recreation kayaking in big water

is it ill advised to use a recreation kayak in big water or should someone ONLY use a sea kayak? i have a wilderness system pamlico 100 and i want to get into bigger water but don’t know if its safe. obviously i wouldnt get in the water if there were big waves but any advice i’d appreciate.

It is as safe as you make it.
My first kayak was a 9’6" rec kayak and if by big water you mean the ocean or a large lake, then my answer to you would be, if you are comfortable swimming long distances, treading water and playing around in water over your head go ahead and have a ball with it like I did with mine.

I used to take it four and five miles out in the ocean and loved every minute of it.

If you are not comfortable in so called big water then don’t.

Also I would never go out if there was a bad weather forcast and even if the forcast was good I alwyas kept my eye on the sky.

I still use thae same kayak today as my white water kayak and do class II-III with it.



Define “Big Water” then…
I define it as big waves, high winds, and strong currents.

If the ocean is flat, any boat can be perfectly safe. It’s the fact that it’s not flat most of the time that’s the problem.

I’m gonna sound like a heretic here, and say that the skill of the paddler is more important than the boat at least 75% of the time. Sure, not having good thigh bracing in a rec kayak is a problem, lack of integral floatation, too much primary and no secondary stability are problems, but a really skilled paddler could make it work just the same in a lot of cases.

The real problem is that many paddlers of rec boats either don’t know that skills are the major factor, or way overestimate their skill level. (Sea kayakers tend to overestimate themselves, too – don’t feel persecuted by my comments)

If you’re going to paddle in salt water a lot, do yourself a favor and get a sea kayak that fits you well, and some good instruction. You sound like someone who’s headed towards saltwater paddling, so do it right. You’ll be glad you did.

OK, misspoke. Not just salt water
"big" freshwater, too. The Great Lakes on a bad day would make most of us yell “Mommy!!!”.

fresh water
im looking to get into the big lakes…superior and lake michigan mostly. i want to do the hiawatha water trail.

One problem is that you and the lake
do not have a joint agreemement on when it will kick up.

I have done Superior and found that it can kick up in less than five minutes. If you cannot get to a bail out point that fast you may be in real trouble with a boat with such an open cockpit if it cannot wear a bombproof spray skirt.

Yes I have done some insane things with a little Swifty type boat on Long Island sound, and when I tried to paddle one March and got thouroughly whumped by big waves, the lightbulb finally went off and I bought a proper sea kayak. Fortunately my brain had not let me get more than two hundred feet from shore.

Paddler skills do mean more than the boat IMO but there is sometimes when it is wise to buy the big hammer and forget the little kitchen hammer.

Hiawatha Water Trail
recommendations from the site:

120 miles along a stretch of Lake Superior.

Says seakayaks are preferred.

Their narrower beams and superior secondary stability allow waves to roll under the hull. Waves hit large flat hulls of rec boats differently and can put them at an awkward high angle.

A seakayaker is also much less exposed to air temps and rain when paddling skirted in a smaller, neoprene covered deck than a wide rec cockpit where even the best nylon skirt will pool w. water and likely implode.

seakayaks can carry more which would be a huge advantage on this trip where there is a lot of

uninhabited coastline and only small towns at certain intervals.

Superior is often photographed w. beautiful scenery and glassy water. So there are days like that. Thing is she will kick up rapidly and being a deep freshwater lake w. large fetches her waves build and come in at short, sharp intervals.

Superior has a lot of rocky beaches w. dumping surf which make for difficult landings and launches. Add to this long shorelines w. no ditch points, vertical cliffs and rebounding waves and Superior is a challenging lake w. a wildly beautiful but not always welcoming shoreline.

Superior’s water is cold (below 50 degrees) even in high summer. check the chart on the link.

Guides/instructors I know don’t take people out Superior unless boat is minimum 14 feet w. dual floatation. - 16 feet and over is the usual for intermediate trips and beyond.

me, I’d use a bigger boat. And I know it’s a lot more than just the boat, but you didn’t ask about that.

There are several posters here who kayak Superior way more than I do, perhaps they will see your post and give you their thoughts.

great first line there, kayakmedic…
wish I had a dollar for every paddler outside of the Upper Midwest who would say to me “But it’s just a big lake, right? how hard could it be?”

Shore sneak anything you want
Just be certain you don’t get where you cannot swim yourself and your boat to shore.

I always shore sneaked open canoes. Then I started with rec kayaks and shore sneaked them.

Even now with a Sit on Top keep close to shore unless there is a good reason to be a long swim out.

Once you get away from shore sneaking, you need all sorts of rescue skills and gear.

If by “big water” you mean large bodies of water, rec kayaks are OK, so long as your dressed for the weather and can swim good. PDF is mandatory even in the shallows. Rough waters you may want to avoid, but large bodies of water are fine. Ive paddled where im 1/2 mile or farther from the shore, without problem in somewhat rough water. I prefer smooth water, I just do it for exercise and to see mother nature at her finest :slight_smile:

If you want to paddle in rougher water frequently, better buy a sea kayak. Or build one! I plan on building a Pygmy wooden kayak in a few years, to tour the fingerlakes of NY state. I gotta get fit before that happens, however.

Just be safe, go out with a group if your not sure, better to have people around to help!

Short Answer …No
Read the manufacturers suggested uses …

“it’s the perfect kayak for children and smaller adults to navigate in both calm water and currents.”

