Starting out in NYC Hudson River

Been on a kayak once or twice before on flat water, so please consider me a complete newbie.

I live just outside Jersey City on the water not far from Ellis and Liberty islands (07305). Our community has private dock/boat slip facilities and I’ve seen other people’s kayaks tied up. Been wanting to get into it, but have little idea as to what I’d need to get started.

Right now, I can spend up to $500 on a tandem kayak (roommate is interested too), plus other essentials: paddles, life-vests, etc. I was looking at the Advanced Elements Lagoon 2 inflatable, but would love to hear general suggestions on good kayaks that are appropriate for budget beginners and urban river environments. I don’t plan on circumnavigating Manhattan or anything just yet; I would stick fairly close to the shoreline, out of the way of most traffic, and just get a feel for the sport.

Other than what kind of kayak to get, what else do I need to pay attention to as a beginner?

Thanks in advance!

to get a feel…
Best way to get a feel for the sport is to rent and take lessons. Maybe take a day-long basic sea kayaking class one day and then rent a few more days. For 2, this will use up a chunk of your budget, unfortunately, but will tell you if you really like it and if you do, will impart skills that are well worth having (making your future paddling experiences easier and safer).

Also, go to demo days at local shops and try out many different types of oats to get a feel for what is out there.

In your area I would get a boat that is capable of handling rough conditions. Rough water arises seemingly out of nowhere at times in the harbour. Ask around for some good info.

Lots of resources
There are plenty of resources in the area.

The NYCKayaker mailing list

Learn the rules of the road, NY harbor is a busy place.

For that area…

– Last Updated: Aug-21-10 10:05 AM EST –

agree, start with lessons. The currents and conditions can be nasty and the boat traffic you want to avoid is stuff that can really damage you if you lose control in wind and end up in the channel. Then there may be (not sure how close) security zones around you. Kayakers who accidentally wander too close to a military ship are getting threatened with 4 digit fines these days.

Currents can be the trickiest near shore - enough to leave you pinned up against a pier or a ship.

Lion or lamb
The Hudson can be a lion or lamb depending on currents, weather and boat traffic. Although I’ve seen all kinds of paddle craft out there with no problems I’d have to agree with others. Find something that is very sea worthy and can handle boat swells and steep chop. I’ve paddled around the island several times and have seen some pretty wild stuff.

Have fun and be safe!


More resources

– Last Updated: Aug-22-10 1:28 PM EST – (Lessons and tours on the Hudson, often near Peekskill, NY). (run skill sessions in Harriman State Park). (Run trips and lessons and have some sea kayaks for use by members, in Pomona, NY).


The problem with inflatables is that they tend to get blown around by the wind (they can be harder to control in wind). The Hudson can be fairly windy.

Inflatables also can be quite a bit slower than a hardshell.

Note that many tandems (long ones) are rather hard to paddle with one person in them.

very tight budget
It will be hard to outfit yourself safely and happily on $500, much less that second person. You might get lucky and find a used tandem sit-on-top for $400, and you can probably get a club to give you used lifevests for very little money, but a decent paddle is crucial to enjoying the sport, and you probably need to budget $80 per paddle, minimum. There are also annoyingly expensive incidentals like water shoes, dry bags, and silly hats.

I suggest an alternative: spend your money on train passes and go enjoy the free paddling that is offered by many organizations in the harbor area. I know of places in Staten Island, Hoboken, downtown Manhattan, midtown Manhattan, the Upper West Side, far uptown Manhattan (where I paddle), Long Island City, Red Hook, and Jamaica Bay. There are probably others that I don’t know. Send me a private email if you want details. Be quick about it; most organizations’ public programs will be shutting down over the next month and a half.

If you take that advice and decide you enjoy the sport, you will be motivated to save some money and get better gear than you can get for $500.

If you don’t take that advice and decide to buy now, you can barely do it, but as you say, you can’t afford to do many crossings, so stick to nearby Jersey. Learn the patterns of the tides and traffic, and learn how weather (especially wind opposing the current) affects conditions on the water.

Two more places, not mentioned above, for instruction and tours: Manhattan Kayak Company and New York Kayak Company.

See you on the water!


several issues
Your post raises several concerns, the most obvious being that you don’t seem to have a clear sense of the risks involved in paddling in NY/NJ harbor. Staying close to shoreline works in most places, but not in a working harbor with ferries on a tight schedule, barges, tugs, and recreational boaters competing for the same space and creating turbulence that can challenge even experienced paddlers. The only way to be safe in this environment (and I paddle here several times/week) is to have control over your kayak. From your description, you and your roomie aren’t there yet. Take the advice from the poster above and invest in a few lessons before investing in gear. Once you’re tied into the paddling community you’ll find plenty of good, cheap advice. But don’t go anywhere near the harbor until you learn how to do so safely.


Slight Additions to the above
I suggest following the advice of Lyngo (she know these waters well) and NYCHandy. Those waters are for the skilled and experienced paddler. If after reading these posts, you are still bent on going in this direction, I will expand upon some of the things mentioned:

Downtown Boathouse - Is a subsidized organization staffed by volunteers. They have a sectioned off area for beginners to paddle. They also have guided tours to the Statue of liberty. In the winter, I believe they have pool classes. All of this is very inexpensive.

Manhattan Kayak - has an interesting curriculum and a point system. they offer courses and assess your performance and award points. They also have paddling tours in the area that you are interested in that you can join only if you have enough points (i.e. skills) to handle it. The entry level somewhat instructional tour is a first time out on the river tour that requires prerequisite training and points to demonstrate that you are ready. This will not be cheap. Last I knew, they do sell Prijon boats (same as used in their classes and tours) and may have used inventory.

If you are interested in Jamaica Bay, the Sebago Canoe and Kayak Club (also city subsidized) offers free paddle time (incl boats) on Saturdays, as well as classes and membership to their club. Their club is focused on skills building, which would be a good fit for you and your goal.

I personally prefer friendlier waters, and paddle in protected bays of nearby Long Island and sometimes Queens (water isn’t as clean) and am always open to paddle buddies.

Good luck and be careful ,