Safety and Resources for Kayaking on the Columbia River between Longview and the Pacific Ocean
Before You Go... Weather, Navigation Information, Kayak Instruction & Retailers, Marine Supply
- US West Coast Tide/Current Predictions
- National Weather Service Forecasts
- National Weather Service Marine Forecast phone 503-861-2722
- NOAA Tide Predictions for Skamokawa, WA or enter location of your choice
- NOAA weather predictions for Skamokawa, WA or enter location of your choice
- Bonneville Dam release data
- NOAA Columbia River Water Temperature at Skamokawa, WA
Navigation and Boating Information
- Oregon State Marine Board safety info & resources
- Oregon Oceanic Paddlers Society Find other kayakers with whom to paddle and other resources.
- Rules of Navigation, a summary for boaters in general.
- WDFW Vehicle Use Permit Parking at certain WA sites requires a WDFW decal.
- Washington State Discover Pass needed for all state park access and many other state lands. Now transferable between two vehicles.
Float Plan and Emergency Prep
File plan with family and friends. Be sure it includes the following answers to the questions the Coast Guard will ask:
- 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 a 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!
River Access Points, Downriver Camping & Lodging for Kayakers
- Lower Columbia Estuary Partnership’s Lower Columbia River Water Trail Interactive Map
- Oregon State Marine Board Boat Launch Interactive Map
- County Line Park WA State Route 4 west of Longview. First come, first served. Also on the island opposite the park.
- Clatskanie City Park charge for camping. Showers during summer pool hours. Group reserv 503-728-2038
- 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 Resort, Skamokawa, WA 360-795-0726
- Twin Gables B&B on Skamokawa Creek 360-795-3942
- 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
- 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
No Camping on any national wildlife refuge island (Tenasillahe, Hunting & Price Islands in Julia Butler Hansen NWR) or any islands from Welsh downriver in Lewis & Clark NWR, on private property without permissio, or below the high tide line
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 ebbs continuously.
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.
It’s important to consult the tide predictions for more specific information. The Fisheries Bonneville dam release data can also be helpful for knowing if there is a surge of dam water headed downriver.
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.
- 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.
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!