Using Rec boat in Great Lakes

I am on the lookout for a sea kayak to use in the Great Lakes and to use on long river trips. My mom got me a book on trips to take in Lake Michigan/Lake Superior. My girlfriend just recently got a 9’6" Mainstream Streak (cheap rec boat). No flotation. I was showing her a trip around Beaver Island because my Grandpa lives up there. She said that we should do it, but, I don’t think that her rec boat would be good for that. What do you think. If we were to take the ferry there and just paddle around the island and stayed close to shore, would that work out ok? Maybe if I had a sea kayak and then we set her up with some float bags and a skirt? She is certainly not a seasoned kayaker. I told her I would consult the gurus and get back with her. :wink:

Can you do rescues?

– Last Updated: Apr-28-08 8:35 AM EST –

The answer for a rec kayak even with floatation in the Great Lakes in general will probably come in no, but then there's the staying close to shore part after a ferry ride. That probably takes local knowledge to judge, which I lack.

However, if you take your girlfriend, as the one who will be regarded as the more seasoned paddler you are taking the responsibility of doing a rescue if she dumps. I'd suggest you think about that part before going any further.

Also, before the boat gets wet the question is whether the paddler can handle conditions extant from the boat they are in. It sounds like the answer may be no for your GF, and it isn't clear where that is for you considering GL conditions.

no on the rescues
i never have done a rescue, In fact, I’ve never used a sea kayak yet. So, I’m thinking this would be a bad idea. Just wanted to make sure. I will be learning this stuff hopefully this summer, but we will probably both need some more experience before we do something like this.

A couple of thoughts to ponder:
1. a yak with no flotation is a no no in my estimation

2. Can she swim and is comfortable in the water?

3. How far is the open water portion?

4. If 2 and 3 are acceptable and you put flotation in the boat, and she has a suitable bailing device, and you can do an assisted rescue, (which is a simple procedure), and she can prior to that paddle do the distance that you will be going, and you listen very carefully to the weather/ wind report for that day and only attempt it on a sunny day with light and variable winds and 0 percent chance of storms. I say go for it and have fun.

When I first started with my little 9’-6" recreation Keowee (which did have flotation) I thought nothing of going several miles out in the ocean, but I always paid close attention to the above.

just my thoughts,



Beaver Island Rocks!
Beaver Island is really great for paddling. With your experience level, I would do one of the following, though.

  1. Take a vehicle over on the ferry that can carry both of your kayaks. Then drive to the inland lakes and paddle there. Fox Lake is a large lake with a bog at the far end that is gorgeous. Font lake is right near town, shallow and marshy, but very large. Barneys lake is smallish, and very pretty. Lake Genesereth is Huge, and used to be attached to Lake Michigan. You could also put in Lake Michigan for a day paddle on Sand Bay at the Bill Wagner campground on the East side if it’s not too windy. You could easily spend a day at each of these spots. Some of these lakes get windy and choppy, so you need to know how to handle a kayak and be ready for a swim and recovery.

  2. The other, probably better, option is to go on a guided tour with Inland Seas Kayaking. That way you’ll get basic instruction, propper gear, and a nice safe trip on the Lake. You can take trips out to the other islands and other cool stuff. I’ve learned via climbing, snowboarding, etc., that it’s way better for a relationship to have a guide or instructor in charge rather than teaching to (or being tought by) a girlfriend.

Also, with a guided trip or lesson, you may be able to try different sea kayaks and find out what you like for when you buy.

Done it…
I have been paddling a critter about the past 9 or so years (no intention or ambition to expand). Although I have done it all in that boat(I can honestly say I have mastered that boat to the farthest extent it can go) from 8" deep creeks to 3/4 mile off the shore at Fisherman’s Island Lighthouse (Lake Michigan). I have hunted from it, dove from it, swam from it, used it as a “brush buster” on portages, it has been used as a bridge across narrow fast water,I have even used it as a shelter in bad weather while paddle/camping. Although all the “EXPERTS” here will say impossible, they weren’t there to see it.((WITNESS’ = Longshadow, Northman, DryRiverBed & acouple more))

Like everyone else says, it depends on your experience & ability… I trust my ability to go a mile in the great lakes, but any farter than that… I would rather hae someone with me &/or a different boat.

Paddle easy,


No one said impossible
Don’t know where you’ve seen that. A number of people, myself included, said it was a higher risk than the OP’er may want to take on, especially with the two paddlers involved.

