Ocean eddys/hydraulics: Questions?

-- Last Updated: Feb-16-06 4:09 PM EST --

First of all, I dont know the terminology for what I'm trying to ask. This is what I want to know: If any, what are the dangers of someone in a sea kayak/touring kayak in swift waters created by tides and/or where a river meets a bay or ocean. For a hypothetical case scenario, lets leave the waves or chop out of the scenario. I'm not talking about the surf zone of huge tidal races. Are these types "scenarios" comparable to eddys or hydraulics in whitewater? Can they cause you to capsize or become very unstable? This answer seems obvious to me but I was hoping some guru would get into answering this in great detail (not that everyones input is not welcomed).

Same but Different

– Last Updated: Feb-16-06 4:40 PM EST –

Not a lot of people that post here go looking for the kind of conditions you are asking about. I have done a little bit of paddling in rock gardens and tide races, a lot in surf zones, I'm still a beginner, certainly not a "Guru" . On a river even though the water is moving the feature is usually fairly static. A strong eddyline is in one spot, a wave train is in a defined position, a hole is below a certain rock. In the ocean where large swells roll in and out through the topography they can reflect off of other features and cause very complex changes in what's going on. Overflows and cauldrons can change behavior very rapidly over several seconds with violent consequences. The ocean is never the same from hour to hour and day to day. The problem with the ocean is that you can't take the waves out of the picture. Anyplace where a river runs into the ocean depending on the wind, waves, tides, and river flow, you can have very violent water features that change with time. If its just a strong eddyline with two flows meeting, it's just the same as in a river with similar flows.

Check out these pictures for an idea...


Hopefully somebody like Flatpick can give you a "guru's" perspective. If you search for "tide races" or for terms like "Maelstrom" or "The Bitches" you can get an idea how even a fairly regular feature in the ocean could cause you a lot of trouble.

Any time you have intersecting flows, or moving water meeting an obstacle, you have the potential for eddies, eddylines, whirlpools, standing waves, etc.

Any time you have intersecting flows, or moving water meeting an obstacle, you have the potential for eddies, eddylines, whirlpools, standing waves, etc. It can be very unstable because with a sea kayak, you can have a lot of boat in two differnt flows!

how ‘similar’ your ‘similar’ answers are.



well now…
I’m not sure how much more I need to say. good job.

tons of dangers out there. The sea is quite dynamic in nature. things change FAST. Rivers, on the other hand are rather static, in nature. they move along but things change slowly. if you put in on a class III river, you’re pretty much sure it’s going to stay class III, at least all day. The sea can go from dead calm to class V pretty quickly, sometimes in 20 minutes or less.

Some of the places we go there is current, like a river, surf, like a ocean, overfalls, like a river or ocean, waterfalls, like a creek, rock gardens like a creek, etc. and throw in the ever changing swell and presto… instant danger.

that help?


great pictures seadart

VERY cool pictures

White Water Kayakers Who Got Lost
on the way to the river and decided “What the heck!” when they saw some foamy stuff. :slight_smile:


It’s a good trip
This is one of the most popular trips Aqua-Adventures in San Diego does. It’s a spot on the coast a little ways south of Ensenada Mexico. I was not along for this trip with professional photographer.

Gaining experience/knowledge???
Thanks for the great info and pictures.

What would you all suggest someone in Alabama do to gain experience in this type paddling? Paddling school? Move to the coast (rhetorical)? What does one do? I want the knowledge and experience to expand my coastal paddling options. Thanks again!!

Come take the class
It’s a three day guided trip. Cheap airline tickets to San Diego, bring a tent to sleep in. You might have to share a ride from the store down to the beach campspot. If you have whitewater experience you should be OK. Email Jen at aqua adventures on their website for details. They will take folks without a roll on sit on tops, you can be as aggressive as you want or back off when you want to.

Here’s the link …


The only way to learn to paddling on the ocean is to do it. Unfortunately the gulf coast near you is not going to give you huge challenges unless you become a storm paddler.

Some do…

A Bit Differant
coastal area here in NC. We don’t have any rock gardens and there are no cool caves as the great pictures featured. We do occationally have some of the same types of confused water that you talked about in your original post, caused by intersecting tidal flows. Certain areas, typically near inlets, are more prone to these and I’ve not been able to predict when to expect to see what I call sloppy water.

Most of the time paddling thru these areas is not a problem. Sometimes it can become interesting when a combination of waves and flow from differant directions work on your boat.

Happy Paddling,


River Mouths
Also standing waves… if the river current is flowing out, and the tide is coming in, and the wind is up and any of the three is running on the strong side, you can get standing waves. That is, there are waves but they don’t seem to be moving along.

You can get some interesting action over and around shoals in the ocean when the tide is running particularly strongly and the depth of water is just right. Ocean side of islands is a place to watch out for at the point in the tide when it is running strongly. Also as above, tidal races where a lot of incoming or outgoing water is forcing thru a narrowed spot due to barriers like islands or a steeply sloping bottom.

For places where this is a risk, timing your passage with a slack tide - the moment around the change of tide where not a lot of water is moving one way or the other - is a way to avoid trouble.

I couldna delete it, Captain!
The crystals on the server must be overheating…

move WAY west
Alabama? yep… waaaayyyyy west. :wink:

*plan vacations to cool places.

*arrange some good lessons when you get there.

*link up with some locals for post-EDU paddlin’

Tybee Is/ Sea Kayak GA

St. Pete/ Sweetwater


these all have some ‘conditions’ and instruction.



what about up here in the North east???

good conditions…not as many caves though…

yeah but GREAT
I was going to keep on going up the E seaboard but…I was thinkin’ of Alabama. :wink:

YES the coastline on the Atlantic side, all the way up can be very cool, especially as you get ‘up North’, tho I have yet to really spend alot of time there. Just enough to know it’s cool.



Good places to learn on the east coast
If you’re looking to play in currents or on reefs, there are a few really good spots north of Long Island.

“The Race” off Fishers Island, NY is easily accessible from the CT shore, as are the reefs off of Watch Hill, RI (From the same launch, in fact). Lots of current, standing waves, and big surfable waves when there’s a swell running. Just be careful on the ebb tide — it’s a long paddle to Portugal if you screw up. Much safer to play on the flood tide, especially if you’re new to it.

Brenton Reef, off Newport, RI can be absolutely frightening in a strong southerly swell and wind.

Then there’s the Piscataqua River in New Hampshire, the mouth of the Kennebec River in Maine, Lower Hell Gate near Georgetown, ME, Blue Hill Falls in Blue Hill, ME, and my personal favorite is the reversing falls at Cobscook Bay, ME ----- goes from flat to class IV whitewater conditions in a matter of about 20 minutes on a flood tide. Actually, all of Cobscook and Passamaquoddy bays are big current playgrounds.

It was quite a sight to see a necky double run a dropoff, catch an eddy, and then peel out into the current at Cobscook.

I’m sure I missed a bunch of other good spots, but I’m just listing the ones I’ve been to.