is my kayak safe for the ocean?

Hi all,

My wife and I just bought an Old Town Dirigo tandem kayak. It’s officially categorized as a “rec kayak”.

A little background before I pose my question:

We live on the shore of the Atlantic Ocean in Nova Scotia, on a very gently sloping shallow sandy beach. We’d like to be able to take it out on the ocean, not too far from shore (maybe a kilometer or two?), on relatively calm days.

We actually tried doing this the day we got the kayak. We got through the surf okay on launch, bobbed peacefully on the waves about 500 meters from shore, then tried to come back to shore. About 100 feet from the shoreline, our kayak got turned a bit sideways, caught a wave, and we were both ejected from the boat into the sea. Luckily the water wasn’t too deep, so we made it back without too much difficulty.

So I guess my question is–are we crazy using a rec kayak for this purpose? Or are tandem rec kayaks perfectly capable of handling relatively calm ocean and accompanying surf, and we just need to work on our brace techniques? :slight_smile:

And, what exactly is the difference between a REC kayak and a TOURING kayak, in terms of its ability to handle ocean conditions?

Thanks everyone–looking forward to many more safe and fun paddles!


Surf and rec kayak
Bad mix. Others will weigh in on why - outta time here. (online via library access)

I think…
you answered your own question!

I wouldn’t.
Everyone has different tolerance levels, but I can tell you - I know that boat and have towed it 1/2 - 2/3 full of water. It’s a nightmare to deal with (HEAVY!) when full.

Maybe I should rephrase my question. Can anyone point to a tandem kayak that WOULD definitely be a good choice for paddling in the ocean and surf?

Look at what Current Designs offers.
Their tandems are built like sea kayaks.

However, there is a more important consideration.Tandems are called ‘divorce boats’ for a reason, that being difficulty in communication,and differences in skill and strength esp. in conditions.I cannot begin to imagine the joint training required to paddle a tandem safely and pleasurably on the ocean.

My wife and I did exactly what you did many years ago in a tandem Folbot with exactly the same result.Never tried it again.

How about two solo kayaks and paddle together?

Ocean and surf are advanced places
Surf requires Helmets and more advanced skills. It can be done more easily in a Sit on Top or and Inflatable but helmets are still needed.

When a sit in side boat fills with water and is moved around in the surf it becomes a bone crushing missile. A tandem sit on top doesn’t fill with water so it only weighs about 100 pounds with some water in the seats that is draining out. So a sit on top in the surf is only a bone breaking missile. It might break your legs or you neck but it will not crush your skull easily.

Am inflatable is soft so while filled with water it may hold you pinned against the bottom for a bit it will not break you bones. In an inflatable you break your bones when a large wave ejects you straight towards a shallow hard bottom.

So you can see that in most cases it is not the ocean that is dangerous; it is the shore.

Maybe you could find a place without waves to launch and don’t into rough water with a calm water boat. Or you could buy a Tarpon 135T, some helmets and some cold water immersion clothing.

Rec boats in the ocean
Your boat was not designed for the Nova Scotia ocean. If you do take it out there, be prepared to swim back, without the boat. Like most rec boat, after it fills with water, it is not likely to continue to function as a boat. Be prepared to be in the water for a long time, wear PFDs, wear the type of clothing that can keep you alive in that water temp.

Does it have any floatation?
I’m not familiar with the boat, but does it have bulkheads? If it doesn’t, you need to put some float bags in so, when you get swamped in an environment that isn’t terribly rec boat friendly, you’ll at least be able to empty it out.

And, no, this boat really isn’t going to be a good match for paddling even 1 kilometer off shore, especially with surf in the mix.

Touring vs. Rec

– Last Updated: Jul-19-10 8:38 PM EST –

As a general rule, touring boats have fore and aft bulkheads, which make it possible to right, re-enter and bail out the hull. The most important thing, however, is skills - if there`s a good outfitter near you, invest in some lessons and then practice what you`ll learn. Make sure you have PFDs, a good pump, and any other equipment you`ll need to get yourselves out of whatever troubles you could encounter....

In NS, by the way, there`s an absolutely beautiful paddling spot at Merigomish - we`re at Cranberry Campground there right now, just in off the water. Really sheltered, very shallow, very warm water - a great spot to take your boat and start developing skills...strongly recommend a visit...

I agree w/ others
I agree with the others. Not recommended in surf.

Getting in and out on a beach with surf takes special skills and is better done with some certain equipment over others. Believe it or not, sit on tops often do Ok (you may be more likely to be knocked off, but by design they don’t sink or flood). For a sit inside, you want one with a skirt and built in flotation (separate hatches and bulkheads). Something like a touring kayak or sea kayak.

I think your boat has one in the back, but none in the front. And you can get skirts, but with the large cockpit opening they likely wouldn’t hold if hit hard by a wave. And I don’t think you have a bulkhead between paddlers, so once one skirt is knocked off, both cockpits flood.