We spent a few summers pushing Swifties further than they are supposed to go. The possibilites with these boats can exceed prudence.

No one said impossible

Posted by: Celia on Apr-28-08 11:55 AM (EST)

Don’t know where you’ve seen that.

It was right here on!!! I posted of a day trip that I took & over half the regulars & some noobs jumped onboard the ****wagon & called me a liar, said it was impossible for that to be done with a rec boat, etc, etc…

I posted about my trip about 3 years ago & was subject to the “jesters” for about a week.


Paddle easy,


Must have missed that
Hard to see why anyone would go after the reality of a trip on the face of it, except for maybe the guy with the grey thing. But there are other reasons than the reported boat etc on that one.

In the case you cite I stand corrected.

Come on now Coffee!!
Back then you posted about doing 5-6 foot waves in the Critter. Now about all you’re claiming is padding it in shallow water and sleeping in it!

Maybe you were sleeping in it back then too and only dreaming “Crittisizing” the big waves.

Excellent Advice …
This seems like a really helpful post.

A good way to use your own boats on the Island and if you can afford it a guided trip in suitable boats will really boost your skill level and be good experiece.

If you do venture out on the big lake. Make sure you are dressed for the water temps and keep an eye on the weather. Usually best to paddle early mornings and avoid storms that build up in the daytime. Make sure somebody knows where you are and when you will check in when you return. Have signalling devices and a phone or radio that works in the area.

I don’t belive in that “cutting a wave height in half for size crap”…

If you are sitting in the bottom of a wave & you have 3-5 foot of water above your butt, more than half of it is gonna get you- so that would be 3-5 foot of wave.

Paddle easy,


I started with a rec boat
I paddled on Lake Michigan, big and small rivers, and lakes and ponds with a Necky Manitou for years when I started out. Completely self taught and often alone. It’s fine as long as you stay within your limits. The problem is that things aren’t always predictable out on the water, especially out on Lake Michigan. Even if you stay close to shore around Beaver Island, there are waves and slippery rocks along the shore in some places, and areas with pretty isolated shoreline. Not to mention often unpredictable weather. Plus, although it’s entirely possible to paddle around the island in a rec boat, it’s 13 miles long and 6 miles wide. There are good places to put into the lake, I just wouldn’t advise a novice to go too far.

yea, I like that method of measurement
How much wave is “gonna get you” …? I think the vast majority of people measure waves that way.

I watched a group of scientists on the Discovery channel talking about 80-90 foot rogue waves. Not one of them said, well those waves are really only 45 feet high. Same with the captain of the ship that survived a strike by one. He too used the “size what’s gonnna get you” method of measurement.

My Rule of Thumb For Rec Boats
I got some heat here a few years ago after posting a photo of me in a Pungo in “conditions its not designed for”

My rule of thumb for rec boats is don’t go into any situation you can’t swim out of. But then some are stronger swimmers than other.

Agree with Odonate too.
If you bring the boats, there’s plenty of paddling to be had without leaving the safety of Beaver Island. However, the money to ferry two kayaks to the island and back could go a long way towards the guided tour. It’s a day paddle to see Native American spirit huts on Garden Island and snorkel shallow shipwrecks. Either way you’re going to ahve a great time. Personally, I could spend a month out there and not get bored…and I’d love to prove it some time. :wink:


A Manitou 13 or 14
will take any sea you can paddle. Expert coastal paddlers use Manitou 13’s with tweaked outfitting for ocean rock gardening.

As long as a boat has flotation and you have a decent spray deck, there’s no reason it can’t handle big seas. The water doesn’t discern, and in fact there’s nothing inherently more seaworthy about a long skinny sea boat… That’s likely going to ruffle some feathers, but let’s look at a Mariner Coaster. At 13 ft. a superb rough sea boat. People have been paddling the mud ball in all sorts of craft for centuries.

The Manitou’s are really great! I loved mine. It was a good second boat, and great for guests. I had an oportunity to trade for a plastic sea kayak that’s similar to a Manitou only longer and slimmer, and that’s the only reason I got rid of it. They even roll alright.

PNET Gathering …
I was thinking it would be great to do a Pnet trip to Beaver Island one summer. Would give me an excuse to get back to Michigan and see old friends. I had some crazy Mormon ancestors who left Nauvoo and went to set up a colony on the Island, never have known much about it. Would like to paddle Lake Michigan during a friendly season.