Frequently Asked Questions - Sea Canoeing
Where does SOC go sea kayaking?
We often run day trips on the Northeast coast, anywhere from Whitby up to St. Abbs. Mostly these range from very easy trips of a few miles intended for beginners, to more exciting trips such as the Farne Islands which require a bit more experience. Weekend trips away are most often to Western Scotland, but occasionally Wales and other parts of the coast. These may be for daytrips out from a base, or, more often, will involve overnight camping from the boats. The four bank holiday weekends in sea season usually have longer and more serious camping trips, although even some of these may be good for beginners if the conditions are good. Easter has a bit of a poor record for weather in Scotland, so this is the most likely trip to be elsewhere, but also the least likely to be good for inexperienced paddlers. We also take sea kayaks on lakes, and these trips are particularly suited to beginners to sea kayaking who haven't done much other paddling.
For holidays, SOC has visited Scotland, the Islands, several places in Europe (Lofoten, Greece, Croatia, Spain, Iceland, Ireland) and further afield (Alaska, Greenland, New Zealand, Patagonia, the western USA), but these tend to be long camping trips requiring a considerable degree of commitment and the ability to paddle in bad weather or sea conditions. The easier foreign trips are still within reach for a paddler within the first couple of years of their sea paddling career, perhaps sooner if they are already whitewater paddlers.
For an idea of what sort of trips are suitable at different experience levels see Stages of Sea Kayaking.
Some trips recur year after year, and a few areas also see variations of the same trip - never quite the same, as weather and tides are always different. We've tried to give a flavour of some of these trips in our Favourite Sea Trips pages (more of these to come as we build content), whilst you will find more places we've been described in Previous Sea Trips.
What sorts of sea kayaking are there?
By sea kayaking we mean almost any sort of paddling in sea kayaks - not necessarily on the sea. Daytrips on lakes are good for beginners to get used to the boats, but Scotland has some big enough Lochs for multiday trips to be worthwhile (Loch Shiel for example). Overnight trips tend to be camping affairs and generally geared to finding the easiest routes, using the tides to help us along, so careful planning is often more important than paddling skills. On the other hand, there are several sorts of activity which are more suited to day trips, such as surfing, playing in tide races, and rock-hopping. Some of the more ambitious multiday trips may also involve exposed waters and strong tides and may be committing with no easy escape routes in case of bad weather.
For an idea of what sort of trips are suitable at different experience levels see Stages of Sea Kayaking.
What equipment do I need?
Some of the major pieces of kit specific to sea kayaking can be hired from the club (see the next question), but eventually you will want your own. To try the activity, using a club boat, paddle, spraydeck and buoyancy aid, in calm summer conditions on inland water, you would need very little, as sea kayaking is a relatively dry activity (sea boats are very stable in calm water). If you want to undertake longer trips, and venture onto the sea, then you'd want a waterproof top with wrist seals in addition to thermals underneath. Footwear suitable for wading in shallow water (wetsocks and trainers are fine, although a lot of sea kayakers like to keep their feet warm and dry with socks and wellies). Drybags are essential for keeping spare clothes, food and any bits of kit you might want to take along like mobile phone or camera. On the sea you would carry flares (the club has these) and go in a group which would carry a VHF marine radio. You won't need a helmet unless playing in surf or rock-gardens (advanced skills) but a wide-brimmed hat defends against sun, rain, and seabirds!
We'll shortly be adding a page giving an idea of the kit you'd want for a weekend camping trip such as we tend to do in Scotland at bank holidays but if you' ve been backpacking in the wild you'll find the kit similar but perhaps with less emphasis on keeping the weight down. You'll want lots of drybags - many small ones are easier to pack than a few big ones (this is especially true of older boats with small round hatches, such as the club singles or cheap secondhand kayaks). On day trips you may want to carry a hot drink in a flask, but on longer trips where you have camping gear, people will usually use a stove for freshly made hot drinks at lunch stops and other breaks. Trip leaders will have maps and details of tidal flows from the Pilot, and beginners may feel no need of these. However, a waterproof map case (or photocopied and laminated maps) will enable you to see where you are going and start to learn about navigation and the arcane world of tidal streams.
