Safety and Resources for Kayaking on the Columbia River between Longview and the Pacific Ocean
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Before you go--Weather, Navigation Information, Kayak Instructors & Retailers, Marine Supply
Before you go--File a Float Plan
If you find yourself in need of rescue
Bring along--Important Phone Numbers
Paddling Conditions--Seasonal Weather Patterns
River Access Points Washington
River Access Points Oregon
Camping and Lodging
Directions to some launches on the Columbia & beyond
About Columbia River Kayaking
Before You Go: Weather, Navigation Information,
Kayak Instruction & Retailers, Marine Supply.
- Tide height predictions
- Current predictions
- National Weather Service Forecasts
- National Weather Service Marine Forecast coastal waters from Cape Shoalwater Washington to Florence Oregon & westward 60NM
- National Weather Service Marine Forecast phone 503-861-2722
- NOAA weather predictions for Skamokawa, WA or enter location of your choice
Navigation & Boating Information
- Oregon State Marine Board safety info & resources
- Oregon State Marine Board launch sites -searchable database
- PDXSeakayaker website and listserve Find other kayakers with whom to paddle, plus download blank log book pages and sea conditions rating system.
- Rules of Navigation, a summary for boaters in general.
- US Coast Guard Notice to Mariners Updated nautical chart information.
Kayak Instruction & Retail, Marine Supply
- Astoria Pool Open Kayak Night 7-8pm first & third Thursdays. Hwy 30 Astoria, OR 503-325-7027 (for instruction during this time, contact Columbia River Kayaking 360-849-4016)
- Skamokawa Center kayak rentals & instruction State Rt 4 Skamokawa, WA 888-920-2777
- Alder Creek Kayak & Canoe kayaks, gear, lessons, rentals Portland, OR 503-285-0464
- Columbia River Kayaking kayak lessons and instructional tours in Skamokawa, Astoria, Nehalem. 360-849-4016
Before you go: File a float plan with responsible family or friends
This is what the Coast Guard will ask for if they need to search
- Time launched and expected return
- Place launched and expected return
- Detailed description of kayaks including type, make, length, hull color, deck color
- Visual description of paddlers? clothing, including colors of jacket, shirt, life jacket
- Thermal description of paddlers? gear; for what conditions are they prepared?
- Signal gear carried such as whistle, signal mirror, flashlight, flares, dyes, glow sticks, radio, cell phone
- Also note water, food, camping gear, first aid, other survival gear
If you find yourself in need of rescue
- Get to shore, get warm & dry as possible
- Call for help with cell phone or VHF radio channel 16
- Make your brightest colors visible
- Stay in one place, stay together
- Signal often with reusable devices such as mirrors, whistles
- Use flares when potential rescuer is in sight
- Three whistle blasts signals distress
- Eat, drink, stay warm, encourage each other
Bring Along: Important Phone Numbers
- National Weather Service Marine Forecast from Astoria, OR 503-861-2722
- Coast Guard Portland to east end of Puget Island 503-240-9311
- Coast Guard east end of Puget Island to the Pacific 360-642-2382
- Coast Guard emergency only 360-642-2381
- Emergency & Fire WA or OR 911
- Royal Cab of Astoria 503-325-5818
- Coast Guard Weather Machine for the bar (wind, barometric pressure, wave height) 360-642-3565 THE COAST GUARD STRONGLY WARNS AGAINST TAKING KAYAKS AND CANOES ACROSS THE BAR!
NOAA note on Columbia River Bar: The Columbia River bar can be very dangerous
because of sudden and unpredictable current changes accompanied by breakers. It
is reported that ebb currents on the north side of the bar attain speeds of 6
to 8 knots and that strong NW winds sometimes cause currents that set north in
the area outside the jetties. In the entrance, the currents are variable and may
reach a speed of over 5 knots on the ebb while the flood speed seldom exceeds
4 knots. The tidal current in the river is always modified by the river discharge,
sometime to the extent that the flood current is indiscernible and the current
Paddling Conditions: Tides
The Columbia River is tidal up to Bonneville Dam, meaning the water level rises and falls. Below Longview, the river actually flows backwards twice a day. It is important to consult a tide book when planning a trip here. Other factors influencing tides include rain, dam release, low pressure systems, and distance from the ocean.
