Planning your first multi-day trip


If you are planning your first trip you must ascertain whether you have the knowledge, skills, gear and equipment to ensure your safety. As much as I encourage someone to “get out there” and “enjoy the wilderness” planning properly will ensure that your trip is relaxing and safe. In the BC Marine Trails trip resources (which works in hand with this article), we ask if you are ready to be on the water: Be trained, Be prepared, Be connected. Even experienced paddlers need to constantly re-visit their training.

Be trained

Basically, a new paddler should be able to swim 25 metres in their kayak gear with relative ease. This paddler should be wearing a highly visible Personal Flotation Device (PFD) that fits their weight and size, and their boat should have sufficient and secured flotation. Some boats will sink. Then consider taking a half-day or full-day recreational paddling class. You need to practice skills like wet exits, self- and assisted rescue, bracing and paddle stroke skills. This training underlies your safety on the water.

Be prepared

Location. Decide on your location and try to match it to your current skill levels. The Sea Kayak Guides Alliance of BC categories the BC coast with classification charts. Level 1 & 2 areas might be the Gulf Islands or parts of Desolation Sound. This does not guarantee you will be safe. It helps to have marine charts, maps, or navigation devices to guide you in your chosen location and to guide you along chosen routes. Use these tools or resources plus the BC Marine Trails map to help you plan your trip.

Weather. The type of weather and the time of year will factor in choosing clothing and immersion gear. When I paddle with a local club, I usually wear a wet suit or dry suit. In a patch of hot weather, you can choose to wear the appropriate clothing, but you can still get hypothermia in the right conditions. I always carry a spare set of clothes in a dry bag. I also layer my clothing. It’s easier to take off layers but it’s hard to put them back on when you are paddling.

Tides. Currents. Referring to a tide table or a current table is part of your preparation. Launching on a high tide is easier than a low. Some places are navigable in a high tide, or you can get stranded in mudflats in a low tide. Spring or Neap tides also affect your choice of camping locations. At a Spring Tide gravitational pull is at its highest and maximum height. Moving your tent at 2am is less than desirable. You need skills reading current tables. If you plan in navigating narrows or rapids, it is best during a slack tide. A new paddler should maybe match up with an experienced paddler in these circumstances.

Clothing. What to wear? You are looking for comfort, durability, water resistance and other qualities. You also dress differently in warm versus cold weather. In milder weather and on shorter outings, many people wear a swim suit for the first layer. Quick drying tops/pants are suitable. Polyester or nylon blended with spandex is a popular fabric. These clothes often offer UPF protection. Merino base layers also work well and are often preferred by paddlers. Mid and outer layers depend on whether you are wearing a wet suit/dry suit. A fleece jacket might be a good mid layer and outer layers may be waterproof jackets and pants. Of course, a good paddling hat keeps the sun off your face and head. For footwear your choices will vary from water sandals to paddling booties. Just don’t wear cotton when you are on the water!!

More equipment and supplies. You will need your proper cooking, tenting, food, water and sleeping supplies. Our trip resources page references a couple lists. It’s too numerous to list everything here.

Be connected

While we need to seriously disconnect between technology and being in the wilderness, connection devices are for your safety in case of an injury or a circumstance beyond your control. Many paddlers buy VHF radios. You are not supposed to operate a radio without a restricted operator’s certificate. The VHF radio allows you to send out a MAYDAY call if you are in grave or imminent danger. PAN PAN is also repeated three times if you are not in grave or imminent danger but require assistance. SECURITE is repeated three times are used when you want to pass important information concerning safety such as navigational warnings or weather warnings.

Other devices also keep you connected, such as, your cell phone or emergency locator.

Safety guidelines

The BC Marine Trails lays out basic standards for marine trails. Essentially, we try to find campsites 8 to 12 nautical miles (NM) apart and look for safety stops – day use, launch sites, campsites, emergency pullouts – every 5NM. This is just a basic standard to get a paddler off the water in an hour. Whether or not you need to use the standard is up to you! This is one of our principal jobs as an organization.

Marine Trail Code of Conduct

The more people use the outdoors the greater the need is to protect it. The BC Marine Trails put together this pocket version of their code:

  • You are on sensitive First Nations traditional land. Disturb nothing, take nothing.
  • Campfires below high tide line only. Adhere to fire bans.
  • If a toilet is unavailable, pack out human waste, or, in suitable locations, use tidal flush.
  • Stay to the campsite area to avoid trampling.
  • Do not dispose of gray water in freshwater or in the upland. 
  • Avoid disturbing and maintain regulated distances from all wildlife.
  • Leave a site in its natural state and leave nothing behind.