If you’re a novice kayaker, you’ll need to study how to get in a kayak properly. Don’t worry–it’s easy!
If you’re an experienced paddler, revisiting these techniques every so often is a good idea. Some people–myself included–are stubborn and do things how they want to do them, even if their methods are, at best, unconventional and at worst downright dangerous.
Let’s learn the best ways to get into a kayak. Because nobody wants to flip their boat straight away and be soaked for the rest of their journey.
Table of Contents
Understanding the Equipment
The cockpit is the seating area. Cockpits vary in size and design based on the type of boat (such as sit-on-top or recreational kayaks). The size and shape of the cockpit play a huge role in the kayak’s overall stability.
We all know what a paddle is, but did you know the Inuit used paddles “as insulating material for sleeping platforms in snow houses” and “the legendary [Inuit] strong men [used] a big whale’s scapula bone for a paddle, which would be about 122cm wide”? Whoa!
Check out this thesis–it’s fascinating!
Commercial paddles are usually made of fiberglass, carbon fiber, or plastic. They vary in length and design based on paddler and boat size.
Preparing for Entry and Exit
Choosing the Right Location
Let’s explore some key considerations when choosing the right location:
Docks are great. If you have access to a dock and the dock is sturdy, you’re in good shape.
- It’s a public dock. Don’t trespass.
- The dock is sturdy and won’t collapse when you walk over it. (This has happened to me!)
- The water around the dock is deep enough for your boat.
Sandy beaches are the best possible option (completely ideal for launching kayaks), so seek these out.
Look for a gentle slope and minimal waves. This type of beach allows for easy entry and exit, which is great if you’re new to kayaking.
If you’re kayaking in an area without a dock or beach, look for a shoreline with a gradual slope. Avoid rocky or uneven shorelines. These can lead to injury.
Keep these in mind every time you hit the water.
Paddle with a Buddy
Whenever possible, kayak with a partner. Having someone with you provides extra support in case of emergencies.
Wear a Personal Flotation Device (PFD)
Always wear a properly fitted PFD or life jacket. It should be U.S. Coast Guard-approved and suitable for kayaking. Ensure the PFD is securely fastened.
For more information about Type IV PFDs (which are not worn or typically carried on a kayak, but are important to know about none the less), check out our article “A Deep Dive Into Type IV PFDs.”
Assess Water Conditions
Evaluate the water conditions, including currents, tides, and weather forecasts. Avoid kayaking in bad weather (any rain can turn into a big problem), strong currents, or rough waters that could jeopardize your safety. Very easy to flip your boat if the water is super choppy, so be careful!
How to Get In a Kayak
Positioning the Kayak and Paddle
Put your boat in the water. Move your kayak up alongside the dock so that it aligns with the length of the dock. This position allows for easy access to the cockpit.
Sit and Swing Your Legs
Sit on the dock. Slowly swing your legs into the cockpit, one at a time. Maintain a controlled motion and be mindful of your balance.
As you do this, keep your weight centered and low. Keep one hand on the dock and one hand on the cockpit rim.
Lowering Your Body
Once both legs are in the cockpit, lower your body into the seat while keeping your balance and stability.
Gently lower your butt into the seat and adjust it so that it’s properly positioned and comfortable.
Placing Your Feet and Retrieving Your Paddle
Then adjust your feet so that they rest comfortably on the foot braces or bulkheads. Grab your paddle and get moving!
Beach entries are much easier. Do these things in order and you’ll be gliding across calm water in no time.
Positioning the Kayak and Paddle
Place your kayak perpendicular to the shoreline with the front of the kayak facing the water. Pinch a paddle blade under the deck line so that the paddle is secure and won’t move.
Straddling the Kayak
Straddle the cockpit. Keep your weight low. Maintain a stable stance and make sure the kayak is secure in the sand.
Grip the cockpit rim and put one foot in the kayak. Lower your body into the seat. Keep your back straight and your posture aligned for better stability.
Adjusting Your Feet
Adjust your feet to rest on the foot braces or bulkheads within the kayak. Grab your paddle–you might need to use it to push off from the sand depending on water depth and beach slope.
It’s not the most graceful way to get on the water, but believe us, it works every time!
Exiting (How to Get Out of a Kayak)
Low Dock Exit
For me, this has always been the hardest part, but with a little bit of practice you can master the art of exiting your kayak.
Position the Kayak
Park your boat parallel to the dock.
Place Your Paddle
Position your paddle so that one blade is sitting on the back of the cockpit and the other blade rests on the dock.
