Getting into and out of a kayak is something that every paddler has to master but, particularly for beginners, it’s one of the more daunting parts of the sport. It requires correct technique, physical effort, and, if done incorrectly, has the potential to be embarrassing or even dangerous.
The good news is, practice makes perfect. Every kayaker is a little wobbly the first time they get into their ‘yak, and more than a few of us took an unexpected swim, but if you keep trying, soon you be climbing in and out of your boat like it's the most natural thing in the world.
The technique for exiting or entering a kayak changes depending on where you are. Getting into a kayak from the water is very different than entering one from a dock or the beach. To help you get to grips with these different techniques, we’ve put together a “How To” guide on getting in and out of a kayak.
How to Get into a Kayak: from the Water
Learning how to re-enter your kayak from the water is a fundamental skill. If you are in deep or particularly cold water, it could potentially save your life.
Step 1: Stay Calm
Dropping into deep water, especially if it's cold water, can be a great shock to the system. When it happens, it's important not to panic. Stay calm, remember your technique, and don't be afraid to call for help if you need it. Re-entering a kayak from the water is much more straightforward if someone else can steady it for you, which is why we suggest you go deepwater kayaking as part of a group.
Step 2: Hold on to Your Paddle
When you are in the water, try to keep hold of your paddle. It's not much use getting back into your kayak if you have no way to control it once you are in there. Try to keep it somewhere nearby when re-entering your boat, like handing it to another member of your group or attaching it to your ‘yaks paddle storage.
Step 3: Right Your Kayak
If your kayak has flipped over, it is important to flip it back over as quickly as possible to stop it taking on water. This can be done in one of two ways:
Pushing over: Put your hands under the near edge of the kayak and push up, flipping the kayak over. This may be difficult for heavier models of kayak.
Pulling over: Kick your legs and use the momentum to push yourself up onto the hull of the kayak. Then firmly grasp the far edge of the kayak and, while keeping a firm hold, allow yourself to slip back into the water. Your body weight will pull the kayak up and over, flipping it back upright. This technique is useful for paddlers with a smaller frame or a more substantial kayak.
If your kayak is filled with water, you may need to tow it back to shore to empty it out. If you are heading into deeper waters, we recommend you carry a bilge pump with you.
Step 4: Pull Yourself Back In
Once you have control of your paddle and your kayak is the right way up, position yourself at the side of the kayak, facing your seat. Grasp the near edge of the kayak and, while kicking with your feet, pull yourself towards the far side of the cockpit. Once your abdomen is over the cockpit, swivel your legs around until your backside hits the seat. From there, you can tuck your legs in and assume the correct paddling position.
Getting back into a kayak from the water is one of the most challenging techniques a paddler can learn, so don't worry if you can’t visualize it just from the instructions. To make it clearer, we've found this handy video:
How to Get into a Kayak: From the Water’s Edge or Dock
Getting into a kayak from the water's edge or a drydock is significantly easier than re-entering one from the water. Approaching it without the proper technique, however, could see you taking an unplanned swim or ending up with bruises to more than your ego.
Step 1: Make Sure Your Kayak Is Lined Up
Before trying to enter the kayak, make sure it is correctly lined up with the edge of the shore or dock and isn't going to float away at the slightest touch. The easiest way to do this is to have someone hold it steady for you. There is no harm in asking for help, especially if you are a beginner.
Step 2: Use Your Paddle as a Brace
If the dock or shore is roughly the same height as your kayak deck, lay your paddle down so that it creates a bridge between the land and the area behind your cockpit. If it is not, place you paddle somewhere where it will within easy reach after you have entered the kayak.
Step 3: Assume the Position
Crouch or sit next to your kayak. Keeping one hand on the land or your paddle to brace yourself, and the other on the far lip of the kayak cockpit, place the leg closest to the kayak into your cockpit. One that leg is in, transfer your weight to it and get your backside down on the seat, then transfer in your other leg.
If you having trouble imagining what that would look like, check out this video:
How to Get out of a Kayak: Onto a Dock or Shallow Water
Getting out of a kayak onto land is a much of an acquired skill as getting into one. Getting out of a kayak into deep water is actually surprisingly easy; just keep leaning sideways until your face hits the water!
Step 1: Secure Your Kayak
If you are at a dock, make sure you are lined up and pushed hard against the dock’s side. If you have a tow line on your kayak, you can secure yourself to the dock. If you are kayaking with a group, have another member steady your boat as you get out.
If you are getting out at the water's edge, try to position yourself alongside the shore and use your paddle to push down on the river bottom on the far side of your kayak, putting yourself close to the edge.
Step 2: Steady Yourself
If you are at the water's edge, place your paddle behind your cockpit with one end resting on your kayak and the other on the shore. This should help to steady your kayak. If you're at a dock, put one hand on the dock and wait until you are as steady and confident as possible before exiting the kayak.
Step 3: Climb Out
If you are at the dock, turn your body to face the dock and put both hands on its edge. Push down with your arms, putting your weight on your shoulders and swivel your backside onto the edge of the dock. Once your center of gravity is over dry land, pull your legs up out of the boat. To make things clearer, check out this video:
If you are at the water's edge, then there may not be a convenient ledge for you to pull yourself up on. In this case, you can use your paddle, braced between your kayak and the shoreline.
With the paddle spanning from behind the cockpit to the shore, place both hands behind you on the paddle and use it as a brace to lever your body up out of the seat. Then step one leg sideways out of the kayak, taking care not to step too far and compromise your balance.
Once your leg in on the shore, transfer your body weight to that leg and simply step out of the kayak. Here is a video to demonstrate this technique:
Practice Makes Perfect
Learning how to get in an out of a kayak can, in some cases literally, be the first step in your kayaking journey. It can also be one of the toughest to get right. Unfortunately, you'll need to do both every time you go kayaking. There is every chance that you’ll end up taking an unexpected swim, which is fine, falling in the water is part of the kayaking experience. You just need to pick yourself up, dry yourself off and try again. The good news is, by following our guide and using the techniques we’ve highlighted you'll be an expert in no time at all.