Sea Kayaking

Sea Kayaking

Paddle the waters of the Pacific Northwest and beyond in a sea kayak.

The Mountaineers offers a variety of sea kayaking trips on lakes, sounds, inlets and oceans.

Beginner Sea Kayak Trips

Participants are not required to have any previous paddling experience on these introductory trips.

Sea Kayak Trips

Participants are required to meet a minimum skills prerequisite, usually assessed through course participation or equivalency.

 If you are an experienced sea kayaker and wish to apply for our basic sea kayaking equivalency, please fill out an equivalency application.

Difficulty Ratings

The Mountaineers sea kayak trips use the following difficulty ratings. For trips that are more technical or involved, there may be leader's permission required to participate.

Difficulty Rating  
Wind Waves Current Geography Route Skills
SK I <6 knots calm <0.5 knots

Accessible shoreline. Areas protected from waves by nearby land forms in case of wind.

>6 nm, no obstacles Ability to swim. Except with leader’s permission: (a) previous experience is required on trips more than 5 nm: and (b) previous practice capsizing and wet exiting (or be willing to learn how before the trip).
SK II <10 knots <1 ft chop <1.0 knots May have short, inaccessible sections. >10 nm, crossings < 0.5 nm Participants must have practiced assisted sea kayak rescue techniques.
SK III <15 knots <2 ft whitecaps <2.0 knots, may have rips & eddies Access may be limited. >15 nm, crossings < 2 nm Conditions may require bracing skills. Previous group and self-rescue practice (both as rescuer and rescuee). Generally will not start out in whitecaps, but be prepared for paddling in to waves large enough to wash over the deck
SK IV <20 knots <4 ft waves may be breaking <5.0 knots, rips, eddies, upwellings   May include headlands & narrow passages. >25 nm, crossings < 5 nm Conditions may require anticipatory leaning, reflexive bracing, stern rudder with paddle, and the ability to read moving water. Familiarity with charts and navigation.
SK V <20 knots >4 ft breaking waves, breaking surf   >5.0 knots, tide races, overfalls, currents may be faster than group can paddle against May include rocky shoreline, launching & landing in surf.  <25 nm, crossings >5 nm, navigation required Trip members must have tested their skills in rough conditions, know their limits, and be self-reliant in the event of separation from the group. The ability to Eskimo roll is highly recommended as conditions can make sea kayak rescues difficult. Rescue practice with the kayak and equipment used on this trip.
SK VI >20 knots >4 ft breaking waves, breaking surf  Exposure to hazards at any other levels taken to extremes. Long fetch with stretches where safe landing may be difficult or impossible for most of a day. Exposure to hazards at any other levels taken to extremes. Extensive experience and skill including kayak surfing and rolling are required. The route may only be negotiable with favorable conditions, and kayak rescues may not be possible.
The rating system is a general guide; the highest rating of any factor is usually used to rate the trip. Plus or minus signs can be used to further differentiate the levels. For example, a minus sign could be used for a trip which technically gets a given level, but is on the easy side of that level. An asterisk designates training trips open to paddlers new to that level. The distance to be paddled and the expected paddling speed should be listed, but do not affect the trip level. Due to extra risk, the following factors increase the trip rating a half level:
  • Water temperatures less than 55 degree Fahrenheit, unless participants bring wetsuits or drysuits to wear.
  • A slightly faster current or longer crossing when all other conditions meet the criteria of a stated trip.
  • Overnight or longer trips, unless an alternative (such as hiking out or being picked up by a support boat) is available.
Sea Kayaking Pace
Paddlers need to stick together on the water, even closer than hikers on land. Knowing the planned pace of the trip as well as the pace you can travel is critical.
  • Leisurely (2.6 kts or less)
  • Moderate (2.7-3.3 kts)
  • Brisk (over 3.4 lts)

Required Equipment

These seven essentials plus The Ten Essentials are required on all sea kayaking trips.  All but the whistle and clothing should be provided with any kayak rental.

  • Floatation in both ends of the kayak
  • U.S. Coast Guard approved Personal Flotation Device (PFD)
  • Paddle
  • Spray skirt
  • Bilge pump with flotation
  • Self-rescue paddle float
  • Waterproof whistle
  • Appropriate clothing for the conditions encountered seasonally

FInd Sea Kayaking trips