Sea kayaking

Two sea kayaks in Abel Tasman National Park, a popular sea kayaking destination in New Zealand.


Sea kayaking is popular across the globe anywhere there are large open bodies of water like lakes, bays, calm rivers, estuaries and the ocean to be explored. Although sea kayaks come in variety of styles they generally are different then their white water cousins in that they trade off the maneuverability for higher cruising speed, cargo capacity, ease of straight-line paddling and comfort for long journeys. Canoes are an alternative for many of the areas accessible by sea kayak, but less suitable for unsheltered waters.

Sea kayaking is open to people of all skill levels from renting a kayak to paddle around a small lake to months long journeys into complex marine conditions and is often combined with wilderness backpacking for exploring otherwise difficult to access wilderness areas and allows access to fishing areas that might otherwise be inaccessible. Kayaks are also popular to bring along when cruising on small craft allowing boaters to go ashore or generally give access to areas that larger boats won't fit.


Inuit seal hunter in a kayak, armed with a harpoon.

Contemporary sea kayaks trace their origin to the native boats of Alaska, northern Canada, and Southwest Greenland. Eskimo hunters developed a fast seagoing craft to hunt seals and walrus. The ancient Aleut name for a sea kayak is Iqyak, and earliest models were constructed from a light wooden frame (tied together with sinew or baleen) and covered with sea mammal, (sea lion or seal) hides. Archaeologists have found evidence indicating that kayaks are at least 4000 years old. Wooden kayaks and fabric kayaks on wooden frames (such as the folding kayak Klepper) were dominating the market up until 1950s, when fiberglass boats were first introduced while modern plastic kayaks first appeared in 1984.



Sea kayaks come in several different styles, materials and configurations. They are designed to accommodate one to three paddlers together with room for camping gear, food, water, and other supplies. A sea kayak usually ranges anywhere from 10–18 feet (3–5½ meters) for solo craft, and up to 26 feet (8 meters) for tandem craft. Width may be as little as 21" (50 cm), and may be up to 36" (90 cm).


Besides an actual sea kayak there are a number of pieces of equipment that are needed for an excursion.

Other equipment is optional but may be required in some instances

Do/Stay safe

Tides and currents

Though invisible, the current has great impact on kayaking. On the ocean, the current changes direction subsequent to the tides. This can either slow you down and/or cause you to drift far from your itinerary. The amplitude of tides can sometimes rise above 6 metres. Great caution is also to be taken in some regions with tides of one or less metres, as these can cause very dangerous currents. Recreational kayakers can maintain on average a speed to 2 to 3 knots* (3.5 to 5.5 km/h). Currents between 1 to 4 knots are then regarded as average, while currents above 4 knots are significant.


8°C is the critical threshold. Swimming in water between 8 and 15°C is, though uncomfortable, tolerable. A forced plunge in water below 8°C can provoke hypothermia within minutes, and if below 5°C, can pose a major threat to life. Consider the water temperature rather than just the air temperature when choosing clothing. Layers of quick-dry clothing are ideal, and hats, sunglasses and sunscreen are highly recommended. For footwear consider wearing sturdy, strap-on sandals or water shoes.

Maritime traffic

Traffic can be dense on large, navigable channels and along certain coastlines. Cargo ships in these areas are obliged to adhere to exact routes, leaving them with no room to maneuver around you. It is your responsibility to steer out of their way. The crew of these huge ships cannot detect you on their radar, cannot spot you when beyond a distance of two miles (and that in clear weather), and lose sight of you again when you are closer than a half mile to their ship. Also fast recreational vessels are a danger. You can often avoid traffic by keeping to shallower water and crossing fairways quickly.

Know your rights and obligations as a pleasure boater and respect the navigational regulations in order to avoid collisions. Make sure that you are well seen and heard. To this effect, the color of your kayak and your PFD can play an important role. Kayaks come in a variety of bright colors not for reasons of style but because the bright colors make them more visible to other boaters. Yellow, orange and red are the colors that are the most visible on water. Signalling devices should always be within hand’s reach.


Some regions have prevailing and constant winds that can be easily forecasted. Wind has a drift effect similar to the current and can also rapidly decrease its ambient temperature. Sudden wind-blasts provoke strong, sometimes breaking waves and can cause you to drift very far from the banks. Great care should be taken when interpreting weather forecasts.


The natural environment in which an excursion takes place should not be taken lightly. Camping conditions, the presence of dangerous animals, evenness of terrain, and its remoteness can each trigger or influence minor incidents that could take on catastrophic dimensions.



Komodo National Park There are dozens of uninhabited islands within and just outside the park. Many of these are only accessible by unmotorised vessels such as expedition style sea kayaks and SUP's.


Oban is a town in Argyll and Bute. It is known as the Seafood & Sea Kayaking Capital of Scotland and probably the whole of Europe It is also shopping and drinking capital of the west coast of Scotland, and home to the excellent whiskey of that name.

Sea kayaking is a great way to discover countless islands of the Archipelago Sea, the other archipelagos along the coast or e.g. the Saimaa freshwater archipelago. Very good conditions for sea kayaking and equipment rentals are also in Helsinki.

North America


The first nations of Northern Canada (and/or Greenland) invented and still use a type of kayak and for some places it is the best or in fact only way to get around.

United States


Seward has many vendors offering kayakers a close up look of the many glaciers and wildlife in the area.


Sea kayaks can get closer to wildlife and maneuver through areas that larger boats can't but be well prepared for cold weather.

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Wednesday, April 15, 2015. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.