Being able to get in and out of your kayak quite quickly, and with a solid degree of confidence, is absolutely crucial — not just because you need to get into your yak to use it, but also because you will be falling out of your kayak while on the water. Unless you know to get right back in the saddle, so to speak, things can quickly get a little dangerous.
There’s no way to make getting in and out of a kayak look easy, because the truth is that it isn’t — especially if you’re completely new to kayaking. The fact that your most effective technique is going to depend on the conditions you’re facing doesn’t make it any easier.
In fact, beginning kayakers may struggle to embark and disembark so much that they give up on the sport altogether. That’d be a shame, because we promise that you’ll master this.
Your first step? Accept that it’s going to be a struggle, and promise yourself to practice getting in and out of a kayak in a wide variety of conditions — repeatedly. The next step? Well, that can lie in reading this guide. Then, go out and do it. Over and over again, until you feel significantly more confident than you do right now.
- Getting In and Out of a Kayak: Sit On Top vs Sit In Kayaks
- How to Get Into a Kayak From the Beach
- Getting into a Kayak and Launching it From Land
- How to Get Into Your Kayak From the Water
- Launching a Kayak From a Rocky Shoreline
- What’s the Right Way to Sit in a Kayak?
- How to Get Out of a Kayak Safely
- Getting In and Out of a Kayak: Final Words of Wisdom
Getting In and Out of a Kayak: Sit On Top vs Sit In Kayaks
The rest of this guide will entirely be devoted to getting in and out of sit in kayaks — the type of kayak you’re probably most familiar with if you’re excited to try the sport out for the first time.
Before we tackle the techniques, though, we thought it would be a good idea to mention that there are two basic styles of kayak. Their names, sit in and sit on top, speak for themselves.
If getting in and out of a sit in kayak is a real hassle for you, and it’s stopping you from enjoying your time on the water, you could consider going with a sit on top kayak instead. Sit on kayaks don’t have a cockpit, like sit in kayaks do.
Their decks consist of a small depression, with foot supports, making these kayaks much easier to get into (or rather, really, onto) and out of.
Sit on kayaks are generally wonderful for paddlers who want to enjoy warmer waters and who absolutely don’t mind getting soaking wet.
Sit on kayaks are so easy to get into that no guide is really necessary, so if you are reading this guide in frustration after having serious trouble getting into a kayak and worming your way out again, it may just be that you’ve been trying with the wrong style of kayak for you.
How to Get Into a Kayak From the Beach
If you are getting ready to launch from a sandy beach, all that sand will keep your kayak firmly in place as you enter the vessel — making the process much less stressful. Here’s how to do it:
- Get your kayak into position, placing it so that it is perpendicular to the shore. Kayaks with skegs or rudders need to be placed with the front of the kayak pointed inland. This ensures that the kayak will not get stuck in the sand.
- Wiggle yourself onto the kayak so that you’re straddling the cockpit — one leg on either side.
- Slowly lower your behind into the cockpit. Your legs will still be outside at this point.
- Swing one leg into the cockpit, followed by the other, and get yourself into a comfortable position.
- Congratulations — you’re ready to launch!
You also have an alternative approach to try:
- After getting your yak into position, place your paddle just behind the cockpit, balancing it.
- Grabbing the paddle with one hand, lower it to the ground to leverage it for added stability.
- Step into the kayak with one foot, and then allow the other foot to follow.
- Get yourself into a stable, comfortable, position in the cockpit.
- You can now push off.
This second method can only be used if you are able to ground the paddle, so the water has to be really shallow.
Getting into a Kayak and Launching it From Land
It’s also possible to launch your kayak from land, or from a dock. Inexperienced kayakers will usually appreciate some extra help pushing off in this case, though this technique can be practiced solo as well. Here’s what to do:
- Position your kayak parallel to your water and close to it, but not touching the water. Make sure that your kayak is in a stable position where it will not float off by itself.
- Stand on the other side of the kayak, the side where the water isn’t.
- Use your dominant hand to hold the middle of the paddle, while also tightly gripping the rim of the cockpit (at the point just behind the location where your back will be once you’re seated).
- Carefully place one foot into the cockpit. Allow your arms to do the heavy lifting as you slide your other foot in, keeping your hand around the paddle at all times.
- Wiggle around until you hit the sweet spot. You’re now inside the kayak.
- All that’s left is to launch.
Alternatively, use this method to get into your kayak from land and then ask someone else to help you push off. There’s no shame in asking for help, especially if you are brand new to kayaking!
How to Get Into Your Kayak From the Water
While it’s true that you may occasionally choose to leave your kayak while you’re on the water, you’re also bound to fall out.
