Dealing with tour boats

Recently returned from Pictured Rock National Lake Shore. I had a near capsize when one of the pilots of the tour boats “Miss Superior” buried me in a 3+ ft wake wave. I was near the cliffs at one of the points east of Miner’s beach. I saw the boat approaching too closely. I waved my paddle in the air to make myself more visible only to have flash cameras go off and the pilot did not slow down or give me much clearance. Luckily a good brace saved me from the soaking wave that hit me in the chin, but the erosion of the cliffs is going to be faster from the wake of these boats and not from Lake Superior.

I’m guessing the pilot was in a rush, didn’t care, or lacked training. Has anyone else run into this sort of problem in multi-use recreation areas? Will filing a complaint to the Coast Guard be helpful? We have just as much right to the water as everyone else. Thanks

Not much you can do.
If you are out on the open water you have to deal with boat traffic. Wait til you get hit with your first ship wake!

The larger the boat the less you can count on them seeing you or slowing or changing course.

Having not been there, I can’t comment other than to say if it was a commercial tour boat, then the captain would be a licensed Master (USCG) of probably 100 tons or more. That doesn’t mean he or she was being courteous. On the other hand, you should be ready to deal with commercial traffic. Often paddlers get quite adament about things, and few really understand the Navigation Rules (Colregs). Don’t want to pick a fight here, just sharing my perspective as I operate on both sides of the deal. I personally want he biggest wake they can give me. The rocks can handle it!!

I’ll add
that commercial captains that I know, as well as commercial fisherman generally dislike kayakers. They see kayakers as poor mariners with little understanding. That is just as polarized and silly a view as the general dislike of power vessels among kayakers. Power vessels save a lot of kayakers lives where I live. Too many of us on the mud ball. That master should have been more polite given that you were waving your paddle and clearly scared. People learn the dogma of their given activities…it’s all very predictable. Big wakes come with big vessels, even at slow speeds sometimes.

I can sympathize with you and relate to.
…what you are talking about.

We had a close call in Valdeze, Ak several years ago on a situation similar to yours where we were caught between a cliff and a monster tour boat

It taught us a good lesson and since then we have always tried to either keep a good safety margin or have a good escape route.

There is absolutely no law that requires them to slow down, but we have noticed that in National Parks such as the Everglades NP the smaller ones always do.

You survived, so hopefully you can add this as a page in your book of paddling lessons.



I’ll Admit It…
I love big boats and big wakes. It livens up what is sometimes a pretty so-so paddle. When I paddle near channels, I just expect the powerboats and are going to zoom through, whether the restrictions are there or not.

If you are not sure, whether you can handle the wake, turn and face it. The boat will simply ride right over it. No faceful of water or a mad brace. At some point, you may want turn perpendicular and ride the wakes. It’s about the only time you’ll ever get something close to a free ride. :slight_smile:


Last December I rented
a 12’ rec yak for use on the Intercoastal (Intracoastal?) Waterway in Florida. There were 100+ ft. boats there and they did not have to go fast to create large wakes. I took the opportunity to practice techniques (admittedly I was not caught near cliffs like the Pictured Rocks) such as bracing, a little surfing, paddling into the crest of the wave. Although I generally paddle flat water, this was kind of fun. Locally, I find even small boats, not moving at excessive speeds, can cause some fairly decent wakes. I do not think anything can be done except (forgive the bad pun) go with the flow.


– Last Updated: Jul-07-05 10:08 AM EST –

state something to the effect that (paraphrasing) vessel operators are responsible for damage to any other vessel, dock, property, or injury caused by their vessel's wake. Therefore, it is not true that the operator does not have any responsibility. Had the poster died or been injured, she would have been able to make a case. Colregs apparently no longer mention human powered vessels (having dusted off an ancient Chapmans) but it remains then there is a give way and stand on vessel or overtaking situation. As a matter of prudence kayaks should avoid situations with other vessels but they are not legally at the bottom of a pecking order. Practically maybe.

Free ride
Was coming back in from Long Island and crossing the channel by the bridge a week ago, when I saw the fast ferry coming, it makes a great wake! So we had plenty of time to cross the channel before it got there, and the wake came up behind us and pushed us home. Couple hundred yards of free ride, very sweet!

