Is a rec kayak ok for the sound?

I have a rec kayak and have been out on various sized lakes many many times but never a body of water like the sound. I’m headed to the outer banks of NC this weekend and was wondering how my rec kayak might do in the sound? Specifically around the shoreline at the Pea Island Wildlife Refuge. The cockpit opening in my kayak is absolutely huge (like 25x45). I have a half skirt but it only covers half of the opening and still leaves a huge hole. Should I bother even taking the kayak or just stick to the hiking trails?

some questions
There are a few variables to consider.

First - there are rec kayaks and then their are wreck kayaks. All recently made boats should have enough floatation that if flipped and flooded they won’t sink, but not necessarily enough that someone could get back in while on the water if this happens. If yours is one that you can’t get back in, then you need to say close to shore (swimming distance) if you go out at all. Of course, all rec boats (low or high flotation versions) are made for pretty nice conditions, so shouldn’t be used in waves and such.

Second - do you know how to get back in to this boat and have the gear needed to help (pump, maybe paddle float)? Have you done it before? If not, stay close to shore (if you go out at all).

Third - conditions. How wavy can the water be? How much current? How much wind? How fast can conditions change? I don;t know the area, so can’t help on this.

I’d add - water temp
I think Peter covered many of the considerations for making such a decision.

One he didn’t mention is water temperature. The ocean is often colder than lakes, so you need to dress appropriately. Someone with more local knowledge can advise you on water temperatures in that area.

One thing I’d add about the “stay close to shore” plan - When winds are offshore (blowing from your back when you are facing the water) you can’t plan to just stay close to shore because you are getting blown further from shore when things go wrong. On a small lake, you’ll wash up on the opposite shore soon enough, but on a large lake, inland sound, or exposed ocean, and offshore breeze can be very dangerous to people without self-rescue skills. When people die in our area, it’s often because they underestimated the strength of an offshore wind before they launched, and once they paddle out from the protection of land, they are overwhelmed and blown offshore. There have been 3 deaths in two years in Maine because of that exact circumstance.

I also believe people generally wildly overestimate how far they can swim, so in my mind “staying close to shore” is a self-rescue plan that I don’t recommend people rely on.

The boat you describe should stay on very protected, warm water. This rules out almost all salt water except maybe some very protected waters in summer only. Trust me, you never want waves coming over your deck, fillin up your huge cockpit with water. Even 15 MPH wind picks ups waves like that in any size of water. You can’t really pump out or empty that type of boat while you are at sea. Does it even float when completely full of water?

Pamlico Sound
It would take very little for conditions to fill your kayak in exposed Pamlico Sound. But I imagine you can find sheltered salt marsh areas. Just remember wind against current requires very little fetch to create enough chop to begin flooding your kayak. And the current is always changing direction with the tides where water flows in and out through creeks within salt marshes. I imagine you know you need the sound side tidal predictions vs. the beach, but there it is anyway.

Little things like knowing how fast you can paddle, how much current can you make progress against, how much wind can you make progress against, how do you stack up against different combinations of each - these are things you figure out with experience. The less sure you are about these answers, the more conservative you should be. Same with knowing currents, certainty of weather conditions, navigability at different tide levels. less certainty = more conservative

Recreational kayak…

– Last Updated: Nov-03-11 2:28 PM EST –

Have you ever tried to wet exit your rec kayak, after it filled with water, and rolled over on top of you?

Have you ever tried to re enter, and paddle your rec kayak to shore when it is full of water?

Have you ever tried to balance and paddle your rec kayak when it is filling up, or filled with water?

Have you ever tried to tow your rec kayak to shore when it was full of water?

Would you be paddling alone?

There is a reason it is called a recreational kayak.
They were designed with specific uses in mind.
I don't believe your proposed use is one of them.

You listed your skill level as beginner.
Your favorite paddling spot is a reservoir.
Make a well reasoned decision; I think you already know the answer to your question.


What thebob said
all true. I took my Rec boat in the Mississippi sound with a confidence born of ignorance. Rec boats don’t have perimeter lines or enough flotation, in addition to the big hole, so self rescue is near impossible unless you can wade ashore and dump it out.

That said, the Refuge’s website has a picture of a family including two kids under five paddling in an aluminum canoe so apparently there is somewhere safe to be on the water there.

Here are two scenarios -

A - no wind, no waves

B - wind and waves

A - you are going to be fine

B - well, this is where it gets interesting. Wind and waves are quite easy to spot though.

