Rules of the Nautical Road -- for Kayakers
Don't interfere with commercial shipping or commercial fishing.
Don't paddle along channels. Channels are for deeper draft vessels, so we kayakers should minimize our presence there. Cross channels at ninety degrees as quickly as possible. Be aware that kayaks and their human cargo may not be visible to the operators of larger vessels, and we should therefore give right of way to all other boats when inside or outside of channels. It's important to remember that boats are not required to stay in a channel, even though they usually will, so watch out for them at all times. Channels are created to assure boats of a given depth. Many local boaters know when the tide is deep enough to go outside channels. Try to get eye contact with oncoming boaters. Keep paddling as your range decreases: a moving paddle is far easier to see than one that is still, even if it is raised. You might raise your paddles high and wave them to attract attention if need be. Light color paddles help with visibility. To determine whether an oncoming boat will pass in front of, behind you, or is on a collision course, face your bow toward oncoming boat (when far off) and watch how it changes course.
How To Cross a Channel
When in a group, cross as a single unit, or pod. Don't let the group spread out. This will help the operator of an oncoming vessel to avoid the group. The lead and sweep boats should be within a couple of boat lengths of the rest of the group. If the group is large, assign end boats so the group does not spread out too wide on either side. At busy channels, a group might have to wait for a break in passing traffic. When waiting, have all members of the group lay down their paddles so the passing boaters will know they have the right of way. Just as in automobile traffic, one key to safety is to act predictably. Allow any oncoming vessels to pass, and then cross astern of them.
Large vessels move deceivingly quickly. A vessel one mile away, traveling at fifteen knots, will arrive in four minutes. If the channel you are crossing (paddling at a fast three knots) is one half mile wide, it will take you ten minutes to cross. In those ten minutes, the oncoming vessel will travel two and a half miles. If your corossing is to be a safe one, that vessel must be a minimum of two and one half miles away. Also, don't cross too close behind large vessels. Beware of turbulence and any debris kicked up by the vessel.
Cross at right angle to the channel, so that your presence in the channel will be as brief as possible. Move as swiftly as possible, but be sure to maintain the group as a single unit. Know where the shipping lane boundaries are. Notice the navigational aids: use the channel markers as references when crossing. If you cross from buoy to buoy you will know exactly when you have entered and exited the channel. Be aware of tides and currents. How will they affect you when crossing? Will the current cause you to drift into the channel while you are waiting for passing traffic? Will you need to ferry glide to your destination? Look at the buoys. Are they leaning? What does that tell you about the current? Remember, don't interfere with less maneuverable boats. We are out playing, while the commercial vessels are working. Show them respect.
Ferries operate on schedules. Try to learn their arrival and departure times. Stay out of their way. Ferries will give one blast when they leave the bulkhead. If you are behind them when they blow their horn it is too late to get out of the way. Ferries can also throw out a large amount of turbulent water even when tied up to a slip. Get familiar with the routes of the different ferries and other ships before paddling in areas near their route, e.g., the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, crossing the Hudson River between N.J. to the Battery, or paddling along Manhattan's west side.
Remember: Red, Right, Return. In the channel, when heading into a lesser body of water (returning from the ocean) or into an anchorage, Red Nun buoys are always on the right, and Can (green or sometimes black) buoys are always on the left.