What do you consider "rough"

I took my “new” ‘01 perception eclipse 17 to the thimble islands off of Branford CT today and it was windy and rough. I would guess the swells were about 4’ with white caps from the wind. I could just not get comfortable and enjoy the ride. It was a constant battle of bracing a paddling to keep upright. I have only been paddling for a couple weeks but my brother who has as little experience as I do was bobbing along happy as a clam in a little 1980’s whitewater boat.

I am sure that I will get more comfortable with more cockpit time, but I am wondering if it is just the nature of this boat to have to work so hard all the time to keep upright.

Are all sea kayaks like this? and at what point is it considered “rough” conditions?

I’d call that a rough ride
Four foot breaking waves are smacking you right in the face and going over your head. That sounds like is is bigger than most conditions I see even in the “Extreme” videos.

It does all depend on the boat and since kayaks are very close to the water everything looks bigger. For me in a kayak “impossible conditions” are Force 4 which in a sail boat is just considered moderate conditions with an average wave height of 1 to 2.5 meters!

They were what i would call swells, not breaking waves. I have paddled into 1-2’ breaking waves and that was not so bad. They come in one direction at a predictable pace and just kind of roll over the boat. I got really wet of course, but didn’t feel the impending doom feeling I had today.

The swells today may have been only 3’, but they were well over my head looking up at them from the valleys in between. they were not breaking thank goodness, but they did seem to be coming from more than one direction at a time and tossing my boat all over the place.

rough is any time the waves are taller than my boat is long.

My boat is 17’

Swells or waves

– Last Updated: Sep-08-10 12:07 AM EST –

If the swells are not breaking most folks don't consider it rough.
You probably are also misjudging the height of the swells. a 4' swell will measure 8' peak to trough. In a kayak a an 18" wave looks 4' tall or taller to someone who is not used to judging wave height.

Go out and play when there are small breaking waves , let them hit you sideways and learn to loosen your hips and bongo surf with the waves. The more you spend time in moving water the more confident you will get.

Most folks who paddle in "rough" conditions don't consider non-breaking swells rough at all. Reflecting waves, dumping waves, waves that break like wild horses running . .. that's rough

A little "rough" from Justine Curgenven's videos ...


Also check out the beginning and Sean Morley at 1:30 +


Anything more than you are used to
feels rough. Odds are that you were tensing up which creates its own set of issues - I don’t know this boat but non-breaking swells are not an issue with time under your belt.

This is also a situation where having a roll is terribly valuable, or at least having practiced the hell out of self-rescues. That way you don’t need to worry so much about capsizing - in regular swells at the height you likely had just about any kind of rescue will work.

Your brother was probably able to relax and enjoy bobbing around.

I’m guessing…
that you’re new enough that you’re still stiff at the hips. If your upper body is not articulating freely and comfortably then even mild swells can make you uncomfortable. And being uncomfortable in conditions can make you more tense and it becomes a vicious circle.

As you get more time in the cockpit you’ll get better at letting your lower body and boat dance with the water while your upper body attends to other chores. If you’re stiff in the boat active water seems all the more hostile.

Go out and simply play around in conditions that just begin to tickle your discomfort zone. Let your boat play, too, while you get accustomed to ‘swinging’ those hips! Dress well for immersion as this instils confidence - an important aspect of your comfort zone.

What you’re experiencing is nothing out of the ordinary and you will get beyond it.

thimbles in LIS
your conditions are relatively rougher than the same wave height, say in Block Island sound, because the spacing is much closer. Tide opposite of wind will kick up a steep wave as well, much more noticeable in LIS or Gardiners bay than in larger deeper bodies of water.

Add the currents
that swirl around those islands, and it is definitely “rougher” at the same wave height than it would be in open ocean, but I like that.

If you’re paddling along there and think it’s rough in the islands DEFINITELY stay away from the outside of Outer Island until you’re comfy in that kind of stuff, especially if there’s a wind out of any southerly direction. I’ve seen breaking 6 footers there that lifted my bow straight up at the sky.