Does SOC have equipment to use?
A sea kayak is an expensive piece of kit to buy if you are not yet sure whether you will enjoy the sport, so SOC has a small number of boats to hire out. Perhaps the best boat for a first trip is the club double kayak with a more experienced paddler. It's not the most manoeuverable boat for rockhopping, though, so if this is the sort of paddling you'd like to try, we have an Anas Acuta, closely based on Greenland designs and very easy to turn. The Anas doesn't carry much gear, so for a first weekend camping trip, the new plastic Atlantic is probably the best choice. All these boats have bulkheads and hatches for buoyancy and storage, and come equipped with spraydecks and paddles. The Atlantic has a drop skeg, whilst the double has a rudder, controlled by the paddler in the aft cockpit. Full details of all these boats are accessible through our Equipment for Hire page.
It is usual to carry a certain amount of safety gear, and the club has flares for anyone who doesn't have their own - every member of a trip should have at least one in their boat or, ideally, on their person (back pocket of a buoyancy aid). Hiring a boat includes these, as well as paddle and spraydeck.
There are other odd items of gear such as paddle leashes, but we don't tend to have things that wear out easily, like drybags and clothing. There are club buoyancy aids, but most of these don't have the sort of pockets that sea kayakers prefer for cameras, flares, drinks, snacks and the like - it is important to have these accessible as we can't just pull into an eddy for a rest the way river boaters can. The club has a licensed handheld marine VHF radio, but you do need an "authority to operate" to use this, and it is not currently holding its battery charge very well.
There is a small charge for use of any of these items - typically £5/day per cockpit for boats and £1 for other kit. Weekly charges are five times the daily charge, and those joining club activities who have not yet joined the club will pay 50% more than the members' rate.
How do I contact the coastguard?
It is often useful to contact the coastguard (or Maritime Rescue Coordination Centres) to tell them your plans or possibly, of course, to request assistance. On the trip, you'd typically use a marine VHF Radio for this (for which you would need to possess an authority to operate for anything other than a mayday call - basically a license obtained by passing an exam, usually via the Royal Yachting Association, but kayaking centres like Plas Menai also run courses). Before and after the trip it may be a lot easier by phone, and if you have a mobile with signal and don't have line-of-sight to a coastguard VHF antenna, the phone may be useful on the water too. Be aware that the coastguard have direction finding equipment and if you are calling a rescue, they may well be able to locate you a lot more easily if you can use VHF radio as they search, even if you couldn't make initial contact that way. Modern VHF marine radios also contain a GPS which can tag each transmission with your location - mobile phones often have GPS too, but getting the fix into your message is not automated. Maybe write an app for that?
There's a useful list of contact numbers which also tells you exactly what area is covered by each MRCC. The times of VHF radio broadcasts with weather and marine safety information from each MRCC is also useful, as you will rarely want to keep a VHF radio switched on all the time if the trip is longer than a few hours.
For mobile phone in an emergency, simply dial 999 and ask for the coastguard. However, if you have weak signal, or are in noisy sea conditions, this may be a struggle. It is possible to text 999 (a service intended for hearing-impaired people), but you need to have registered your mobile in advance, so it is worth doing this right now! How to register your mobile for SMS 999 calls (texts). Don't put this off.
How do I get tide predictions?
Unlike most other countries in the world, where tide predictions are regarded as a matter of public safety, and are available free for long enough ahead to meet most planning purposes, in the UK, despite the data gathering having already been paid for by the taxpayer, the UK Hydrography Office is tasked with extracting every last penny from their work. Crown copyright is asserted over the harmonic constants which are used to make predictions and free predictions are only available (on the net) for seven days ahead (that's seven days from midnight just past, so six days, really). Software which uses these constants must pay to use them, and so free and open source software cannot legally make these predictions. There are other sources, however, and harmonic constants for a limited range of ports have been sourced from elsewhere, and can be used with some free software. Inevitably this gives rise to both software and data piracy, but does mean that it is a lot of effort to get to make predictions at home.
