Carrying Kayaks on the CalMac Ferry

We've only taken our kayaks, with no vehicle, on two CalMac ferries.

However, we learnt a great deal on that return journey to Coll. So I'll pass on what I know.

Firstly, the kayaks travel free of charge but cannot be booked. Neverthless, if you're booking a ticket for yourself, mention you're travelling with a kayak.

If you ask for advice you'll hear th same thing time and again, "give yourself plenty of time'.

If possible, arrive at the port the evening before you sail to check out where staff want you to (temporarily) leave your vehicle while you unload. If possible, buy your ferry ticket. Time will become precious just before you sail.

Decide where you'll park your vehicle while you are away. Very few CalMac terminals have car parking. Local police stations are very helpful sources of information. After dropping off the kayaks you'll have to park and walk back to the dock.

Have your kit already in the bags in which it will go into the kayaks. Personal kit and paddles can go in the cockpit. It sounds obvious, but it minimises quayside packing.

Of course, you may not be able to check everything out in advance. If so, you will just have to 'wing-it' on the day of sailing.

Don't worry, just ask advice from the port staff. As I mentioned before, most will tell you the same thing, "give yourself lots of time'.

So you've dropped off the kayaks, left most of your team packing them on the dockside while you parked the vehicle and walked back. Whoosh - an hour just flashed past!

You'll probably be asked to stand with passengers who're travelling by bike, not with the foot passengers. That's because you and bike travellers will be carrying your own bikes and kayaks onto the car deck, often before the vehicle traffic.

This means you can be loaded up to forty minutes before sailing time.

While a trolley is not essential, it makes life a whole lot easier.

Pack your kayak on the shore, leaving a personal kit and a small grab-bag in the cockpit to take on board.

Some of the larger ferries have showers which can be very useful if you've been out for a few days.

When wheeling your kayak across the car-deck, be careful not to catch the wheels in the recessed securing points.

If you don't have a trolley, evolve huge muscles. And make the kayak as light as possible by packing heavy items in a roll-up rucksack (like the GoLite Jam) and carry them onto the car deck on your back. Dump the pack in the cockpit when the kayak is in position.

Obviously, follow the instructions of the on-board staff.

But remember, they're not kayakers, so won't know how to lift your boat and might not put it in the best place.

As the next two photos show, on the way out we were placed hard against the wall and, we thought, safely out of the way.

However, the van and tractor which parked alongside were not being unloaded on Coll. So we could not easily get out.

Fortunately, the keys were in the van, and it was driven forward. Nevertheless, I winced as my fully laden boat had to be lifted over the wheels of a tractor.

I feared his back was going to snap, poor thing.

Next time I would politely check that all the traffic coming alongside would be unloaded in the same port as us.

As I said, we have only done this once.

I cannot understand why we waited so long! We will certainly do it again in the near future.


It's a great way to get around Scotland's islands.

6 Comments Here:

Anonymous said...

Great advice SImon,

I plan to follow in your wake soon.

It is a great idea to use the ferries to get your kayak to the islands- especially if you have a limited amount of time.
And at £16 return to Coll- what a bargain!
Oban can be a bit tricky with car parking etc.. much less of a problem at places like Kennacraig and Ardrossan though.
Tony

Douglas Wilcox said...

Hi Simon, I have lost count of the trips we have taken on Calmac. You are so right about using a trolley. The ferries can even be used one way to increase your paddling range in the winter, Tony and I often do that with the Arran ferry to get us home after a crossing to Arran. Never mind the showers though, give me the chicken curry!

Douglas Wilcox said...

Quote: "I feared his back was going to snap, poor thing. "

Your kayak or the Calmac man? :o)

Anonymous said...

When possible, I now carry one trolley per kayak onto CalMac and Northlink to speed it up - more than once I've found us racing against the clock to board/exit the boat, and perhaps understandably, the loading staff haven't always been patient/sympathetic.

Anonymous said...

Duh, comment from Mark R

Ferry traveler said...

Traveling by ferry is always a rewarding experience and after going through the post it makes me feel more happy.