Apply the correction table for your location. Generally the strongest current will be encountered in the middle of the time between the high and low, although the further upriver you are, the longer the ebb (outgoing) tide continues. At Skamokawa, WA for example, in the shipping channel, the ebb can continue 2 hours after local low tide.
Tides effect navigation by making scenery look different. At high tide, low islands may be covered; dead end sloughs may beckon; beaches may disappear. On an ebb tide, one may get stuck in the soft mud of a slough or on mid-river sand bars. Know what the tide is doing when you pull a kayak up on the beach so it doesn't steal your boat. Allow an extra margin for ship wakes for the same reason.
Paddling Conditions: Hazards
- Exposure refers to the ruggedness of your situation and the distance
from a bail-out or sheltered spot. Wind, waves, hypothermia and exhaustion
should be high on your list of concerns.
- Wind can build quickly and change a leisurely paddle into a struggle
to get to safety. Be aware of the exposure of an area and its potential for
wind even if it appears calm when you launch. Check forecasts, have back-up
plans. Know the tides and currents; there is a big difference in the sea state
when a 10 knot wind is going with the current and when a 10 knot wind opposes
the current. Without current, a 10 knot wind starts to generate whitecaps
which should be little white flags of surrender unless you're trained for
the conditions. Headlands can accelerate wind. Wind bends to follow the course
of the river. Wind makes it harder to communicate on the water, and waves
make it harder to be seen.
- Obstacles which permit the passage of water but not the passage of
a kayak can pin a person and make escape impossible. Pile jetties or wing
dams (long rows of pilings anchored close together) are common along the swift-moving
channel. Beware of inadvertently drifting into these. Some may be barely visible
at high tide.
- Commercial shipping traffic has right of way over kayaks and canoes.
They are also bigger and faster. Thankfully, freighters, tugs, and barges
usually stay within the marked shipping channel. Be familiar with these markers,
both on your chart and on the river. These vessels move surprisingly quickly
and quietly. Do not cross the channel if you see a ship approaching. Do not
cross the channel if it's too dark or foggy to see. If you are in the channel,
be aware. Look all around you frequently. Keep a group close enough to easily
communicate and assist each other.
- Recreational motor boats and sailboats do not necessarily stay in
the shipping channel. Be aware and look around frequently, including behind
you. Paddle along the shoulder instead of down the middle of a slough. Make
a habit of keeping a group within speaking distance of each other. In areas
of heavy traffic, paddle in especially close formation for safety, courtesy,
and visibility. Be visible. In daylight, kayakers are made most visible by
the flashing of their moving paddles. Brightly colored vests & jackets
help, too. After dark, the Coast Guard requires that a white light be carried.
Keep it immediately accessible in case you hear a motor. Glow sticks aid in
seeing other members of your group at night.
- Fishing. Certain times of year, fishermen dot the river, commercial and recreational, on shore and in boats. Be courteous and watch for lines into the water. Try to not cross lines of floats marking gillnets.
- Dredging is a constant job to maintain the channel, and the dredge
is usually working somewhere on the river. A dredge setup consists of a big
pipe on floats extending for sometimes a mile or more. The dredge barge and
little way stations that look like paddle-up espresso stands are visible from
a distance while the pipe may not be. Yellow floating tanks mark the safety
zone around the dredge, so stay outside of them. A high-power transport boat
zips around erratically and sends out a great wake.
- Ship wakes. In deep water, wakes are gentle roller coasters, but in shallow water, they break, sometimes dramatically. Due to the shifty nature of the river bottom and to in-river dumping of dredge material, shallow water can be hidden until breakers appear from nowhere after a ship passes. If you know where deep water is, be there after a ship passes. To be conservative, aim the bow into the wake and paddle through it. Wakes and tides should be kept in mind when pulling kayaks up on a beach. Both can be stealthy thieves.
- Strong currents result from tidal action, dam release, storm runoff,
and general river flow. In addition to sweeping you where you don't want to
go, currents can create rough, whitewater conditions when they meet with obstacles,
constrictions, or opposing wind.
- A constriction occurs when the flow of the river is squeezed by headlands,
islands, or jetties. "Confused" waves, eddylines, and strong currents result. Tongue Point, Point Ellice (WA side of the Astoria Bridge), and Cape Disappointment are notorious examples.