For most places, we can do our planning on a rule-of-thumb basis, simply knowing that high tide is at a certain time of day at springs, and low tide at about the same time at neaps. It's easy enough to get the phase of the moon from your diary, or a calendar... An hour either way is not too critical for outline trip planning, and you can get more accurate predictions, if needed, just before setting off.
UKHO Easy Tide (six days ahead)
UKHO cover a vast range of tidal stations (not just within the UK), so you can get local high and low tide, as well as the main stations to which tidal streams are referred in Pilots and guidebooks.
National Tidal and Sea Level Facility (28 days ahead)
(Formerly the Proudman Oceanographic Lab). A very good source, and will go a month ahead, but for a much more limited range of ports. This does include most main stations to which tide streams are referred, but one notable exception is Oban, which is the most important station for West of Scotland trips south of Ardnamurchan Head. Use Tobermory and work on Oban being 20 minutes earlier (they are close enough together that this will only be a couple of minutes out either way).
Bangor University Centre for Applied Oceanography
Tide tables for Beaumaris, Menai Bridge, Port Donorwic, Caernarfon, Conwy and Liverpool. Sometimes the page just does't seem to load, but trying again shortly often works. It's worth persisting if you need data for Anglesey as there is so much detail.
Xtide is free and open source software, but not all harmonics datasets are freely available. Mobile geographics runs Xtide on a server which seems to have harmonics for a lot more places than typically come with the software if you install it yourself, so this is a very useful site. You can get not only short-term predictions but a full tide table calendar for a month or full year. In particular, this site includes Oban which isn't available from NTSLF (above) nor in the xTide free distribution. Occasionally, they add a whole lot of new locations and renumber everything so that links break. If that link didn't get you Oban, try the Master Index link from the title of this section.
A Google search will often reveal complete sets of tide tables on the net, too, although sometimes these are there in breach of copyright, so I won't draw attention to these with a link. Some port authorities put their tide tables on the net themselves - Belfast used to do this, but now appears not to - a search may reveal other relevant ports' tables.
Many of the trip reports had "Additional Notes" pages on the old site where we tried to supply links to resources for planning trips in the same area. These have currently not been transferred to the new website, but we're intending that they reappear when we get time and access. We'll often include information about tidal streams and the times these change relative to some local standard tide station. If you are interested in paddling in the same area as a previous trip, these pages should be your first port of call to point you at detailed help for planning.
Many members use tide prediction software on their own computers. Tidecalc was available for MSDOS, and if you can get a copy, it will run under a DOS emulator on any 32-bit x86 machine. It has a very kludgy user interface, and does not use recent harmonic data, so its value is becoming a little dubious. There was also the shareware program "Autotide" which no longer seems to be available (but members have copies). This runs on Windows (at least on older versions of Windows, maybe not recent ones), but, since there is no-one to pay the shareware fee to, you can't make it licensed, and it will only make "predictions" for dates which predate the current date, although once you have tides for yesterday displayed, it will let you page forward a day at a time to the future. The user interface is a lot nicer than Tidecalc and it does have a lot of stations for the UK. I have an old Windows98 laptop that runs this and can also run it in a VirtualBox VM running Windows2000 on my "proper" Linux machine.
The world standard in free tide prediction software, however, is Xtide. This was developed for Unix, so is an easy option for Linux users. Versions are also available for Windows and Mac, but may be a little more work to install than many users are used to. Unfortunately, UKHO won't license their data for free distribution, so for the UK Xtides has to use data from elsewhere, which means a lot fewer stations. There are generally enough though (includes Ullapool, Tobermory, Leith - pretty much the same set of ports as the Proudman site), so it is well worth a try. If you use Linux, a package may be available for your distribution (for Debian/Ubuntu, try "apt-get install xtide xtide-coastline xtide-data xtide-data-nonfree - you will need the universe and multiverse repositories enabled. tcd-utils may also be useful if you have access to harmonics data from other sources, or want to look inside the files that come with Xtide). Package names may be different on other systems.
