River running in a sea kayak.

Hi, I am an avid salt-water kayaker who has recently moved from the olympic peninsula to eastern washington. Thinking about doing some river trips in the area that I have read about. Some trips have rapids. I have never done any whitewater, but have done a lot of surfing and playing in rock gardens. My roll is solid so I’m not worried about dumping it. I have a 16’ plastic perception boat so I’m not worried about bashing it. What should I be aware of hitting rapids with a larger boat? Any other advice?

Be aware
You’re long boat will be more susceptible to a dangerous pin. Should you end up between a rock and your boat, with current pushing against it, the force could possibly trap you.

There is also danger of your boat being folded if pinned, which could trap you. Whitewater boats are shorter and have reinforcement to prevent this.

Be VERY careful.

WW Boats are cheap… Get one.
That’s my advice…

Easier to get around too!!!

S. Kayak River Running - Patagonia Chile
That is a good question:

ExChile does a lot of river running expeditions in sea kayaks. A lot of the trips they run involve crossing the Andes Mountains from Argentina to the Pacific Ocean. Many of the trips are meant for advanced sea kayakers only.

Having paddled both on rivers and flat-water I can say:

A] A river is a moving body water that creates another dimension that needs to be contended with. On a river if your technique is sloppy the river will catch your edges and flip you over quite readily. On a river you always want to be an active paddler, to avoid rocks and sweepers, frequent flipping puts you out of control and in response mode. Not a great thing when you need to avoid obstacles.

B] Paddling on a river requires that you paddle with the water not against. On an open body of water it is just you and the kayak. On a river it is you and the kayak and the water. In most cases what the current is doing is the biggest consideration. On a river you lose the ability to turn when you want and where you want.

C] Going from point a to b on a lake is pretty straightforward, maybe there will be some wind and waves to contend with. On a river you need to think in terms of arcs and factor what the current will do to your kayak. We call this boat piloting.

D] Even how your paddle interacts with the water will be different. A sea kayak on a river has a definite upstream and downstream side. If you accidentally put your blade in upstream of the kayak you may flip. Paddle purchase on the water can be magnified or diminished depending on if you are paddling with or against the current.

E] A river often has many currents to contend with not just the downstream flow. You will need to learn to read river water and anticipate when the current slackens, speeds up or reverses on itself (eddies). You will also need to spot the transition areas and change your paddling technique accordingly.

F] If you are doing anything other than deep, slow moving rivers consider using plastic over composite for your hull material. Rocks can quickly ruin a sea kayak designed for open lakes and waterways. Ditto for paddle material as well.

You can read about what a sea kayak river trip is like from the following trip report:


You can find some photos and slide shows of sea kayak river trips here:


I hope this helps…

What river?
What class of water?

wear a helmet
They have saved my life a few times and keep the hat and shades on.Long boats do not like to turn so plan on hitting hard. Get on shore andscout Smacking head on rock without tucked up ww roll is no fun.

Up to a class 2…
…you’d probably be OK.

As the others have said, however, it’s a

different world.

A sea kayak is long. This is great because the

track well and have lots of glide.

those are exactly the characteristics that work

against them on a river.

Sometimes yo have to go sideways nearly as fast

as you do straight. Often you have to

get in behind rocks, which is difficult with a

long boat, because the back end sticks out into

the current too long.

This lack of maneuvering could easily get your

sideways with the bow on one rock and the stern

on another. This is extremely dangerous.

Running drops. The length of the boat is nearly

guaranteed to screw up your boofing ability over

the lip and will leave the tail in the downward

rushing water behind you.

Class 1 and 2 you’d probably be OK as these

don’t GENERALLY require much in the wa of must-

make moves.

And take lessons.

Rivers in Chile…
The rivers we do in sea kayaks down there are primarily the Rio Palena, Rio Yelcho and Rio Futaleufu (bottom) as well as Lago Yelcho. (All Class III or less.)

You can find the locations and river descriptions here:


Grand Canyon

– Last Updated: Jan-06-07 5:02 PM EST –

I remember reading a magazine article some years back of somebody (or 2?) who ran the Grand Canyon in an all Kevlar Eddyline. Nothing I ever could or would do, but it always amazes me what some have done. Unfortunately from a past life in the mountains, I did see where some envelopes can push back.

There are rapids, and then there are

– Last Updated: Jan-06-07 5:12 PM EST –

rapids. Here's a video clip of a 14' plastic touring kayak in Section IV of the Chatooga, Class IV. That kayak has also done the Upper Gauley, Class IV-V.


I just road scouted 66 miles of Class I-II on the Jackson River today with a 12 mile lake at the top, and didn't see any rapid I couldn't run in a 16' plastic tandem canoe paddling solo, so there's no reason IMHO why you can't run a 16' plastic kayak in whitewater too. You can add a minicell piller between your foot pegs if you're worried about entrapment. If you don't have sealed compartments fore and aft just put a kayak air bag at each end to help float it if you fall out.

