Canoe or Kayak to Catalina Island?

-- Last Updated: Apr-27-10 2:11 PM EST --

Good Morning everybody,

This is my first (of many probably) posts. If any of these questions have been asked before I do apologize, but I haven’t been able to find someone who has had a similar question. Okay onto my query:

2 buddies and I have come to the conclusion that not only do we want to camp on Catalina Island off of the coast of California (about 24 miles from the coast) but that we would like to Kayak/Canoe there. Now realize that we have very little kayak/canoe experience (ocean harbors and lakes only). We have a proposed date of summer 2011. I have been researching the benefits of canoes or kayaks but I don’t know which will be better for us. We would like to all be on one boat with our camping gear so I assume a canoe is the only option (I didn’t see any 3 man kayaks). From the reading I have done most people suggest a kayak. Which type of boat would be better? Any specific models that would be best for this type of journey? From what I have read I thought a tripping canoe would be best, but I don’t know how good that would be on the ocean.

Also, how long do you suppose it would take to get there? I read some guy kayaked there with a group in about 8 hours, but with 3 men on a canoe would it be slower than 1 man on a kayak? Remember, we are going to have 3 or 4 days worth of camping supplies as well.

If anyone has made this trip personally I would greatly appreciate any tips on the journey. We have a year to train which I am hoping will be more than enough time (2 out of the 3 of us are already pretty fit).

Thanks for any and all replies

One last question that I forgot to ask! If a canoe is the best option would it be better to get a canoe that we paddle (facing where we are going) or one that uses oars (with our back towards our destination)?

Thanks again

Me’ reckon’s…
weez gon’na read about ye in de newspaper (obits) iffin’ yer do attempt dat.


Ocean kayaking experience
Don’t do it. Try some other, safer dream, maybe some sort of canoe trip on lakes and rivers. From where you are now, to where you would want to be to prudently attempt such a major ocean crossing, it just is not realistic. If you do choose to ignore our good advice, make sure you have a motor boat accompany you, you are likely to need rescue to avoid death.

have done it

– Last Updated: Apr-27-10 2:47 PM EST –

While often mellow in summer I would not suggest any open boat that could fill with water as wind waves can and often do wash over decks.

I did it twice last summer with a group of kayaks of about 17' lengths. Depending on weather and the group 6 to 8 hours would be reasonable from San Pedro to Two Harbors. Both crossings I did took a bit less than 6.5 hours.

If you've mostly been in protected waters then summer of 2011 is a good goal if you get in plenty of coastal paddles. I'll send you my email and if interested you can join many of the coastal trips I do in and near to Orange County.

If you use kayaks then take as many classes as you can. For training it's good to do some rough water days with the safety of a harbor near, then also some long coastal paddles (some up to 25 miles or more). When getting near ready then a paddle out to oil Platform Edith about 10 miles off from Los Alamitos Bay makes a good off shore training paddle complete with common strong afternoon winds on the return.

You want to get comfortable in winds 20kt+ then check the weather and postpone if highest winds are to be much more than 10kts.

I cross this channel once a month for research purposes in a heavy research boat that was built for nasty conditions. It is usually calm in the mornings, but in the afternoons the crossing is usually nasty and I would not i repeat NOT want to be on it in an ocean kayak. Unless you are extremely experienced and have a boat to accompany you on this crossing do not attempt it.

with a mother ship- power boat
Please train along the coast. How do you feel about rough surf entries? How about 6 in an outrigger canoe? Some outriggers have spray skirts with the zipper not openeing because salt ruins the metal zipper. An outrigger with an ocean fishing boat seems possible if you have trained hard for heat and wind. has a 20 mile ocean course out around cape ann and gloucester harbor. About 3 to 4 hours. Outriggers are magnificent and the ultimate human powered craft for california to hawaii.

I would put the eggs(you three)
in three baskets. If you are all in one basket and it tips over you may have a problem.

However if one flips perhaps conditons are such that all three would flip.

I do think that your chances of staying upright are better in three boats. There is a chance that two who stay upright can help the upside down one.

Take a self rescue class where one exam is “all in”.

Use appropriately sized sea kayaks. In the ocean the deck is your friend.

If this isn’t a troll…

– Last Updated: Apr-28-10 9:19 PM EST –

then you need to sit down and talk to a shrink !!!


not at all
The trip to Catalina requires good competence but is within reach of many. Like so many such trips on land and water its a matter of training to allow a margin beyond the worst expected conditions, checking those conditions (mostly weather/wind forecasts) and being able to cancel if the forecast’s worst case remotely approaches your limits (hard for some to quit).

Ideally one would first be lead by someone who has done this before.

So he’s only asking the first set of questions rather than saying he will definitely do this ready or not.

My hope is that this goal inspires a desire to FIRST enjoy and learn about paddling for it’s own sake THEN using that to achieve the goal. I do see some that only want that goal and not the many coastal paddles that lead to it – this is not only dangerous, but I wonder why they don’t WANT to do all the coastal paddles.

Similar to above
Don’t even try it until you can honestly put at least intermediate, measured against some criteria like the skill sets in the ACA or BCU programs, in your profile. Advanced would be even better, but there wouldn’t be any juicy news stories to talk about if everyone waited until their skills were perfect. That’ll likely take you into 2011 to manage if you start now, unless you guys have large amounts of money and time at your disposal.

