crit­ters Into Your Food
Most sea kayak des­ti­na­tions have some form of aggres­sive, food-seek­ing wildlife: the Griz­zlies of Glac­i­er Bay, the rac­coons of the San Juan Islands (which know how to open kayak hatch­es) the crows in British Columbia’s Bro­ken Group, or the dry-bag peck­ing Gray Jays of the Cas­cades. There’s noth­ing more humiliating—and annoy­ing than return­ing to see your kitchen strewn about your camp. Pro­tect your food: hang it, put it in can­is­ters, or Ursacks, that bears and rac­coons can’t bite through.

Ignor­ing Weath­er Changes
By far the biggest source of kayak acci­dents is “unan­tic­i­pat­ed weath­er changes”. Unan­tic­i­pat­ed by whom? Usu­al­ly, it’s not an inac­cu­rate forecast—it’s some­one who didn’t lis­ten to the fore­cast, over­es­ti­mat­ed their skill, or didn’t know what impact the weath­er would have on the sea. Watch the skies, car­ry a portable barom­e­ter, and learn what to expect to form the inter­ac­tions of the sea, wind, storms, and the land. And yes, I’ve made that mis­take, think­ing I could make it through a nar­row win­dow between fog burn­ing off and the wind ris­ing. Dis­cre­tion is often the bet­ter part of valor.

Get­ting Stuck on the Beach
There are few things to a sea kayak­er more entic­ing than a wide open and emp­ty beach, small surf, and a west­ern view to the sun­set. Keep in mind that the swell might not stay small, or may come from a new direc­tion. I remem­ber one camp on British Columbia’s west coast, shel­tered from both the wind and swell, where we had two days of ankle-high waves. The third morn­ing, we woke up to crash­ing surf that kept us stuck on the beach until the swell changed direc­tion again the next day.