Nice area to paddle in most conditions, though - there are lots of places to hide.

When I have to throw braces…
I consider it rough.

Jack L

nerves & braces will fade

– Last Updated: Sep-08-10 10:04 AM EST –

Eventually, as you relax and get a feel for how your kayak is interacting with the waves, you won't be bracing in those conditions, and they will become fun.
On the local NOAA marine radio here, they give swell height, and wave height. You can have quite large, smooth swells that would be easy for a novice, but that is different from what you're talking about. At around 15 knots sustained wind over open water, you will develop 3-4 foot wind waves, with whitecaps forming at the peaks of higher waves. At 20 knots sustained you will see the whitecaps lengthening some and more regular, and the waves get taller, usually reported around here as 3-5' or even 4-6' wave height. So it really doesn't take much to develop the sea conditions you're describing, and it seems like your description is probably a fair one.
As you maybe saw as I did here with Danielle & Earl, you can have 6' swells on glassy smooth water that is not rough at all (until you reach the surf zone). You're talking about wave height vs swells, which is decidedly rougher and more challenging than swells in open water. It's also much more fun for open water paddling.
You're always going to find someone who's done more, but if you're out in 4' locally wind-driven, whitecapping waves vs. smooth swells, you're in rougher water than 95% of kayak owners are comfortable, willing, or able to paddle in. Keep at it and believe it or not, you eventually will be relaxed, you will be using your normal, efficient forward stroke, and your instinct to brace will fade completely away.


Better to use an objective mesure, like the beaufort wind scale.

I like the chart.
Although with NOAA marine radio as my primary, really only, coastal water weather that I listen to regularly, wind speed is reported in knots vs beaufort or mph. So knots is definitely the objective measure for me.

Comfort in rough water can
Vary greatly from kayak to kayak and person to person. Short kayaks and sea kayaks with a lot of rocker will feel more stable in waves. Longer kayaks will have a greater tendency to being lifted by their ends which are very narrow and don’t offer much support. Paddlers body type and skill level will play a large role also. As your advancing your paddling environment try not exceed your skill level. Keep working on your paddle strokes, braces and rolls and more advanced conditions will get easier.

I find it very strange that some one that has only been paddling for a couple of weeks would even go out in what he called 4’ waves? Is that really a smart thing to do?

Exactly the same thing. Either the poster is an incredibly fast learner or to naive to know what how dangerous it can be out there. The conditions he speaks of you should have a solid roll, not just be able to roll up on your strong side in flat water after you have time to set-up. Also you should have very good self-rescue skills. Just my 2 cents.

Yup, and that varies depending on

– Last Updated: Sep-09-10 8:39 AM EST –

the boat I'm in. In one of my boats I hardly need a brace at all where I'm rather uncomfortable in one of my other boats in exactly the same conditions...

I think even more rough it gets where there is a chance for me to tip over unintentionally and when there are consequences if my roll fails (such as in proximity to dangerous objects or way far off shore).

Of course, as said already, one's rough is another's play -;)

If you can’t roll …
… doing the next best thing, a paddle float rescue, would be very difficult, I would think, in those conditions. Got to wonder if someone who has been paddling only a few weeks has practiced that enough times to do it successfully even in a 1 - 2 foot waves.

As a beginner, the decision where to paddle on any given day is based on the conditions (wind speed, direction, wave height, tide, etc), and safety first: if I end up in the water, can I get back in the boat … and if I can’t, what would I do. There are places I will paddle one day, and not another, due to conditions.

When I read the OP’s story, the first thing that came to mind was I hope these two have a lot more experience and skills than the post implies. Otherwise they did something very dangerous, and were lucky the sea gods were kind that day …

Funny how waves look …
… from the shore, and then when you’re sitting in a kayak with your butt on the floor of the boat.

Could have really ended badly.