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Are Lakes Safer than Saltwater? 


In monitoring kayak and SUP online groups, one thing I hear a lot is.. “I’m not ready for saltwater, I only paddle lakes.”

Both can be safe depending on conditions and how you approach each. 

Every summer in WA State we have a few SUP fatalities on lakes, more so than on saltwater. All due to no life jackets. Folks tend to let their guard down on lakes.  

Why Lakes are Not Safer than Saltwater:

  • Some feel lakes are calmer than saltwater. In truth if it’s windy in a specific region, that wind will affect both bodies of water similarly. 
  • Both Puget Sound and lakes have calmer areas depending on the direction of wind – such as protected areas below a cliff or hill (called the ‘lee’).  In Winter and Spring friends downwind Lake Washington near Seattle and get 5 foot waves!
  • Seattle lakes can be crazy in summer with wake and ski boat traffic. Armored shorelines (concrete or wood bordered shores) means the waves bounce back and fourth like a bathtub. Whereas waves end and don’t bounce back at beaches on the Sound and there’s less small boat traffic.
  • Lakes are mostly warmer than the Sound now but some parts of the Sound like Warm Beach or the South Puget Sound’s inlets get hot!  
  • There’s more small boating traffic in Seattle on lakes than the Sound. In fact it’s nuts on summer evenings on inner city lakes but tranquil offshore on the Sound! 
Lake Crescent, Olympic NP

Lake Crescent, Olympic NP

Tips for Staying Safe on Lakes or Saltwater:

  • Always wear a vest lifejacket
  • Always wear a leash. Waist leash to your PFD straps for rivers
  • Bring a waterproofed and tethered phone or vhf radio
  • File a float plan with a friend with when you’ll be going and coming back.
  • Dress for the conditions
  • Don’t go beyond your skill level
  • Take a class from a certified instructor!
  • Check the conditions with wind apps such as WindAlert and Windy.  Check tides with the NOAA Tides app.

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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