Lake Erie Shores and Breakwalls

Hi - my wife and son have Dagger Axis 10.5’s, and I have a Jackson Tupelo 12.5. I’d like for us to do a little paddling in Erie but only very close to shore (within 100 yards or so), inside the breakwalls (like by the Rock and Roll Hall), and going up and down the rivers feeding (Rocky, Cuy, etc). These would only be on calm days, with waves predicted at less than 2 feet. Are these crafts safe for this? Or no? I’ve done a fair amount of googling and haven’t found any solid guides to this answer

The boats you have are recreational class kayaks. Due to a lack of built in flotation which reduces the ability to be re-entered in deep water, they are made for flat water, no currents, and distances which you can swim back to shore. It sounds like what you suggested fall under these guidelines, so likely you are fine.

Here is a chart from a sea kayak book which breaks down the different levels as the American Canoe Association defines them (taken from Basic Illustrated Sea Kayaking book by Roger Schumann):

Lots of caveats. For example, keep in mind that if the water is cold, you can swim a lot less than what you think.

Your confusion is understandable. I looked at Jackson’s site on their own description of the Tupelo. They give it 5 stars for lake touring and 4 stars for ocean touring.
I strenuously disagree as would most experienced Great Lakes or sea kayakers. And that is your criteria. The Great Lakes are in all respects an inland sea. To their credit, the description Dagger has for the Axis at least suggests environments where you are likely to be near shore.

The ACA reference above is more helpful, also the references on this site about types of kayaks under “Learn”. For any distance that is further than easy swimming from shore, touring kayak should mean something with flotation at both ends of the boat.

Be careful of the near shore thing if near the end of an area protected by a breakwater. Nearest shore is where the waves start breaking, so hugging the shore closely even with 2 ft waves can swamp a boat and put you in the water. Being too near a reflecting surface, like if you are on the outside of a breakwater, can also get more interesting than you may like in even quite minor conditions.

Nice chart. Seems we are following the recs pretty closely.

We have never gone anywhere near .5 mile from a shore. There is always a breeze in this end of the Yoop.

Our favorite paddling area is downstream of the locks and the rapids so on some days the return paddle can be a bit more rigorous.

“Due to a lack of built in flotation”
All 3 have sealed stern bulkheads. What’s the difference between that and “built in flotation”? I was thinking of adding float bags to the bows of each. Would that help? Not that I want to go further out… just thinking about adding safety is all.

That chart is VERY helpful - that’s exactly the kind of measuring stick I was hoping for.

Celia - Thanks for the tips about being near breakwaters and reflecting surfaces - very helpful info!

Yooper - I don’t know how it is up by you, but here in the CLE area, even if I had a heartier yak I wouldn’t go far out for fear of getting run over by a speed boat.

Flotation - To be safer you want flotation in both ends. Reasons are:
Makes sure the boat will float flat in a capsize, so it is recoverable.that has to be gotten out of the boat
Reduces (by displacing) the weight of the water that has to be emptied to recover on water or swim it to shore.

You can get the flotation that displaces water one of two ways. One is a bulkheaded area, the other is flotation bags. But test if putting in float bags - they can become real escape artists if not secured well. Pressure alone is not reliable.

The other thing mentioned can be perimeter lines - not the same as bungies.

Go to Learn, Getting Started and Understanding Watercraft on this site for more info.

With sealed stern bulkheads all the water goes into the bow in case of capsize… The boat is then needling… bow down stern straight up.
Bow float bags would indeed help

Got it - thanks all!

This legendary (and rather humorous) kayak sinking video illustrates what happens (at time mark 0:45) when a rec kayak with stern-only bulkhead gets swamped. That’s what is called “needling” as in “Cleopatra’s Needle” which is a famous obelisk (looks like the Washington monument). So bow flotation would be advisable.

Honestly, I would not take any rec kayak out on any of the Great Lakes myself – and I have paddled in every one of them except Huron. The notion that you are going to have predictably mild conditions is a foolhardy fantasy on any given day. Two foot waves and wind is asking for trouble unless you have sprayskirts – do you have sprayskirts? The Tupelo has an oversized cockpit that is not intended for open/deep water – at least the Axis (designed to be used in mild whitewater) can support one.

A father and daughter both died along the Erie shore not many years ago, out in a rec kayak in “mild conditions.”.

Also, bear in mind that the average water temp in Erie by mid September is 70 F. That may sound “balmy” but it’s not. In fact it is considered dangerous especially for sustained immersion.

