by Bill Mauney

“A collision at sea can ruin your entire day.”  – Famous Naval saying

The beauty of paddling a kayak is that you can explore the fascinating coast line where water and land meet.  In that magic place you will see all kinds of land and marine critters.  You may see wild ponies on Shackelford Banks, ospreys nesting on day marks, sea turtles gulping air, a school of fish flying beneath your keel, or a dolphin who has adopted your kayak as its new playmate.  You will also see how the tidal currents and waves interact with the terrain you are paddling by.  The shallower water allows you to see what is moving along beneath you, the next best thing to snorkeling.

Growing up, you were probably taught to “not play in the street” and “look both ways before you cross the street”.  This advice holds true when paddling at the coast near marine traffic.  The question you might ask yourself is, “Where is the street?”  Like the proverbial chicken, we cross the sounds, bays and inlets “to get to the other side”.  Large crossings have little appeal except as a navigational and endurance challenge.  It certainly will give you bragging rights, but it is never as fascinating as exploring that enchanting natural environment where the sea meets the land.

So, back to the question, “Where is the street?”  Where will those larger power and sailing vessels be?  Where do I begin to look both ways before I cross the street?  Your answer lies in the nautical chart for the area you are paddling.  Deep draft vessels are confined to waterways and channels.  The draft of a vessel is the vertical distance from the waterline to the lowest point on the vessel, thus the minimum depth of water a vessel will float.  The draft of your kayak is measured in mere inches, depending on the weight of the paddler and his gear.  Therefore, we are considered shallow draft vessels.  Deep draft vessels will always be operating in deeper waters.  The waterways and channels are typically marked by a series of buoys, lights and day marks to show large draft vessels the safest route to travel.  This is “the street”.

Go to this United States Coast Guard link to learn about aids to navigation:

Read More in our Coastal Paddling Series