Aside from the coastline, sea kayaking is also done on freshwater, on small and large lakes, and on sections of rivers where the water is calm. Possibilities for kayaking in Canada are thus immense and could hardly be listed in a few pages.
Yet rather than a field guide, this brochure focuses on safety and aims to draw the readers’ attention to conditions that are specific to each region in Canada. To establish his/her itinerary, the kayaker will have to consult maps and guidebooks of the region in addition to asking accredited associations for expert advice.
Boundaries here taken for demarcating Canadian territory correspond to the realities dictated by the ocean and by the great waterways of the country.
To help the reader assess a region’s level of difficulty with more accuracy, we apply the concept of "zones". A particular zone refers to the difficulties that can generally be expected in this type of region. In the following pages you will be familiarized with the dangers specific to a particular region.
There are no zones that are free of difficulties. It is in your best interest to get informed about the difficulties of a given zone and to learn how to evaluate and anticipate the risks that it presents. This means that you should set up an itinerary that is in keeping with your level of technique, the difficulty of the territory, and anticipated weather conditions.
Above all, never overestimate your capacities nor underestimate the difficulty of an area, especially if you’ve never been there before. And, remember that when kayaking with others, the group has to adapt the level of difficulty to the least experienced kayaker.
This chapter describes the specific characteristics of an area that present difficulty for kayaking. A very brief overview, this chapter cannot replace a deeper understanding of these difficulties, nor the command of techniques required to challenge them.
A zone, as conceived for the purposes of this brochure, is an area characterized by a certain number of difficulties. The more numerous and the greater these difficulties, the higher the level of the zone and the higher the risks associated with it. Remember that the risk level can only be reduced through knowledge of the area, through command of techniques, and through professional training where applicable.
An area includes those characteristics that are generally constant or predictable: size of the body of water, water temperature, speed of the current, height of the tides, and possibilities to find shelter quickly. These elements, among others, determine the level of difficulty of a zone.
Weather conditions constitute a further factor for determining difficulty. As weather is unpredictable, however, we will treat it separately for each zone. An identified level of difficulty is only valid for its defined weather conditions. A kayaker should know current weather conditions, be informed about weather forecasts before starting the trip, and be attentive to weather conditions throughout the entire trip. When weather conditions surpass those defined in the zone, the trip should be postponed or another region for kayaking should be chosen.
The level of difficulty assigned to each zone applies to the summer season, meaning generally the months of June through August. Outside of this period, changing conditions make for a higher level of difficulty.
The classification of areas into four zones of difficulty is a common approach and practiced worldwide. However, other organizations or guidebooks may well have different scales for measuring difficulty. In any case, zones should be studied with care to determine if your level of knowledge and mastery of technique correspond to the difficulty of the area in question. When in doubt, contact local sources of the area you wish to explore.
In conclusion, one word on itineraries: An itinerary represents your choice of the journey and a somewhat subjective slicing-up of an area. The level of difficulty of an itinerary is not related to the area but rather to your personal choices. If you foresee to cover a few kilometres in one afternoon, calculating for time to rest, we are dealing with an easy itinerary. However, if you plan for 30- kilometre sections or sections lasting 8 hours or longer, we are dealing with a very challenging itinerary.
A medium pace for recreational sea kayaking is considered to be around 3 kilometres per hour. We advise to plan for five-hour days, allowing you to cover 15 kilometres per day. Naturally, this also depends on your physical condition, your level of technique, and the level of your chosen zone.
Small lake or a stream of water with a low flow-rate. Topography does not present obstacles for orientation. Many possibilities to find shelter. Easy landing: numerous and easy sites, beaches.
Freshwater body of water. Water temperature is acceptable, generally above 18°C and even higher during summer. Current varies from 0 to 2 knots. As the area is usually sheltered, the fetch is limited and the wind rarely causes problems.
Civilization/isolation, assistance: easy access to refresh supplies, communication, emergency care or other help.
Corresponding weather conditions: light wind (less than 15 km/h), perfect visibility, no precipitation.
Large freshwater lakes and reservoirs. Numerous islands and bays: difficult orientation.
Possibility of wind blasts. Coast exposed to average wind yet with many possibilities to find shelter: islands, bays, ports. Ease of landing: numerous and generally easy sites.
Saltwater. Water temperature: cold, on average between 12 and 18°C. Tide below 1.5 metres. Consistent winds and a current between 2 and 4 knots.
Civilisation/isolation, assistance: relatively populated, inconsistent levels of assistance. Means of communication other than VHF (cellular telephones) are less reliable. Maritime recreational boating.
Corresponding weather conditions: Surface or ocean calm and light winds below 15 km/h.
Coastline exposed to wind: very few places to find shelter. Ocean currents complicated by the tides. Considerable fetch can generate surges and surf zones that make landing difficult. Rough ocean: waves, choppy sea, surges, spray, surf. Ease of landing: sufficient yet sometimes difficult, beaches, pebbles and rocks.
Water temperature: on average between 8 and 12°C. Water is permanently very cold and can be life-threatening in case of capsizing. Currents above 4 knots.
Civilization/isolation, assistance: coastal region not very populated. Help in case of an emergency may take a certain amount of time even if VHF radio communication functions. Presence of maritime pleasure boating. Considerable presence of commercial vessels.
Corresponding weather conditions: moderate wind below 25 km/h. Abrupt change of weather possible.
Isolated region, subjected to severe climate. Tumultuous sea with very strong currents. Zone likely to get very powerful winds that generate a considerable surge and obliging to surf in order to reach land or to start off. Currents above 4 knots, choppy sea, standing waves, etc.
Ease of landing: very few possibilities, uneven coast that is difficult to access. Cliffs.
Water temperature: below 5°C, a major risk heightened by the possible presence of icebergs or floating ice.
Civilization/isolation, assistance: almost non-existent outside help. Uninhabited coastal region. Only satellite communication is reliable. Presence of maritime pleasure boating. Almost no maritime traffic.
Corresponding weather conditions: Expect the worst!
The following is a very general presentation of zones of various levels as they occur within regions throughout Canada. As the territory covered within one zone is vast, some parts of this zone may be less difficult. This is why it is important to obtain solid information from local sources.