Notes on Sea Kayak Navigation and Tidal Planning
Sea kayaking is a uniquely varied sport. It offers a diverse set of rewards, from observing wildlife from a unique perspective on a still morning to surfing huge tiderace waves. It also presents a diverse set of challenges to the learner - from developing physical endurance to understanding the maths and geometry of navigation.
Like most things, the skills of sea kayaking are honed through practice. Getting out paddling, initially with others who have more experience, is the way to improve. However, ultimately most paddlers will want to undertake trips independently, and perhaps give something back to the sport by leading or coaching others. The skills required to plan trips and carry out the plan safely may not be acquired if paddlers rely on experienced leaders fo this. Whilst the judgement needed to plan well will only come with time, the underpinning tidal planning and navigation skills shouldn’t present a barrier - unlike everything else, they can be learnt at home without getting wet!
The content on this site was originally written to support an introductory course in sea kayak navigation and planning at Cambridge Canoe Club - many thanks to them for asking me to do the course! Since then, I’ve developed the material to some degree, but it’s still very much a collection of notes rather than a coherent textbook. Hopefully I’ll be able to keep improving it over time.
Four main topics are currently covered:
- Maps & Charts – how to understand and use (OS) maps and nautical charts, including measuring distance and bearings, specifying location, main features and navigational marks.
- Tides – what causes the tides and how they vary. How to predict high water, low water and slack water. Estimating behavior of tidal streams and planning journeys in tidal waters.
- Weather – how to obtain and understand forecasts, effects of weather on the environment, basic meteorology, local effects.
- Pilotage – how to actually find your way on the water – techniques for fixing position, finding things and setting courses in tide or wind.
Many topics are best covered by worked examples - these are presented throughout the notes. As always, the best way to learn is by doing, so I hope in future to provide exercises for the reader.
The information provided here should be treated with suspicion, as you would any information that you stumble across from an unknown source on the internet. You would be wise to check the information against more authoritative sources. I’d especially suggest:
Franco Ferrero’s Sea Kayak Navigation, ISBN 978-1-906095-03-1
Sea kayaking is inherently a potentially dangerous sport and conditions on the sea can change quickly and dramatically. There is no substitute for combining authoritative information (e.g. from well regarded reference books, Admiralty pilots and charts) with the ability to read and understand the conditions as they develop and the ability to make good decisions based on this understanding. This requires training, experience and good judgement. Anyone looking to acquire this is advised to join a good sea kayaking club and spend time with experienced sea kayak coaches. Decisions on whether and where to go sea kayaking, and any consequences arising from that, remain yours and yours alone.