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Paul Grey in a kayaking adventure.

My first kayaking adventure: where do I begin?

This blogpost focuses on BC Marine Trails’ resources to help you plan your first kayaking adventure. There are many situations to consider and decisions to be made before heading out on a trip to keep yourself, your family, and your friends safe and comfortable.

Getting Started

Our recommendation for new paddlers: take an introductory course in kayaking, canoeing, or SUPing. Beginner and advanced courses are available from paddling companies all along the BC coast. Being proficient at exiting and re-entering your kayak is just one of several must-have skills you need before venturing out on any trip. With the support and supervision of an instructor or paddling club, you will learn skills such as assisted and self-rescues, trip planning, navigation, and setting up camp to name a few, making you a valuable paddling partner!  More information is available on our ‘training‘ page.
Two kayaks at Coon Bay
Two kayaks at Coon Bay
Vancouver Island wolf
photo by Finn Steiner

Preparing For Your First Day or Overnight Trip


We have compiled a handy ‘Preparing your trip‘ webpage which includes some of the information below. You can also access our public map where you will find information on local launch sites, day use sites for rest and meal breaks, and campsites for overnighting.  Easy to use measuring tools will help you scale the distance between sites.

Our map, recognized by the Canadian Coast Guard, builds in safety criteria. Campsites are optimally 8 nautical miles or less apart (about 15 kilometres), and not more than 12 nautical miles apart (about 22 kilometres). All sites – launch, day use, and campsites – should be within 5 nautical miles. The all-site criteria helps a paddler find a place to stop within an hour’s paddling in one direction or the other. Naturally, some paddlers can cover 2.5 nautical miles in less than an hour, while others will take more than an hour. It’s an average speed, and dependent on conditions.


Choose a location that matches your skill level. If you are beginner you should choose a more protected area, such as the Gulf Islands or the Broken Group islands (although these places can also be wild in rough weather). Research a location for its known exposure to wind, currents and length of crossings. I love the Sea Kayak Guides Alliance of BC’s map classification system. You can find Class I and II areas appropriate for newer paddlers. Class I generally offers a more protected area. Matching the expected sea state with your current paddling skills initiates a good start to more skill and confidence in planning adventures. An intermediate to expert paddler will understand their skill level better in terms of sea state conditions, and you would be wise to travel with and learn from these folks.

Safety Equipment

Transport Canada specifies the minimum safety equipment required for a human powered vessel. But there is much more to safety than minimum equipment requirements. Read more under ‘safety equipment’ on our webpage and join your local club to gain the knowledge you need to keep yourself safe. Don’t be the next entry in Deep Trouble  or More Deep Trouble, books from the editor of Sea Kayaker Magazine!

Weather, Weather, Weather

Reading the weather and spending time interpreting weather reports and forecasts helps keep you safe. Even experts spend plenty of time assessing weather; it’s a science and an art. As a beginner you can check the Environment Canada Marine Weather Forecasts for your area to find a day with low winds. Generally, it’s not recommended to go out paddling with wind speed greater than 10 nautical miles per hour if you are a beginner. Check a site like to find how the expected conditions will change throughout the day in the area you plan to paddle. The sea state, just like the wind, is always on the move.

Clothing: Warm or Cold

Hypothermia kills. You will get cold quickly even in the summer as ocean water draws heat from your body if you capsize. There are many articles online warning of the effects of exposure at any time of year. Read NOAA’s article on cold water hazards here.

Summer Clothing

Yes, you can wear lighter clothing in the summer if you are close to shore and not planning on a long crossing. It’s best to avoid cotton and wear neoprene or merino wool tops and bottoms, protective hats, a lightweight fleece or paddling jacket, and a sprayskirt to protect you from getting swamped by boat wakes. Take along additional clothes and rain gear in a dry bag as an emergency backup (for yourself or your buddies).

Winter Clothing

This is a good article to help you choose appropriate clothing for both mild and colder paddling days. Depending on the conditions you can wear a wetsuit or a dry suit. The article also discusses how to layer with a wet or dry suit.

Teen kayaking
Jerry Kaye photo
Always smile when kayaking
Always smile when kayaking


As a beginner, a mobile phone might be your only means of contacting the outside world. Keep it protected in a suitable waterproof bag or pouch. Attach the bag to your kayak deck (you must be able to access your phone while on the water – it’s of little use inside your hatch). You can reach the Coast Guard by calling *16 on your cell phone. If you don’t know your GPS location by coordinates, be prepared to give detailed information on your surroundings. If you want to improve your connection to safety read our ‘Connect‘ page about equipment like VHF radios.

Tides and Currents – short post on tides and currents.

More Resources

Members of BC Marine Trails have access to more resources and a more sophisticated mapping system on our website than what the general public can access. Site titles, data download tools and other additional benefits make membership worthwhile and cost effective. Memberships help sustain our three main activities: First Nations Engagement, Protecting our Coast, and maintaining and improving our mapping system. These activities support our overall mission of linking, protecting and securing public access to the BC Coast. If you’re not already a member of BC Marine Trails, please consider supporting our mission by purchasing an individual membership, family membership or business membership, here. If you’re already a member, there are a multiude of ways to participate, from donating time or resources to our trail building activities, to writing articles for our website. Read how you can make a difference!

Paul Grey

Paul has been a kayaker for over twenty years and has paddled a number of locations around Vancouver Island, Thailand and Hawaii. He has his Paddle Canada I and II and level 1 kayak guide training and certification. He has worked for the BC Marine Trails as a volunteer for approximately ten years in a number of capacities including being the president of the association. He is also the co-author of Easykayaker: A guide to laid-back paddling and Kayaking Vancouver Island. Paul is a fourth generation islander with his roots in the Nanaimo-Extension area. He also enjoys hiking, traveling and reading. He has received awards in 1993 and 1996 from the Prime Minister of Canada for his work in education; Paul is a recipient of a Royal Bank of Canada fellowship to Queen's University.