Paddling Through the Mingan Region!
© Parks Canada / Alaïs Nevert
Thinking of sea kayaking? In the Mingan Archipelago, you have access to over one hundred kilometres of navigable waters between the islands and islets.
This back country territory allows you a multitude of itineraries within reasonable proximity to the service centres. Treat yourself to a long-sought change of scene and tranquillity - but be sure that you take all the necessary precautions and practice good judgement at all times.
The Mingan Archipelago is situated along the north shore of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, between the towns of Longue-Pointe-de-Mingan and Aguanish. While the islands can provide shelter during bad weather, this region is known as being very difficult to navigate due to its changeable weather and harsh climate. In addition, the farther away you move from the mainland, the less you can count on rescue operations. Kayakists planning an excursion must therefore be autonomous and experienced, as well as knowledgeable about navigation and kayaking techniques, and able to interpret the sea in all its differing moods.
In the Gulf, the sea can change from one moment to the next, according to the winds and the tidal currents. Strong winds, rain, fog and powerful tidal currents are all factors in the archipelago. In the places most exposed, a wind blowing counter to the current can create breakers. The swell hitting the islands' cliffs can cause confused seas which can easily destabilize small craft.
Tide and navigation charts are essential sources of information on obstacles to navigation, depths, currents and navigational aids (buoys, lighthouses, etc.). They will help you plan and modify your itinerary according to weather conditions and potential dangers.
You can obtain up-to-the-minute weather forecasts by dialling (418) 949-2912 or by tuning into radio frequencies VHF 162.4000 and 161.775 Mhz (83B).
Decreasing your ecological footprints
While sea kayaking is an environmentally-friendly activity, the kayaker must all the same be aware of the disturbance he can cause in a fragile and protected ecological milieu. You will most probably encounter flocks of seabirds or groups of marine mammals during your time on the water. As seabirds and marine mammals cannot hear you coming, we ask you to keep a distance of 200 m between yourself and any observed wildlife, in order to minimize disturbance.
In the Western Sector of the archipelago, between Longue-Pointe-de-Mingan and Havre-Saint-Pierre (39 km), distances between the islands and the continent are longer (1 to 3 nautical miles), and the water is affected more by winds and tides. Multiple itineraries are possible due to the camping, picnicking and hiking facilities on several large islands. To get from one island to another, it is recommended to take the channel north of the islands. The south shore of the islands is more exposed, and you might have to navigate through long flats which can become submerged at high tide, forming a shallow and choppy sea when the wind blows. ( See Nautical and Tidal Charts )
In the Eastern Sector of the archipelago, between Havre-Saint-Pierre and Baie-Johann-Beetz (60 km), the word " autonomous" takes on its full meaning. In this sector, there are no facilities or rescue service once you have passed Île à la Chasse. Navigation in this area is made more difficult by strong winds and a lack of cover. In the near future, regulatory signs will be posted to clearly indicate the presence of natural phenomena or elements which can represent danger for kayakers. . ( See Île à la Chasse )
In all cases, it is of the utmost importance to plan your route according to the tides and the weather forecast, in order not to have to paddle against the tide. Kayaking early in the morning or towards the end of the afternoon, when the winds have died down, is also a wise decision.
Between Baie-Johan-Beetz and Aguanish (52 km), the landscape becomes a veritable labyrinth of islets and bare reefs. Navigation is made difficult by the fact that the territory is fragmented, the islets and reefs are near the coast and the marine charts are on a large scale. Islets appear as small points on charts of this scale and it is difficult to differentiate between them and the continent.
For Your Safety
Skills you need...
- Interpret marine and tide charts?
- Determine your bearing and follow it?
- Determine your position?
- Navigate in fog?
- Evaluate the distance you have to travel and the time it takes under different weather conditions?
- Are you familiar with first aid and survival techniques?
- Have you mastered recovery and self-recovery techniques as well as basic kayaking skills (bracing, launching, landing, etc.)?
In the archipelago, hypothermia is your number one enemy. As the water temperature in mid-summer varies between only 2 and 8 degrees Celsius, an accidental dip in the sea is not what you need! You must therefore dress according to the temperature of the water and not that of the air. A wetsuit is indispensable in protecting you from cold during an involuntary dunking.
Due to its cold waters, the archipelago is subject to fog. Fog can take you by surprise: it can roll in very quickly and last for days. In this event a compass will allow you to determine and maintain your course. Though not infallible, a foghorn and radar reflector do indicate your presence to boats in your sector. Make it a priority to kayak in zones where there is little or no maritime traffic, but if you must cross a shipping lane, be as visible as possible and make your presence known on the VHF 16 band. Give accurate information regarding your position, time of departure and route followed. Above all do not forget to signal once you have reached your destination.
Tests conducted in the Mingan Archipelago demonstrated that a kayak without a radar reflector can be seen at a distance of 0.5 nautical miles under excellent visibility conditions. Installing a radar reflector on your kayak raises your visibility by 0.2 to 0.3 nautical miles on most radars and can help avoid accidental collisions.
Prepare a plan of your route...
You will find the forms necessary for preparing a route plan in the Parks Canada reception centres. Weather conditions in the archipelago can oblige you to delay your return trip. In preparing your itinerary, make sure you allow for more time, and count on bringing more supplies than you actually need. Be sure to give your plan or your predicted itinerary to someone reliable who will communicate with the Park Warden Service in case of an accident or an unusually long delay in your return.
Equipment and supplies...
Did you know that sea kayaks are subject to the Canadian Coast Guard Small Vessel Regulations? This means that you must have the compulsory safety equipment with you on board: a life jacket, a buoyant heaving line at least 15 metres long, a paddle, a hand pump, a foghorn and navigation lights for reduced visibility.
In addition to the compulsory safety equipment, the following are indispensable in the archipelago while sea kayaking:
- a paddle bladder
- spare paddle
- radar reflector
- first aid kit
- distress flares
- a VHF radio or cellular phone
- waterproof gear bags
- a wetsuit
- a waterproof light
- a sprayskirt
- a knife
- warm clothes
- gloves and tuque or hood
- maps of the archipelago
- a tidal chart
- extra food and drinking water
You can find general information on planning sea kayaking excursions as well as a list of the material you will most need in the brochure, " Sea kayaking safety guide" , available in the Parks Canada reception centres.
Cellular telephones only work in the central section of the archipelago and the reception is not uniform. The VHF 16 band is manned 24 hours a day by the Canadian Coast Guard in Rivière-au-Renard, and during the day by the park's staff. In case of emergency, you can call the Park Wardens directly by dialling these numbers:
PARK EMERGENCY: 1 888 762-1422