The ultimate luxury is the UKHO's TotalTide, but it is ridiculously expensive (£75 or so for one region, plus annual updates) and only runs on Windows, so that's another huge expense (not to mention making your computer vulnerable to all sorts of malware and general software problems).
If you want to know how tide prediction software works (and who wants to use technology they don't understand?) I can recommend Manual of Harmonic Analysis and Prediction of Tides by Paul Schureman, Senior Mathematician with the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey. It's a 336-page document (and a 21 Mb download as a pdf) full of mathematical equations, but if you ever have trouble getting to sleep on a spray-lashed coast on sea trips, this is the thing to read :-)
What will sea conditions be like?
There are vast arrays of weather-forecasting sites on the web, and one problem is the way they tend to change their URLs very frequently to stop other sites from using graphics directly. Sometimes even links to the main sites break, so if you find that a link here doesn't work, please let us know. The same applies if you find more useful sites to which we should link. Most of the forecasts are aimed at those inland, so the links here concentrate on those aimed specifically at the mariner.
Wave Watch 3, NE Atlantic, has moved to a new presentation format from 2011-03-07. Some of the links within the site are still broken, but when you actually get to the weather maps (the link should take you in deep enough to get there), they are very good indeed. The site has predictions for wind and various sorts of waves (height and direction) every three hours from a nine-hour hindcast through to a 180 hour (7½ day) forecast. The grid resolution is smaller and the area covered much more focussed than the old site, making it a lot more useful. One glitch is that bugs in Internet Explorer versions 6-8 prevent the viewer from working, but all other modern standards-compliant browsers work fine.
Inshore Waters Forecast, from the UK Met. Office is useful, but only gives quite a short range ahead. It's good to be familiar with this, though, as it is what you will hear broadcast by VHF radio while on your trip. Our Favourite Sea trips and Past sea trips Additional Notes pages should give the times of transmission in the relevant coastguard/forecast area. The main shipping forecast is less useful as it covers the open sea more than twelve miles offshore.
Can I join the Canoeists' mailing list?
For the majority of people who expect a nice clean "join mailing list" interface within the website the answer seems to be "no". I've been trying for some considerable time to add a new email address and there is no apparent way forward.
The mailing lists (one for each section and a couple of others) were originally hosted by topica, then became traditional majordomo lists (which was a great improvement), and then changed to Mailman from 2011-03-25. After abandoning Mailman for technical reasons, we are now on Google Groups. If you are happy to subscribe to that with the email the system knows for you, you could (if logged on) choose "My account" from the User Menu, top left, and find options to get on the the Google Groups system. This seems to have disappeared some time before early 2019. It used to be that the "Canoeists Google Group" link then took you somewhere useful to look at the archive of messages. If you have multiple mailboxes, and don't want your personal email address given to Google (outside the UK, and not subject to our Data Protection Act) then, with a bit of hassle, and by asking the list controller, it can be arranged for Google to invite your alternative email address to join a group. You may want to ask your Section Leader who the "list controller" is. The "list controller" may not actually have the technical know-how to help as the system seems to have become arcane beyond the remit of even a software guru...
What boat should I get?
Of all the equipment a sea kayaker needs, the boat is the most expensive, and the most difficult to choose. Fibreglass boats are designed to last - in many cases they will last for a paddler's lifetime, so you may think it is critical to get exactly the right boat, first time. For most people this is not really true - you will start off on easier trips and not having the perfect boat is less critical. You don't have to buy a new boat - because the boats last so well, there is a healthy second-hand market covering a wide range of designs, and mostly they hold their value very well, so you can sell on a boat with little financial loss if you decide to get something else.
