Learning curve: Novices can tackle many coastline trips, but navigating among islands or across open water requires knowledge of tides and currents.
Ask locally about challenging currents or tides, and check saltwatertides.com.
Several smaller waterproof bags are easier to load than one huge sack. Pack heavy stuff near the center of the boat; store light, bulky gear at the ends. Make sure the boat is balanced front to back and side to side.
Following a shoreline is easier than crossing open water: Not only does it simplify navigation, but it also reduces the number and strength of currents you’ll have to contend with.
When measuring the distance between two points, consider that one minute of latitude equals one nautical mile (which equals 1.15 standard mile).
Strong currents in channels can push you sideways, forcing you off course. To compensate, ferry glide: Start upcurrent and take an angled course.
To minimize interference from wind or currents, try to pass rocks and other obstacles from the leeward (sheltered) side.
Avoid paddling parallel to coastal waves, which can easily capsize you. If necessary, tack left or right to keep the bow or stern perpendicular to the swells.
New Zealand: Doubtful Sound in Fiordlands National Park delivers the scenery of more-famous Milford Sound without the cruise ships. Or paddle the blue-water coves along the Abel Tasman coast (pictured above). Contact: doc.govt.nz
Washington: The San Juan Islands are legendary for orcas and a seemingly endless maze of routes. Start with a three-miler to Jones Island and nab campsite #16, on a secluded point on the island’s eastern side ($12/night, first-come/first-served). Contact: (360) 378-2044, parks.wa.gov
Alabama: Warm, shallow water makes the Gulf Coast a primo first outing. From Dauphin Island’s south shore, paddle south four miles, hugging the western side of Sand Island and its rolling dunes. Camp in the sand at Pelican Bay (BYO fresh water). Contact: dauphinislandcoc.com