sea (lake) worthiness

I paddle a 10’ 4" sit in rec kayak in cleveland harbor and fairport harbor on lake erie. I use a spray skirt and have flotation in the front and back. I guess I have confidence issues taking it out of a harbor, even though I think the waves would be more predictable in open water due to fewer boat wakes/reflecting waves off of breakwalls. I always pick my days and never go out in more than 1-3 footers, and stay close to shore in case I can’t get back in. Any advice on taking the next step on going out into the open water?

an incomplete list
1. Find a friend to paddle with.

2. Take a lesson or go to a symposium.

3. Practice capsize recovery until you have it down. It can be fun.

Learn to re-enter on water and…

– Last Updated: Jun-02-14 9:44 AM EST –

It is unclear whether you have practiced this - sounds like you are talking swimming it to shore.

Getting a boat with perimeter lines would make that doable. Start learning to roll even better for things like 3 ft waves. Actually most people unfamiliar with open water start getting nervous at more like 2 feet. Remember that 3 feet is about the height that you can't see over, the top of your head when sitting in the boat.

The above are not skills with which a rec kayak like yours is an apt match. The Great Lakes are an inland sea and if you want to really take advantage of them, should be treated that way in terms of boat and skills.

A rec boat like you have, because it is designed for quiet water (check out the manufacturer's own description), is significantly less stable in real waves than a skinnier sea kayak would be. The design differences between the two types of craft are functional. Even if you did take it out into real 3 ft waves close to shore, you may not have a great experience.

I have been out in 1-3 foot rollers before magnified by boat wakes at the mouth of the Cuyahoga river in Cleveland. Water came over the bow, all was good. I used to jet ski in the open lake, up to a few miles out in 2-4 footers so I have some knowledge of lake conditions. I always think of the contingency plan for bailing and the first step is to try to get back in. Next step is to swim to shore if that fails. I admit that I do not know the roll, otherwise I would not be as concerned. A different boat is not a viable option for me either. Maybe practicing self rescue would boost confidence.

Getting away with it versus
You have good balance and can stay calm in waves… which means you are more like me when I started than many. I never capsized until I started learning to paddle worth a darn - bracing for real and turning in waves - then I discovered how much I had been getting by on good balance rather than really handling the situation.

But getting away with it is not the same as being safe, and it is the latter you asked about. Especially since you are talking about taking a boat into conditions for which it is not suited.

I understand the issue of dollars, and suggest that you start looking for a used boat with more substantial capabilities. The plastic transitional boats, two bulkheads and perimeter rigging, often cost little more used than a new rec boat. But they are a lot safer. It doesn’t matter if it looks like it has been beat to hell as long as it can be made reasonably dry and equipped for the conditions you want.

If you want to find out the easy way what should and should not be done with this boat, take it to a pool or a sheltered area to capsize it and try to get back in from water over your head. Doing that is by far the most direct way to figure out your answer.

Thanks for the advice. I have turned in waves, never felt even close to tipping, the kayak I have has a pseudo double hull and is approximately 32" wide. I think if I can get back in reasonably well from deep water (with my paddle, able to bail the cockpit out) it would help me be more confident. I used to be able to get back on my jet ski with no trouble in big waves, although that is something totally different. Point is I am used to being in the water.

The jet ski is a very different (and easier) situation for most people than a rec boat. Give it a shot, or two.

she’s right.
It doesn’t matter if you’re used to being in the water. If you’re going to paddle you need to be used to getting back into your boat, at a minimum, along with knowing the limitations of your boat. I can tell you with certainty that you’re not adequately prepared for paddling in the great lakes.

If you can’t accept the answers you receive, then don’t ask questions.

rec boats and open water don’t mix
I’ve rescued a couple of rec boats in open water and know of several more. In every case the paddler had ventured out and conditions changed quickly and they ended up swimming and unable to get back in and stay in. They are not designed for anything more exciting than you local duck pond. Even with flotation, they hold a large volume of water, have no deck lines, are unstable in waves,and are too wide for adequate control. Also remember, a boat like that is very unstable half full of water. Add to this they are generally paddled by people with very limited or zero self rescue skills and you are just asking to make the evening news.

Just learn a self rescue and
practice it.

Then listen an adhere to several weather reports.

Lastly, go for it and have fun and don’t listen to the scare mongers.

Jack L

Lake Erie

– Last Updated: Jun-02-14 12:52 PM EST –

I live in NE Ohio and kayak regularly in Lake Erie, usually putting in at either the Mentor Lagoons or Fairport Harbor Beach.

As many have already posted, you may want to consider a more substantial sea kayak and some instruction before pursuing this "inland ocean".

My wife and I have Wilderness Systems Tsunami kayaks and these are the minimum I would consider for use in coastal Lake Erie situations, especially when the weather changes. As you know, Erie is a shallow lake and the conditions can change there very rapidly. Remember a year or two ago when a local drowned out by Euclid while out on a ("Dick's special") rec kayak with his dog?

I am far more confident in my Aquanaut when on Lake Erie.

Used kayaks are a good option and turn up regularly in the area.

The Lake County Metroparks does offer courses in sea kayaking. Limited as they are, they are a start. Also, 41 North in Lakewood offers mores serious instruction, including rolling lessons (usually held during the winter).

Good luck!

A couple of points to consider
I have not paddled on Lake Erie but I have seen the lake on windy days. One thing I noticed was the lake seemed pretty shallow compared to other great lakes, that meant that wind waves turned into fairly violent breaking waves in wide area near the shore. This is what you really need to worry about a 32 inch wide rec boat is not built to dance with waves and pop through breaking surf. To be honest most people who think they have seaworthy seakayaks are going to have real trouble in the same conditions. I would suggest going to a beach with shallow water on a windy day with say 3’ breaking waves and practice paddling out into water just about over your head and then paddling in. Practice turning to the waves and letting the waves hit your kayak when you are at 90 degrees to their path, learn to let the waves roll under you, or bongo slide when a wave breaks on you and pushes you in. You will get beat up and pounded, and flipped a lot while you are learning and when you exit your boat will get filled with water and you will get some experience emptying it and trying to maneuver when flooded. Likely you will want to sell that boat after learning it’s limitations. That is the kind of practice you need before going off shore.

2. If you paddle alone and you don’t know how to roll I would consider buying a sit on top that you can simply climb back on. Don’t buy a high sided wide one, find one meant for playing in waves or for speed on ocean waters. I keep a 9’6" Cobra strike for exploring ocean coast. It’s just as seaworthy as any seakayak. I would not want to race anybody in a longer boat or paddle in extremely high winds but really wouldn’t want to do that in a seakayak either.

beating a dead horse??
This may be beating a dead horse, but I totally agree with what others say about knowing and practicing re-entries on the water. I hear you say you think you can do it, but not ever say you have done it. Before you life depends on it, please do it. And you will find it is harder than you think and that some gear may (pump, added floatation, paddle float, etc) help. Figure this stuff out before you need to.

Also keep in mind water temps. At lower temps (below 60F), the distance an average person can swim to shore before their body pulls their blood back into their core to prevent hypothermia (so making your arms and legs useless) is quite short. Here is recent and average temps for various Great Lake locations.

Thanks for the advice! I will be giving it a go as soon as conditions allow. Also going to keep stuffing flotation into the voids inside of the boat