Kayaking across Lake Erie

Hi, I am 22 and in excellent physical shape. I want to kayak across Lake Erie, from Presque Isle to Long Point, Canada. However, I have minimal knowledge of the Lake: currents, winds, weather changes, and shipping channels. Has anyone done this paddle or know of someone planning to? How do you navigate out in the Lake when land is out of sight? The distance is about 30 miles and would take around 8 or 9 hours of paddling at approximately 4 mph. Looking forward to some exciting adventure…

what’s your experience to date?

– Last Updated: Aug-09-12 10:35 AM EST –

Just being physically fit is not enough to consider such an outing. What is your experience to date with kayaking and open water touring?

(PS you inadvertently posted your question twice -- please delete the second post before you start getting responses on both. It complicates the exchanges.)

presque isle…where?
I know that the area around long point is notoriously shallow and picks up breakers whenever you get a west wind. Are you crossing from the north or from ohio?

Pt. Pelee has the same condition but at least there you could island-hop thru Pelee and Bass islands.

know a few who have done it
here’s what they have in common:

1 - very experienced paddlers: over 10 yrs. Not that 10 yrs is necessary, being very experienced is. Both own a roll, can brace, edge, turn, etc as they paddle in waves 5 feet or more. Lake Erie is the shallowest of the Great Lakes, esp in the western basin: a moderate wind can kick up large waves w. short intervals so fast it’s spooky.

Lots of boaters (power, sail, paddle) call her “Skeery Erie” for a reason.

2. long boats 17 feet plus w. the usual seakayak features. Easier to handle waves. See above. Easier to do rescues.

3. Weather radio (VHF)& knowledge of all its features. Knowledge how to interpret what NOAA is reporting. Superior knowledge of wind and waves and how to counter effect w. boats and amend courses.

It’s not really realistic to think of 30 miles (nautical? statute?) as “8-9 hours, 4 miles per hour”. No. The Lake may have other ideas. If paddling into a NNW wind of 25 miles or more, a paddler will not make 2 mph. Assume you will be on the Lake after dark, at least part of the time & prepare accordingly w. light, back up light and #4.

4. Chart, compass and a high degree of knowledge how to use them. GPS as a backup. When out in a large body like Lake Erie, there is a long stretch where all land based reference points disappear.

Paddling in the dark w. little to no ambient light which can induce vertigo and seasickness in some ppl. Take a local paddle in the dark and find out if you are one of them.

Start getting ready w. a nav course (and then practice what you learn on short trips). The nav course will enlighten re buoys, channels markings,other chart features, and regs: right of way, what a boat’s running and other lights mean, and much more.

Get a waterproof handheld weather radio and listen to it - get familiar w. the language. Understand how to quickly convert mph to knots and vice versa.

Get knowledgeable of the many ways to signal for aid: radio, flares, smoke, reflection etc. You may never need them, but if you do… Know what they are and how to use them.

Go out and do it w. a couple of partners or more who are as committed to acquiring the skills as you are. Practice distance paddling - 10, 15, 20 miles, w. as much pace and minimal to no stopping. Practice rescuing yourself and each other. Learn how to do a quick repair of gear and boat and assemble a “ditch kit” (Find out what that is).

Make preparation for the adventure part of the adventure and get after it w. the same spirit.

“Make preparation for the adventure part of the adventure and get after it w. the same spirit.”

This the part I stress so much in my local waters for those eager to do a crossing to an island. It’s awesome to have some great goal but you need the love of paddling for it’s own sake first which means that the preparation isn’t a chore or obstacle but part of the fun. So you join clubs and such, do coastal and shorter offshore paddles, learn, get in shape, etc. and finally do your first big trip under the guidance of someone more experienced. Later you will be the one leading other newcomers for their big adventure.

It’s all about the journey rather than the destination.

Presque Isle–Where?
Erie, PA

Is this for real?
No profile, no email allowing people to send advice offline, and a clear statement that they don’t know how to handle the water conditions of Lake Erie or navigate. The proposition is guaranteed to get response that it is probably a very bad idea.

I just have to ask.

Flat water and large river experience: Hudson River NY, Youghiogheny River PA. Comfortable in 2 to 3 foot waves. No knowledge on kayak designs and styles; have used whatever I can get my hands on. Just moved to Erie PA, and am getting to know Lake Erie.

If I was an expert on Lake Erie water conditions and navigation, I would not have asked. You have to start somewhere.

get more experience
IIRC, Erie PA has quite a few paddlers, I would recommend getting in touch with them.

“Erie Outing Club” could be a good place to start.

Future statistic
I won’t help you become a Coast Guard statistic. Good luck and bon voyage!

agree and respect your asking
folks don’t know you (nor most others here) so they may get nervous but yes asking and hearing these responses is a good way reset your expectations, take the journey of learning and finally achieve your goal.

