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Paddling in Traffic and Judging Collision Course - Part I
by Tom Holtey - Shop our store for Navigation Tools here

Boat ChannelsMany boaters of all types share our waterways. Among those users are kayakers of course, as well as pleasure boaters and working vessels that come in all shapes and sizes, sail and motor power. Not all paddling is done in a wilderness setting, or at an out of the way beach. Kayaking in the same waters as power boaters is much like taking a bicycle out onto the streets.

We all know that when we ride a bike we have to stay to the side of the road, and out of the main flow of traffic. We can apply the same principle to kayaking. There are certain "paths" that larger boats like to follow. These can be a marked channel, maybe dredged as well, a logical line of travel between two places, or a harbor mouth or riverbed. However in open water one can expect boats to be on almost any course, heading in any direction.

If you take a look at a chart you will see that deep open water is white, shallow water is blue and the inter-tidal zone is green. It can be assumed that power boaters will seek to avoid the blue and green areas, as well as keeping clear of any hazards (also marked on charts). If they are navigating in the blue and green areas, among hazards, it is likely at slow speed.

Chart Showing Range MarkersYou can consider these places to be like a nautical sidewalk or shoulder where a kayak will not be in the way of larger, faster moving vessels. It is often more fun and interesting in these waters as well.

You cannot stay on the sidelines all time. After all you have places to go! Getting out into the traffic is necessary at times. Like a pedestrian crossing a roadway, a boating channel is best crossed by kayakers quickly, directly across, at a 90 degree angle without wasting time in the middle of the way. Wait before crossing to take a good look at the traffic and choose your timing. Also this will allow your kayaking group to bunch-up. Like pedestrians, it is best to cross in a close pack so you will be easy to see and take up less space (making a smaller target).

To help you identify channels and possible "traffic lanes" take a look at your chart. Look for double dashed lines outlining a dredged channel. It will likely have a depth and width printed right on it. Consider powerboat traffic here to be very likely.

Look also for a range. Usually these are two markers on shore, often with lights, that line up with a safe approach to a harbor, or down a channel. A range line is often indicated on the chart identifying a channel.


Lighthouse White-Sector Movie

Some lighthouses (or lights) will have a similar feature with different color lights showing at the boater, depending on their location, in or out of the suggested channel. These aids to navigation will have corresponding lines printed on the chart indicating that route.

Consider powerboat and large vessel traffic in these locations with ranges very likely. Boats in these channels will travel in a fairly predictable direction.

About right of way: The rule of the road, in simple terms, is that the more maneuverable vessel yields to the less maneuverable vessel. For the most part that means bigger boats have right of way. And like bicyclists, us kayakers know that we should keep out from underfoot of the big ones. A large boat will take a very long time to come to a stop and they cannot turn sharply. It is up the kayaker to plan ahead, keep aware, be ready to stop and proceed at the right time.

When you are on open waters without any set channels you can expect a vessel from any direction and on any course. Working vessels, like freighters and ferries will travel in a predicable straight line. A Sailboat will travel on a tack, going quite straight, and then suddenly change course to go on a new tack. Lobster boats will dart from trap to trap, in the shallows, like a bee in a flower garden. Pleasure boats will come and go, here and there as they please, with no apparent rhyme or reason, and jet skis are the most unpredictable of all. When you hear an engine or spot a sail, keep your eye on it and start to figure out a course that will keep you clear.

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