View Full Version : Moving in traffic

05-27-2009, 04:47 PM
Paddling in Traffic and Judging Collision Course - Part I
by Tom Holtey -Many 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.
http://www.sit-on-topkayaking.com/Images/Instruction/Traffic/chart1.jpgWe 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.
http://www.sit-on-topkayaking.com/Images/Instruction/Traffic/chart2.jpgYou 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.

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.


05-27-2009, 04:50 PM
Paddling in Traffic and Judging Collision Course - PART II
by Tom Holtey - You can judge the possibility of a collision course with a simple method. Certainly you can "fly by the seat of your pants" but when out on open water or crossing a busy channel you can apply this simple "formula".
http://www.sit-on-topkayaking.com/Images/Instruction/Traffic/Graphic4.jpgIn this first scenario you, the kayaker, are crossing a channel, and a tugboat is coming down the channel, at 90 degrees. You are not sure how fast the vessel is going, or exactly how far away it is. These things are hard to judge when on the water, particularly from the seat of a kayak. You do not have to know your speed or his, but for the sake of example let us say that you are going at 3 knots and the tugboat is going at 5 knots. (This works with MPH too, so use that if it is better for you. 1 knot = 1.15 MPH.)
The first thing to do is to maintain your course and heading. (We can assume the captain of the tug will too.) Take note of the angle his boat is at in comparison to yours. Use an "O'clock", like 2 O'clock, or 11 O'clock with your bow being "noon". At your first check the larger boat is at 2 O'clock, or 60 degrees.
Paddle a way more, maintaining your course and heading. (Chances are you have not been spotted by the captain, and he is too.) After a minute or so you take a second check. While the distance between you and the powerboat has closed, the tug is still at 2 O'clock.
Keep your course and check again after a minute or so. That boat is still at 2 O'clock! What this means is that as the space closes between the two boats, and assuming that each boat keeps it heading and speed the two will collide at the intersection of their course lines.
So in this scenario you had better wait at the 3rd check with a full stop or turn to a different heading and or speed.
http://www.sit-on-topkayaking.com/Images/Instruction/Traffic/Graphic3.jpgIn this second scenario I will demonstrate a "miss". Once again you, the kayaker, are crossing a channel, and a pleasure boat is coming down the channel, at 90 degrees. You do not need to know any speeds, but lets say that you paddle at 3 knots, and the pleasure boat is traveling at 15 knots, both boats holding a straight course.
At your first check you note that the pleasure boat is between 1 and 2 O'clock, let's call it 45 degrees. The next check, after a couple minutes, it is about 1 O'clock, 35 degrees. You decide to take a 3rd check after a couple more minutes and the boat is at 20 degrees.
A pattern of steady decrease of the angle is indicating that the pleasure boat will pass in front of you, assuming that both vessels maintain their speed and heading. You can maintain your course with out breaking stride, knowing that a collision will not happen.
If a larger boat were coming from the left, spotted first at 9 O'clock, then 10 O'clock, and at 11 O'clock, the angle would again be decreasing, or moving towards noon, indicating a pass in front of the kayaker.
If the powerboat had been spotted at 1 O'clock on the first check, 2 O'clock on the 2nd check and then at 3 O'clock at the last check that will indicate a pass behind the kayaker. The angle is increasing and moving away from "noon".
If the angle does not change then trouble is likely brewing.
This formula also works when the paths of the vessels are not at 90 degrees. In fact it can work at any angle, theoretically, but the closer to 90 degrees the more applicable this formula is and more likely to be needed and useful.
http://www.sit-on-topkayaking.com/Images/Instruction/Traffic/Graphic2.jpgThis 3rd scenario is a likely encounter in open water. A larger, faster boat, say a freighter heading to a harbor mouth, is approaching you, the kayaker, from the right, at an angle.
You don't need to know any speeds, but lets say that you paddle at 3 knots, and the freighter is traveling at 12 knots, both of you holding a straight course and maintaining your speed.

On your first look the freighter is at 63 degrees. On your 2nd look the freighter is at 56 degrees. The 3rd look is 48, 4th is 36 and so on. This steady decrease in angle, or movement to "noon" indicates that the freighter will pass in front of the kayaker.
Sometimes the judgment is hard to make. It can be difficult to determine if a collision is immanent. In this final scenario you are once again in an open water situation. A sailboat is approaching from the right at an angle, and you are paddling at 3 knots while they are sailing along at 9 knots. Lets also assume that it seems unlikely the sailboat will change tack.
http://www.sit-on-topkayaking.com/Images/Instruction/Traffic/Graphic1.jpgThe diagram indicates that the first 3 checks of the angle are all about the same, between 1 and 2 O'clock. The wise thing to do once you realize this is to wait, or change course and/or speed.
If we are to follow this out to the end, "play chicken" so to speak, we see that eventually the angle decreases with the sailboat passing in front of the kayak, but far too close for comfort. If it had been a much larger vessel you are likely to get a rocking on the wake, maybe even a horn blast from an angry captain!
You can see here how this formula is harder to use when the paths are less than square with each other, but still can be useful in making a judgment call even if erred to the side of caution.
For the most part what I have described here is all "common sense", but when you are new to kayaking, or paddling an unfamiliar area with the distractions of a busy harbor or channel you can loose sight of your common sense.
Practice and familiarity with your chart(s) and regular use of the "collision course formula" will help you apply these nuggets of nautical wisdom and increase your over all seamanship.


09-09-2009, 05:32 PM
This was a good read. Gave me some more insight on how to manuver the yak against bigger vessels.