That said, agree with kayakmedic that it has to be multiple boats, and closed deck. If you are in one boat and there is a huge problem 10 miles offshore, you could be totally screwed. With three boats there is always the chance that at least one can still do things like help the other two and/or issue a MayDay call.

This is something that will make more sense when you start learning rescues.

(This is just crazy enough that I suspect not a troll.)

not a troll
First let me thank all of you for your replies and assure you that we aren’t going to go out there balls out without training. Apparently we underestimated the difficulties we may encounter. I do have my CPR certification, years of surfing (not good anymore though, I haven’t been surfing in too long), and I did pass the SCUBA certification (in Catalina actually, but it was back in high school and I haven’t gone since).We will definitely go with a group of experienced kayakers after reading your warnings. We did intend on leaving early (3am sounded reasonable) to avoid the harsher surf. So now I have found that we will need three 1 man ocean kayaks. Any suggestions on particular kayaks for this type of trip?

Also, you mentioned some certifications and programs to take prior to the crossing, are there any others you can recommend that are located in southern California?

May I Suggest The Ferry?
I understand you can take kayaks with you, or rent some Sit On Tops on the Island.

lessons in/near OC


Many sit inside kayaks at least 16’ (17’ may be better depending on person’s size) and no more than 24" wide will work fine. The above two places for lessons also rent and permit demoing of kayaks. Craigslist is often good for finding a deal on a used kayak.

Bottom line is to get into all this IF you may like kayaking (i.e. forgetting about Catalina for the moment).

btw, another more mild option is to paddle from Two Harbors to Avalon on rental kayaks. At least one company on the island near Avalon will transport the kayaks to Two Harbors. You can then do a two day paddle and camp at one of the primitive camp sites along that coast. The island protects this coast well so you could do such a trip as soon as this coming summer.

probably will do that
that may be how we camp the first time we go there, but eventually we want to kayak there on our own to camp.

Chuck is that you ?
If not go visit Southwind Kayaks or Aqua-Adventures webpages for some classes.

my first thought was Chuck as well

Motion Sickness?
Among other things, make sure you and your friends attmept similar length paddling in a safe environment but in bumpy waters. I personally don’t have a problem with the distance if going at a slow pace but so far I have noticed that about hour 3 or so I begin to get motion sickness. By hour 4 I have usually puked and I’m better but I have not really tried to push it past 5 hours paddling in a day with no breaks (I only do day paddles).

25 miles or so is a serious distance and you can’t back out of it if you are half way into it. I usually go at about 4 to 4.5 mph average speed when I go for 15-20 miles in a day with one short break somewhere on shore. But that’s with an empty kayak and knowing I can get out to shore if need be within at the most 4 miles or so, so I expend more energy paddling that I would be if I had to conserve for a full 25 mile crossing. There I imagine the speed would be at most 3.5-4 mph average, just to be on the safe side. So that makes for a 6-7 hours continuous paddling. To me that means I would most certainly be sea sick half-way through it and to be hones I am not sure for my self how sea sickness progressess after the first symptoms manifest themselves over my spray skirt. And I would not want to find that out for a first time in a situation where I have no other options but to continue or call for help.

Wind is also a considerable unknown. Against a wind and wind chop your progress will be so slow (if any) that you may end up paddlling many more hours (or have to turn back).

Training goals
From what I know about this trip, I’d say it’s possible for beginners to gain the basic training and experience required, in the time frame you mentioned. But it’s going to require a good bit of time, commitment, and probably some money.

The structured coaching programs like the British Canoe Union (BCU) or American Canoe Association (ACA) provide some big advantages for beginners with big ambitions, because the biggest danger to you is the things that you don’t know you don’t know (Rummy’s famous unknown unknowns).

Something like the BCU 3 star assessment will give you the knowledge you need to consider whether this is a safe trip for you, and you’ll gain exposure to some of the skills you need (bracing, efficient paddling, rescues in bad conditions, radio use, towing, and on and on and on). The time it takes people to complete that training varies widely, but I don’t think it’s uncommon for folks to spend a solid year on those skills before they can pass their assessment.

Ideally, you’d have 4 star training as well, but that’s not feasible in your time frame.

I agree with the others above who have said that the road to train for this adventure is long enough that you must make the training the main hobby. You’re much more likely to be successful, IMO, if you are excited about becoming a skilled sea kayaker. Much more so than if your primary goal is just to paddle to Catalina, and the kayaking experience and skills are merely a means to do that one trip. Probably the only way to figure out if you are passionate enough about sea kayaking to make all that training fun, is to go take some classes and get started.

Done that
a number of times. I definitely second the comments from seadart and jcbikeski regarding Southwind and especially Aqua Adventures (ok so I’m prejudiced). A Catalina crossing is a reachable goal if you must insist on your time frame, but focus on the road before you in the mean time - lessons, acquiring skills, LOTS of seat time, rescues, handling conditions, navigation. Kocho mentions wind. Even on calm days you can pretty much count on the wind coming up around midday. I plan crossings to be already launched & paddling by 5am. You could contact the folks in They’re very active in your area and do lots of club paddles. Do LOTS of long coastal paddles and shorter crossings to work up to a long crossing. And if you decide to take your boats over on the ferry, I believe the Marina Del Rey Flyer is the only ferry line that will take full size kayaks. Focus on the steps to get there and enjoy along the way. Catalina’s not going anywhere.

Actually, Catalina IS moving
When we were there in Oct. 2009, someone stated that in fact the island is moving. Not enough to matter for the OP’s purposes, though.