The kayak could capsize, especially in choppier waters, requiring you to exit the cockpit, and righting the kayak before you can get back in. If you are brand new to kayaking, this is bound to happen quite a few times.
As a responsible novice, your first encounters with involuntary exits from your kayak will occur in calm and shallow waters, where you are not in any real danger.
Resist the urge to drag yourself and your kayak back to shore before you try to get back in, because trying to get back into your kayak from the water will offer incredibly valuable practice that could one day save you from serious trouble.
Here is a look at the steps that you should take to get back into your kayak from the water:
- Whatever you do, don’t allow yourself to let go of either your kayak or the paddle — and try to train yourself not to panic, so that you can think clearly as you try to get back into your kayak.
- Has your kayak capsized? Remember to hold onto that paddle as you get it right side up again, using a rolling technique with the hand that isn’t holding onto the paddle.
- Secure your paddle, if possible, while you get back into your kayak.
- Using the grip the rim of the cockpit provides, slide yourself onto the deck of the vessel.
- You can now use the straddling technique to find an easier way to enter, or alternatively you could slide in one leg at a time.
- Make sure you get yourself into a safe and comfortable seated position again.
- Grab the paddle, if it was secured, or if you were holding onto it the entire time, then position it correctly.
- You can now begin to paddle again.
Launching a Kayak From a Rocky Shoreline
This tricky situation requires a similar approach as discussed in the section about getting into your kayak from the beach. Place your kayak in the water, and parallel to the sore.
Then use the blade of your paddle or — where possible — one of your feet to provide stability, and use the so-called paddle bridge technique to get into your kayak. Get into the cockpit one foot at a time, and then slide yourself into the right position before launching. Make sure that your skeg or rudder are not damaged by the rocky shoreline.
What’s the Right Way to Sit in a Kayak?
So, you want to learn how to get in and out of a kayak the right way? That involves more than simply maneuvering yourself into the cockpit. You’re not truly done getting into your kayak until you are seated correctly, after all.
To be seated correctly, you will need to make sure that:
- Your upper legs and spine form roughly a 90-degree angle; it is crucial to sit up straight if you want to avoid contributing to chronic back pain later down the line. Should your kayak come with a back rest, as many higher-end models do, it will also likely be adjustable. Adjust your back rest for functionality, and not for initial comfort. Never sit in your kayak in a slouching position, but maintain a straight posture. This makes paddling much easier and will save you from pain.
- Your chest should be lifted up, as if you were trying to portray confidence.
- Your head and neck should be held up high, but should not lean forward. It’s a kayak, not a racing bike.
- The balls of your feet should be placed into the kayak’s foot braces or paddles. These can and should be adjusted to your individual height.
- When you sit in a kayak correctly, your knees will point outward, ever so slightly, toward the sides of the kayak. You should not feel any tingling or numbness in your legs as you paddle.
How to Get Out of a Kayak Safely
Just like what goes up must come down, any beginning kayaker who’s successfully managed to get into their cockpit will eventually want to disembark. The best way to do this depends on the situation you’re facing.
- If you’re aiming to exit your kayak from the shore, first paddle up to the shore. Here, you’re essentially trying to return to the starting position — your kayak should be perpendicular to the shore, with the front (or if you want to get your jargon right, bow) facing inland.
- You can now either rest your paddle on the shore (or, in other cases, the dock), or you can ask someone you’re kayaking with to help you out. In that case, they’ll position their own kayak next to yours as they hold onto it with a hand.
- Place your hands onto the shore or the dock. You now find yourself in an ideal position to get out of the kayak. If you’re exiting onto a dock, pull yourself up. If you’re exiting onto the shore, pull yourself forward.
- Next, get your kayak back onto land.
There are also situations in which you will want to get out of your kayak while you’re on the water. Simply slide both of your legs out to one side of the hull, while keeping your buttocks in the cockpit, and then use your hands to get out.
Getting In and Out of a Kayak: Final Words of Wisdom
Just in case you hadn’t heard, yet, the idea that there are distinct “learning styles” — making some folks visual learners while others are hands-on or verbal learners — has thoroughly been debunked. The simple truth is that we all need a variety of different tools to help us master any given skill or task.
Reading how to get in and out of a kayak isn’t enough. We’d advise you to watch videos in which the best techniques are demonstrated visually, and then we’d encourage you to practice them in very safe waters.
Don’t skimp. It’s not important to look graceful and competent as you get in and out of a kayak, but it is crucial that you can do it skillfully and quickly. As a beginner, you may have tons of help on hand, yet one day, you are likely to find yourself on choppier waters on your own.
That’s when being able to get back in your kayak quickly will matter most, and when you’ll be grateful that you devoted so much time to practicing your technique.