When you become the kayak expert in your friend group, you tend to field a lot of questions about boating. Yesterday, my old roommate asked me, “Hey, Noah, do kayak paddles float?”
A: Most (but not all!) kayak paddles float.
Every beginner paddle should float–if it doesn’t, it’s not appropriate for beginners!
This is an interesting topic and one you should familiarize yourself with, because it’s an essential aspect of kayaking and it’s often overlooked by beginners.
Read on to learn about the types of paddles, which ones are less likely to float, and which paddle may float better than others.
Table of Contents
Do Kayak Paddles Float? (And If So, How Are Kayak Paddles Made to Be Buoyant? )
Different materials are used to manufacture kayak paddles. Each material has distinct properties that affect buoyancy.
Alongside bone, the wooden paddle is the most ancient form of paddle and is often praised for its natural feel and warmth. Although they might seem heavy, they’re hollowed out during the manufacturing process to make them float better.
However, wooden paddles aren’t unsinkable; they can soak up water over time, making them less buoyant.
These light paddles feature aluminum shafts, making them durable and rust-resistant. The blades are typically plastic, which keeps the weight down and increases the likelihood of the paddle floating.
However, they might not float as well as other paddles if they fill with water.
Fiberglass paddles are lighter and more efficient than aluminum or wooden paddles and are designed to float.
These are a favorite among experienced kayakers; they feature carbon fiber shafts and blades, which are are lightweight and strong and enable them to float well. These are considered synthetic paddles, and synthetic materials help make a paddle float.
They are made with buoyancy in mind, but come at a higher cost.
Composite paddles are made from a blend of fiberglass and carbon fiber and offer a balance between weight, durability, and cost. They float better than many due to their lightweight materials.
Keep in mind: a well-balanced paddle that disperses weight evenly across its length will float better than a poorly balanced one.
The Buoyancy of Kayak Paddles
This really depends on a number of factors:
Feathered Vs. Unfeathered
Feathered paddles, with blades oriented at an angle to each other, reduce wind resistance. This can affect their ability to float, but it’s mostly a matter of efficiency in paddling rather than buoyancy.
Unfeathered paddles, with blades parallel to each other, are simpler to use and also float well.
Fixed Vs. Adjustable
Fixed paddles offer sturdiness; adjustable paddles offer customization in length and blade angle, making it easier for paddlers to achieve a comfortable and efficient paddling style.
Both types float, but the materials used can influence their floatability.
Basic Vs. High-End Paddles
Basic paddles, often made of heavier materials like aluminum or plastic, are designed to float to some extent. I have had an aluminum Bending Branches paddle for many years that floats well.
High-end paddles like carbon fiber kayak paddles are lighter, stronger, and made with buoyancy in mind.
When Paddles Float Away: The Consequences of Losing Your Paddle
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve dropped my paddle and watched it float away. Sometimes, it’s good to have a spare paddle in case this sort of thing happens.
Are you in grave danger if this happens?
Not if you know what you’re doing.
Without a paddle, you’re left at the mercy of the currents. This could lead to dangerous situations.
Even in calmer settings, it’s inconvenient and energy-sapping to direct your kayak manually.
High-end paddles, due to their lighter construction, can float away quickly if not secured properly. They’re designed to float better for sure, but the downside is that if you drop your paddle, it could move out of reach in no time.
There could be instances when you might need to exit the kayak and swim to grab it or swim to the shore. This could be risky, especially if the water is turbulent or you’re far from the coast.
And we all know what we’re wearing will have a huge impact on how quickly we can swim to safety. (For more information on this topic, check out our article “What to Wear Kayaking (Layer Guide)”.)
To avoid these scenarios, use a paddle leash.
If your paddle does fall in the water, the leash guarantees it won’t get far. A paddle leash is one of the most essential kayak accessories you can buy–we strongly recommend them for beginners!
The Importance of a Kayak Paddle Leash
Many kayak paddles are designed to float, but that doesn’t mean they’ll stay close at hand if you accidentally drop them. In turbulent water, even a kayak paddle designed to float better can get swept away before you have a chance to react.
Here’s where a paddle leash becomes super helpful. This handy tool keeps your paddle close so that if you drop it you can easily retrieve it. By attaching the leash to the kayak or yourself, you can keep the paddle secure and within reach at all times.
How they work: you attach one end of the leash to the kayak and the other end to the paddle. Some kayakers prefer to attach the leash to themselves for an extra layer of security–this method is particularly useful in situations where you might have to swim to shore, as it keeps the paddle from getting lost.
Can You Make a Kayak Paddle Float More Efficiently? Understanding the Variables
The floating capabilities of a paddle are influenced by many variables, as we’ve already learned.
Almost all types of paddles, be they aluminum paddles, wooden paddles, or composite paddles, float to some extent.
Some paddles float better than others. Many modern paddles made from lightweight materials like carbon fiber and fiberglass float quite well, while heavier wooden paddles are usually less likely to float.
One might wonder, are there any unsinkable paddles? Well, kayak paddles with foam inserts are engineered to be virtually unsinkable, thanks to their increased buoyancy.
Some paddles, especially high-end carbon fiber paddles or adjustable paddles with complex mechanisms, may be less likely to float.
There’s not much you can do beyond purchasing the right model to help make a paddle float more efficiently. Paddle floats are available, but these are used to reenter a kayak after falling out.
The best option is finding the ideal paddle and making sure it has proper buoyancy.
We hope this article has answered every question you have about kayak paddle float devices, whether or not a kayak paddle will float, and the importance of one of our favorite accessories, the indispensable kayak paddle leash.
If you’re a beginner, seek out the best paddle you can afford, and make sure it floats!
Why is it important for kayak paddles to float?
The buoyancy of kayak paddles helps them stay on the water’s surface, making them easier to locate and retrieve. It is particularly important in situations where you need to quickly grab your paddle to maneuver your kayak or yourself to keep safe.
Can kayak paddles be customized?
Sure. Some paddlers opt for specific blade shapes, lengths, and materials based on their paddling style and the type of water in which they primarily kayak.
Can I use a kayak paddle as a floatation device?
Most paddles float, but they should not be relied upon as a flotation device. Be sure to use a dedicated personal flotation device (PFD).
Are there kayak paddles that do not float?
Some specialized paddle types, such as heavy-duty expedition paddles, may have additional features that reduce their buoyancy. Check the specifications of the paddle before purchasing.
How can I prevent my kayak paddles from sinking?
Simple answer: get a paddle that floats! There are many affordable models on the market that float well.
Can I secure my paddle to the kayak?
Absolutely, you can secure your paddle to the kayak by using a paddle leash or by tying a rope around the kayak and attaching it to your paddle. This makes it so that your paddle stays nearby, even if it accidentally falls into the water.
Can I use a paddle float with kayak paddles?
A paddle float is a life-saving device that is used in self-rescue situations when you need additional stability and buoyancy to lift yourself into your boat.
When did they start to make kayak paddles that float?
The floating paddles trend gained momentum with the invention of modern materials (like plastics and composites) in the mid-to-late 20th century.