Jones: August is the perfect time to explore on a sea kayak

  • Sea kayaking in downtown Kennebunkport, Maine, offers a protected place to paddle on a windy day. TIM JONES /

  • With a sea kayak, you don’t have to own and maintain oceanfront property to enjoy the view. TIM JONES /

Published: 8/8/2019 10:59:19 PM
Modified: 8/8/2019 10:59:09 PM

Out of the many reasons to love New England, one of the best is the ocean being nearby and ready to be enjoyed.

Now, I’m not a “beach person,” but I do enjoy boogie boarding (having failed at learning to surf and windsurf) and beachcombing (which really translates to hiking along the seashore), and I especially enjoy sea kayaking. August, when it’s often too hot to hike and bike, and too dry to paddle on most flowing rivers, is sea kayaking season.

Now almost anything that floats can be used to paddle on a quiet cove or river estuary in saltwater, but if you want to explore where wind and waves are factors, nothing beats a sea kayak. In general terms, most sea kayaks are at least 15 feet long, generally between 21 and 25 inches wide at their widest point (wider than that and they can become unsteady on steep wave faces) and they often have either a foot-controlled rudder or a drop-down skeg (keel) to help them hold a straight course in wind and waves. Good paddling technique can compensate, but it’s just easier to have a rudder or skeg.

Real sea kayaks take some getting used to. For people who have used wider, flatter “recreational” kayaks, a sea kayak often feels “tippy” when you first get into it. But when you get them out in waves or chop, the water tends to flow harmlessly under the hull rather than trying to tip you over. They may feel ready to tip over, but they really aren’t.

Another nice thing about a sea kayak is that it works wonderfully on big lakes as well, handling wind and boat wakes with ease. On some big lakes like Winnipesaukee, Candlewood in Connecticut, Champlain in Vermont or Sebago and Moosehead in Maine, a sea kayak is almost necessary if you want to paddle on a busy summer day. The colliding boat wakes can make for more waves and chop that you sometimes experience on the open ocean. If you mostly paddle on big water, a smaller sea kayak is a good choice for an all-around boat.

Getting familiar with your sea kayak opens up a whole world of paddling opportunities. You can head for the ocean almost anywhere along the New England coast and find a beautiful place to paddle. Some days it can be out on the open ocean, while other days will require more sheltered areas.

I’ve literally dipped my paddle blade in the water in dozens of spots between Westport, Conn., and Eastport, Maine. Some of my favorite spots include Great Bay and Portsmouth Harbor here in New Hampshire, the Thimble Islands off the Connecticut coast, Buzzards Bay and Chatham in Massachusetts, and Casco, Merrymeeting, Penobscot and Cobscook Bays in Maine. I’ve also paddled my sea kayak on Lake Huron, the Saint Lawrence River, Saguenay Fjord in Quebec and on most of New England’s big lakes. I can’t ever remember having a bad day on the water, whether the trip was short or long, under fair skies or clouds.

Getting Started Sea Kayaking

If you’re new to the idea of sea kayaking, I’d suggest starting either with a professional instructor (which is how I started) or finding a group of sea kayaking enthusiasts who will let you tag along and learn as you go.

I took my first sea kayak excursion with H2O Outfitters on Orr’s Island in Maine and still recommend them highly. Tell Cathy I said hi.

The Appalachian Mountain Club has a very active sea kayaking program – just go to the activities database and choose sea kayaking from the drop-down menu. As of this writing there were 27 trips and clinics posted. Books may be seen as quaint relics in this internet era, but the AMC has published a definitive guide, AMC’s Best Sea Kayaking in New England, which contains a wealth of information.

New England Seacoast Paddlers offers clinics and outing all summer and well into the fall.

Sea Kayak Safety

■Start in protected waters and expose yourself slowly to greater challenges. Remember, the weather can turn in an instant.

■As soon as you decide you like sea kayaking, take a rescue and re-entry clinic. Practice those skills regularly.

■Never paddle alone. If you get into trouble, you want to have people around you.

■Always wear your personal flotation device (PFD) when you are in a kayak.

■Give powerboats and sailboats a wide berth and make sure they see you.

■Someone in your group should carry a marine radio. If you are heading out into open water, everyone should have one.

■Wear sun protection and carry plenty of snacks and water.

Tim Jones is the Executive Editor of the online magazine and can be contacted at

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