The advice we give anyone, above all else, is to try lots of boats. There are four club boats, of very different designs, only one of which is very similar to the boats paddled by a majority of members. Several members have more than one boat, and many of our paddlers have got their start in sea kayaking in a borrowed boat. When out paddling in a group, observe the others and see what their boats are good at, and what sort of paddling the owner of each boat prefers - that will have influenced their choice. Club members have a significant number of boats by North Shore Designs, partly because they were built locally, by someone who offered club members some discount, but also because they are indeed good boats. However, there are plenty of other manufacturers and it is good to try to have a look at some of those, too. Sea kayak symposia are really good events to go to try out a whole lot of different boats.
Look at Some Sea Boats to Try which compares the club boats with those paddled by a number of members and suggesting designs that are similar. Building fibreglass boats is intensive on labour, rather than materials, so inevitably many are now built abroad, which is giving a much wider choice, though quality and after-sales service must be an issue. You will notice that very few club paddlers use plastic boats - these tend to be heavier, less repairable, less rigid, and, in many cases, less waterproof and not quite as fast through the water. But they are obviously cheaper and if you are buying a boat with the intention of selling it on and buying something else as you become more proficient and do longer trips, a modern plastic boat may well be a sensible choice.
The final option is to build your own boat, but this is very time-consuming so it is a good idea to have something else to paddle whilst your dream boat takes shape. The recommendation to paddle a lot of different boats first applies even more to this option, as you will want to be very confident of the type of boat you want - see the last question: Did you build that yourself?
What paddle should I use?
If you are a whitewater paddler just trying sea kayaking, use your whitewater paddle - it will be a familiar tool and won't be particularly limiting, although whitewater paddles are generally shorter. If you have started with the club equipment and are looking to buy your own paddle, the same advice applies here as for boats - try as many as you can before choosing. If you are out on a trip, persuade other members to let you have a go with their paddles for a short while - most will be willing and you will find some quite significant differences. Ask why they chose that particular paddle for a bit more insight.
There are three main paddling styles, with corresponding paddle types. "High Angle" paddlers tend to have the upper hand passing at eye-level during the stroke, and the blade entering the water fairly vertically. This is the style used by most white water paddlers and anyone racing (unless they are using a specialist "wing" paddle which is a different style again, but not very relevant here). The blades are short, broad, and asymmetric, and for sea paddling with more emphasis on forward paddling than dramatic manoeuvring, paddles are longer than whitewater paddles (210-220cm), for a more forward catch and longer stroke. "Low Angle" paddlers have their upper hand lower, and the paddle entering the water at an angle. This is a less athletic style which is easier to learn, and works well with beamier and more stable boats. The top blade is less likely to catch the wind, but the style is less efficient for long days or paddling hard against wind and tide and it limits trunk rotation which is a handicap in the rough. The blades are longer, narrower and perhaps less asymmetric, and the paddle length is a little greater (up to 225 cm). "Greenland" style is much less common, with some specific advantages. This is a low angle style using an unfeathered paddle with long narrow blades (usually wooden). It can be very efficient, but is probably harder to learn to use to a high standard, especially if you are already used to a feathered paddle. For more information on Greenland style, see our article What's That Stick?
For a particular style there are several more variables, including blade area, angle of feather, and materials used for both blade and shaft. As in whitewater paddling, one option is a cranked shaft which some paddlers love and others hate, but do give it a try, as it has definite advantages, even if it takes a while to get used to. Large area blades give you more power, and more effective bracing and steering, but do put a bigger strain on joints and tendons (and are more prone to catch the wind). 80° feather was traditional, works well in a headwind, but can be harder in a crosswind, and puts more strain on the wrists. 45° feather is becoming more popular (particularly with people who also paddle white water) and even lower angles, down to 15°, have their proponents. Unfeathered paddles are still rather uncommon, but some split paddles offer this option, and some can be adjusted over a range of angles. Carbon construction is more expensive, but gives a stiffer and lighter paddle, which can save a lot of energy over 20,000 strokes in a day. Other materials may offer more advantages if you are into rock-hopping and tend to abuse your kit on barnacle-encrusted rock ! Most paddlers will end up with one set of blades they use most of the time, and a set of splits to carry as spares. Often the splits are a cheaper set just for emergencies, but some paddlers have two sets of paddles, both as splits, and may choose the best one for the particular day (I tend to use smaller blades at the start of the season, moving to bigger blades as I get fitter, for instance).