You might also need to take into account tidal situation in that area

Search in the area gives this -

Never dealt with this company, but they have pics or rec boats on the home page, a bunch of kids enjoying SOT. My guess - they know the area best.

It might be worth calling the company and getting their take on your plans, get advice regarding tides, waves and winds.

I wouldn’t recommend taking a rec kayak out in the sound in cold weather. If something goes wrong it can go really wrong–and in a hurry. What you do is what you do, but I just wouldn’t recommend it.

In summer, we do it ALL the time. Even outside the sounds and into the ocean. Just learn some basic self rescue skills and what you think will be a likely worst case scenario. If you can mitigate those risks enough to be comfortable, go for it. (If you realize you need something–be it a flotation bag, a radio, better safety vest, wetsuit to keep warmer…etc–then get it).

In summer our biggest concern is people NOT kayaking. Kayaks are quite easy to “surf” and hitting a swimmer in the head with one even when it’s not filled up with water could easily be deadly. I only bring this up because it’s not something people normally think about…just go to a secluded sectioin with some friends and have some fun. If conditions are bad, leave it on the shore.

Many people on the forums worry to much. Just my opinion. Everything has risks. Just educate yourself and make a personal decision.

I will disagree on wind and waves being
easy to spot in all cases. There has been more than one paddler fooled by wind coming off the land with a concurrent outgoing tide. If you are looking at the backside of the waves you will not suspect if you are an innocent.

If it is windy…do not get fooled.

Hey thanks all for the replies - I’ll contact one of the outfitters there and see what they say. I had thought about tides and wind. I was planning on bailing on the whole idea if I show up and there is any wind/chop. I have two areas where I’d like to just test the waters: Pea Island and a small canal and protected cove area at Buxton. I’ve paddled in extreme wind before and won’t do it again. And yes I have dumped my kayak on purpose and while it will still float, it becomes too heavy to move and is impossible to empty out and re-enter. I’m very aware of water temps and what it can do to a person. A kayaker died here (Raleigh, NC) died in March I believe in very cold water while the air temp was 75 that day. He was alone and wasn’t wearing a PFD.

I didn’t read all of the replies but there are a lot of nice places to paddle down at the OBX besides the ocean and sound that your rec boat will probably work nicely in.

Very windy with gusts up to 50mph forecasted for Buxton, NC on Saturday - I’m not even going to bother bringing the kayak along…

I agree that 50 MPH winds would probably be a tough paddle.

As future info: The launch site at Pea Island is just south of the visitor center and puts you in a well protected salt marsh with a lot of small islands. You are more likely to run aground than get you boat flipped over. If you do go over just stand up in the foot or two of water and get back into your boat. In the summer when there are a lot of families visiting, there are two paddle programs (in canoes) offered, one by the rangers at Pea Island and the other by the rangers at Jockey Ridge State Park. Both are done on the sound side and usually people get out and see what they can find on the bottom. You can venture out into the sound and if it is too rough just turn around and go hide in the islands.

BAD NEWS: You didn’t say where you were staying. I don’t know if the road in Pea Island has been cleared south of the visitor center since the hurricane. Last I knew the equipment had been moved south to do work down there where there are people. If you were coming up from the south I don’t believe the temporary bridge is in place yet and you can’t get to Peas Island from that way.

There is a lot of good paddling (especially for your rec boat) on the mainland side of the sound.

In most places the sound is very shallow a long way (like a half mile) out. Watch the kite boarders north of Buxton and you will see. Also the reason the ferry to Hatteras weaves around is to avoid the shallow water.

Hope you get there some day.

Pea Island boat ramp
I stopped in at the Pea Island boat ramp, which is the one you described. It is right at mile marker 34. The temporary bridge was at 36 (I think). That area looks great for rec. kayaks. I found a depth chart in Buxton and that whole area is anywhere from 1 to 7 feet deep (low tide). I stayed in Buxton and the road was closed a couple of times briefly over the weekend, and they even warned people that the temporary bridge might not make it through the weekend. Waves were crashing over the dunes in several areas. The kite surfers were out there the entire weekend. Not a single kayak anywhere to be found! I’ll try again next spring…

The Alligator National Wildlife Refuge
is nearby and perfect for rec boats.very isolated though.

Never heard much sound from a rec
kayak, just some sloshing from the paddle.