Cross country travelling with kayak?

I reside on the east coast of the US. I am planning an extended sea kayak trip in southeast islands of Alaska. Does anyone have any experience either travelling with their kayak as “sporting equipment” on a major airline, or shipping the kayak ahead?

I am on a budget, so the least expensive method is the preferred method in this case. The kayak is a Tarpon 160 (16 feet long, ~75lbs)

I am new to the boards here, and checked through for advice on flying with kayaks…but other than advice on chartering small flights to go short distances I haven’t found anything regarding major airlines or very long flights. I apologize if there is a previous thread about this topic I was unable to locate.


Don’t ship.
Shipping is crazy, crazy expensive. You’d be better off renting a kayak in AK.

As for airlines, I think parameters are constantly changing. I would call the airlines you are considering for flight and inquire. I believe several will accommodate it for a fee.

not feasible

– Last Updated: Aug-28-14 1:45 PM EST –

I looked into this years ago and even then it was not feasible, even less so nowadays. Shipping costs for large items are astronomical and you would have to have the thing professionally crated. it would cost more than the kayak it worth to transport and even retrieving it and shipping it back would be a giant hassle that would cut into your trip time. And you risk damage and loss.

I would also consider the Tarpon a poor choice for coastal touring in the cold waters off Alaska. I have several friends who regularly kayak in that area -- none of them would dream of using a sit on top fishing kayak in the sea there. Were you going to have a dry suit to wear? Look at this chart of coastal water temps in SE AK, 40's and 50's are deadly without a drysuit and cold water gear -- I can't imagine the constantly wet ride in a sit on top in these temps:

You should either look into renting up there or consider buying a folding kayak that can travel with you. I bought a Feathercraft K-1 Expedition some years ago from a guy who bought one to use in Alaska for two weeks and then for a trip to coastal Maine. Yes, they are costly, but they have pretty good resale value. The least expensive new models that would be closest to your Tarpon in size and functionality would be the Pakboat XT-17 or Quest 155.

The XT-17 weighs 44 lbs and packs into a 33" x 21" duffel bag that can be checked as luggage for $50. Cost is $1675 but you could probably sell it for $1200 or more after the trip. Probably cost less in the long run than a week or two of boat rental and be less hassle and maybe less cost than shipping the tarpon. You can stash it in the trunk of your rental car between outings too, more security than a kayak strapped to the roof of rental car, even presuming you could find a rental with a roof rack. And as a sea-worthy closed deck boat it would be more practical for the waters there. The decks on Pakboats peel off with velcro so it is simple to pack your gear under the deck if you are doing overnight touring.

There are also often other folding kayaks suitable for coastal use that come up for sale used on Ebay and other sites, most frequently Feathercraft and Folbot.

Just my perspective on the planned trip. I'm sure others will weigh in with theirs. But as a long time owner of folding kayaks, which I have used from the Atlantic to the Pacific and the Great Lakes in between, they are the most practical types of boats for airline travel trips. In fact I bought my first one in 2002 in order to go to Southeast Alaska with a guy I was dating -- the relationship ended before we made the trip but I never regretted having a folding boat and have owned 4 others since that first one.

rental may not be an option

– Last Updated: Aug-28-14 2:05 PM EST –

Just out of curiosity I checked on kayak rentals is SE AK and found this:

"Most Kenai Peninsula kayak outfitters will not rent you a boat unless you are a returning customer that has already been on a guided trip with their company. This is often based upon their insurance policy restrictions, but is also in recognition of the unique hazards of Alaska sea kayaking such as exceptionally strong tidal currents, rapidly changing weather and very cold water. They want to assess your skill level and alert you to the local hazards before 'turning you loose.'"

I did see that AlaskaAir allows kayak on some of their flights but they don't publish the prices or restrictions on size. You could contact them for a quote, but I doubt they have direct flights from the East Coast. You would probably have to arrange to ship a boat ahead of you by a week or more and arrange for storage up there until you could get it. I have known people who did that but it always seemed like such a huge headache, like getting to a destination on a weekend and having to wait until Monday to have access to a trucking warehouse.

