Novice to circumnavigate Manhattan

All advice welcome.

I plan to take out some kayaks to paddle around Manhattan. It is about 30 miles around.

My initial plan, since I am not a real kayaker, is to do it in two days. I plan to put in at the north end both days and use the current to my advantage.

Is it realistic to do the lenght, about 15 miles in a day? Seems to me that it is very doable.

I plan to stop at marinas for lunch.

Any advice? Suggestions?

You just missed one of the best day…
…to do it in one easy day! :o)

The tide is very strong in the 3 rivers bordering Manhattan. By careful study of the tidal current, you can find a good day you can ride the conveyer around.

Get the tide wrong, 15mi/day can be a death march!

Doable but you must time the tides

– Last Updated: Jul-18-11 10:47 PM EST –

correctly. Hells Gate has ferocious tides that you cannot paddle against and also generates serious whirlpools.

You will note that the circumnavigation is not for entry level solo paddlers. Its done as a one day trip.
I remember an old Trailside program where the host flipped his yak in the East River and had no roll. Fortunately he had company to assist in the rescue.

Not solo
Great stuff.

First, I wont be doing it solo. Also, I will use an ocean kayak. there will be some experienced kaykers along.

Ride the tide!!! I like it. I figure if I am able to pull that off I would start with the tide going out down the Harlem River to the East River, and come back up the Hudson.

I am guessing that the East river will be the trickiest.

Where is Hells Gate? I will google it, but I want to hear more on this.

a blog and current table

Hells Gate
Here is what I found on Hells Gate.

Hell’s Gate

– Last Updated: Jul-19-11 5:57 PM EST –

The Hell Gate is the portion of the East River on the east side of Randall's Island. It wouldn't be a necessary part of a Manhattan circumnavigation, which is good, because you shouldn't go through it except with someone who has done it before. Note that mixing effects between the East and Harlem Rivers sometimes make the west channel confused around Mill Rock, depending on the tides.

Re: your plan, if you are a true beginner, I don't think two 15 mile days is a reasonable expectation. Newbie paddlers tend to wear themselves out quickly. There are few places to take out and rest on the way around Manhattan, and you need to know about them ahead of time. If you're going with experienced kayakers, that's better, but they should be completely able to rescue you and get you back in your boat. They should also have a VHF and NY harbor experience - it can be a very dicey location, with tugs, barges, ferries, water taxies, sailboats and high-speed pleasure boats, generally all at the same time.

PS I note that Atlantic Kayak Tours does a circumnavigation of Manhattan - it's for advanced kayakers only, with a significant skill set.

PPS re: nycmhandy's post below, my info on the location of Hell Gate is incorrect - it includes the east side of Randall's Island, down to the area between Hallet's Point in Astoria and Mill Rock in the middle of the East River.

the last line in carldelo’s post should give you pause

Hells Gate
I just did a newsletter for CT Sea kayakers with a story about a circumnavigation that went to hell with capsizes, kayakers unprepared for the journey, missed tides etc. You can’t screw up your tide opportunities on that trip and there are no sandy beaches along the way to land. Not a beginner trip.

Email me and I’ll send you a pdf of the article and put you in touch with one of the guides who knows the currents and the entire trip.

my email is on the website:

Not one of your better Ideas.
I would say based on your profile and the what I’ve read from your posts that this is not one of your better ideas. You really should take a drive down to Manhattan and go over by Battery Park and walk north along the water to the ferry terminal for the ferries from New Jersey watching the currents and the confused wave action. Or you might like the view from the South Street Seaport where you can watch the speed of the current. Lots of other viewing spots in Manhattan where you’ll be able to visualize yourself swimming and praying your friends can get you back in your boat but these are easy to find. After watching the water for a while take a deep breath and decide that it might be a better idea to take the Circle Line Cruise around Manhattan.

Bottom line is paddling around Manhattan is not for the inexperienced paddler.

Sounds like a really bad idea
"If you’re going with experienced kayakers, that’s better, but they should be completely able to rescue you and get you back in your boat."

That’s the wrong message to send to the OP. How about: “Before you do this trip you should be completely able to rescue yourself and get back in your boat”? Experienced kayakers who respect tidal rivers and have any sense should know better than to take a beginner on this trip.

OP, when you end up in the river you put your would-be rescuers in danger as well. Just try to imagine getting back in your kayak in the conditions that tossed you out in the first place—whirlpools, waves, strong current. The river’s not going to stop so you can reenter.

I’ve done this trip by bike. That’s what I recommend you do.

Friday evening
I’ll throw Friday evening’s paddle out just for something to possibly take something from. A young guy in good shape with a strong forward stroke wanted to find some waves and do some ocean paddling. I replied to his post, volunteering an idea and myself as a paddling partner, giving the forcast of 15-20 knot east winds and 4’ seas, and a spring tide. He was all in, drove to the coast, and off we went Friday afternoon.

Come to find out he has done some serious expeditions - the entire Missouri, Mississippi, Yukon Rivers - and was definitely a strong paddler. He also admitted once we were on the water that he had little experience in salt water.

I had it timed so that we paddled out of Mason Inlet just after low tide. Mason Inlet is a shallow inlet, and is not very accomodating to boat traffic through to the ocean, especially at full moon low tide with 4’ 6 second seas. So we have what I would consider a safe rough water situation, surrounded by nothing but sandy beaches, and current carrying you back to safety in the event of capsize. The plan was to paddle out into the ocean and paddle around to enter back into the deep-water inlet 4 nautical miles south.

