Special D.C. kayaker regulations?

My group is thinking of kayaking D.C. on the Potomac to see the cherry blossoms in a couple of weeks.

Are there any special regulations/equipment requirement for kayakers we need to know, other than the usual PFD and whistle?

Thinking of putting in at Gravelly Point. Any other recommendations for those who may have done this?


I have limited experience paddling there
Occasionally, when I’ve visited my family in Northern Virginia (suburban D.C.) I have taken my kayak with me. I generally put in at Gravelly Point and from there I have paddled down river to Alexandria and up river past Potomac Park, where the cherry trees are, on up past Key Bridge to Three Sisters Islands. I was actually paddling past the Pentagon on September 10th, 2001, the day before the terrorists flew the plane into it.

It never occurred to me that there might be special security restrictions in the area and I never had anyone take any notice of me. I don’t think you can get close enough by water to the Pentagon to be in any security zones. However, if you paddle up the Anacostia River, I would be cautious about approaching the Naval Station there. The Naval Station used to have a great museum that is worth visiting, but I’m not sure how they would feel about someone approaching from an unconventional direction. You could give them a call.

some info
Chip Walsh emailed me a while back, hope he doesn’t mind me reposting:

You can paddle anywhere you want along the Potomac and Anacostia. There are substantial sea walls along the whole waterfront, so there are few places to get in or out of a boat. Visibility of the monuments is marginal. Of course you can see the Washington Monument, and the Lincoln and Jefferson monuments are visible. But that’s about it. Still, it is a nice paddle with great views. There’s lots to see besides monuments. Thompson’s boat house is located at the foot of Virginia Avenue and has floating docks. They may ask you to pay if there is anybody watching. Across the river in Virginia, you can launch at Gravely Point, just west or north from National Airport. Some complain about the jets roaring overhead the launch, but I consider it a feature. The Potomac is a big river there and paddlers need to be prepared for wind and waves on the way across to the Washington waterfront. Jack’s Boathouse, at the far western end of K St, has floating docks (in season) and is very paddler friendly (including rentals), but is a mile or two from the monuments.

Just watch out for emergency plane
landings! They have right of way!


Try cpakayaker.com
post to their forum. I’m sure if there’s local info they’ll know it.

See you on the water,


The River Connection, Inc.

Hyde Park, NY



– Last Updated: Mar-26-09 8:56 AM EST –

If you plan to paddle at dusk (can be quite nice with the city lights), make sure you bring lights - the coast guard will stop you and ticket you if you do not have a flashlight at least.

You can see the trees only along the Potomac like at the watergate area for instance. The tidal basin at the memorial is not accessible at any time for kayaking.

Nice area to paddle. Check out the Columbia Island Marina for the put-in that it the closest to the Mall. Free for kayaks, $5 for boats that require the dockmaster to lift the barriers on the ramp. The Boundary channel is nice to paddle and see some birds but can be quite clogged with fallen trees and green-brown floating river slime and is only a couple of feet shallow so keep an eye.

As Marshall said - check out cpakayaker.com - a cherry blossom paddle (including some free paddling education I think) is infact planned for this Sunday if I recall. Might want to join.

Reasonable rentals too
We have rented kayaks at both the thompson boathouse and jacks for a paddle in DC–great for a shorter paddle. You can go around Roosevelt Island and even beach there and walk on the island. It is a very pretty urban paddle past the Kennedy Center and along the Georgetown Waterfront.

We do take our own paddles and pfd’s–easy to fit in the car, but sometimes dont want to take the kayaks from CT to DC for a brief paddle when visiting family. I agree that Jack’s is very paddle friendly. When we rented a couple of kayaks and then assembled our Epic carbon fiber paddles, the attendant appreciatively hefted them and told us exactly what we had paid for them.

South Potomac
Drive 30 minutes or so south and you can put in on the Quatico Marine base and paddle across the rive and just down stream to see the Ghost fleet in Mallows Bay. Hulls from WW1 wooden ships and so much more. Well worth the trip and the area is loaded with Bald Eagle and Osprey. I counted 35 in one day.

South DC warning
Just stay away from the sea wall on the very south tip if DC.

Where the Anacostia and Potomic meet you have Ft.Lesley J. McNair and a Coast Guard station on the anacostia side of McNair.Just stay well clear of the wall and keep on paddling,if you get to close or stop to long the MDW MP’s will probably get the metro boat to show you out of the area.

This is a beautiful little Army base but due to the high alert status just keep moveing.

Check with the folks at Canoe, Kayak, and Paddle Co. in Fairfax. Mike Aronoff and company run trips on the Potomac and should be able to answer any questions.


Don’t know, just mind the weather

I don’t know if there are special regulations. I’d like to try it myself this year. Just a word to the wise, it can be choppy. The last time I was there (walking) 3 years ago it was windy out and there were 2-foot waves. That was right by the Lincoln Memorial.

Weather - here

I think 2 foot waves are really rare in that particular area (just below the Arlington Memorial Bridge). Below Rochambewu Memorial Bridge - there can be more waves plus boat wakes.

Honest 1 footers, yes you can get them often when the winds is above 10-15 knots from the right direction. But to get to 2 feet there it has got to be really blowing from the South or North… I’ve only seen it like that a couple of times this past year. One of them was with up to 60 mph gusts, the other - with N-NW winds of 20+ pmh with up to 40 mph gusts. I don’t think we are going to get near that over the weekend, so I would plan for 1 foot or less but ya never know -:wink:

It is still a no wake zone across from the Lincoln memorial if I remember, so boat wakes are not a problem generally, but can be further downriver (and you may want to circle there too for more trees at the East Potomac Park, across from the airport).