How to Get In and Out of a Kayak

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Rod Jenkins kayak launch

The majority of capsizes aren’t due to poor form, and happen way before any paddling takes place! Entering a kayak seems simple enough, but we often see people falling into the water as they try to get into their boat.

With this is mind, we’ve put together some simple tips for you to enter and exit your yak like a pro. We’ve included techniques for different situations as well as a few videos from the professionals as a visual aid. Enjoy!

Where Are You Launching From?

The difficulty of getting into your kayak depends on where you’re launching from.

Wet launching from a shallow shore requires wading out with your kayak until it’s just deep enough for it to float (0.5-1 foot deep). Beginners can find entering a floating yak tricky due to their poor technique and also due to the kayak bobbing and moving with the waves.

Dry launching from a bank or shore can be easier as the kayak is stable when entering. However, the hull of your boat is going to get scraped and damaged – which is particularly important if you have a composite or fiberglass kayak.

If you have a tough plastic kayak and you don’t mind scratches, you can be a little less careful about launching, and you can even slide down banks like a seal – just make sure you wear your helmet!

Whether you’re starting from dry land or wading out, there are a couple of general principles that will help with stability:

1. Keep Your Weight Low and Centred - Crouching down into the kayak when entering will make it much easier to balance, as will stepping into the middle of the boat to keep your weight centred.

2. The 3 Points of Contact Rule – Many tips could be avoided if people had three points of contact with the boat and/or ground before transferring their weight.

How to Get into a Kayak

Launching from the Water

Setting off from the water may be required when there’s a rocky shore. Launching from shallow water also saves the underside of your boat from scrapes and bumps. Wetsuit booties are great to wear when wet launching as they protect your feet from cuts, and they’re also comfortable when wet.

The method I like to use is the one leg push. I wade out with my yak to shallow water, grip the sides of the cockpit and place one foot in the boat, and then push off with the other foot. However, I don’t recommend this for beginners as it requires good balance.

Instead, I suggest you start off with the straddle, which is also known as the cowboy method:

  1. Stand over your boat so that it’s in between your legs
  2. Place your paddle on your hips and then sit down on the top of the boat just behind the cockpit
  3. Slide forward while putting your hands on the cockpit rim to stabilise the boat
  4. Drop your hips into the cockpit while keeping the boat balanced with your arms
  5. Lift one leg at a time into the kayak
  6. Grab hold of your paddle, and away you go

Launching from the Dock

Launching from a dock will save your feet from getting wet, but it can be tricky. More people tip at the dock than any other location – most often it’s due to overconfidence with a task that looks so simple.

Find the lowest point of the dock before following the steps below. Keeping your weight and centre of gravity low and as close to the level of the kayak as possible will make it much easier to board.

  1. Park your boat parallel to the dock
  2. Place your paddle near so that you can easily reach it once inside the boat
  3. Sit down on the dock and then put both feet into the kayak. The boat will be stable as long as you keep your feet in the centre of the boat
  4. Grab hold of the cockpit rim on the far side and pull the boat in close to the dock. Your other hand should be firmly on the ground for stability
  5. Quickly park your bum into the kayak in one fluid motion
  6. Settle in and then reach for your paddle from the dock
  7. Push off with your hand. Don’t use the paddle to push off as you risk snapping the blade

Getting in and out of your kayak from a dock is much easier if you have someone else stabilise the kayak. This can be someone on land, or a fellow paddler on the water if you’re the last person to launch.

How to Exit a Kayak

Dry Exit

If you’re at a beach or lake, you can ride up onto the shore until you come to a halt. Or, if you don’t want to risk damaging the hull of your boat, paddle to knee-deep water and then reverse the straddle process.

To exit from a dock, you simply reverse the steps you used to get into the kayak.

Wet Exit

In a perfect world, we would dry exit all the time. But if you spend enough time out on the water, you’re bound to capsize sooner or later.

If you happen to find yourself upside down in a sit-in kayak, you can either roll your kayak right-way-up or exit it when you’re upside down.

If your kayak is about to tip, it’s important that you don’t panic and try to jump out before the kayak has turned upside down because you could trap your legs. Give yourself a couple of seconds until the kayak is completely upside down and then perform the exit.

Wet exits are an advanced paddling technique that you would be best learning from a professional instructor in a controlled environment.

Wrapping Up

Entering and exiting a kayak isn’t that difficult, but it does take knowing the procedure and a little practice to get right.

Hopefully, we’ve provided you with the know-how to get into your kayak smoothly and safely. If there’s anything you’re still uncertain of, then drop us a line or post your question in the comments. If you’re a paddling pro and have a few tricks up your sleeve we’ve not mentioned here, we’d be delighted if you shared them with our community.

For more tips on avoiding tipping, check out How to Not Tip While Canoeing.

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