Here on Puget Sound near Seattle, tidal currents are a big part of paddling.  If you want to get somewhere in a timely manner, learning how to work with rather than against the currents is essential.

The question is, how do know how to look for currents?  Here’s a few tips..

Go online for Current tables. Type in your location with something like “Deception Pass currents”.  A variety of options will appear giving you the info needed.  I like Mobile Graphics and NOAA as they give me an easy to read list of flows.  Some like a visual graph instead of a list. I also use Captain Jack’s, a small spiral booklet when scheduling my classes, and I keep one in the car.

Check if you area has a book like this one Currents of Puget Sound.  This gives me a visual guide to how currents move in my area. Although once you see the samples from the book below, you can figure out how current (or water) moves and flows when it rounds a point, bumps into a headland or bay, etc.  For the Washington San Juan Islands, BC’s Gulf Island the similar areas check out Current Atlas Juan de Fuca Strait & Strait of Georgia.  

Learn to read current when looking at the water.  Fast flowing current may appear like a smooth section of water or bumpy if it’s bucking (going against) wind.  Open water may have weird sections of glassy water winding through.  Check the Rivers section of my SUP book to learn how tidal rapids work and how to read them – learn about eddies, eddy lines and the like.

Take a class.  Starpath School of Navigation is an example of a place to learn about the marine environment, navigation, weather and the like.

Buy a book on marine navigation.  Not to overly push Starpath, but David Burch the owner does have some great tools to help us out on the water!  His book Fundamentals of Kayak Navigation is an invaluable resource I’ve had for years.  It covers the basics of how to read a chart, compass and GPS through how to paddle in currents.

Salmon Bay Paddle SUP Tips