Lift Yourself Up and Sit on the Dock
Put your hands on the paddle like so: grab the paddle-blade throat and rear cockpit edge with one hand and grab the paddle shaft with the other; press the shaft against the dock. Lift yourself up and sit on the dock.
Then pull your boat out of the water and take a moment to catch your breath!
High Dock Exit
This one is similar to the exit above, with a few variations:
- Kayak up parallel to the dock and stop.
- Set your paddle on, turn your body toward, and grab hold of the dock.
- Fold your legs so that your heels are near your butt, then stand while still holding the dock.
- Set a knee on the dock.
- Use your other leg to lift up and sit on the dock.
Don’t let your boat drift off! Take it out of the water and make your way to your vehicle.
Exiting a kayak from a beach requires a slightly different approach. Follow these steps for a successful beach exit:
Position the Kayak
Paddle far enough over the shoreline so that the front half beaches.
Position Your Paddle
Store it under deck line or pinch it beneath a paddle holder.
Hold the Rim and Swing Your Legs Out
Hold onto the kayak’s rim. Lift one leg out of the kayak and swing it onto the beach. Use your core strength and balance to control the movement and avoid capsizing your boat.
Exit the Kayak
Once one leg is on the beach, lift your other leg out of the kayak and step onto the beach. Move your boat out of the water.
Don’t forget: avoid rocky shorelines!
Common Mistakes to Avoid
I’ve made quite a few errors throughout my kayaking career related to entering and exiting. Here are some mistakes you should definitely avoid:
Take your time. Rushing results in injuries.
Leaning Too Far
This can cause the kayak to tip over. Keep your weight centered and balanced.
Neglecting Safety Gear
Wear appropriate safety gear, including a PFD (always) and a helmet (if kayaking in challenging waters).
Improper Foot Placement
Make sure your feet are properly positioned on the foot braces. Placing them too far forward or too far back can affect your balance and stability.
Failing to Stabilize the Kayak
Hold onto the dock, kayak rim, or use your paddle to help stabilize the kayak and prevent it from rocking or drifting.
This all sounds a bit complicated, but once you do it a few times it becomes second nature. Remember to choose the right entry and exit point and keep in mind the specific challenges of each location.
Take the time to familiarize yourself with the entry and exit techniques for different scenarios, and gradually build your confidence. As you become more experienced, you’ll find your own rhythm, and you’ll develop your own favorite methods.
And one last reminder. . .
Don’t forget the PFD!
What is the best way to get into a kayak from a rocky shoreline?
Try to avoid this. Rocky shorelines are extremely dangerous.
What should I do if I have bad knees?
Consider using a dock or beach with shallow water to minimize the strain on your knees. You also might look into using touring kayak or a paddle board, which may be more comfortable for you. Seek assistance from a friend or family member who can help you stabilize the kayak. And always consult with a medical professional beforehand.
How do I paddle a kayak from a dock?
After you’ve entered the boat, hold the paddle with your hands shoulder width apart. Place one hand on the top of the paddle and the other hand on the shaft. Dip the paddle blade into the water and make sure the paddle blade is fully submerged. Propel yourself away from the dock.
Does entering a kayak on a beach require shallow water?
It’s better to do it in shallow water so the boat can come into contact with sand.
What should I do if my kayak fills with water?
If you’re dealing with excess water and your kayak, find a bring the kayak to land and start using a bilge pump to remove water from the inside of the boat. Pointing the bilge away from your body is a good way of keeping your knees dry.
What role does the stern and the back half of the kayak play when you enter and exit a kayak?
They provide stability during entry and exit. They help distribute weight evenly and maintain balance throughout the process.
How gingerly should I set my kayak in the water?
Be gentle and avoid any sudden movements. Slowly lower the kayak into the water to maintain stability and prevent splashing.
Should I not let oily water touch the kayak?
Try not to let oily water stain your kayak, especially in deep water, where you’ll regularly encounter powerboat pollutants. Keep your kayak clean and free from any potentially harmful substances.
How do I affix the side of the paddle to the top of the kayak?
To secure the side of the paddle to the top of the kayak, you can use paddle holders or bungee cords attached to the deck of the boat. This allows you to have easy access to your paddle while keeping it secure during entry or exit.
How do I paddle a kayak without getting wet?
Water contact is inevitable. You can use proper paddling techniques and wear a spray skirt to minimize the amount of water that splashes into the kayak. You can also use a dry suit to stay completely dry.
See our article “Wetsuit vs Drysuit: Which is Better?” for more information.