Frequently Asked Questions About Kayaking in Gwaii Haanas

Our Answers

Do I need marine charts/tide tables for my trip, and if so, where can I purchase them?

Yes, both marine charts and tide tables are essential for your trip. Please ensure you understand and have experience interpreting both. You should also know how to use a compass and chart together to find your way in poor visibility, such as thick fog. Do not reply solely on a GPS.

You must buy marine charts prior to arriving. This gives you time to study the charts, plan potential routes, mark areas of interest, etc. The Sandspit Visitor Centre is the only licensed marine chart dealer in Sandspit, but you should call in advance to check on their stock. Tide tables can be found online, and hard copies are often at the Sandspit Visitor Centre. We find the Prince Rupert tide tables are the most accurate for the Gwaii Haanas area.

The following charts cover the whole of the Gwaii Haanas area.

Area Number Scale
Houston Stewart Channel 3855 1:20,000
Selwyn Inlet - Lawn Point 3894 1:73,026
Atli Inlet - Selwyn Inlet 3807 1:37,500
Juan Perez Sound 3808 1:37,500
Carpenter Bay - Burnaby Island 3809 1:37,500
Houston Stewart Channel/Cape St James 3825 1:40,000
Cape St James/Cumshewa/Tasu Sound 3853 1:150,000

For more information on suggested routes, check out our Trip Planning Information page.

Do I need a marine VHF radio?

Absolutely. We will not transport you into Gwaii Haanas if you do not have a VHF radio. It is the main method of communication in the area, and your only reference for weather updates. We rent VHF radios if you do not have your own.

What will the weather be like?

The weather on Haida Gwaii is very unpredictable. We have no true prevailing wind direction and there is no particular time of day which is predictably windy or calm. In the summer, about 40% of the wind comes from the southeast (low pressure system), bringing rain. Another 40% comes from the northwest (high pressure system) bringing sun. The final 20% comes from other directions between systems. Because of all the bays and inlets the wind seems to come from all directions no matter what the weather report tells you. One of the biggest weather hazards is the speed with which the weather changes. It can be flat calm, and in a few minutes the wind and waves can pick up to dangerous levels. It can be flat on one side of a point, and quite rough on the other.

Environment Canada gives a marine weather report every 6 hours with a 24 hour forecast and a guess at the next few days. You can listen to this marine weather forecast on the VHF radio, and you can find a great overview of the VHF Marine Weather radio though Environment Canada's website.

What should I wear while paddling? What should I bring?

Plan to dress for wet, mild, coastal weather. The Gwaii Haanas website has a good starting point for packing, as does Ocean Sound Kayaking. Keep in mind that with Ocean Sound Kayaking, they are planning for a guided kayak trip - you would need to obviously bring camping gear as well.

What should I wear on the zodiac transport?

We travel on fast, stable Hurricane Zodiac boats which are perfectly suited to the variable weather and sea conditions around Haida Gwaii. These vessels are open to the elements, which means that you must dress in warm clothing and raingear. You should wear warm, layered clothing, preferably synthetic (like fleece) or wool, and if possible avoid cotton as it is very cold when wet. You should also bring a warm hat, sunglasses and gloves. We provide an additional raincoat to throw over your other layers when traveling on the boat, but it is essential to have your own raingear as well.

When you get on and off the boat, you will have to step into the water, so be prepared with waterproof footwear, or footwear that you do not mind getting wet.

Where can I purchase fuel and/or stoves?

Our outdoor gear store in Sandspit carries a variety of MSR stoves, as well as MSR ISOpro fuel canisters and Superfuel (a white gas equivalent). Please contact us for pricing and availability. Supervalu grocery store and Bridgeview Marine also carry fuel, such as plain white gas and small propane bottles. We recommend calling ahead of time to confirm availability.

Where can I purchase a saltwater fishing license?

You must purchase and print your fishing license online before arriving in Haida Gwaii. There is nowhere to buy one in Sandspit. You can purchase fishing gear and tackle at Bridgeview Marine, which is a 30 minute walk from our office and B&B.

A note on closures: Gwaii Haanas is closed to shellfish harvesting because of shellfish poisoning. There are also several areas closed to fishing and harvesting for various conservation efforts. You will get a map of the closures during your Gwaii Haanas park orientation.

