Practical Implications of Salt Water vs. Fresh

I’ll be headed to the BOFSKS in about a month, and it will be my first time paddling in salt water. In fact, it will only be the second time in my life I’ve been in an ocean. The first was during a family vacation when I was much younger, and that was only for a dip.

What I’d like to know is what those of you with plenty of experience paddling in both do differently in one or the other. I have to assume there’s a lot more rinsing of gear and equipment after salt water, or maybe not? Can it be irritating to the skin after a day of paddling? (though I’ll be in a dry suit, so only hands and face are exposed). What about the marine life? General do’s and don’ts? Or maybe just don’t worry about it?

I’m not too concerned with the obvious, like tides and currents, because I’ll be out with an instructor each session. Although I’ll be trying to observe and plan myself, I can probably trust that a lot of this has already been done by them.

Rolls without nose plugs are less painful inside nose in salt water than fresh water.

More rinsing would be required, though leaving stuff salty for short term isn’t a problem. You could skip on that and just paddle in fresh water once you get home and use that as the rinse. Because I paddle mostly in salt water, I often tale the chance of paddling in fresh to totally rinse the boat (including often opening hatches and flooding boat and the draining)

Your boat should float a touch better in slat water than fresh water (salt water is denser), but not sure that would be noticable.

I do 90% of my paddling in salt water, usually with a salt content of 3.3% which is a lot.

I would recommend to rinse your clothing, PFD, etc. in fresh water after each trip if you have the option. Not so much for protection of the gear (though crystallized salt would probably damage the gear over time) , but more for convenience. Salty equipment never really dries out and almost feels greasy after a while. Putting on such greasy, salty gear isn’t the happiest start of a paddling day.

Another thing you will discover in salt water is that there are many qualities of steel. Carbon steel will start corroding immediately. Zinc plated carbon steel will delay the corrosion for a trip or two. Cheap stainless steel (304 or A2) will get surface corrosion over time. Good stainless steel (316 or A4) will usually last forever.

Also a lot of aluminium will get white, powdery surface corrosion in salt water, so for example carabiners for a towing rope will often start to jam after a while.

Stay away from sharks, giant octopus, and man eating squid. Oh yea giant salt water crocodile too. But I think the brain eating amoeba don’t exist so it’s an even swap. If you have high blood pressure don’t swallow to much.

When you think everything is rinsed good rinse it again. Everything I own is thoroughly rinsed, waxed and 303. Funny how after you think salt was all rinsed it shows when it dries especially at H seam on my kayaks that have it. Raced offshore boats in Great Lakes and it felt weird not having to go crazy cleaning boat, trailer, and gear.

You are going to love it! Nate and his fellow coaches do a nice job.

Similar to Allen’s recommendations…
Salt water can freeze a zipper in a day and a half. Rinse off your drysuit including the zippers really well after each paddle. And bring extra zip lube, use it more often than you would in fresh water. When I am at the rental in Maine, I just walk right into the shower with my drysuit still on. I rinse it off before taking care of the rest of me.

Rest of drysuit maintenance as usual, 303, turn inside out to dry and unscented talcum powder when you come in to help absorb any oils on the gaskets.

Also break down your paddles, if two part, and rinse after each use. Salt water can do a job on locking up the ferrule.

I strongly recommend that you print out the tide tables to have for yourself before you go. The tides are huge and you will learn a lot more if you take a look at them each day for yourself. Here is a link, you will just need to pick out the nearest harbor.

Your will get encrusted salt on the rest of your stuff., though a few days worth won’t damage stuff like neoprene. But there is little that stinks more than neoprene still wet from salt water. If you are driving, best to rinse out the salt water before spending a long drive in a car with it.

As above, you will find that nose plugs are a lot less necessary in salt water. I have more problems than most with water up my nose - even one dunk in fresh water is a guaranteed headache - but I can take salt water unprotected.

Your skin should be OK, but any head hair will try to become a Mohawk real quick and my scalp can get itchy if I don’t get to that. So good shampoo.

As others said, rinse all gear with fresh water after each use. This especially applies to paddles–take them apart before rinsing and get the inside of the shaft, including the ferrules. If you don’t do this, the paddle can become extremely difficult to take apart. Besides, you want to remove any sand as well as salt. It is also important to rinse neoprene skirts, booties, and clothing thoroughly. It will require more than a quick spraydown. The rands are near impossible to fully desalt without long soaking, but you don’t need to do that to get most of the gear clean enough to dry well. Make sure to hang them up for drying.

