What are your number limits

Prior to paddling anywhere I check two weather websites for current information. ALWAYS. I live in the San Francisco Bay Area and the weather is notorious for changing in a heartbeat.

A warm summer day in the 90’s, light breeze and calm waters is frequent upended by maritime coastal fog dropping temps to 56 degrees, pumping up the winds to the 20 mph area and thus producing white capped waters.
In reading articles about people launching in sketchy conditions and quickly finding themselves in trouble, I have set some pretty set standards on launch-no launch numbers.

Wind speed and direction
Current temperature
Forecast temperatures for the day
Water conditions (not so much the water temperature as it is consistently 56 degrees more related to choppiness, fetch, etc).
While I might stay onshore during these conditions (I value my life as crappy as it is), I have witnessed people launching in some very sketchy conditions.
I will not launch if winds get to 12-14mph, and or waves 1-3 feet. These are parameters I stick to no matter how much I want to go out. Most experienced kayakers could handle these winds and waters, I could probably as well, but won’t chance it.
What are your perimeters?

I could never go out at all on the ocean if 2-3 feet was not ok. It is always at least that.

I am getting lazier, prefer to get in before it hits 10 knots. But if l can get blown home by a little more l never refuse a free ride.

But if you are paddling SF bay, why are you using mph? You should be in a marine forecast using knots.

Celia - while many Mariners use knots instead of MPH, this is a forum on paddling, which can include people untrained in mariner language. In my experience paddlers include recreational to expert. The expert will figure it out, the recreational paddler will understand it without issue
*I was taught to always consider your audience might not be on the same page with a particular lingo.


My only hard and fast no-go is lightning. Summer storms here are unpredictable and often violent. Otherwise it’s more a matter of finding a place to paddle that is suitable given the conditions - so if it’s too windy or cold or the weather is iffy at the coast I’ll head inland to one of the springs or to one of the areas with mangrove tunnels. Or do a one way downwinder if I can get someone to pick me up at the end. Maybe I’m lucky to have a large variety of places to paddle but it’s a very rare day that I can’t get out at all.


Seeing as how you opened it to recreational paddlers as well as experts there are so many ways inland numbers would be far different than say ocean numbers. I look at weather forecast both long term and short term. Long term used for planning short term used as a go/no go. Short term is very predictable here we look west and see it coming about 8 hours is very accurate. Then I look at a sight that tells me river temp, gage depth and previous rain fall. High water is a bad. As an example we are going tomorrow and the gage height tonight is 2’ a little lower than I would like in contrast it was 9’ on july 17. the water temp is 74f so no problem there and no rain to speak of for several days. We do get our water thru a control dam so they are trying to keep it flowing to be paddled. The general weather forecast is saying air temps in 80s and no bad weather.

If we were not planning to go on the river and instead a dam or inland lake especially the local dam I would be looking more at wind speed.

I live close to Lake Erie and grew up on the great lakes and that IMO is a whole different thing and wouldn’t be out paddling on it in the crafts we paddle. Even power boats need to pay close attention to that big body of water and know their speed and range and not to exceed there return time based on forecast. There is time if you watch what is going on but wait around just a little too long and it is not fun.

For the best internet information on local conditions on the coast of California the wind speeds are given in MPH. These come from Scripps Institute CDIP webpage, surfline and magicseaweed surf websites, and even private weather stations networked by weather underground. Coastal forecasts from NOAA and NWS are in knots ( sorry I had mph as a typo for NOAA and NWS.)


Being more than 800 miles from the closest saltwater (or Great Lake), swells aren’t usually a problem. Like Brodie, lightning is a deal breaker as well, otherwise I’ll paddle until the water turns solid. I’ll paddle in 15 mph winds, but really only if I haven’t paddled for a bit, otherwise about 10-12 mph is all I’ll paddle in. I’m getting soft in my old age!

I wouldn’t get much paddling in if waves couldn’t be > than 3’. I think one parameter you are missing is period of the waves. If waves are significant > 6 ft, and short period it’s no fun except in a whitewater boat close to shore and surfing with other people.

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SeaDart - that’s called fetch. The distance between waves.

In the SF BAY AREA, depending on where one is, the weather and water conditions vary dramatically from mile to mile. The key to dealing with this is adaptation and preparedness. Both concerning weather and water conditions

There are several definitions of fetch. Yours is close to the 3rd definition (half of it actually) as given by Britannica:
Fetch , area of ocean or lake surface over which the wind blows in an essentially constant direction, thus generating waves. The term also is used as a synonym for fetch length, which is the horizontal distance over which wave-generating winds blow. In an enclosed body of water, fetch is also defined as the distance between the points of minimum and maximum water-surface elevation.


Ocean and salt marsh the stage of the tide is a consideration. I want tide going out when launching, and returning when headed back in. It’s not an absolute deal breaker, but a strong preference.

Wind is not just wind speed, but direction as well. Where there are tides, with a tide in opposition to the wind the chop will be worst so a lower wind speed might be prudent. When the wind and tide is going in the same direction the chop is less and a higher wind speed more manageable.
About 15 mph is plenty. It really depends on where you are paddling an fetch etc.

Waves depend on period as well as height I will paddle if the period is reasonable for the wave height. If waves are breaking offshore no go.

Current generally isn’t a big problem at the coast here other than tidal or rivers mouths. I try not to paddle up a coastal river if the tide is going out. Currents on rivers, in general I go down rivers, but will paddle up river if the current is less than 3 MPH. I will work eddies and shoreline avoiding deep water.

Heavy fog is a no go depending on where I might be paddling.

On rivers water level and CFS are the deciding factors, as well as water obstructions in the river like sweepers or fallen trees that might span the river.

I have been caught by popup thunderstorms with no way to get off the water a number of times. Not much fun. A storm without lightening can be fun if you enjoy lumpy water.

It also depends if I’m on a multiday trip or just planning a day paddle. Rain might keep me home for a day paddle. Not always, but most of the time. Getting caught in the rain is fine. Leaving in it well…eh.

You can sleep thru a tsunami passing under you in the open ocean at shore it is a different matter. 3 foot waves on Lake Erie can cause quite a pounding on a small power boat and are no fun to be in when spaced close together. I think describing just the wave height doesn’t mean a lot.

I always thought fetch was the distance my black lab would swim out to bring back a piece of driftwood. One foot more and she would stand and look at me.


Fetch is length of wind on the water producing waves. Period is time between waves. Yes no?


Fetch, area of ocean or lake surface over which the wind blows in an essentially constant direction, thus generating waves. … In an enclosed body of water, fetch is also defined as **the distance between the points of minimum and maximum water-surface elevation

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FETCH - what I do when I go get my kayak

Thanks Seaward. That be different from what l am used to, didn’t know.

Wave period is the distance between two waves passing through a stationary point, measured in seconds.

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Nice! Thanks!

I check the weather.

Numbers depend on where I’m paddling and risk involved.

Cold above freezing air 34°F supposedly but water froze on a sunny deck.

Wind I went out in 35 mph once not fun short run. Hard to turn in tight fast bay chop. I have better skills now but I’ll pass.

Chance of thunderstorms I’m home or heading there tad short of having a heart attack.

Waves depends on wave period and face of wave angle. I don’t want waves breaking over my bow constantly. Boat wake waves are fun going over the bow but they end unlike open water.

Not as risky in cold waters below 50°F. Usually alone paddling in the winter.