We paddled out to where the breakers were starting to grow. He seemed to be doing ok. Then it came time where we both needed to concentrate on breaking through. I paddled my way out, turned around, and finally spotted him hanging onto his kayak, floating towards the beach. I surfed back in, he decided he needed to take on a little less ambitious conditions as he didn’t realize how choppy it would be even beyond the surf zone, and we played around a bit inside the break, and went safely back the way we came.

An easy exit strategy. Never stuck in conditions we didn’t belong in. He seemed excited to get back out and get some ocean experience in milder conditions, and I certainly hope I get more opportunities to paddle along.

tugboat pilot’s perspective
The tugboat pilot’s blog (with the previous link on Hell’s Gate) has a couple of good pieces on kayakers around Manhattan – one is a rant for which he offers a later semi-apology and some links to good kayaker educational sites about paddling in the shipping channels.

More Info
Some really good stuff. Caused me to pause.

Fact is, I am not a total novice, but I would not call myself a kayaker. I am a sailor, peak bagger and gym rat.

I just thought of doing this after spending the weekend in Manhattan (we often go there for fun) and seeing the kayakers all over the Hudson. Also, the Circle Line Tour that does the circumnavigation is one of our favorites. And, we have seen the kayak rentals in Brooklyn on the river. So, I thought it would be an awsome adventure to do the circle in kayaks.

This discussion has caused me to pause.

I have contacted one of the key kayakers from our outing club (SU Outing Club) to discuss it with the group.

I like the idea suggested to go look at the currents where the East river comes down to the Battery Park. And, the outfitter that does this trip only does it with experienced kayakers?

OK, I have to think this through.

Thanks for the input.

this link (included in the link above)

– Last Updated: Jul-19-11 10:11 AM EST –

if you keep terrific

NY Mayors Cup Sea Kayak race coming up..and there are some safety advisories here too re bridges

That’s the wrong message to send to the
I tend to agree with you, but I figured if a beginner was going out using other kayakers as their primary safety equipment, they should have the requisite rescue skills.

How would you like to be one of the

– Last Updated: Jul-19-11 11:45 AM EST –

rescuers? A single inexperienced person can put the whole party in jeopardy. I haven't paddled around Manhattan, but the descriptions in this thread make it clear the OP has no business being in a kayak off Manhattan. One should never "use other kayakers as their primary safety equipment." Perish the thought!

Since your a peakbagger,
maybe you’ve read books about mountain expeditions where one member of the team didn’t have the skill to be on the mountain, the others had to try to rescue him, and disaster ensued. Every single member of a party needs to be fully skilled and independent. Otherwise you put others at risk.

Here’s what you need for safety, whether on the water or on the mountain:

  1. Specific skills and knowledge
  2. Experience
  3. Common sense. That includes knowing whether you have the ability to undertake a given expedition.
  4. Equipment
  5. Training and practice using that equipment
  6. The ability to rescue yourself

    It looks like you don’t have any of those with respect to this trip.

    Picture this scenario: You’ve been tossed from you kayak and you’re being pushed downstream and/or into a whirlpool. You’re trying to hold onto your kayak and your paddle. Maybe you’ve lost one or both of those. Maybe your cockpit is full of water. What are your friends supposed to do? Rush off after you (and your kayak and your paddle), try to stabilize your kayak, and teach you how to get back in it when you’ve never done that before? I promise you, that is not the time to be giving a lesson in self-rescue.

Go with an outfitter
You said you rode a bike around Manhattan. You probably rode on the bike path?

Try riding on the street instead. You’ll get a sense of what it’s like to paddle around Manhattan:

  1. Traffic: You’ll have dense motor traffic squeezing you into stuff you don’t like to be near. Drivers/boat-captains in New York City are simply quite used to maneuvering in tight spaces. So they will squeeze through when you don’t think there’s space.

  2. Hazards: Like potholes lurking on every street, there’re docks all over the shore, submerged pilings too. Get near them when the current is running, you risk being pinned and dumped into the water.

    Going with an outfitter who know the water, they’ll steer you away from those dangers. You’ll think it’s such a piece of cake! You’ll enjoy it more too.

    You do need to be a reasonably strong paddler and can get back to your boat quickly IF you capsized. Though with the outfitter keeping you from danger, the risk of capsize should be minimal.

Good idea to think it again
Good move on your part to first ask, and secondly to re-think it. There are lots of things you need to know about paddling in a marine environment in order to safely circumnavigate Manhattan, as well as some local knowledge.

Rules of the road, how to read traffic and channel markers, tides, currents, navigation, rescues, paddling in strong current, boat wakes, and standing waves. They all add up, and make each other more hazardous the less of each you know. It can take a couple of years of lessons, practice, and real-world experience to get it all down to where this paddle would be fun and relatively safe to do, even in a group.

I admire your gumption, but would rather see you safe & informed. Maybe try circumnavigating other islands with fewer hazards first, like Prudence Island in Narragansett Bay, RI, or something like that - it will expose you to all the aspects I mentioned above, but at a lower intensity. That allows you to learn, and still keeps it fun. Start with figuring out your tides and route, and go from there. Then do longer and progressively more difficult trips, making the next one just a little more challenging than the one before.

Manhattan is the big leagues because of current, traffic, and limited bailout options. Not to be taken lightly.

Be safe!