Paddling within Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park
There is so much water to explore in Scotland. It’s a huge paddleboarders and boaters dream really. Around 95% of all the water in the UK is here and it’s only the cold temperatures that stops it being so widely used!
Lockdown made everyone re-evaluate using local space better and in Scotland people have certainly taken to the water via paddleboard or kayak. The inflatable market has made that hugely accessible for all.
Around the National Park this has certainly been the case as the lochs have seen an upsurge in recreational use, with lots more people taking to the water. It gets very busy in the summer so this blog is written to help you stay safe and also to help you consider other users on the water when you are out and about.
Loch Lomond, Loch Ard and Loch Achray are just some of the many places to paddle within the park. You can even go as far west as Loch Eck, which is well into Argyll and Bute.
A rule of thumb with any outdoor activity is to check the weather before you go out. For paddleboarding, anything above 10mph becomes pretty tricky, especially if you’re trying to fight against it to get back. An A-to-B and back paddle needs to take the wind into account.
Paddling into an onshore wind means you’ll always get blown home. An onshore wind is a wind that is going to blow you back to shore from where you have started. Apps like Windy and the Met Office are good at predicting forecasts. It's important to understand the wind and know how to forecast what it is doing as it is basically the single deciding factor as to whether we should paddleboard or do something else.
Loch Lomond is 38 km long and at its widest is 8km. That allows a lot of wind to move. Generally speaking the loch is calm in the morning and the evening and windier during the middle part of the day due to the geothermal activity happening on the hills around it. If you are going out for the day, make sure to check the wind conditions throughout the day and when you will be returning. A downwind paddle is always an option but you need a pick up at the end.
What to wear is always a tricky one with paddleboarding. In a thick wetsuit you’re too hot but if you fall in you stay warm. A 3:2 summer wetsuit still keeps you warm on the board, sometimes too warm if you stay dry but when in the water, it stops you getting cold. The lochs are very cold places!
Wearing a buoyancy aid is always going to keep you much warmer, especially when in the water. The difference is quite stark. In Loch Lomond and the National Park the rangers are checking that all users have buoyancy aids on. It is now a byelaw and legal requirement to have one on your board when out on the water. A bit like having a seatbelt in a car but not using it… Keep safe by wearing one and you’ll have peace of mind while out on the water.
The average water temperature of Loch Lomond in May is 10C. In July it peaks at 18C. Think carefully about how the change of temperature may affect you when going out on the water. Even experienced swimmers can experience cold water shock. This happens when the cold water increases your blood pressure and heart rate because of the sudden change of temperature your body experiences. When people fall off paddleboards they quite often get a fright. It's often due to the panic of temperature change. Ensuring you can get back on your board is very important so if you can't do it, or you're not sure if you can, it's definitely worth booking in for a lesson or completing a SUP safety session. There are lots of providers that could help with this. Taking part in something like adventure trip on any of the lochs with a provider is a great way to get experience of being out in the water with people that know what they are doing. You will learn so much just by being out with others. Guides and providers will also be able to point out yellow buoys on the water. There are no go zones for nesting birds, in particular ospreys and white tailed eagles on some of the islands. Keep your eyes peeled as they are restricted zones.
On big bodies of water, especially Loch Lomond, there will be powered crafts like boats and jet skis. They could be on the water at any time of day or night. When they pass, they create wake in the water which creates waves. Motorised boat users should be aware of the speed restrictions to avoid lots of waves. In and around the islands between Balmaha and Luss there are speed restrictions in place. Never assume that if you see a boat or jetski it will be adhering to the rules. If you are worried about falling in when a boat passes, simply sit down on the board until it passes and the water calms down again. Any craft with a motor on Loch Lomond must be registered with the National Park Authority and have the registration number displayed so that they can be identified if need be.
When you’re out on the water, take a mobile phone with you. It’s always good to have so you call for help. Apps like Strava and Paddleloggerr offer some excellent tracking and safety features. Up at Loch Ard and in some of the smaller lochs, phone signal can be limited so it's worth registering your phone with the emergency services. Text register to 112 and follow the instructions. That way you can send a message if the signal is poor. If you, or someone you are with gets into difficulty while in any of the National Park’s bodies of water, call 999 and ask for the police.
June is on the horizon. It should mean warmer weather and hopefully less wind than May has thrown at us. Pack that smidge in your dry bag for the incoming midge madness as well.
Stay safe everyone! Enjoy the summer months that lie ahead!