If you had any thoughts about trying off-season kayaking (after Labor Day until Memorial Day), you still have a little time to get organized. Most kayakers consider summer to be that period between the two holidays. Unlike boaters who have a much longer season, kayakers have to deal closely with water temperatures that are under 70 degrees and have to dress for the possibility of an unexpected swim.
Off-season kayaking is different. The water isn’t so busy. The parking lots are almost empty. The weather can change on short notice and there isn’t a lot of help available if you have a problem. To make a seamless transition from summer to off-season, we look for optimum conditions – dressing for the water, not the air temperatures, a close, safe place to park, a site to launch that is not too far from our vehicles and easy access to the water.
Google Earth will find access locations but won’t tell you about what’s privately owned property or about parking. You don’t want to trespass on private property, come back from your kayak trip and find your vehicle has been towed. Paddling.net posts information about sites they have used and Meetup.com will put you in touch with local kayakers and paddling groups that are familiar with the area where you want to kayak.
Bays are good for off-season paddling. Great South Bay in New York and Barnegat Bay in New Jersey are ideal – they offer the protection of barrier beaches and islands and interesting scenery. You may think when the Manasquan Inlet has a rare, flat calm morning on a nice day in April or May that it’s a good idea to try it, but off-season is not the time for challenges. And you also need to accommodate the least experienced member of your group.
Some launching sites offer conveniences that make them very appealing off-season. If you live in or travel to New Jersey, Island Beach State Park is open year-round and has heated restrooms and two kayak launching sites on Barnegat Bay. Located just south of Seaside Heights, the Park is used by fishermen, hikers, bikers and kayakers. The parking is good, safe and close to where you launch. There are islands out in the Bay where you can stop and stretch your legs, have lunch and take pictures. On windy days these islands offer protection from the wind.
On the Jersey shore north of Island Beach State Park there are places you can park off-season and walk your kayak ten or fifteen feet to the edge of Barnegat Bay. One is in Lavallette on Bay Boulevard and there is another in Ortley just before the bridge to Toms River. These locations have good, safe parking but no facilities. There are bay front neighborhoods, yacht clubs and marinas and a variety of ducks and shorebirds on the islands to make your paddling interesting.
On the south side of Barnegat Inlet, just south of Island Beach State Park is the Barnegat Lighthouse located on Long Beach Island. The Inlet separates Island Beach State Park and Long Beach Island. Going south on Long Beach Island there are public ramps that are free during the off-season. There’s a good ramp at Surf City and an even better one in Beach Haven, wide with a gentle slope. They have no facilities but the parking is good and close by.
In New York on Long Island the site under the Ponquogue Bridge at Hampton Bays near the Shinnecock Inlet has a SaniLav and close, safe parking. The only downside to this site is having to check the tides ahead of time to be sure you go close to high tide so there’s enough water to launch and paddle your boat. There are lots of islands, herons and a variety of other shorebirds.
At Gilgo Beach on the Ocean Parkway between Captree and Jones Beach, there is safe, close parking and only twenty or thirty feet to the water in front of the restaurant which is only open in the summer and early fall. You can go from the restaurant to the State Boat Channel which leads to the Great South Bay
Carmans River can be reached from Montauk Highway in Brookhaven by taking Old Stump Road to Beaverdam Road, making a right onto Beaverdam and taking it south to a local property owners’ marina called Squassux Landing. You can park on the road outside the marina and walk your kayak down the road thirty or forty feet to the edge of Carmans River. Once in the water, going left will take you north, back toward Montauk Highway through a protected area. Going right will lead you south to the Great South Bay, a good ride in both directions. The parking on the road is safe and fairly close but there are no facilities.
Before loading your vehicle for the trip, go through your checklist of things to take along and things to do. Beyond what is on your own personal list, you’ll want to take bottled water, a drybag for your car keys and phone, snacks, lunch, your paddle leash, sunglasses, a hat, a charged cell phone, your whistle, your personal locater beacon and just in case, a bag with dry clothes. Your list of things to do should include charging your phone the night before and bringing a drybag or case for it if you don’t have an old Motorola or Samsung waterproof phone. Checking the weather one last time before leaving wouldn’t be a bad idea.
While you’re out you’ll want to keep your eyes on the weather. Some clues of weather change are - an easterly or northeasterly wind moving in usually means an approaching storm front, or if someone in your group has arthritis or had a previously broken bone, they can often feel the change in atmospheric pressure that leads to weather change. As humidity increases, so does your sense of smell. When things smell stronger to you it may be an indication of rain coming or that you’ve waited too long to change your socks. Seagulls are sensitive to air and water pressure that occurs before a storm. They fly lower, closer to the water and may even stay ashore if they sense a bad storm approaching.
In talking to off-season kayakers who were getting ready to leave for a day on the water and to the few I know who kayak year-round, one thing stands out. They kayak year-round but like their off-season time on the water more than the warm days in the summer when the water and the beaches are busier. They all have the wetsuits and drysuits you need to make it work and felt being out there without the crowds was a peaceful interlude in a busy week that made up for bad days at work and other problems they have. Most don’t stay out a full day so the lack of open facilities was not a problem.
I asked all of them if they always wore their life jackets off-season. The life jacket was seen as the most important thing they could do to help themselves and they all did wear them. Not all of them thought the paddle leash was important, probably because all but one had someone who could rescue his paddle.
The one person who went out by himself said he felt comfortable going out alone, took every precaution and stayed close enough to shore that he could get back safely. He said he called in sick at work, was waiting for just the right day and couldn’t expect anyone else to just drop everything and go with him.
No one did a float plan – too much trouble, they thought. Two said they might change their minds and want to go somewhere else and just didn’t want to be limited by the float plan. They all watched or listened to the weather before they came out and would keep an eye out for change while they were out, they said. Only the man by himself had a personal locater beacon. The others all thought it was a great idea and two thought they would probably be looking at them soon.
Asked if they had any advice for someone who had never tried off-season kayaking, they said to always go with someone, that you should always bring water, always wear the life jacket and stay close to shore. All the off-season kayakers I spoke to were men. I’ve seen women out there but not many, and I don’t know any. It’s a wonderful experience and I hope a woman reading this will think about it and join a group that goes out or find a friend to try it with her.