Canoe/Kayak Launches

I am assisting our city with a greenway developement project and they are wanting a canoe launch. The hope is that I can help finance it, they will provide the access and a boy scout will do a large part of the work for an eagle project. My question is, what type launch do you folks prefer?

It is fresh water river that feeds a local lake. At high water the lake backs up into the area. At low water it is a small river. The current is never more than a couple mph. The back is steep, muddy and the bottom drops off fast to about to about 3 feet deep. The water levels fluctuate about 5 feet between full pool and low levels.

My favorite launch is a step launch with steps about 18 inches wide. I like for the steps to be about 15 feet long so each person can step in the boat at varied water levels. The steps reach from high pool to low pool. I hate rough finished concrete ramps. I don’t think a floating launch is possible.

Any thoughts, ideas, pointers, etc?

The steps that you mention
work out good for canoes at any width, but for kayaks, each step should be several feet wide, so the kayak can be directly over the step that has the water on it

Ideal is a gentle slope either out of sand or a rubber matt, but it sounds like you can’t do that.

Some canoe/kayak launches that I have been to are cut into a bank, and are not long enough to bring a 18 foot yak or canoe into shallow water.



No steps for me personally

– Last Updated: Mar-31-10 12:06 PM EST –

Not sure I really understand your set-up, but here are some comments from a kayaker. This sounds like a rather difficult project for a Boy Scout, in part due to the conditions your describe.

I think there's a big difference between canoes and kayaks: most canoes are paddled by two people, while most kayaks are singles. That makes for different launching requirements.

I personally really dislike a step launch. It's hard to walk down, especially when you're carrying your kayak alone, as is often the case. Could be very difficult for older people. Don't forget that many people use a wheeled cart, which can't navigate steps.

My idea of an ideal launch site:

1. Short carry distance from car, or a drop-off area where you can park briefly and set your kayak in the grass.

2. Plenty of space for several kayaks to both prepare and launch. It takes time to properly load a kayak, even for a day trip.

3. Gradual slope down to the water. Concrete is not ideal, but I can live with a concrete ramp much better than steps.

4. Space to load the kayak in the water. It's hard to carry a loaded kayak down to the water.

5. Ideal water depth for getting in a kayak is a bit below knee level.

6. The launch should be out of the current as much as possible.

I think the step launch may

– Last Updated: Mar-31-10 12:00 PM EST –

be an impediment to the disabled.

Your city may want to build to be ADA compliant. THis is also a good investment for the city. Paddling is popular among those with disabilities and can dovetail with other programs.

Its possible to get wheelchairs down a concrete ramp and much harder on step launches.

You dont mention if the fifteen foot width is bordered with a structure on each end..limiting the length of boats that can be brought in broadside.

I suspect that day trippers would load on this launch but even so this sort of launch makes for a bottleneck as people would have to bring their boat in broadside to even pack it.

You might want to contact the ACA Adaptive Paddling folks.

I never considered the ADA issues. That is a very good point. It is a tough place since the bank drops steeply several feet to the water. I found a very good web site that may help.

This will be a good project for a scout but will require working with the city and people like myself. The scout project is more of a lesson in working with government than construction.

Thanks for your input. You had some good ideas. And thanks Jack, I favor the steps but you are correct in that they need to be as wide as the boat.

I welcome any more input that you folks can pass on. After all, you may use it someday.


“After all, you may use it someday.”

– Last Updated: Mar-31-10 1:29 PM EST –

Hopefully not.

There is a set of concrete steps on the local river at the most popular put-in. It works great for the tubers and those with drugstore rafts. Those with poly kayaks sometimes do a "seal launch" from them (I cringe). They are horrible for canoes.

I prefer to *not* use a constructed access. The launches I like best are those that were either formed naturally by the river or at least "accepted" by the river. By that, I mean the approach is a natural slope to a pool or eddy - or one that was man-made of natural materials (ideally, sand or fine gravel - or even the natural dirt) in a location that is not prone to washing away at high water (again, at a pool or eddy).

If I *have* to use a ramp or steps as described above, that means I either have become disabled or I am being forced to access the water at that point. Neither of those scenarios is pleasing to me.

I guess that's my long-hand way of saying that if you must build something, build it to accommodate the physically challenged - if your river is suitable for that kind of use. But many (if not most) of us who can carry our boat to the water would just as soon have a natural slope with plenty of room for boats up to at least 17' in length.

If each step had for talking purposes
a 30 inch wide step, and a 8 inch riser, at one end you could have a 30 inch wide platform on top of the steps or beside them, and that would be a gradual slope.

Then everyones butt would be covered.

You’ll probably be sorry you asked for input here.

someone will want a hoist!



I know Jack
It is funny how you ask for input to try to do the right thing and you get criticized. Just trying to do something good for our community and the paddlers. I am sure what ever I do someone will hate it and not want to use it. One thing for sure, it will be better than what we have, it won’t cost the taxpayers, it will be a good project for the youth and somebody out there will appreciate it. I guess if they don’t like it they can launch down the muddy bank next to it. (I bet they won’t).

Thanks again

I think people are getting away from gibsonra’s original question, though the ideas are pretty constructive.

