Last week, I spoke to a woman who mentioned her husband doesn’t want to paddle in Puget Sound as he was spooked by the large ships. I assured her that unless her husband was paddling 3 miles out in the shipping lanes when a large freighter or tanker happened to be passing by, then there’s nothing to worry about. That said, if he was out there when a ship is passing there’s a few things to keep in mind..

– Freighters, tankers and similarly large fast moving ships take several miles to stop. They can’t stop for you, thus you simply need to stay out of their way.

– Rules of the road in most waterways are the bigger and faster moving boats have right of way. Boats don’t have breaks, thus don’t even think of crossing in front of one if you don’t think you can make it across. If you’re not sure, hang out, chill, and wait for it to pass. In my neck of the woods, a local surf shop generally doesn’t give good direction to their renters and we’ve seen some very sketchy close calls when SUPs have paddled directly in front of fast powerboats. In one instance, the shop’s instructor led a group of 10 or so students directly into the path of a bunch of fast moving power boats which had to swerve out the way to not only avoid the students but also a shallow shoal on their port side. Coming back, they did it again, wtf?

8 More Tips on Paddling with Boats…

– When crossing a busy boating channel, look both ways, just like crossing a street. Remember the video game Frogger?

– At night look for moving lights and listen for boat motors prior to crossing.

– If you have a large group, bunch everyone into a small group (not line) and paddle across at the same time. A single line takes longer to cross and slower paddlers may fall in and not cross before the next boat comes.

– If you’re crossing a shipping lane you can check your local waterway channel on a VHF to listen for reports of any boats coming your way. Given some freighters can go 24 kts, which is pretty fast, you could possibly start your crossing with no boat in sight and to have one appear rather quickly as soon as you’re in the middle. If one comes upon you, paddle perpendiculiarly out of the way asap. Not used to big waves? I’d recommend taking a surfing class.

– There’s a few websites that let you see what boating traffic is doing globally in real time. We use one for spotting freighters for local surfing. You can use this to check positions before leaving and/or take a waterproofed smart phone along. I use the following most often, Here’s another I don’t use as often, Specific regions have their own such as this one for the Bay Area,

– There are a few handy methods to determining whether a boat is on a collision course with you. Check my SUP book for 2, as well as David Burch’s ‘Kayaking Navigation‘ guide by Globe Pequot.

– If you do plan on paddling in shipping lanes, note that many coastal tugs and large container ships can put off big waves. We’ve experienced up to 15’ rolling green swell which on a rare occasion will break thus creating surf. Quite the ride if you like that sort of thing. In Seattle we have two reliable locations of which to surf such waves as they arrive on shore. Tidal levels, wind speed and boat type and speed all factor whether we get waves.

– Also learn to paddle over small power boat waves. These are also great practice to get your skills up prior to paddling in the ocean. Rule of thumb is to stay relaxed and keep paddling over the wave. Folks who stop paddling will swim.


Check out our SUP classes in Seattle – Beginning to advanced instruction including freighter and tug wave surfing, coastal surfing, rivers and racing, plus PSUPA Certification.

Salmon Bay Paddle SUP Tips