I saw on a recent kayaking forum that ForwardAir charges $250 each way for a 44 lb 9' whitewater kayak just across the country so you can probably add 50% to 100% to that for your kayak at twice the size. That could mean $1000 or more round trip.

SOT in Alaska?
Just curious, what is your rationale for thinking of taking a Sit On Top kayak for extended tripping in Alaska?

Thanks for your help
I have been in communication with a man who helps organize and provide solo touring trips around Vancouver Island and up into the southeast Alaskan Islands. He always chooses SoT due to the least-risk situation of: you get knocked off…you climb back on top.

I had never considered a SoT before talking with him, and I would certainly use proper thermal protective clothing (probably a wetsuit) as I know that it would only takes minutes otherwise for the cold water to seriously harm the body.

I appreciate your advice. I am interested to hear such a positive reaction to folding boats. I looked into them but can’t get over the idea it would tear/rip when I was miles from anything. Would you say these boats are durable enough for a multi-week expedition in a wide variety of waters including secluded passages and open ocean?

Response about SoT
When I started researching for this potential trip I had never thought of a SoT as a possibility. But I came across an individual who has done many multi-week paddles in the same area I hope to explore. His rationale truly converted me.

From a least-risk standpoint (assuming you are wearing the proper thermal/water protective apparel, I will probably go with a wetsuit)he pointed out that in the chance your kayak goes over the great advantage of a SoT is the ability to simply right it, and seal flop back inside. The boat bails itself so there is little to no worry about having the boat actually sink on you, or having to bail gallons of water while you are cold, numb, and tired.

He pointed me in the direction of the Tarpon series as they are capable of stowing and hauling all the gear necessary but still offer the safety and ease of use advantages of a SoT.

What do you think? I haven’t actually purchase the boat yet, so I am still open to other arguments! If you were in my shoes (have to fly cross country, multi-week trip) what boat would you go with? I would love your input.

How much kayaking have you done?
You might want to start closer to home.

not convinced
A wetsuit is not going to be much comfort in 45 degree water nor as your constant clothing on a multi-day trip. Read up on cold water shock. Even divers use dry suits at that temperature.

Are you planning to do this solo? And as has been already asked, do you have kayaking experience? Experience in any kind of boating in tidal areas and strong currents? This isn’t an outing for a novice. I’ve been kayaking for over 12 years and would not do what you are planning without experienced companions and/or a guide.

Surfski Is My Choice For Alaska
As John Goode and a bunch of Hawaiian surfski paddlers did nearly 30 years ago for their Alaskan expedition. John used a Twogood Condor double surfski that was converted into a single cockpit freighter. There is an article about the expedition in SEA KAYAKER around that time.

Anyway, look for a kayak that can be taken apart and shipped in boxes, like what a young sailor just did in shipping his Moth sailboat racer from Hawaii to Norway and back for $600.

Experience level
I would consider myself an intermediate kayaker. Living on the east coast the majority of my kayaking experience is in the Great Lakes, Adirondacks, Algonquin/Frontenac region of Canada, or the Chesapeake Bay where I live now. Before the eye rolls…I know these locations do not necessarily equate to the Alaskan waters (I have only done a simple day trip out of Seward).

I understand that there are highly increased risks that come with the colder waters. I have gotten sound advice from an individual who lives in the region and does multi-week/month trips in that area regularly. He recommends either a wetsuit or dry suit having done long trips in both. I understand that there would be a decreased comfort level in a wetsuit over multiple weeks of travel versus a dry suit. With the proper wetsuit he has not had issues with warmth. I am no stranger to discomfort and would be fine with a wetsuit over dry suit if it meant saving several hundred dollars.

I know that a few weekend trips in Algonquin do not compare to multiple weeks along the Pacific Coast, but I am confident that with the proper due diligence and preparation (here on the Bay during the winter) I can accomplish my goal.