The key is to pick your line as early as you can and manuver into it before you are in the rapid. I asked this same question a while back and Eric pointed out you can back paddle, even upstream backferry, to set up your position or slow down to miss a rock.

good luck and have fun

I wonder…
what my fiance would say about getting a ww kayak when we haven’t been able to get her a sea kayak yet. Rivers nearby that I have read about are the St. Joe’s, Clearwater, and Grande Ronde (I’m right on the Idaho border.) Ratings are mostly I or II with one section on the Ronde rated a III I think.

Helmet definitely sounds like a good idea. I have also wondered about my boats tracking because the only time it seems to really want to weathercock on me is when I’m going with a strong current. So ya’ll are probably right about winding up sideways between a rock and a hard place.

Thanks for all good advice.


As I recall, that’s a very good paddler who knows that stretch of the river by heart. One thing that I quickly learned paddling rivers was that it’s often impossible to see over even a small drop, and not knowing the right line can be more exciting than you might want.

If the rivers are mostly quickwater - Class 1 with occasional Class 2 rapids, you should be OK.

It’d be worth finding a spot with one or two nice big eddys to practice in.

Brent and Roger
It was Brent Boltan (from portland) and Roger Schumann (from monterey CA). They were heavy duty, expedition model Eddyline Ravens (with some kevlar and assorted other goodies). We did the repairs when they got home. :slight_smile:

It was written up in Sea Kayaker mag.


Get a canoe
Get a canoe and you can both go river paddling for the price of her sea kayak.

My experience is that river rapid paddling is a whole new sport. It is more different that surf paddling than it is like it. If you approach it knowing you are a beginner and running rapids and train yourself in the needed whitewater skills you’ll progress quickly.

Unlike ocean or surf paddling I always wear a helmet and never ever paddle along in any kind of rapids.

Keep the rudder up and be quick
Class II no problem.

Class III this was the first and last time I want to do it although I did make the whole run without a swim.

The boat is a seventeen foot plastic Eclipse

It was a 5 mile down river race.

Sorry about the no helmut. We had driven two hours to get there and didn’t relize that it was class II-III water.

I did many “oh sh-ts” !

This picture doesn’t even do it justice. Right after it there was a long technical drop. I was flying by a bunch of swimmers from the little WW boats


My advice: II= no problems, but don’t take a long boat in III’s unless you enjoy living on the edge!



Laird Hamilton stood up on a paddle board and used an extra long paddle to go down the Colorado. Doesn’t mean every joe smo with a paddle board and paddle can do the same.


Depends on boat, too
Some of the plastic touring kayaks have much more rocker and more Dolphin shaped bow. they will handle the whitewater much better than a straight tracking boat. Necky Zoar Sport is an example. Multi chines helps too, for leaned turns. I have a 14’ Liquid Logic Pisgah with multi chines and it turns many times better than my 15’ Dagger Sojourn solo canoe which has very little rocker. I’ve used the Dagger Sojourn in Class I-II easily, but enjoyed in more in the Pisgah because I can turn and play more easily.

With your skills playing in rock gardens and the boat you have you will really enjoy playing in Class I-II streams IMHO.

Local knowledge
You may want to check out some Eastern Washington clubs - www.dkcc.org www.sckc.ws

There is quite nice paddling on the Columbia River, Lake Chelan, Snake River and a number of reservoirs. Try the book Paddle Routes of the Inland Northwest.

We are having a Paddlefest in the Tri Cities May 12.

So there’s lots of opportunity even if it’s not quite up to salt water standards. Has its own charm IMO.

The Hanford Reach of the Columbia River is my favorite Eastern Washington sea kayak paddle so far.

Welcome to the dry side!

Loaded or Unloaded?
You did not say if the trip would be overnight or not also. Overnight, in a loaded kayak will be a lot different than a day trip with minimal gear. Thought has to be given to swimming with a loaded kayak in case you come out, etc.

I Done It
I’ve used a 14’ SOT in Whitewater up to class IV. I used to live along the Salmon in Idaho. A lot of what’s been printed here is supposition. A rocker bottomed boat is more likely to get pinned against a rock. That’s because they spin easily. Your kayak’s bow is more likely to be carried around a rock by the current while a rocker will spin sideways. I’ve seen this happen many times. The danger is in being flipped by a rock as you’re passing it.

Your surf skills will help you more than a WW kayakers river skills. That’s because they’re not the same. Hit a hole dead on like a wave. Whenever possible follow the tongue. I’d recommend getting a SOT. They’re much safer. When they flip you go butt first into the water. It’s not that hard to climb pack in.

A couple of years ago I raced a class II section of the Verde in AZ. The winner paddled a 16’ SINK. We talked after the race. He had paddle the same class IV section of the Salmon I have. He laughed when guides told him it was impossible after he paddled it. He didn’t dump either.