Advice for Beginner in Puget Sound Region

So I am buying a slightly used Old Town Dirigo 120 kayak next weekend and it has worked great for me on the Hood Canal, but I am wondering if it will work on quiet areas on the Puget Sound out of Stellicoom/Tacoma area?

What recommendations for using this kayak would you have about where to go or not to go?

The Old Town Dirigo line are recreational class kayaks. As such, they are meant to be used on flat water (no real exposure to wind or waves) in areas were you are close enough to swim to shore (keep in mind, the cold water of Puget Sound in much of the year would severely shorten swimming distances, unless you are wearing a wet suit, dry suit, or similar thermal protection).

Here is an ACA chart (taken from this book,, by Roger Schumann) on conditions and type of kayak that is appropriate.

Link to Roger’s book works, but not the chart you referenced.

My bad. Forgot to put that link in. Here it is:

If you don’t have a dropbox account, just click the X in the upper right of the box where they try to get you to sign up and you should be able to view the image.

Don’t go very far from shore, even on a lake if you’re not sure of what the weather is going to do. I’ve spent a considerable amount of time on the water around Tacoma when the water is very flat, but the opposite can also happen. You might want to check out some of the lower sound, over by Squaxin and Hope Islands. There is a good launch at Arcadia Point. I think I would stay out of the Tacoma Narrows in that boat. Commencement Bay can be pretty tame at times and if you stay close to shore, you should be able to stay out of the way of ships and tugs. The Budd over by Olympia ain’t bad.

A 12’ boat just isn’t going to be the best for big water and much of Puget Sound is kind of big water.

At this point in your development, it is unlikely you can read whether water is reliably quiet once you are out in the Sound. For example an area may look very quiet at slack tide. But half an hour later when the slack is past you could find yourself in a very different situation. If you don’t understand yet the basics of ocean paddling, you could miss that.

And for such situations, as Peter said above, the Dirigo is not a suitable boat.

You probably have some resources for kayak training around you. Check with tfolks before deciding trying to experiment with the Dirigo in anything salty.

Thanks for the feedback everyone!

I am a new paddler. So far all of my outings have been in the San Juan Islands. I have taken planned and “unplanned” swims in the Salish Sea, both without and then with a full dry suit. When you capsize and enter that water it is a jolt to the system. It can be easy to focus on just how shockingly cold it is instead of what you should be focussing on, namely getting back in your boat.

A dry suit gives you time to think, to slow down and then fix the situation without having to rush. When I took my first dunk I got back in and resumed paddling. Once moving I did not feel that cold. The warmer air temperature and movement really helped. The experienced guy I was with then highlighted the danger of not getting back on your boat successfully. Sometimes new paddlers will capsize multiple times and the repeated cycles of cold water dunks, rising panic and developing hyperthermia symptoms can create a dangerous situation.

I plan on doing a lot more practice in shallow fresh water that is also much warmer…