Five blasts on an air horn
Just a thought…

Perhaps in such situations it would be helpful to carry an air horn which can easily be heard by the approaching boat.

Five or more blasts in rapid succession is the official “Danger Signal” to other craft, warning them that an unsafe situation is about to occur. There is no mistaking this signal. Legally, they have the responsibility to respond in an appropriate manner. So, at least, the operator of the craft couldn’t claim that he didn’t know of your worry in the situation.

Or, a VHF radio to call the USCG?

Then again, there is the “Rule of Gross Tonnage” which states …

Yeah, Watch The Hingham Ferry
coming through the channel between Spectacle and Thompson/Moon… They go at a deceptively fast clip and throw a wicked wake.


Respectfully yours
I have managed wake waves before. I guess I am used to a little more lee way on Lake Michigan with jet skiers and cabin cruisers. Waves can be fun. You can plan for most wake waves in the majority of situations. I needed to be a respectful distance from the cliffs due to reflection waves, paddling a fully loaded boat on a cold Lake Superior. I respect the risks that I take everytime I paddle, but I prepare for it. Admitedly, pardon my pun; I was caught between a rock and a hard place. Safe paddling everyone!

They are working - you are playing!

– Last Updated: Jul-07-05 2:58 PM EST –

They have a schedule to keep and a route to follow. You can go as you please.

So who should alter direction/speed? I say the paddler should in 95% of encounters. We are the more maneuverable craft and it falls to us to do so as needed. There are limited exceptions in cases of overtaking vessels - but we have to be realistic there too.

Why should it fall to the tour operator to accommodate the paddler? Why should one boater be expected to be more responsible and capable of dealing with other traffic and aware of their surroundings/conditions than another?

Sorry, but "paddle wavers" tick me off. It's the wrong way to look at things and only breeds more ill will toward kayakers and more ignorance among them. The paddle is for moving YOUR boat, not getting others to move theirs. Be glad you don't deal with a lot of commercial traffic and ferries!

I realize it can be no fun being caught between a hull and a hard place, but you put yourself there. It sounds like the tour boat was engaging in normal operations and you just didn't like it.

Many paddlers seem to overestimate their danger in these encounters. Better safe than sorry, but many still insist on going places they have no business being if wakes/traffic worry them at all. Once there, they want the vessels that operate there all the time to change what they do! Most paddlers seriously underestimate how much of a pain in the butt they can be to other vessels (and with no good reason). No wonder we're not taken seriously and many professional watermen tend to have a bias against us - We've earned it by being predominantly paddle wavers, horn blowers*, and as my local Water Taxi operators say: "Speed bumps"!

Maybe we just need to be boaters and not act like a bunch of uptight Grannies waving our fists at the other motorists while we drive 15 mph on the Interstate? That's how we're perceived, and sadly (as a group) it's not far off the mark.

As JackL says: "...keep a good safety margin or have a good escape route." Good common sense and generally easy to do.

* - (to further fan the flames) In regards to MICHIGANSNOKLER's "Five blasts of an air horn" comment: If you have time to put down the paddle, pick up the horn, and get of 5 blasts - How much danger were you really in? In imminent danger situations - do you really want to be taking a hand off the paddle? Does anyone else see the poor logic of this or am I alone amid a herd of "let's all play nice" (even if the info/advice is bad) anti motor boaters and wake averse lily dippers?

I wouldn’t expect them to slow down
Coincidentally, I just took my first ever sea-kayak trip yesterday out near where you were at. Our guide told us that if a big wake comes, to paddle into it. And I think he’s right. We did not get hit with anything significant though, even though several tour boats went by. In fact, the worst wake was from a small, pleasure craft of some sort.

The tour outfit you spoke of has always struck me as a particularly well-run operation. They run their boats quite a ways off from the shore, far enough off that I wouldn’t expect them to slow down for me.

