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Lake Paddling Conditions - Findings to Date

Hello All

Well, I arrived here (Toronto) from BC about 2 months ago and I can now compare lake vs. ocean paddling. There are some differences I have observed that might be useful to pass on to novices, and might affect instruction.

1. The fetch is shorter in protected harbours, etc.., leading to enhanced local wind effects. Hard to rely on offshore marine data if in large protected lake water.

2. This shortened fetch and marine traffic can lead to chop, which is an acceptable novice paddling condition. Chop, especially combined with boat wakes can produce unreadable 1-2 meter waves which may continuously hit the boat abeam during crossings. Beginners with weak turning skills will find a rudder very useful, as leaning seems precarious in chop for the novice.

3. Chop can lead to random differences in wave heights, leading to missed forward paddle strokes for the novice kayaker. Intermediate kayakers, if tired, can miss paddle strokes on uneven chop and have moments of unexpected instability. More attention is required to keeping stroke depth even in chop. Ocean conditions tend to produce swells, which are easier to read. Chop can be read, but there are more chaotic fluctuations in wave height and force to reckon with for the novice. Advanced paddlers find it very easy going.

4. If novices paddle in windy harbours near headwalls, they must be careful. The kayak can get hit with successive waves, pushing it close to concrete abutments and making it very difficult to turn. This applies to instruction occuring in urban areas, lake or ocean.

5. Novices may underestimate the force of swells and the changability of weather in lakes. Short, 1-2 hour lake crossings can turn into dangerous return trips if kayaks are not equipped with flotation and self-rescue devices. Small lakes can still produce strong wind-driven lake effects. In addition, many small lakes have long expanses of rugged shoreline, which are difficult to land on when winds come up. Discussion with local authorities about prevailing wind patterns, or daily wind patterns are of importance.

6. I have yet to quantify some sort of estimate of whether buoyancy changes, however miniscule, due to salinity differences in lake vs. ocean, are of note. It seems, on the physics of things, that the paddler would not experience much difference. But, on a system level, I have a gut feeling, having paddled both, that lake water tends to be choppier in part to its reduced density. This is what some of my associates think too, but we can't describe it adequately. I don't think it is of major importance.

7. Navigation practices are the same, with one possible differences, that is, that wind-wave effects are probably more significant to focus on during exposed crossings (Lake Huron, Lake Superior). I know the ocean is changable, but overall, the great lakes winds seem very changable, and so lake paddling should bring with it great attention to prevailing wind patterns, and having contingency and emergency plans for dealing with squalls, gale force winds. This, again is consistent with ocean kayaking practice, the idea of having at least 1 escape route in mind.

That's all for now. I hope this message is useful for other kayakers.


David 4. Local