I say this as someone who lost two family members when they were smashed against a Great Lakes breakwater when an unexpected squall blew in on a beautiful summer day while they were swimming off shore.

I actually probably wouldn’t go in with more than 1’ waves. But this is why I ask about it - I know Erie got it’s name for a reason.

However, not to belittle your experience or loss, but I’m having a hard time imagining a storm on Erie that moves so fast I wouldn’t be able to paddle 100 yards to beat it. If it’s that dangerous, then why are kayak rental companies encouraging people with absolutely no experience to go out on the lake?

I started on Long Island Sound in a rec kayak… Taught me about tides and currents though locally there were no extreme currents ( there is a Race on the end of the Sound that is not to be toyed with). I personally had a great time in my rec kayak… Allowed me to cruise the shoreline where. people normally swim… Sept was still pretty mild water temp. If you can swim 100 yards in the water at those temps and have some dry bagged clothing to change into I see no reason not to go paddling. The main danger is ignoring signs of a storm and not getting right off the water.

Breakwater walls can be dangerous as waves hit them and are reflected back and a one foot wave can become a two footer. Like paddling on Lake Superior ( which has cliffs and reflecting waves) stay away from points and seawalls and breakwaters…

Most of us do have friends who had accidents when kayaking… I am terrified of storms… I lost two friends who beached their kayaks and sought refuge in an old stone fort. Hunkering down they did not realize that they were touching iron rebar and were electrocuted.

I have stood on the shore of Erie watching motor boats haul ass into a protected area behind a breakwater at frankly dangerous speeds. They were not doing it for fun. A storm had popped up and was moving very fast, anyone who came at less than high speed was going create a collision with the ones racing in behind them. We didn’t spend a long time looking at it either because of lightening risk. Kayaks are much slower…

And there is no law anywhere insisting on what more seasoned paddlers would call prudent behavior from kayak rental companies.The bad ones go until they get a horrific event and get sued and have to shut down. There are usually lots of near misses before that.

I am not local to the Great Lakes. (I was attending a wedding on the lake in the first event.) But while there are quite responsible providers out there, there are also stories of some pretty fantastic failures of responsibility by outfitters.

Hey kier, here’s one of many links circulated after the recent tragic deaths in Lake Superior…basically cold water (in August) plus a family in an inappropriate boat. The link is pretty clear that rec kayaks are a flat no on the Great Lakes. I live near Lake Michigan and also near a couple of my favorite rivers and people are dying in shallow water around here all the time. I do not take my canoes on The Lake.
So what if any one of you fell in for any reason 100 yards offshore? If the water is 60 or below that person may start hyperventilating immediately. Lake Michigan surface water temps dropped more than 20 degrees in 24 hours one day this past August to well below 60. Your other boats are almost useless for rescue. If there is even a slight breeze blowing away from shore you may not all go home that day.

On the other hand, if you are all strong swimmers, all well-practiced in self rescue after a capsize, well aware of water temps and weather forecast, add more flotation to your boats…you may well be fine. You need to be confident in your skills and to overprepare. Kudos to you for asking.

I’ll just stay out of Erie. We can stop worrying about this. Thanks everyone.

Check 41 North Kayak Adventures for classes or an opportunity to rent a kayak with dual bulkheads. I know a couple of their instructors/guides from the WMCKA Symposium. (This would likely be next year but they may still have something going on)

One think not mentioned much here is that dual bulkhead (or bulkhead in back and float bag up front) is just a start. You then really need to also know how to get back in to a boat with the flotation. The way many start for a solo rescue is called a paddle float rescue. For where you have a second boat to help the first, it is called a T-rescue. If you do want to use these boats in locations where the risk may be higher (father from shore and the like), you may want to research these rescues ad then try them out yourself to see how they go. I’d start by trying at a beach r similar area on warm water, so you have lots of time to try before cold exhaustion sets in, and an easy exit to the beach if it doesn’t work.

We’re just going to stay out of Erie till I can find $8K on sea kayaks

Buy used. There should be plenty of boats in your area and a more capable used boat will end up being heads and tails more valuable to you over time than a more limited new rec boat.
End of season sales should be happening soon.

Even used I’m still looking at $5K for 3 sea yaks

$1700 a pop?? You can do way better than that used especially if you go plastic. Should be able to do it for more like $800 tops, lower if you look at the transition touring boats like the Manitou series that have boats with all the features.