We have gear storage beside our Seaport B&B where clients can leave excess luggage. You can also leave bags at our gear shed at Moresby Camp, where we launch the zodiacs. Storage is unlocked here and at your own risk (but we've never had any problems!).

Where can I get groceries?

In Sandspit, there is one grocery store (also the liquor store) - SuperValu (250 637 2249). In the summer, it is open Monday - Saturday until 6pm, and until 4pm on Sundays. They are closed on holidays. They only receive stock once a week, meaning selection can be limited and you should plan to be flexible. One option to consider is to pre-pack some of your dry goods and mail them to our office. If you choose this option, please allow at LEAST 3 weeks for the goods to arrive. Allow longer if you are shipping internationally.

Where will I find water, and how much water do I need to bring?

You will need to use your marine charts to determine where to find streams to collect water, or simply watch for streams along the shorelines. Water sources are very common and you should be able to find a place to fill your water each day. However, during the summer, smaller streams may dry up so always carry a reserve of water between campsites and make sure to bring your own water when visiting Watchmen sites. If you don't find water at the beach, try following dry stream beds into the forest and you will probably find water there (streams often run under the gravel on the beach).

Your daily quantity of water will vary from person to person, but should be enough for drinking, cooking, washing, etc. All water will need to be treated. Health Canada recommends boiling your water for at least one minute at sea level.

What do I need to know about bears?

Black bears are found throughout Gwaii Haanas, and they are opportunistic feeders who will take advantage of any food source left accessible to them by visitors. Because of this, it is Gwaii Haanas policy to hang all food and toiletries in a way that there is NO chance a bear can gain access. That recommendation is at least 5m hight and 2m out from the closest branch. There are no food lockers within Gwaii Haanas and hanging devices are not provided, so please come with necessary materials.

Any advice for planning a trip with a larger group?

When you are planning a group trip, it's always best to choose a group "leader" who will be the main person communicating with us and coordinating the whole booking process. This person can be the one to email us questions or changes after you have planning meetings, and can then forward on our response to the group. While this helps us avoid being bombarded with calls and emails asking the same question from every person in the group, it also keeps the overall booking process more organized with one person as our main point of contact.

When coordinating payment, while it is simpler for one person to pay the entirety of the deposit and balance, we can certainly make it work for individuals or couples to pay separately. If the group chooses to pay separately, it is helpful for the group leader to email us with a broken down list of the other group member's names and what they are responsible for covering. For example...

  • John and Mary Smith - Transport to Burnaby Narrows, transport from Rose Harbour. Renting 1 double kayak, 1 tent and covering the cost of the VHF rental for the group.
  • Mike Brown - Transport to Burnaby Narrows, transport from Rose Harbour. Renting 1 single kayak.

We always recommend groups include at least one double kayak in their plans, as trips can be spoiled due to inuries or illness that prevents a person from traveling in a single.

Please ensure that EVERYONE in your group attends the mandatory orientation. No orientation, no transport.

I'm bringing my own vehicle. What should I do with it?

If your vehicle is capable on gravel roads, a good option may be driving to Moresby Camp, where we load and launch our zodiacs. You can drive there in advance and camp for the night, or follow our van out on the morning of your transport. Especially for larger groups, this eliminates having to unpack your gear from your vehicle, and then having to make it fit in our van. There is a large gravel parking lot at Moresby Camp where vehicles are often left. We have never heard of any issues with vandalism or theft.

If you want to leave your vehicle in Sandspit, we have a back field where clients can leave their vehicles while out on the trip. This option does NOT work with the logisitics if you are catching the first ferry across from Graham Island on the morning of your transport.

What can I expect on the morning of my drop off transport?

We depart our office around 7:30am, so if you're going to meet us at our office, you need to be there by then. If you have gear to load in the van, please be there at least 15 minutes early.

We will then drive through town, doing pickups at other accommodation if necessary. It is then an hour drive out to Moresby Camp where we keep and launch our boats.

Please have all your gear organized, labelled and waterproofed. We will attempt to keep your gear separate, but our transport boats often have several groups booked on them so it's VERY important to have your gear labelled and recognizable. While we have some dry storage under the seats of our boats, space is very limited, so it's better to plan things to be out and exposed, and hence, somehow waterproofed. Packing kayaks is much easier if you have many small bags, as opposed to a few large ones. A few methods of keeping these bags together are running a rope through all the bags, or putting them in a larger duffle bag or garbage bag. You may want to keep your large bag with you for the trip so you can use it to carry gear up and down long beaches, or if you prefer we can always bring the extra bag back to Moresby Camp and leave it in our gear shed until you return.