Not a boat you want to meet the fury of the great lakes in, and storms come up quickly. Even small waves, 3 to 4 feet are going to be a hazard. That’s not what most of us call big water. Stick to small lakes and quiet rivers with it, take a paddling class in seakayaks and then buy a used one or seaworthy sit on top on craigslist. Pamlico 100 is a starter kayak that you will quickly outgrow and sell.

rec. kayaks have a LOT of cockpit volume and little flotation volume. Basically you’re screwed if you capsize in the Pamlico 100. That isn’t to say you couldn’t have rec. kayak like stability, good wave handling and self-rescue capabilities. It just isn’t likely with your average rec. kayak. Kayaks like the CD Pachena are a good example of rec. kayak stability and good wave handling with some self-rescue capabilities, there are other similar designs.

Basically you’re considering rock climbing and you’re talking about what rope to get at Home Depot.

get a sea kayak
in glass, or kevlar. You will go farther, faster, carry more, and it will probably be no heavier than your pamlico100.I wouldn’t do great lakes in the rec boat. The lakes are cold, and often dangerous. Shoreline is rocky in most areas, and can be hard to land a boat. Not someplace you want to risk a swim.

No thigh braces
The main problem with a pamlico 100 is that you have no thigh bracing. This is the major difference between a kayak and a recreational boat. When you start to learn some kayak paddling techniques, you will need to control your boat using your hips and thighs. if a large wave hits you, you can’t lean the boat towards the wave. You can brace but once you paddle a boat with thigh contact, you will fully realize how little control you have without them. You can certainly play around in waves in your boat but do it safely when the water is warm and not off shore and preferably with other paddlers.

shore sneaking Superior
There are some stretches along Pictured Rocks where you can’t land – it’s steep rock cliff right down to the water.


– Last Updated: May-31-09 9:26 AM EST –

A good introduction to paddling that area would be to attend the annual sea kayak symposium in Grand Marais. There are classes, guided trips, and lots of boats to demo. You can rent a sea kayak for the symposium if you want to try one out.

These folks might be a good resource for you:

Activities aren't just limited to the events listed, and they're happy to help new paddlers.

These folks run some classes on the west coast:

Given the water temperatures in Superior, I would not paddle there solo unless I was confident that I could quickly self-rescue. That's almost impossible in a rec boat like the Pamlico 100.

Plowhorse among thoroughbreds…

– Last Updated: May-31-09 2:13 PM EST –

Two friends and I paddled for the first time yesterday with ConnYak to a location called "the zipper", which is a sandbar that is exposed at low tide where the Long Island Sound meets the CT River. Lots of cross currents and breakers splashing over the sandbar creating a great play area.

I paddle a Tsunami125 (transitional touring boat with all required safety gear/spare paddle,etc.) and was slightly concerned about how I'd keep up with the sleeker sea kayaks. I figured I'd be the "tug boat", but the pressure was off me when one of my friends showed up with a 10' skirted Pungo100, wearing (gasp!) cotton. There was some snickering at the launch, and she commented on feeling like an old Chevy among Mercedes...I told her don't worry, we'll stay with you if the paddle goes where you can't. Turns out that wasn't necessary.

We paddled around Great Island at the mouth of the CT River and the wind picked up, causing a little chop. Sue was in the back in her Pungo100, like the little engine that could. She not only made it to the zipper, but we even coaxed her out into the surf to play. She had a blast (as did I). By the time we stopped for lunch, several of the sea kayakers were inspecting her Pungo and congratulating her on making it out. They were blown away that she was able to keep up with the group in that little plastic boat of hers.

As for me and the Tsunami125, I'm proud to say after starting in the back of 18 boats, I paddled my way into the top 6. A bit humbling as I am a strong paddler and usually leading or right up front. Lack of length and skeg kept me working to maintain direction, and the trip only heightened my interest and desire for a sea kayak, and I am looking around for something used.

As mentioned previously, in normal to slightly challenging conditions, the paddler is the x-factor. A truly skilled paddler can paddle anything, mostly anywhere. As Sue said, "I'd never go out there by myself in this boat", but with a group, some encouragement, and strong skills, exploring your personal limits is a good thing for anyone who wants to succeed, or better yet, excel at something. I guess the moral of the story is, if you are confident of your skills, don't allow yourself to be driven off by folks who don't believe you belong, based on your gear.
With the exception of a couple of folks who treated us with "polite ambivalence", we earned the respect of most members in attendance as we were able to handle ourselves with skill and dignity.

But its a long way from Long Island
Sound to Superior…

LIS works more like a big lake albeit with strong tides, the waves are shorter period and break at lower amplitudes.(the Sound is relatively shallow) (I remember when a guy started with an off shore wind from Branford on an outgoing tide. He couldnt make it back and wound up on Long Island. The Coast Guard was quite upset to find him in a motel after family reported him lost at sea).

I paddled my little Keowee a couple of years from Madison to the Thimbles and back three times a week.

Then after getting trashed that March I thought it would be wiser to get something bigger and more seaworthy for my forays across the Sound and to Faulkners

But that is a nice story that the trip did go smoothly even without the “right boat”

thanks everyone for the advice…
based on what i’ve read i’ll definitely think about it. i wouldn’t ever go alone or in any kind of bad weather. i’d consider myself a fairly strong paddler (being a strong young guy) so if i take all precautions i should remain pretty safe. i’m not looking to take long ventures, just some scenic trips.

where is Pamlico140 to defend
his favorite boat?

Surely he has some great arguments to back up that the Pamlico is the PERFECT boat for this quest… :slight_smile: