Kayak Safety & Comfort

Kayak waterfall
Understanding kayak safety and comfort is essential in planning any trip. Beyond the hard skills that you would learn in a kayaking course, there is also the question of the appropriate way to pass through the watery wilderness area of Cortes Island and Desolation Sound. Here are a few ideas.

What to Bring

Kayakers should wear comfortable clothing appropriate for the weather. Shorts or pants that can be rolled up are a good idea as you will get wet up to the knees. Footwear must be sturdy and able to get wet. Bare feet and thong type sandals are dangerous on shell covered, rugged shores. Old running shoes or water shoes are ideal. Bring sunscreen, sunglasses, water bottle, a sweater or light jacket and long slip on pants. For those who are doing a rescue class, even though we have the warmest ocean temperatures in B.C., we recommend that you bring a wet suit if you have one or long sleeve synthetic pants and top. We have a limited number of wetsuits which may be rented for the class for $10. A warm hat is nice to have as well. We provide all required safety gear.


We offer an introductory course for inexperienced kayakers which must be arranged for ahead of time (when the reservation is made). For safety reasons, renters must take this course or its equivalent prior to the rental period. Additionally, at least one member of a rental party must demonstrate group and self-rescue skills. Alternately, renters are advised to participate in sea kayak classes covering boat-handling skills and rescues, navigation, and oceanography from a reputable sea kayak center before arriving on Cortes Island. All overnight and multiday renters must have experience in rescue techniques and basic navigation.

If you are planning a trip to our area, some suggested references and reading include “Kayak Routes of the Pacific Northwest” by Peter Mcgee, “Sea Kayak Desolation Sound and the Sunshine Coast” by Heather Harbord and the BC Marine Trails Map.


There is no rush to get anywhere for you are already there. Slow down and take a look around. Within just a few paddle strokes of the beach, there lies the undisturbed natural world.

Overhead, Turkey Vultures soar on thermals created by heating from hilltops. Eagles fly or sit watchful from their nests. On the sea Harlequin Ducks and River Otters play close in to the rocky islets while seals follow the kayaks, watching them curiously. Black Oyster Catchers, Black Turnstones and the Great Blue Heron all hunt for dinner on the rocky shores. If you are observant, you will see the Marbled Murlett’s wings open as it dives, in preparation for it’s underwater “flight”.

A kayak is a vessel of opportunity, allowing the paddler a unique chance to observe and interact with the ocean, the coastal beaches and wildlife that lives there in a non-intrusive and ecologically sound way. To this end, we ask that you observe the following guidelines:

1. Try not to disturb the animals that you encounter. You are a visitor in their home and your presence could have a detrimental effect on their feeding, offspring rearing and resting activities. A good rule of thumb to follow is “Whatever the animals were doing before you arrived, they should still be doing after you have passed”. If the seals panic and dive off the rocks into the water as you go by, then you have not accomplished this objective. Observing the wildlife with binoculars will give you the best view of their natural state. We should not approach closer than 100 metres to marine mammals although the seals may come to you!

2. Please respect other people’s privacy and property.

3. Please respect oyster leases and clam beaches. These will be posted with signs. Many islanders depend on these leases for their livelihoods.

4. Pack out all of your garbage and leave nothing behind.

5. If you are on an overnight trip, if possible stay at one of the many established campsites in the area. Always work to minimize the impact that your stay will have on the site.

6. Campfires are not to be lit during the forest fire season. They should only be lit below the high tide line or in established and safe fire circles. Please burn only driftwood and leave the trees alone. Using a camp-stove is always preferable to lighting a fire.

7. The best way to deal with human waste is to preferably use the outhouses that are provided in some of the established campsites within the parks. Otherwise, human waste should be packed out and disposed of in a city sewer system or pump out station. A strong bucket with a secure lid that can fit in the kayak cockpit with you works well. On longer trips where the containment of waste would be a health risk, paddling well offshore to dump your bucket would have minimal impact. If packing your waste is not an option, the recommended practice for defecation is to go as close to the OCEAN water’s edge as possible and well below the high tide line. An option might be to do your business on a flat piece of wood or stone and then throw it into the water. This should preferably be done on a headland where a current flows by, rather in a bay where there is no flushing action. Carefully burn toilet paper in the intertidal zone, well away from dry grasses and trees.

When selecting a site to do your business, please do not do it near oyster or clam beaches. Not only do visitors harvest shellfish for their dinners but the Desolation Sound area is also a very active commercial shellfish farming area. This industry is vital to the local economy and shellfish harvested for commercial use are closely monitored for fecal coliform bacteria. A bad sample could close the whole area.

The marine environment is very capable of dealing with our human waste in small quantities. Decomposition will be more rapid in the ocean than it will if it is buried in the humus poor, rocky soils of our coastal areas and there will be no danger of contaminating the fresh water table. Please keep your business well away from lakes, streams and other freshwater sources.

8. Be prepared to carry all of the fresh water you will need. The rocky islets preferred for camping have no fresh water sources. There are lakes available on the mainland but it is recommended to purify the water first before use. Water is available in Squirrel Cove, Lund, the Gorge Harbour and Refuge Cove.

9. If you must fish or collect shellfish, please be respectful and take only what you can use. You must possess a valid Sport Fishing Licence and know your daily allowable catch limits. Return shells back to the water as they will become the foundations for future oysters to build upon. Before harvesting it is always a good idea to check with the Department of Fisheries for information on Red Tide or closures. The local number is (250) 850-5701 or check Shellfish Closures


If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to ask us. We can provide you with local knowledge of the tides, currents and weather outlook as well as paddling routes and destinations.

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