Friday, December 11, 2015

Kayaking Courtesy - Don't use boat ramps

I spent the last year teaching for a major outdoor education company. We offered both kayaking tours and lessons, to groups and individuals. On many occasions we would end up at a put in at one of the beaches we worked from with 15 kayaks, waiting for people to show up.

Not uncommon in my life. 

While prepping gear and boats for a group to appear, I would watch the boat ramp. Boat ramps are designed for power boats. the idea is you have a boat on a trailer which you back into the water. You then either get in your boat and take it to a dock, or just line it to a dock. Then drive your trailer to a parking space. Total time on the ramp, 3 minutes or less.

I would also see kayakers use the boat ramp. It seems obvious. A kayak is a boat. It is called a boat ramp. I should put my kayak in the water utilizing the boat ramp. The problem is, we are slow. We carry our boat from our roof to the water line. Then go back to the car to get paddle, pfd, and whatever else we need. Then make another trip to park the car. Then we can finally get on the water once we put on paddle, and secure everything else. This never takes less than 10 minutes. If the person involved is a kayak fisherman it takes even longer. (I'm not knocking kayak fisherman, but you people have a lot of gear!)

What I suggest is this, find an area adjacent to the boat ramp with a beach like appearance, and stage your boat and gear there. It is courtesy not to block the ramp for an extended period of time, and it is also better for your boat, as the ramps are almost always concrete. Because they are concrete they are also usually slippery, and more than once I have slipped and fallen.

While the above reasons are valid, they aren't the best reason. The best reason is courtesy. We all want to get on the water and have a nice day, and if you can't get on the water because some kayaker is taking forever on the ramp, you are going to be in a foul mood. I don't want anyone on the water in a foul mood.

Another option is to do a dock launch. I don't really like them, but a lot of people do them all the time. It is something to think about, and there are times when you don't have an option, so it is a good skill to have.

I have a third option that is my favorite. I used it extensively when my boat lived on Long Island, New York. I kept in my truck a copy of the Gazetteer for New York. I spent a fair amount of time examining the coast line of Long Island looking for places where road, ran to, or along the water. I would then drive that road looking for an easy put in. It was crazy fun to explore dozens of small dirt roads and find a secret spot to put in. I would then highlite the put in so I had a quick reference for another time. Today we can do the same thing with Google earth or Google Maps. Boy do I miss that book. It was a great resource, and as much as I love digital maps, there is something about a paper map.


  1. You make a great point about being courteous at boat rams, but I think kayakers have as much a right to use the ramps as bass boats. Public ones are built with our tax dollars. When my friends and I use boat ramps, we stage our kayaks and gear close to the ramp. When everyone is ready, we help each other in, launching multiple kayaks in the time it takes to get a boat off the trailer. When we return, it is much the same, with tandem carries, etc.

  2. I hear what you are saying Tom, boat ramps are usually public and paid for by tax dollars, which entitles the public to use them. But lets be clear about two things. 1) they are designed for boats on trailers 2) most kayakers spend way too much time on boat ramps. If you and your paddling cohorts can be on and off them in a similar amount of time to a trailered boat then by all means go for it. But in my experience that isn't the case. I would like to see more situations like at my local lake. Next to the boat ramp is a kayak specific boat launch. Problem solved. As always, thanks for your comment, and perspective.