The way I read the question, is what type of launch IN THE WATER do you prefer. Nothing about parking, loading area etc, but again they are all good inputs.

We have one city park that a group has a Christmas boat parade out of, mainly catering to self propelled watercraft. It has a concrete ramp for boat trailers, and docks alongside of the ramp. Neither are easy to launch from especially in cold December river water. You either wade out getting a good soaking until the kayak is floating enough so you don’t gouge up the bottom, or take your chances at being a contortionist off of the dock. (and providing a good show as you do a standing roll)

I think the step type of dock would be the best, maybe with some pvc pipes or plastic mats on the wood to ease pushing off. Could you make it a floating type to follow the water level? That way you wouldn’t need a lot of steps. A nice gentle soft smooth ramp from the shoreline would be nice also except for the winter wet feet. As far as input on getting to the water, a gentle sloping paved ramp down to the waters edge for using carts would be a good idea too.

Since it sounds like steps…
…are what you are heading for…

Jack is right about the step width needing to be around 30". Keep in mind that some boats are even wider than that, but if you go 30" that will give you enough to set anything short of a drift boat or large raft while loading gear.

But 15’ in length will cut out a lot of canoes. The average tandem canoe runs around 16-17’ - and then you need space for folks to get around a boat that is being loaded with gear (some folks will want to just head straight to water and not wait for someone gearing up). Since you are limited in space, you know that will be a major consideration if it will be a busy access.

Most of the stepped launches I’ve seen ended up getting undercut and needing repair after a few years or less. I’m not a construction engineer, but I think you will need to at least consult one (one who is familiar with river dynamics) to determine if and what you will need to do to avoid that at your location.

Question…Is this going to be a case of “launch here or don’t launch at all”? Or is it just to accommodate a certain niche of river users? Things to think about…

How much current?
“The current is never more than a couple mph”

Many people cannot paddle a canoe or kayak faster than “a couple mph”.

Are you planning a launch in a spot that people won’t be able to get back to?

Reading further if its a public ramp
by law it MUST be ADA compliant.

But nothing I see rules out steps.

While the ADA spells out some requirements, it leaves it up to you how to do it.

Not meaning to be critical.
Just stating some things that I think you should take into account.

You may have already done so - but I thought it worth pointing out that you should take into account who you can reasonably expect to be using the facility. I don’t have anything against someone wanting to build such a launch. I just prefer not to have to use it. Such a facility needs to be designed around those most likely to use it. If that is going to include everyone (as in the case where this is the only access), that just makes your job that much harder.

Accessible means a ramp, with a maximum slope of 1:6.

So just build a ramp parallel to the bank and be done with it.

Wetlands Regs
You might want to check for wetland regulations, if any, before disturbing a bank.

Seems like the Yakers are the ones complaining and being negative, while us canoe-men are glad to see you stepping up in the name on public good. :slight_smile:

All Good
Thanks for the help. Much of the final decision will be made by the city but your input has helped me understand some of the personal preferences. That is what I was looking for. I would like for this to meet the needs of the largest amount of people. This was a good start.

Thanks again.

river access
Something else to keep in mind is cleanup of the area after there’s been challenging weather. On one of the local rivers, at one of the launch site there’s a paved ramp to launch from and at one point cement steps to get out at. With all the snow, then the rain we’ve had both these area’s have had to be cleaned up several times. The ramp is clear and usable now but the steps aren’t. There’s a good 6 to 12 inches of sand on the steps and you can see a tree trunk floating where the bottom of the steps are suppose to be. Another problem with the steps is they seem steep, especially after a nice float and you’re tired. I’d rather have a ramp than the steps. The ramp also makes it easier to do things myself.

Very True
We do have problems with silt. After last years floods several feet of silt has piled up in places. It will be a problem that I am not how to deal with any way I go.

ADA requires the steps to be at an 8% grade or less. I think people are thinking steps with a normal fall like the ones in public places. The steps I am considering are basically a ramp with small step downs. Basically what we will have is a ramp with flat surfaces all the way down to the water. So no matter what the water level, you will be able to launch your boat from a flat surface in 8 inches of water. Another words; 8 inches down and 30 inches out. It would be a series of small decks with each 8 inches below the previous one.

I went down and looked at it again yesterday and the ramp, while easier, would be very difficult to do here because of the shape of the bank. It would take a grader to get it right and would damage the natural contour of the bank. And to the guy that said he won’t use it and would launch next to it from a natural area. I would love to see that. Anyone from the South/East knows how hard it is to stand on a steep red clay bank with wet shoes. It is always good for a laugh. Right Jack? lol

Again, thanks for your help.

Wouldn’t use it if I had a choice.
But I wouldn’t use the steep bank next to it either. If I had a choice, I would get in the water somewhere entirely different. That’s all I was saying. If there’s anywhere near the same general area with no serious obstacles between, given a choice, I take the natural access if it’s usable. I think that is true for a lot of us. Others may prefer something more, um, civilized - especially if they are physically limited (and I don’t necessarily mean in ways that immediately comes to mind). If that choice exists, you may find your target user-group a little more limited and therefore easier to please.