I’m OK w. you asking
if you are OK w. doing the work (all of it) to get ready.

If you are serious
you might contact Harold Deal (who posts as HRD on this forum) or Paul Conklin (who posts as conk). In 2010 Harold, Paul, and Gary Marble paddled across Lake Ontario in open boats.

You can read a little about it here: http://www.mpnnow.com/canandaigua/x297560817/Canoer-paddles-Lake-Ontario-for-breast-cancer

They could probably acquaint you with the potential problems and dangers you would face on such a long, open water crossing.

Here’s an account of an ambitious great lakes crossing:


There’s a series of safety articles in Sea Kayaker that is very good for cluing you in to the myriad way in which ambitious trips can go south on you…


– Last Updated: Aug-09-12 1:32 PM EST –

So don't start by crossing Lake Erie. Take some time to work up to this in terms of paddling time and big water skills - like a full season or two - and find company that can support you in the trip.

The time you have in a boat is useful for learning balance, but not for getting the stuff you need for a crossing like this. I have stood on the shores of Lake Erie and seen the waves go from 2 feet to 6 feet offshore in the space of 15 minutes.

takes ppl on day trips on Lake Erie, from mild to challenging. Mark Pecot and Co. are skilled paddlers and certified instructors. They have a range of seakayaks to rent, and they also sell a few every fall and spring. Paddles, pfd, and safety gear can also be rented. You can use your own boat and gear subject to their approval (they have general guidelines for open water paddling). They may even rent wetsuits.

This will let you get a taste of what open water on Lake Erie is like. And you can learn skills doing that, and also by coupling it w. instruction from Kayak41 North - on strokes, boat control in wind and waves, controlled wet exits, self and assisted rescues, safety gear, etc.

Some of these are pre-requisites for some of their trips. Other trips are for complete newbies.

you need some seasoning just like any of us did/do before paddling on a Great Lake, esp at that distance. The Lakes really are the Boss, they will make a paddler pay if taken lightly. It’s not just having the skills and knowledge, it’s practicing constantly to keep them and keep building on them.

Figure it will take a while (a few seasons minimum, esp for northern paddlers who aren’t out 12 months a year) to get skilled up for a crossing of the distance you envision.

A lot of fun and satisfaction along the way tho.

There’s a guy…
…named Eric Slough that posts here ( I think his Pnet handle is ‘emanoh’). He’s out of Toledo and crossed via Pelee with a friend.

He’s a high-level paddler and could provide you with some info. Personally I wouldn’t consider such a trip until I had a top level combat roll and all the accessory skills. The Lake can make short work of even a good kayaker.

Do 50 miles on flat water first

– Last Updated: Aug-09-12 3:34 PM EST –

Keeping a 4 mile per hour pace on water for 50 miles
needs to be under your belt by actually doing it first
on some INLAND water way, river lake laps, etc.

Why 50 - because you'll need reserves, lots of them.
Wind, waves and mother nature has ""surprises"" for you
on the big lakes and weather changes in 10 hours
-- especially on the Great Lakes

After you have 50 miles in a day under your belt,
repeatedly and with confidence, you'll think twice
about attempting this excursion.
-Hydration and Caloric expenditure are also huge.
Figure everything out before, and do it on flat water.
Train for kayaking, by kayaking, on the water !

If you got them, post trips, gps data logs or
something proving you've done 30, 40, 50 miles
in a day - solo - to ease our minds, okay .

You might want to invest in a SPOT unit as well

May I suggest Garmin Connect as well...

Ergs are for Indoors......No Wind/Waves/Cold

Fundamentals of Kayak Navigation
Fundamentals of Kayak Navigation by David Burch I believe is a pretty good one that should put you on the right track for navigation skills. Learn your solid roll, both sides, right away if you haven’t already. I say both sides because once you truly have a solid roll figured out on both sides, you will realize that the skills learned aren’t just about rolling, and you need these skills from both sides of your kayak. Learning how to roll means not having to roll in the first place more times than not. The comfortable edge control skills you pick up as a result are especially useful in following seas.

Find some shore break that leaves you rolling and swimming so that you’ve truly explored your limitations, and then master those conditions to move on. Learn what it’s like to make mistakes and feel overwhelmed in a controled environment so that you can grow.

Have fun with it. There probably aren’t as many folks as you might think that have the skills and strength to take this on. I think it’s a good goal as long as you don’t assume too much luck and prepare too little. Observing weather patterns and associated open water conditions should put you in pretty good shape for estimating conditions for a 30 mile day paddle. As you will see in the navigation book if you read it, knowing how fast you intend to and are able to paddle becomes the all important baseline for navigating, so nothing wrong with the 4 mph 30 mile thought process to get you started.