Advice for saltwater trip with mixed crowd

Dittoing @kayamedic 's question - “8 miles of open water or 8 miles paddling along a shoreline?” Much different things.

I likely would think twice about taking a group of all intermediate paddlers on an 8 mile open water crossing - no way I would consider it for any beginners.

8 miles along shore could be a different thing, as you potentially could have bail out points (but depends on the shore and whether you actually have bail out points).

Then, of course, the question on whether this stretch of water would be safe in canoes. They are much more impacted by wind and waves than a touring/sea or sit on top kayak.

Can you take a water taxi across the open water stretch?

An 8 mile crossing in benign conditions takes about 3 hours, but that’s plenty of time for weather to change from benign to snotty. The consensus here seems to be “Don’t Do It”.


Well alaskanguy I give you a lot of credit for asking for input.

Regarding your question around how much load can be handled it’s really more a matter of making sure th total load of people plus gear fits within the boat’s efficient load range because if you overload boats the handling gets weird. Heavier loads are harder to accelerate but also glide better from the added momentum so the load isn’t a big factor for cruising.

But I think it’s the laundry list of safety “don’t” that’s getting everyone’s attention.

  • inappropriate boats - there’s a reason that only sea kayaks are recommend for offshore use on the Great Lakes and there are plenty of recent examples of serious problems for folks that violate this one

  • life-threatening cold water - again just too many examples of this killing people even in warmer water than yours

  • lack of self-rescue capability - not good for offshore paddlers

  • inexperienced paddlers (what could go wrong?)

  • not working your way up to a major challenge

  • area known for volatile weather - even if your area was average the risk is huge

Did you see the recent tragedy with the Kennedy relatives that took a canoe to just rescue a beach ball and never made it back? I have quite a bit of canoe experience and canoes that are made for “big water” but would never do an eight mile crossing…I won’t even go offshore on a calm day on the Great Lakes mostly because powerboat traffic can appear suddenly at any time.

There is just so much inherent risk in what you are talking about doing.


I was on a trip with a friend that insisted on wearing hip waders on a fast river with cold water. He kept “forgetting” to put on his lifejacket. I refused to paddle with him again. I imagined on that trip what it would be like to knock on the door of his house and inform his wife, that her husband had drowned. I never want to have that experience. It is why I quit rafting difficult rivers.


After a time I refused to paddle with people under three circumstances - like above I did not want to be around when they died. My husband and others in our group did the same where there was an overlap. I for a time had a couple of folks I would go out with who did not interact with our larger group, but had one of these issues.

Someone who cannot swim. They panic if they do capsize and are horrid to manage, and the YMCA has lessons for that.
Someone who will not invest in a dry suit for late fall/winter paddling. We generated a lot of money for Kokatat when we were paddling into winter.
Someone who tells me they are severely afraid of capsizing and refuses to practice a wet exit with me helping. Same as the non-swimmers, I am not interested in dealing with panic and the person has a way to solve it.

I have never paddled with anyone who refused to wear the life jacket, our evening paddle group made that mandatory years ago. The kayakers were mostly compliant and found the complaints from the canoeists a little amusing.
I have not encountered the wader issue. But it would go the the above list unless maybe for puttering along the shallows near the shore.


I am interested in hearing more from the OP about this paddle. We were in Valdez and Stuart and did go out in powerboats so I got a bit of an idea of the topography… Whittier is rugged enough that the only road and the railroad tracks are in the same tunnel. Its on a fjord.

The importance of that is that any waves will reflect and make confusing seas even if the party is going along the shore. Two of us traveled from Marathon to Michipicoten ON in a Wenonah Odyssey which is a big deep canoe. With some areas of cliffs the reflecting waves were quite concerning even as we knelt ( not fun in a tractor seat) as they came at us from multiple directions and sometimes were 4-5 feet tall even though the seas were about 3 foot regular waves. Only our 20 years of ocean kayaking experience saved us… We had brought the canoe as it was easier to pack…

The next time we brought a sea canoe and a Greenland kayak… Much more reassuring and stable yet we had some nasty crosswinds and six foot seas broadside on the last 5 km stretch of open water.
This is one of our favorite trips… in a kayak. Having seen a little of SE AK I would not do that in an open canoe ever… And I don’t have the local knowledge of where the safety exits are ( like a beach in bad weather). It has taken a little time to build our Lake Superior knowledge and cause she is the boss we always pay heed to that Kenny Rogers song.
Know when to fold em. Know where and when to run.

8 miles open water crossing I would never have committed to without a lot of study of tide wind patterns and weather. Have done 13 miles open water crossing in summer doldrums on Long Island Sound… Bear of a burn.

To the OP know your route and allow for a flexible schedule. A fixed schedule can kill someone.

I am not anti canoe in salt water. For several years ( in the '70’s early 80’s)AMC ran trips out of Knubble Bay in Georgetown based in canoes. This was before kayaks were even around in mass production. Members were mostly Boston Whitewater so they had some skills reading currents( ocean currents can have eddies and holes just like rivers). It was more what they knew than what boats they had.

The Maine Island Trail was initially used by canoeists. I remember a map and list of trips on the back of the KBC outhouse… It has the portages indicated to avoid danger areas. Sadly those are gone.

But Maine coast is not Alaska.

You do have to vet your paddlers. I have had the unfortunate experience of a person who capsized not twenty feet from shore panic and grab the coaming of my kayak from the side… She had English as a second language and totally forgot how to understand instructions… From that time on we had everyone do a wet exit before going on a trip and this is not easy in cold water. They don’t want to do it.