I do recall a couple times in Munising Bay, while I was playing around on a river kayak, that the tour boats came near me, and then they did slown down, though ironically I did not particularly want them too (hitting the wake is sort of fun). One of those times was near Sand Point, where the entrance to the Bay is through a relatively narrow channel. The other time was when the shipwreck tour boat was trying to come out of Murray Bay just as I was approaching the point.

Sea kayaking on the big lake was fun. Sadly, I couldn’t finish the trip because the kid I’d brought with me disliked it so much. He gave up during lunch and we sat out the afternoon on Miners Beach. We also hiked along the cliff line to where we could look down on our group to see them go where we could have been going had we not quit. Oh well. At least the kid tried it. I have to give him credit for that. There’s no shame in trying something and then deciding you don’t like it.

Great response Greyak
As someone who has paddled, guided, instructed for twenty years, and also has held a USCG Masters license for several years, and run vessels commercially I live in both worlds. My experience has been that usually kayakers are in the wrong. There are plenty of idiot pleasure boaters, but by and large commercial operators are careful and have licenses to protect. Whenever there is an incident between a licensed Master and a non-licensed person, the blame goes on the license holder, as they are experienced, tested, operate under oath, and are supposed to know better. Kayakers spend very little time understanding the Rules, let alone following them. Where I live they are often in shipping lanes, sometimes even in fog, obstruct narrow passes, interfere with fishing activities, camp illegally (worst sub-group for State Parks - per head ranger), routinely fish illegally, and are basically incompetent mariners, and poor citizens. I’m speaking as a whole and know there are plenty of cool paddlers. I won’t go into the number of kayakers that I and friends in power vessels have helped.

I think a very good thing for kayakers interested in really understanding how to interract with other vessels, and really getting good at navigating etc., is to take a Masters exam prep course. You won’t qualify to sit for the exam, but what you’ll learn in the prep course will be hugely valuable. Way more so than auxilliary courses, or reading Chapmans!

Large craft monitor VHF channel 16…talk to the Captains, advise of your location, and then, when they provide a reduced wake, tell them you appreciate it…even if they don’t slow down or divert, they at least know for certain where you are…(My Yak is Brilliant Yellow, so I’m mostly visible at distance anyway).

A small 5 watt cobra hand held found new on sale cost me 60 dollars…not truly waterproof but an ALOKSAK takes care of that…add ten channels of weather data and it’s the best piece of gear I have outside of the PFD, boat or paddle…(I’d sooner paddle sans pump or paddlefloat than the VHF…not that I would).

Similar situation
On the Hudson a couple years ago. It was partly my fault, we were crossing the river, the boat was coming from the other way off in the distance. I thought when it was clear my intentions were to get close to the shore, the boat would make sure we had some room. It’s a wide river, after all. However, it was moving faster than I expected, and seemed quite intent on hugging the shoreline, possibly for the benefit of the passengers. We hadn’t gotten over for very long before it came roaring by.

As it turned out we didn’t get a splash, being in a stable and wide Folbot double, and the bottom terrain was such that the wake did not break until it had already rolled underneath us. But we were basically out of options no matter what. A couple sitting on rocks on the shoreline did get soaked, however.

I mentioned this to a sailing friend, he said the boat did have a reputation for thinking they owned the river and he’d called the CG on them once. But basically, from then on I’m giving them a much wider berth, that’s for sure.


Right On!!!
I hear too many kayakers claiming that they have the “right of way” because they are small boats that are hand powered.

I suggest they read the “Rules”. There are very specific situations that set forth who has the “right of way”, and it is not based on whether your engine burns petroleum products or carbohydrates.

In addition, there is no mention that waving a paddle is a distress signal.

Learn the Rules, follow the Rules, and most importantly get the skills necessary to paddle with the big boys or stay on small ponds.

I haven’t opened mine in a while. It was a requirement when I took a boating course with the USPS. Overkill? Yes? Best boating book I’ve ever seen? You bet ya!

I’ll join the piling on this time
Commercial vessels have every right to be on the water, and when kayakers choose to be out there with them, they ought to be able to expect us to be ready to deal with normal water conditions, including wakes. If you weren’t prepared to deal with tour boat wakes, you shouldn’t have been in an area where tour boats operate.