Questions About kayaking to Catalina

Hi, I’m paddling for a friend who is swimming from Catalina to Pedro. Im not sure what level I’m classified as but I’ve been doing it for 23 years. I’ve done high surf entries, caves and lots of harbor and ocean with swell and wind. I paddle a Malibu double with my dog up front. I know that would be totally ridiculous so don’t worry, the pooch is going in the motor boat. We have some sit on top singles also but I’m assuming a sit in would be best. The swimmer is to have to kayaks on each side. There are going to be four of us taking turns (unless I can go the whole way) and a motor support boat. What would be the best kayak (to buy or rent??) to paddle this? I’ve always wanted to kayak to Catalina and if I bought I’d also do a lot of touring so it’s not just a one time thing.


I’d do the SOT that you know and are comfortable with.

Yes, the SOT would be less efficient than a touring kayak, which makes a differences over the distance. But you won’;t be going fast, as this is a swim support and you will be going the speed of the swimmer. And the SOT will be much easier to get in and out of for breaks on the power boat. And the SOT gives you mobility, which could be important should you need to provide some sort of emergency action with the swimmer.

Some prior experience
If you go to the website, there is a story there by someone who used the name Calamari Chris about paddling to Catalina on an SOT. I’ve paddled with Chris and he made the trip several times. Chris used a tarpon 16.

I know from experience it’s a long slow slog in a fast SOT (7 hours) so it might take a while longer in Malibu - not sure you mean an Ocean kayak Malibu II or the Malibu brand. If you could borrow a faster boat like the tarpon or a heritage older model it might make for a more pleasant trip, but if you are accompanying a swimmer you probably don’t need to worry about speed. You do need to worry about ships, winds, and having survival gear/wetsuit if something goes wrong.

is definitely the choice for your purpose of swimmer escort. The accompanying power boat will make it a breeze - swapping off paddling duties, meal break for you, adding or subtracting clothing layers, carrying swimmer sustenance, etc. I have a friend who did the Catalina swim paddler escort & enjoyed it.

For those who don’t know, this is a fairly significant crossing (22 miles, I do believe) with ships, changeable weather (it will take a few hours to cross), currents, fog (potentially), etc. Oh yeah, sharks are also a potential issue - I’ve seen blues and once a great white feeding among the islands on dive trips. The thing about sharks is that you usually don’t see them, but they are definitely out there.

Since you are familiar with the area, you probably know this, but it is one thing to experience from shore and quite another to experience ten miles offshore. Since it sounds like you have sufficient skills and experience, and someone knowledgeable to consult, I would not expect there to be any real difficulty with preparation.

As for which craft to use, I’d probably recommend renting a few boats from a local shop (or perhaps they’ll let you demo some at the cost of a small deposit). Since you be providing support for a swimmer, you may need a boat that can carry two people in an emergency, but most doubles are a lot of boat for a single paddler. Obviously, it can be done with smaller boats ( It might be possible to contact the individual cited here for reference about the same trip.


Thanks for replys
Thanks for all your replys and recommendations. I’m going to stick with a SOT, a single. The swim starts at midnight. I’ve always wanted to go night kayaking. That should be interesting. I’m really looking forward to it. Hopefully we don’t get run over by a boat or attacked by a shark. Luckily we’ve got a professional support boat whose done this before.

Man there is no way I would swim offshore at night off of Catalina. There are great white sharks out there, they definitely patrol around the island … see the tagging/ tracker data websites. They probably have little interest in your kayak, although a kayak did get hit by one about 2 years ago near one of the harbors - but I think they had fish hanging off of it.

and Chris’s article …

You can also find Duane Strosakers blog Roll or DIe … has info on circumnavigating Catalina.

have done same support, SOT best
I helped support a woman a few years ago who swam from Palos Verdes to Catalina AND back! very impressive. While I did fine I did this in a sit inside and know now a SOT is better. Switching escort kayakers from the big boat is way easier with a SOT and sharing boats. Speed makes the paddle easy though mentally you focus a lot to keep speed and direction just right.