Another option - it is the breaking waves that do the most damage. Is there a protected area where you can launch (say inside a marina with protective breakwaters) where you can then paddle out from? Of course, read through the messages in this thread and understand the limitations to your boat and choose times that fall within the limitations (calm days, etc.).

according to this article

– Last Updated: Jul-20-10 7:09 PM EST –

now would be a good time if you're trying to beat the system.

2 km = 1.2 miles!
That is very far off shore for people with no sea kayaking skills. Sounds like a really bad idea to me. Ocean weather and conditions can change very rapidly. You might launch on a calm morning and find yourself stranded in wind and waves a couple of hours later.

If you want to paddle this kayak in sea water, I suggest that you stick to very sheltered bays, coves, and harbors and very close to shore.

thanks everyone
I appreciate the multitude of replies.

So, just to zero in on the salient point…the main difference, if I’m reading this correctly, is that a true sea kayak would have watertight bulkheads at least fore and aft, and perhaps also between cockpits…whereas a rec kayak does not have those compartmentalized spaces within the kayak. Correct?

If that’s the case, would I be able to build in bulkheads on my own with 3" minicell foam, and thus transform the Dirigo into a more serviceable oceangoing vessel? Or should I just sell it now instead? :slight_smile:

Thanks again everyone, I appreciate and note everyone’s comments.

rec vs ocean boat
One of the things about a rec boat is a relatively flat bottom which lends itself very well to flat water and gives great initial stability. But a flat bottom will not be as manageable with waves.

Haven’t looked at a dirigo but it is classified as a rec boat probably for the size of the cockpit and the initial stability.

If you don’t have flotation and displacement you should invest a few bucks (its not expensive) and fill up every space you can with airbags (and tie them in) so that it would displace water if you capsize. A huge cockpit will let in a whole lot of water and it may not be a bad idea to have a couple of pumps on board.

In a bay with the waves coming in the middle will have stronger and bigger waves while the edges will form an eddie. If you must, (and I don’t recommend) launch from the sides where the water is much calmer and stay close to shore.

while skills certainly affect and change everything, hull designs for ocean going boats are far different from rec boats. (turn a couple over and take a look to see what I mean)


Starting with Baby Steps…
…worked for us.

You could add bulkheads, but the basic design isn’t really intended to be used as a sea kayak. So maybe you could use it as intended - a recreational kayak - to get started and to learn more about both what you need in a kayak and the paddling skills you’ll need to safely use whatever kayak you eventually graduate to. We sought out sheltered waters, stayed close to shore, watched our weather, and gradually expanded our range as our confidence developed. We still tend to stay clsoe to shore, partly for safety, but mostly because we find that the most interesting place - lots of birds, some animals, the undersea flora - there ain’t much to see a few kilometers offshore than water.

And again, since you are in Nova Scotia, Merigomish is very strongly recommended - an absolutely wonderful place for novice paddlers, and with enough attractions to bring us back every time we get to the Mainland. You are SO lucky with NS and PEI’s warm waters - really great to be able to paddle without the usual Newfoundland rig of thermal underwear, fleece layers, drysuit, hood, gloves, boots…

Not crazy - just naive
And, what exactly is the difference between a REC kayak and a TOURING kayak, in terms of its ability to handle ocean conditions?

A cockpit that allows thigh braces and connection with the boat. Rec boats rely on the initial stability of the craft and don’t even allow the paddler to use their body to control it. The huge cockpits sell boats because the paddlers (buyers) don’t worry about entrapment. The ability to handle ocean conditions has to do with body and paddle control - plus bulkheads or at least float bags and self rescue training.

Doubles are had to control in surf because of length as well as two bodies that need to instantly correlate their actions.

Don’t push your luck too far - get some training or paddling partners who know what they are doing. You can land on your head even in 2 ft surf.

Sit on top kayaks are not popular because of the cold water in your neck of the woods. With a good surfing wetsuit made for the water temps there you would be fine.

Good tandem sit on tops are Hobie Oddysey, Cobra Tandem and Ocean Kayak Malibu II, the Malibu II will handle very large surf.

Most folks posting here know little about sit on tops and cold water paddling. The best place for information is Tom Holtey’s web site; post on the forum there and you will get help from people who paddle in cold water and ocean.

Sit On Top Kayak
Pick up a used Malibu II for next to nothing. that is why they call them OCEAN KAYAK

differences between rec and touring
are vast when considering size of cockpit alone. Additionally touring boats have at least 2 bulkheads, some keel, and are meant for carrying gear as well as handling a variety of conditions. My touring boat provides adjustable thigh brace contact, the ability to edge, and the capability for a rudder system if I choose to add one. A touring boat is not a sea kayak, but it is designed to handle some conditions as per intended use for touring kayaks. Sort of like the well sprung station wagon of the kayak world.