At Moresby Camp, we will go over your kayak rental and fit you with a PFD (if you are renting). There will be time to put your warm gear on for the boat ride, but please have it handy and easily accessible. It is a good idea to have snacks handy and accessible as well.

Our departure time from Moresby Camp depends on several factors, including how quick and organized the groups are. When we have lots of kayaks to tie on the zodiac, it can take half an hour or so just to get the zodiac loaded, not to mention fueling, launching, etc. This means you will not usually arrive at your drop off location until sometime in the afternoon, depending on how far south you go.

The transport boats try to be as efficient as possible, so while a bathroom break may be possible for longer stretches, there is not time for any other stops (such as Watchmen sites).

What can I expect the day of my pickup transport?

 Be at the campsite that you agreed on with us before you left. If that doesn't work out (for example, another group was camped there) you can go to an obvious, easy-to-see beach in the same area where our boat will be able to spot you. Please have your radio on channel 6 by late morning. If the boat is travelling past you to drop off or pick up other groups further south than you, we will attempt to get in touch on our way by to give you a rough idea of when we'll be back up. Due to radio limitations, this is not always possible, so you should plan to be ready for the time frame we discussed before heading out on your trip, but don't be surprised if the timing changes due to factors beyond our control.

Please have the majority of your gear packed up and ready to be quickly loaded on the Zodiac when we show up. If the weather is poor, it's definitely okay to leave a shelter (tarp or tent) up with some additional gear out to keep warm, comfortable, and occupied. While we will be trying to be as efficient as possible on transports, it's not an issue to wait 15 minutes for you to finish packing your tarp, etc if it kept you warm and dry while waiting!

If it's getting late in the day, and you haven't heard from us, please attempt to contact the boat on channel 6. If you are unable to get ahold of anyone on there, you can try calling our office on “Morex Repeater” channel (on rental radios) to see if we can give you an update. If for some reason you are unable to get in touch with the boat nor the office, please contact the Coast Guard on channel 16. Explain it is a non-emergency, but that you have been unable to reach us. They may then be able to contact our office, and relay a message to you with an update on the situation.

What time will my pickup be?

Your pickup time is influenced by many factors, so while we try to give you a rough estimate before you head out, it may change due to factors like additional bookings, weather, etc. You should plan to stay in Sandspit on the day of your pickup, as we rarely get back in time for the last ferry to Skidegate.

What if we do not reach our planned destination?

This is a challenging situation that you should try hard to avoid with proper planning and realistic travel plans, but it does happen once in a while usually because of extremely bad weather or injury.

If partway through your trip, it appears that you will not reach your planned destination, please start trying to contact us to arrange an alternative pickup location. The best way to contact us would be using your VHF radio or Satellite phone to contact our office. If you're unsuccessful this way, you can try to pass a message with one of our boats or through a Watchmen site (keep in mind that the message wouldn't get passed on until one of our boats happens to visit that particular site). Regardless of how you are able to pass on the message, please ensure you are VERY specific and clear with the name of your party, the number of people in your party, your pick up date, and your new desired pickup location.

Note: There may be additional costs if you change your plans after confirming with us. If you are picked up further north than originally agreed, the cost of transportation will likely not be reduced. If you are picked up further south than originally agreed, additional costs may be greater than the standard cost per person we advertise. However, we will always try our best to accommodate you and we certainly won't leave you stranded if you aren't able to paddle as far as expected!

What are some important phone numbers?

  • Moresby Explorers Office: (250) 637 2215 / 1 (800) 806 7633
  • Parks Canada Office: 1 (877) 559 8818
  • Queen Charlotte Visitors Centre: (250) 559 8316
  • Sandspit Visitors Centre: (250) 637 5362

What are some additional resources for planning my trip?

What are the best routes to paddle in Gwaii Haanas?

The whole of Gwaii Haanas is incredible to paddle, but we do recommend a few routes that are particularly well suited to kayakers. You can learn about them through the following links: