Trip Planning Guidelines

Disclaimer: The following Blog Entry was written for the May 2003 SMSKN Newsletter and is re-presented here for fun and good information! For this entry, also see SMSKN’s page for Trip Planning guidance

2003 Trip Planning Guidelines  

Trip Planning Guidelines By Bob Arledge

One of the primary reasons we exist as a club is to be able to plan to paddle with others. Our website has an extensive Events List which features trips planned by club members. An important feature of the trip planning process is to somehow communicate to others the anticipated level of difficulty of the trip so that interested paddlers can decide for themselves if a particular trip falls within their skill level.

To this end SMSKN makes available a set of guidelines that is intended to make the rating of SMSKN trips more uniform among trip coordinators. They are intended to avoid having paddlers finding themselves on trips that have demands beyond their capabilities; this creates a threat to safety. Safety is of paramount importance, but the guidelines are also useful to establish some minimums for trips. For example, a trip intended for advanced paddlers should not be planned for a pace of two knots. This can create boring conditions.

Obviously the condition with the highest rating should generally determine the rating of the trip; however, the boundaries between ratings are not rigid. For example, if you are planning a trip on a calm, sheltered lake in late August, at a gentle pace, but you want to go 16 nautical miles, there is no reason the trip should not be classified as an intermediate trip. It would be a good idea to let people know that the trip is a little long for the classification, but there is no need to dissuade intermediate paddlers from participating. The most important safety tool in kayaking is good judgment.

The most critical criterion for safety is wave height, and it is the one that is the least predictable. It is never possible to be certain that conditions will not be worse than the guidelines for a rating level. You have to deal with probability. If there is a significant chance that the conditions will be worse than the guidelines or if there is a slight possibility that the conditions will be a lot worse than the guidelines, you should upgrade the rating.

In most cases it is the waves that pose the threat, not the wind. This is the reason that wave height is used in these guidelines rather than wind speed. Exposure to the wind, fetch for waves to build, time of year and time of day are all things that can affect the potential for large wind-generated waves and are things to be considered in rating a trip. As the day of the trip approaches, weather forecasts begin to have pertinence to the probability that conditions will be within the limits for the classification of the trip. The day before and the day of the trip, weather buoy data becomes also becomes pertinent. At this point if the probability is that wave conditions will exceed the rating of the trip, the rating should be upgraded or the trip relocated. A trip can be relocated to a place where sheltering conditions compensate for stronger winds.

Another thing about waves to consider is their steepness. A breaking one-foot wave is a greater threat than an eight foot swell. Swells with long periods gently lift you up and down without any tendency to tip you over. Of course the energy in these swells can become dangerous if you paddle into shallow water where the waves slow down and build up. For the wave height criterion in these guidelines, it is assumed that the waves are steep.

Author: Bill Ridlon

It’s 5:30 on Thursday, June 29th. I’ve rushed home from work, put the boat on top of the truck, grabbed the kayaking gear, and headed the few miles to Willard Beach. I’m the fi rst one here but others soon appear. Bob arrives, Ray drives up, Lyn shows up just down the beach, and Barbara comes in last, but with plenty of time to make the 6:00 PM launch.

Shortly, we’re ready to head out. But wait. There are two others that have arrived and plan to join us so we paddle out a few hundred feet and wait. Finally, we’re a concentrated group with all paddlers off the beach and we start across the channel to House Island. It appears that the two paddlers that arrived last don’t have a lot of experience with Level 2 paddles. They have trouble with the chop and they begin to fall behind the main group. No matter, it gives us an opportunity to practice keeping a disparate group together.

After crossing the channel, we stop on the little island in Whitehead Passage to make clothing adjustments. Ray offers to return with the two paddlers that are having some difficulty. They decline his invitation. So… we continue through Whitehead Passage and out around Cushing Island, passing between Cushing and Ram Islands. Out here, we experience the Atlantic swells, which are great fun if you’re prepared and experienced, not so much fun if you’re not. Three of the experienced paddlers head off towards Fort Williams and Portland Headlight while Ray and I stay back with the two slower paddlers, Andy and Samantha. Ray is paddling with Andy and I’m keeping watch over Samantha as we travel slower, and slower, and slower.

Suddenly I hear, “Bill?” It’s Samantha. I paddle over to her to find out what’s on her mind.


“I think I’m getting seasick.”

Well, this should be a challenge. I give Samantha the standard warning to not lean over her boat to vomit. She follows my advice and lets the ocean wash everything away. Quite quickly it becomes clear that Samantha will be going nowhere, other than possibly out to sea, without some help. I clip Sabino Moon 3 my towrope onto her bow and we start making a little progress.

Eventually, our little pod of 4 paddlers arrives in Ship Cove at Fort Williams and we join the rest of our group. We manage to get Samantha and Andy onto the shore and Andy wisely chooses to walk back to Willard Beach to collect his car while Samantha settles her stomach.

Our remaining group floats in the cove for awhile, listening to the Portland Symphony orchestra. We also paddle here and there around the cove, playing tag with the mosquitoes.

It begins to get dark so we put our lights onto the boats. The concert draws to a close. Some of us paddle closer to where we think the fi reworks will be launched. Suddenly, the first one is fired! Then the second, the third, fourth, fifth, and many more without a break in between. It’s quick, probably less than 2 minutes. But, seeing fi reworks erupt directly above you makes it all worthwhile. Seeing them from that perspective makes the word spectacular seem too tame for the experience.

The paddle back along the Cape Elizabeth shore to Willard Beach is almost as nice as the concert and fi reworks. There is no moon in the sky so lighting is by stars and navigation by lights along the shoreline. At about 10:00 PM, 5 happy paddlers slip back into Simonton Cove, load boats onto cars and trucks, and head for home.