This trip would occur at the earliest next summer, but more likely summer 2016 when I know I will have plentiful time at my disposal. I am just a few weeks into planning/research and the question I posed was just an attempt to get a feel for what kind of channels already exist for flying cross country with a kayak. I can already see from previous responses that in my situation the way to go is most likely with a foldable boat.

Thank you for your response, any further advice is gladly welcomed.

I appreciate the response. I will have to check out Twogood’s lineup.

SEA KAYAKER Spring 1990 Issue
Is where the surfskis in Alaska article can be found. That was actually 25 years ago, when surfskis were unfamiliar to most paddlers and there were very few manufacturers.

Today, there are lots of choices with many manufactures making them. So I’d look around for a used double in the Pacific Northwest, and convert it to a single with ample storage. Then ship from there to Alaska, after testing it out in big water.

You got to understand that the author (John Goode) of the Alaskan Surfski article and his friends were elite paddlers and very experience in “Victory at Sea” water conditions. They were at home paddling in cold frigid waters as well as paddling in simmering/hissing water in Hawaii where the hot volcano lava flowed into the sea.

I have no experience with surfskis, although they look like an incredibly efficient way to cover some serious mileage. I will see what I can find about that article as well. Thanks again!

I apologize for my skepticism, it does sound like you have more experience than was immediately evident from your post. If we seem alarmist here it is because we often see highly unrealistic and even downright dangerous adventures proposed on here by unfamiliar people with no foggy clue what they are getting into. You seem to be taking a systematic long term planning approach to your trip.

I would suggest you spend the next year or two testing your mettle in cold rough waters as much as you can to dial in your comfort level with various clothing options and to practice self rescue in such conditions with a variety of kayaks. Perhaps trips to the Canadian maritimes, the coast of Maine or Lake Superior, all within a day or two drive.

Thank you
No worries, I know I write my posts like a third grader trying to make new friends. There is nothing to be gained from helping send someone ill-prepared into dangerous waters.

Thanks for your help. I have yet to make it to Lake Superior but it is certainly on my short list.

Ontario paddling
You mention you have paddles in Frontenac? Are you familiar with Frontenac Outfitters? They are an outstanding kayak shop within the park boundary. They have a wide range of boats and offer demos. Also, there is a very active outdoor group there, Cataraqui Canoe Club, which does frequent canoe and kayak outings in the region. There are many expert paddlers in the group including my friend Dennis who was at one time a Canadian national champion whitewater racer. They welcome guests on their. trips - I joined them for one several years ago and not only enjoyed good company but picked up some useful skills tips. I am hoping to head up there in September or October for another outing with them. Perhaps you prefer solo, but if you wanted to make some multi-day tours with skilled companions, that could be an option.

Buy local
The answer is “don’t Ship”. The cost of shipping both ways along with the risk of damage is more than the Kayak is worth.

IF you really need to ship, contact UPS or FedEx for their freight shipment.

give yourself time at location
Folks from the East Coast tend to make the mistake of thinking that their east coast experience relates to the West. It is difficult to comprehend the enhanced challenge and degree of difficulty of the Pacific experience vs. the Atlantic experience. We had an east coast fellow join our small group for climbing the Rockies. He would not listen to our advice and boasted about his mountain experience out east. The poor bastard died of exposure on that trip - a victim of his own vanity and ignorance.

SO… I suggest you get to Alaska early. Noodle around first before you make the big expedition. See how your gear and experience and strength stacks up to the Alaskan challenge. You can do it, but you can do it smarter and better with a little more exposure to the situation you will face

Nice references
I have not been back to Frontenac for a few years now. I have not done anything official with canoe clubs in that area, just paddling rivers to lakes on my own or with my uncle or dad. I am planning on heading to Algonquin for a good week or so next year…know anybody in that area? I haven’t started planning the logistics so I am open for any kind of itinerary. I could also take a look at Frontenac again and try to meet up with the club.

For now I am holed up down in Annapolis where I am working, so I am restricted to weekenders out on the Bay.