Assuming you want to use a feathered paddle, broadly similar to white water ones, it's well worth listening to a podcast recorded by Simon Willis interviewing Danny Mongno of Werner paddles. It's very enlightening, and not just trying to get you to buy Werner blades.
Did you build that yourself?
Not strictly a question the club gets asked frequently, but I certainly do!
... and yes, I did. A good fibreglass sea kayak is an expensive piece of kit, and the cost of materials to build your own is, on paper, a considerable saving. Most home built kayaks are wood-based with either wood strips or thin marine ply sandwiched between layers of fibreglass and epoxy resin. But building your own composite sea kayak is not a cheap or quick way to get on the water - that boat took 280 hours of work over five months (and it was my second boat, built, with the benefit of experience, in less time than the first). On the other hand, neither does it need any particularly advanced woodworking skills - it's just a long sequence of small jobs carried out with care and attention - almost anyone could build one with just a few hand tools and plenty of space to work. There's more about this boat on its own webpage.
In return for your time and effort, you do get exactly the kayak you want, gaining a great appreciation for how boats are designed and knowing exactly how to repair it if the worst happens. I can thoroughly recommend the book "The strip-built sea kayak" by Nick Schade, and the great kayak building community on the website Nick kindly sponsors and runs.
It is also possible, and quicker, to build skin-on-frame boats owing a lot to the original Inuit designs. These don't have the bulkheads and waterproof hatches that most regard as essential to safety, so need airbags. There's a lot of information on the web, including a wonderful website by Tom Yost about building folding sea kayaks (with frames based on aluminium alloy tube and HDPE sections, with PVC skins) that pack small enough to take on trips by air.
What happened to the sea kayaking gallery ?
The gallery under joomla never worked well (the words obscured the photos, then the gallery upload code proved to be the route used to hack into the site, so it was progressively downgraded until the new site was built to be more secure). The new site has galleries, but (as yet) no way to add the words and all-important photographer credits, so Canoe Section looked for an alternative way to provide the pictures along with the accompanying explanatory text. We're still working on it, but for now, our sea kayaking galleries are hosted off-site. Owing to a change (spring 2017) in the way SOC website content is delivered (https) users with very recent and very security paranoid browsers can no longer see these galleries embedded in the SOC site, so you'll need to follow the links to offsite resources if the galleries don't show up below (they still work just fine with older browsers). The Alaska slideshow gallery is too big to embed anyway. If you have a big screen (at least 2048 pixels across) you might like to look at the 2016 Alaska slide show as a gallery. The galleries take a while to load, as all the thumbnails load before you see anything. After that, the full-sized images load one at a time as you visit them so should only take a second or so. You can also scroll along the thumbnails at the bottom to find a particular image without loading all the intermediate ones at full size.
Please bear with us, as this is not a final solution (even more so since changing to https broke even our temporary solution). We are still working to replace the words so not all photos yet have a caption, but all should be properly credited. The Greenland photos which never made it to the old site, have also been added as a gallery:
Copyright info: All photos remain copyright of the original photographers, of course, but some of our photographers allow reuse under a Creative Commons licence. Where we know that pictures are licensed this way, the photo credit includes the licence terms. Most are CC-BY-NC-SA (requiring attribution, allowing derivative works, but not permitting commercial use), but some are also contributed to geograph.org.uk, which has a slightly more liberal licence allowing commercial use (CC-BY-SA). Where we are not aware of any licence (the photographer has just given SOC permission to use an image) the credit will say "not licensed for reuse".
I'd like to plan my own trips - where do I start ?
