12 Paddle Trip Planning Tips

Use these 12 Paddle Trip Planning Tips to help plan an island circumnavigation on Puget Sound, using Vashon Island as an example.

Vashon Island is an interesting shape allowing for paddling in bays to keep out of wind or current. Exposed sections with a possibility of large ship wakes and swell and in a few small sections fast moving current or current swirls.

You trip could be flat and glassy with no boat wakes, or could be quite eventful depending on your planning, timing etc. Solid solo re-entry skills are required for any trip and as mentioned above I recommend strong skills with rough water will not only keep you safe but allow you to paddle more often in less than perfect conditions without stress. I personally prefer huge downwinders and fast tidal current for the free ride!

I’ve paddled up the Colvos at night twice for the Seventy48 race in early June.  Both times I had bioluminescence off my nose the entire distance!

How I Plan a Puget Sound Trip:

  • Determine how quickly I’m going to round an island or to a destination. One day or 1-2 overnights? If overnight, consider Cascadia Marine Trail campsites (wwta.org) or guerilla camp in remote spots if you don’t need an outhouse, or campsites are full in summer.
  • Determine whether to carry all your water and/or find taps along the way at parks, etc.
  • Bring a ferry schedule for planning on crossing ferry routes. Boats have right of way.
  • Given the window you want to go, determine what the currents are doing. We have a lot of big spring/summer tidal exchanges coming up. Take advantage to get as much push as possible in areas where it matters – East Passage by Pt Robinson, Dalco Passage, Colvos, (Colvos Passage ebbs north most of the time)
  • You can dodge opposite flowing current by ducking into bays to use the eddies to push you forward. This means on an ebb you can travel south.
  • Determine if you need to plot a course on a marine chart for your trip. It is recommended for crossings, paddling at night or in fog.
  • 1-2 days before start looking at wind directions. Another way to get a nice push or use the bays to get out of the wind. I use 2-3 apps to compare – WindAlert for real time data, Windy and NOAA MarineForecast.  Some like PredictWind to.  If you learn to ‘downwind’ surf, you can travel substantial distance easily with strong winds at your back.  We teach that.
  • If traveling during -2 and -3 tides, some bays will empty out into a mudflat, if you need to land there, time your tides for a less muddy carry of your gear to shore. U can use Earthviews, Google Earth and the Dept of Ecology aerial photo site to see Puget Sound beaches at low tides.
  • Vashon’s East Passage can have large freighter waves and swell from fast moving ships particularly by Pt Robinson. My ‘Kayaking Puget Sound’ book mentions breakers on the beach there. Recommend building you skills for paddling in waves and surf.  We offer this as well in our Freighter Surf class and/or Coastal Surfing for Kayaks.

Day of the Paddle:

  • Look at wind apps and if you have a view of your route in person. What’s the wind doing? Within your skill level?  If not go another day. If already camping, check to see when the wind will slow down. Take a walk, nap or local paddle before continuing.
  • When in doubt don’t go out.  Follow instincts.
  • If you go – Leave a Float Plan with a friend leaving Where you’re going, When you’re planning on coming back.  Your Boat and Clothing description. Best way to contact you on-water. Confirm with your friend once you’ve safely arrived at your destination.
  • Check you communication devices, all charged up and tethered?  Boat hatches secure? Leashes attached if worn?

TIP:  If padding directly up wind or current for a long time and you’re not getting anywhere and/or are tired, take a break.  Wait it out until the wind drops or changes or current lessons.  

Recommended Skills for a Safe Trip in Tidal Current and Waves

  • Knowledge of reading tide and current tables and understand the effects of each on water and around land. Know how eddies work? Check out our Tides and Currents Classes
  • 100% ability to self rescue and if in in group, ‘assisted rescue’.  Nice to stay off the news!  Take a Kayak Rescue class.
  • Learn marine navigation skills.  Can you find your location or plot a route?
  • Knowing how to dress properly for the conditions.  Dry suit or wetsuit vs t-shirt?  Know when and where each make sense.
  • Skills for rough water, paddling over recreational and ship waves, landing or launching from beaches with surf. Experience in tidal currents.  Learn Downwinding, Surfing and how to paddle in Tidal Currents.
  • On-water communication – Know how to use a VHF radio.  Keep a waterproofed and tethered phone, extra batteries and/or solar panels.

TIP: Use the Coast Guard stickers or a permanent pen to mark your name and phone # on in your boats, boards and paddles.  At drift boats or boards without the participant means the CG has to launch a full Search and Rescue operation.  


Paddling Guides for Puget Sound

  • My book, Kayaking Puget Sound and the San Juans, 60 Trips – Mountaineers Books
  • Check out of print book, ‘Water Trail by Joel Rogers.  He paddled the Cascadia Marine Trail in sections in the late 1990s with Vashon info including portaging at Portage.
  • The out of print and essential Gunkholing South Puget Sound
  • Tidal Currents of Puget Sound, Starpath.com
  • Tide/Current Books – Captn Jacks, Waggoner’s guides, the NOAA Tides/Currents app
  • Wind Apps – WindAlert, Windy, Predict Wind
  • Tidal Current Apps: Navionics, DeepZoom, NOAA Tides and Currents website
  • Navigational Apps: Google Maps, Navionics, NOAA
  • Ship Tracking Apps: Marine Traffic, Vessel Finder, Ship Finder

Our Online Courses for Paddling Trip Skills

About Rob Casey – Named a pioneer in the SUP industry by Stand Up Journal, Rob is the author of “Stand Up Paddling Flat Water to Surf and Rivers” and “Kayaking Puget Sound and the San Juans, 60 Trips.” Rob owns SUP and Kayak school Salmon Bay Paddle in Seattle. He also runs several paddling races.

Salmon Bay Paddle SUP Tips

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