Paddling Conditions: Seasonal Weather Patterns
- July through September
The best time for summer paddling is in the morning. Especially if it's sunny, the afternoon wind blows upriver beginning around 1pm or when the tide changes and builds to 10-25mph, lasting till evening. On open stretches, whitecapped waves develop to 3' or better. Winds tend to come from the W or NW.
- October through April
Winter can offer lovely calm paddling between storms. But don't expect to keep that agenda if the storms do roll in. (refer to the Journals of Lewis and Clark Nov 8 1805 through March 1806) East winds blow cold. SW winds bring rain. Be aware of strong east (downriver) winds during clear weather.
- May & June
Luck of the draw. Is it summer? Is it winter? On the bright side, there is plenty of water and the falls and wildflowers are spectacular!
River Access Points: East to west WA side
- Willow Grove boat ramp on Fisher Island west of Longview. Paved ramp, fee, signs from hwy SR4, busy with powerboats in the summer.
- County Line Park, SR 4, west of mile marker 47. hand launch from beach, camping
- Elochoman Marina, Cathlamet. Paved ramp, fee, camping 360-795-3501. Directions
- East Sunny Sands, Puget Island. hand launch from beach, fishing permit required for parking
- Skamokawa Center, SR 4. hand launch from dock with boat rental or lodging 888-920-2777
- Skamokawa Vista Park. paved ramp or hand launch from beach, camping 360-795-8605
- Oneida ramp, Deep River. Paved ramp, fee, sturgeon carcasses
- Knappton, SR 4. unmarked gravel ramp by pilings
- Chinook boat launch, signs on Hwy, busy during salmon fishing seasons, August and early September.
- Port of Ilwaco boat ramp, paved ramp, busy during salmon fishing seasons, July through early September.
- Fort Canby/Cape Disappointment State Park, paved ramp, busy during salmon fishing seasons, July through early September.
River Access Points: East to west OR side
- Westport. Follow signs to ferry, then to boat launch.
- Clatskanie Beaver Boat Ramp on Hwy 30. Restrooms, ramp.
- Clatskanie City Park paved ramp, rest rooms, camping.
- Aldrich Point, Brownsmead paved ramp, sand beach, outhouse. Brownsmead turn-off, right at intersection, end of road.
- Knappa Docks rugged hand launch, parking for 3 cars. Keep off dock, please! Directions
- John Day Boat Ramp, Hwy 30. paved ramp, fee, rest rooms. Directions
- East Mooring Basin, Hwy 30 Astoria. Paved ramp, rest rooms, next to motel & grocery. Directions
- Columbia River Maritime Museum, Marine Dr, Astoria. Hand launch from dock.
- Astoria Yacht Club, immediately south of Old Young?s Bay Bridge. Paved ramp mid-hi tide. Hand launch off dock low tide. Directions
- Lewis & Clark River Rd public launch, 3 mi upriver from Ft Clatsop. Paved ramp hi tide, gravel mid, mud low tide. Directions
- Skipanon Marina, Warrenton. Paved ramp, fee. Also free kayak dock end of 2nd St
Camping & Lodging heading down river
- County Line Park WA State Route 4 west of Longview. First come, first served. Also on the island opposite the park.
- Clatskanie City Park tent $5 night. Showers during summer pool hours. Group reserv 503-728-2038
- Columbia River Beach House on Puget Island
- Elochoman Slough Marina, Cathlamet, WA 360-795-3501
- Lark Island east of Tenasillahe Is. dredge spoil sandy beach
- Skamokawa Vista Park Skamokawa, WA 360-795-8605
- Skamokawa Center Inn, Cafe, Post Office, Conference Center, dock, kayak rentals & information. 888-920-2777
- Aldrich Point, OR. dock or sandy beach, outhouse. Camping by permission in neighbor's field. Albert Smith 503-458-5161
- Deep River, by Oneida boat launch
- Deep River Escape vacation home rental 2 mi up from Gray?s Bay, reservations 503-738-5206
- Columbia River Quarantine Station Guest House/Camping reservations Nancy Anderson 503-738-5206
- Fort Columbia State Park, just west of the Astoria bridge on the WA side, through the tunnel and turn left
- Fort Canby/Cape Disappointment State Park, west of Ilwaco
- Any National Wildlife Refuge Island:
Tenasillahe, Hunting & Price Islands in Julia Butler Hansen NWR
any islands from Welsh downriver in Lewis & Clark NWR
- Private property without permission
- Below the high tide line