If you've been following the trips you've been on on the map, and "shadowing" the navigation, you will find yourself able to lead sections and anticipate changes to plan. Soon you'll want to plan trips yourself. There are a lot of resources to help you, both on and offline. There are now a series of guidebooks (which will eventually cover the whole of the UK) which are specifically for sea kayakers, which will give you ideas about trips, lots of tidal information, and can be used for an "off-the-shelf" trip plan. This very website offers a number of "Favourite trip" pages, some of which can give a similar pre-packaged trip, but most aim to give a lot of information about possible trips in an area, and a central resource for finding tide times, leaving the distances to do each day, the location of campsites and the like to your own decisions.
If you want to plan a trip that isn't a variation on a guidebook route of one of our favourites, you will need to look at the maps, possibly also charts, and almost certainly Pilots which will give the vital tidal information. Get a print-out of the map for your planned area, and start marking up the directions, strengths and timings of the tides. You will soon start to see what bits can be linked together and which bits will always be difficut to string together without finding yourself opposed by tides.
Some trips will only work with high tide at a certain time of day so the streams work in your favour, and it's a useful exercise to plan a few short trips - even day trips - with what your ideal starting time would be relative to the tide. For an out and back trip along a coast, for instance, it would be ideal to paddle with the tide one way, have lunch at slack water, and paddle back with the tide again. Those sorts of trips work best if high or low tide is at lunchtime. If you are tied to a particular day, you will find that the tide times vary along the coast, and there will be somewhere where the necessary conditions are met. If there is nowhere to your taste, maybe a one-way trip will work, launching at high tide and paddling down the ebb, or vice versa launching at low and paddling the flood.
Multiday trips need a bit more work - if the flood takes you to a nice beach for an overnight stop at high tide, which way will the tide work for you in the morning ? You will rarely want to camp for just 12 hours and catch the opposite direction tide all next day, as that will typically mean a late finish or early start. But equally, camping for 18+ hours so you can carry on in the same direction gives you rather short days. So you will need to work out a route that keeps you out of strong tides for some of the time each day. If you are planning a trip in one of those areas with very strong tides, you may prefer not to paddle at peak flows, especially around headlands or through narrow passages. Here you need to work out the tidal windows - so you can paddle the racy bits near slack, but then have the tide on your side where it is not so fast. The game becomes one of linking these critical bits together into a route which allows you time to get from one to another with the least amount of paddling against the tide, but no becoming so timing-critical that you lose a day if you are a bit slower than expected.
You can plan many more trips than you will paddle - but you will need to paddle some of your plans to see if they really work out. At first it is as well to get someone more experienced to glance over your plans to look for glaring errors. Not just unlikely timings, but did you build in escape routes and time to play ? At first one- or two-day trips are the way to gain experience - on longer trips, miscalculations or over estimating a group's ability to make the distances can lead to cumulative problems and eventually things fall apart. We all get those days, but if you have built up to longer trips slowly, you will learn to recognise when a plan is getting too optimistic to fly. Often, for longer trip, you can build a "framework" linking camping spots together with reasonably achievable distances, but giving you scope for exploring up side inlets or round islands on those days when conditions are good or the group is going well. Or build in alternatives - lots of islands have an exposed and a sheltered side. If your objective is to get from one end of the island to the other, you can defer choosing which side to paddle until you see the weather and sea state on the day. Try not to plan trips that will rely on being able to get round some exposed headland at a particular time, come what may, unless the plan is for so near future that you are sure of the forecast. Look for exciting routes with sneaky sheltered alternatives. Or plan to visit a big island like Mull or Skye and do daytrips on whichever side offers the best conditions on the day - but remember to have planned a whole bunch of trips in advance so you are not stuck in a tent with maps and tide tables trying to work out a route that works when you could be out on the water !
There will be lots of club trips every season, and every one will add to your knowledge of planning and paddling to the plan (or escaping the cocks-up). But there's not so much satisfaction in paddling someone else's agenda as having planned and led a trip yourself. Go and print some maps and consult some tide tables - right now !