Salt water residue on the skin feels itchy, to me. I always loved taking a hot shower soon after paddling, whenever possible. Sometimes a dip in a creek has to substitute, and that isn’t always possible. YMMV as to physical reactions. I also developed a severe chafe zone at the neck gasket, which had never happened in fresh water. This is one reason I came to prefer wearing a wetsuit instead of a drysuit.

Although you said you do not need to concern yourself with tidal currents, I still think it is a good idea to start actively learning about them. If you have the opportunity, take a class, look at what resources your instructors use to figure out timing, ask them questions, etc. There is more involved than tide heights.

Federal law requires staying a certain distance away from marine mammals. I think it is 500 feet? Something like that. The trouble is, sometimes they come to you. When that happened, I didn’t sweat the distance requirement. Where I lived, they were somewhat accustomed to seeing people in boats yet not tame. But DO NOT TRY TO APPROACH THEM. In some places, they practically live on top of buoys or docks, so nobody cares if you have to get closer to them than 500 feet, least of all them. Young seals, especially, often swim very close to you and check you out.

The marine mammals and the tidal currents are two of the major joys of “sea” kayaking! I know I will always miss having had those as part of my regular paddling.

When I paddle in salt water, which is rare, it seems slower. I guess that thicker water has more resistance. Anyway, yay for fresh water.

Also, you didn’t ask but should be mentioned - if you are going out to the islands, the majority of them do not have fresh water. So make sure to bring enough water bladders to carry your own water for a day. You can use them as ballast (you will find this can be a useful trick in those tidal currents) and any leftover can be used to rinse stuff as you take it off the boat.

Punch sharks in the nose to repel them. They hate that.
Depending on where you are tides can be incredibly tough even with a guide. Get plenty of rest the night before.

Rinsing with fresh water is good but some Zip Wax car wash soap solution will make gear last longer. Skin may feel sticky or itchy until washed. Hair gummy till shampooed.

Take multi piece paddles apart right after, each day.

Re: skin irritation and saltwater. My son and I are usually freshwater paddlers and the few times that we have paddled in the ocean we have both found our hands to feel oddly sticky after getting back to camp. I attribute this to the osmotic effects of the water drawing moisture out of our skin, though this is a guess. It is quickly relieved with a moisturizing lotion that contains high percentages of glycerin. Like this one:

Thanks for all of this. There seem to be a few recurring themes above, which I will certainly pay attention to.

Regarding the rinsing of gear, do events like this commonly offer a place to do this? If not, it could be difficult because I’m camping nearby and would have to put my dry suit back on to go into the shower at the campground. If that didn’t work, I’m guessing I’d be reduced to filling up a water jug at a faucet multiple times to do the rinse.

I always take my paddles apart for transport and storage anyway, so no problem there.

I wonder if rolling will be noticeably easier due to the increased water density? I made some attempts at a hand roll today and was close - have the video to prove it. Wishful thinking, perhaps? :wink:

I usually carry about 2L of drinking water on a day paddle anyway, as stopping to filter water all the time is a pain. I like the idea of using some as ballast though, because both of my boats perform so much nicer when they’re sitting lower in the water. How do you keep them from moving around though? Float bags would likely work, but I’d like to avoid the cost and hassle.

Re: ballast, I sometimes kept my MSR Dromedary bags filled with water in the day hatch behind my seat. Then I would pack light things ontop of them, like first aid kit, repair kit, jacket, gloves, tiny dry bags so that when upside down, the water bags would stay in place. However this does expose your day hatch gear to water if the bags leak.

Another option is to glue on some tabs to the bottom of the cockpit floor so you can strap down the water bags there. Canoeists have been doing this for years.

Sorry, but I find float bags to be the easiest solution. By the time I have a dry bag with a change of clothes, for food, spare water, bivy, for trainings like you are talking about a full alternative in dry wear or wet wear and a couple of other odds and ends that don’t fit well in the day hatch, a float bag is the easiest and most flexible way to secure it all. It works for everything rather than having to fuss with glued in stuff that will only work for specific items,

Gear can be rinsed next day or so. They won’t melt.