I would have everyone sign waivers to acknowledge danger and self responsibility.

Yep, I teach some of those YMCA swim lessons. The swim test that everyone must pass to let them swim in the deep end is to swim one length of the pool without touching the bottom. That’s nice but good luck in our local rivers which are now at flood stage.

I met a guy that told me his father was fishing with waders in the winter when his waders got swamped and the current took him under the water and he eventually got lucky and made it out half a mile downstream. Sounds like a memorable experience.

I think we all want to help the OP with our own personal experience but I have to admit that I’ve learned more from my own mistakes than from advice from others.

Yes, it’s the old saying " Good judgement comes from experience. Experience comes from poor judgement"

I paddled in and out Whittier a few times back in 2008, taking newbies out for multi week sea kayak trips in pws. Had a few days that it was almost calm lake like out there and we drifted easily with the tide. Had other days where we sat on shore waiting out storms. Bring a good tarp and make sure your tent does not leak.
I remember the camping being a little crowded around Whittier, but dispersing a day or so out. But it would suck to have to hunt for a campsite the first day out.
I would also recommend the water taxi route if at all possible. Will take the stress out of making a bad decision trying to stick to an itinerary and make it to camp. Eight miles if conditions are deteriorating with newbies sounds like a recipe for disaster. The water is also cold up there year round which is a potential hazard. Just getting through the tunnel, getting boats off vehicles and packed, and then shuttling vehicles could take the better part of a morning.

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I just looked at the map. Above post seems to answer my first question when I looked again, that of parking cars to launch from Whittier. I was only there off season, in March, so would not know if there are parking limitations once it is the train plus tourist cars.

I looked for cabin rentals and they do exist on the outer boundary islands, Hinchinbrook and Culross. But unless I am badly deficient in coffee they are a lot more than 8 miles out from Whittier. So the proposed cabin would be on one of the islands nearer the coast. Maybe Esther or Culross if either qualifies as remote.

Unless the crossing in the original post is just that part, and the trip is more than 8 miles total. Which puts Perry or maybe Knight into play.

FWIW, I am not seeing this as a canoe trip however you shake it. Or one for beginners in kayaks. If it is not less wide passages with cliffs that could be reflecting waves back, and sharing said passage with bigger boats or the fishing fleet, it is coming a corner and having the wind funneled right at you around islands and points in that irregular coastline. With water that is cold enough to challenge rescuing even someone in a dry suit since if the problem happens where there are cliffs down to the waterline so landing them would not be immediately available.

There is a park at the outer edge of the peninsula with ten camp sites. Entry Cove State Park. With the correct guiding and outfitting this looks like it could be a sensible target for a group. Tent sites are first come first served thru 14 days.

If the OPer is still listening, why skip this option?

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In cold water everyone is a bad swimmer.
I took a scuba diving class once. In order to pass we had to swim a half mile.

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Half a mile is a good swim test. I was swimming a mile in about 45 minutes before the virus crisis. That’s in an 83 degree pool in a swimsuit. Add clothes and a PFD and drop water temp to current temp at Whittier (48 right now) and anyone would be lucky to get 1/4 mile…and even attempting to swim could be a mistake. I’m sorry if the OP feels like they are getting beat up.


Better beat up online from your armchair than trying to swim in 48-degree water.


I would like to learn more about the proposed trip… The area intrigues me. But seems the OP left.

The tidal range in SE Alaska can be well over 20 feet. That makes for a lot of water moving around just due to the tides and all of those islands and channels. It is not for everyone.

Ok so here’s a bit more information about the proposed trip. We will be within sight of shore for the most part, however most of the are is fjords which means that we are looking at very steep walls not sandy beaches. Therefore just because you can see the shore and get to the shore at any given moment there’s no guarantee that you can actually get on dry land. At one stretch of the trip we will probably be a mile to a mile and a half from the nearest shoreline. To hug the coastline too closely, will add an additional 2-3 miles to the trip which means at least another hour on the water. Some will be in kayaks I’m sure, but personally I prefer a canoe. I have been in canoes for 20 years whereas for kayaks I did it a few times 8 years ago. Therefore I won’t be in a kayak and there are a few others like me that will be coming

Everyone will be wearing life jackets. They are relatively cheap and at the end of the day, you can always rent one. It’s also very easy to rent wet suits and dry suits in Alaska. I have swam in colder water before and know the importance of a suit. I also intend to include float bags, flare gun, hand held marine radio, and other emergency equipment.

I know we could take a water taxi, but that’s like taking a shuttle bus to a campsite. Sometimes you want to hike in and hike out. Or even snowshoe or ski to your destination in winter. Same thing here. The paddling is just as much a part of the experience as the camping itself. It has its risks, but so do the other activities I mentioned. And as bad as a flipped canoe in cold water can be, I’d take that over an avalanche any day. I intend to do everything I can to minimize those risks or have plans to deal with what problems may arise thus the post.

So to kayamedic ones that had helpful advice on it, thanks

I’ve been away from Internet for a few days. It looks to be around 8 of us. We are going in early September which isn’t my favorite time of year, but that’s when one of the guys will be getting back in the state. With 3 months to plan and prepare I expect everyone to be pretty knowledgeable about canoe re-entry

What is your route on a map? I am just curious. I agree on the water taxi thing. Do you have a chance for everyone to do a group flip in warmer water?