What you may want to escort may not be what you want to do more general coastal touring. I think if you get into more coastal tours you’ll love a good sit inside but that’s not the best choice for escorting especially if you are relatively new since any flip and rescue (even if done well) is disruptive for the swimmer.

Have fun! it’s a great way to do a first crossing. I’ve since done a number of Catalina crossings and a circumnavigation (about to do another) but the swimmer escort was my first crossing.

The latest study of great whites is that they tend to dive deep at night and prowl mostly during the day. Note the “tend to” in that sentence :).

Leaving at midnight is probably safer than most times, but at 2-3 mph, that puts you at the islands close to 12 hours later. The open water in the middle (6-7 am) is about where you might expect the sharks to come to the surface to feed.

That said, there is no reason to assume the risk of attack is any higher on this trip than at any other time or site in the region. I’ve seen lots of aerial video of northern Ca. beaches and have seen that just beyond the wave break, it is common for whites to hunt for a meal. Those who bob in the waves never know they are there, often just a few feet away. Attacks are rare, but it only takes one to make the day a rather unpleasant experience.


not worth worrying about sharks
Maybe if further north and more around August to September. Having a big boat handy makes it even safer. And of course with a swimmer in the water the kayaker needs to worry even less (not so much for the swimmer).

I’ve met several people attacked by sharks, and none of them were attacked in the same month of the year. Great whites are in the waters off the coast year round and are active randomly. Since they have very slow metabolisms, it is really hard to predict when/where they will be hungry/active.

Attacks on humans have occurred in every month of the year, except, perhaps February. Attacks used to be more regular in summer (mostly late summer) months. In the modern era, more and more people are on the ocean at other times of the year, such as when surf conditions are good or when seasonal rules apply (sea lion and other pinniped migration, whale migrations, shellfish/abalone fishing seaon, for example).

The number of actual attacks is small, really small, actually. There there just isn’t enough data to say that there is a time of year that is any safer than any other time. It is much easier to say that there seems to be no particular time of year when attacks are more likely.


Certainly around more in the summer
Last summer three were sighted at the beaches I surf at in San Diego on the same day I was surfing. At San Onofre now several white sharks hang out with surfers in the line up during the summer.

There was a minor strike on a kayak up in the Red Triangle last evening.

I’m not too worried about the great white during the night because I believe they are mostly active during the day. Dusk and dawn. Not to say a really hungry big one will pass by an easy meal, but with 2 kayaks and a swimmer all side by side will appear like bigger prey. I don’t think its going to torpedo attack at 2 in the morning. It’ll investigate first. But then you can’t see much at night. I’m not sure why he’s swimming at night… It’s calmer???

Research suggests
that they dive deep at night and, probably, don’t come up until dawn. Tracking devices on a handful of sharks show this behavior, but that is, again, very limited data and by no means a definitive pattern. As you can see:

So, are they a problem at night? Probably not. Big ocean, relatively small target, not very easy to find. The smithsonian website ( show that they may well be designed to hunt as well at night as day:


A great white sharks has great vision. The retina of its eye is divided into two areas – one adapted for day vision, the other for low-light and night.”

Assumptions about sharks are quickly being destroyed by research. The studies show they are much more fascinating animals than previously thought. Great whits are now known to hunt cooperatively, at times, have a type of endothermic (warm blooded) metabolism, and have stunned researchers at how quickly they learn.

That said, there is little evidence that an attack is a concern on a trip like this. The concern is that one is prepared to get the swimmer out of the water should that be necessary and to render first aid should that be needed.


Sea Kayak
I would paddle an ocean going boat at least 17 feet, 18 would be better. It would have a deck, a cockpit and a really good seat. A straight keel and rudder would be perfect. Maybe a Greenland style boat.

Good luck with your adventure. It is smart to swim from the Island back to the Mainland so you don’t miss land in the fog and go out to sea.