How To Get In and Out Of A Kayak In Water Safely

May 06, 2022

Girl kayaking on river

The most daunting part of kayaking for beginners is learning how to safely get in and out of a kayak. The last thing you want to do is embarrass yourself in front of other, more experienced paddlers - or worse, injure yourself. Whether you're trying to enter or exit your boat from the water, shore, or dock, one thing is for sure - it's tricky at first!

Don't worry - this is an experience every kayaker has gone through. Even the best paddlers had to learn how to get into a kayak and how to get out of a kayak. And today, we're going to help you understand the ins and outs of getting in and out of your boat!

From a safety standpoint, you'll learn why this is such an important topic. Then, we'll teach you all about getting into a kayak and safely exiting it when the time comes. While you may feel hopeless right now, you will feel confident and secure by the end of this article.

Let's start with one of the most common questions - is there a right and wrong way to get in and out of a kayak? Why does this matter so much? Let's take a look.

Why It's So Important To Learn How To Get In and Out Of A Kayak

We know what you're thinking - why is it important to learn how to get in and out of a kayak? Is there a right and wrong way? Yes, there is. And if you don't take the time to learn the tactics for entering and exiting your boat under different circumstances, a few things will happen.

The most likely outcome is that you tire yourself out and waste energy while looking silly. While there isn't necessarily a "graceful" way to enter and exit your kayak, the proper technique looks much cleaner and preserves your energy for paddling. If you've spent much time on the water, you know that paddling in its own right is exhausting. Save that energy simply by getting in and out of a kayak!

But beyond just tiring yourself out and maybe being the butt of a few jokes from your friends, getting in and out of a kayak properly is a safety concern. The last thing you want to do is try to climb into the boat and end up slipping out in the process, hurting yourself along the way. While a few bumps and bruises might not scare you, the reality of a concussion or more severe injury from improper dock launching might.

We say all this not to scare you - but rather to make you aware of the gravity of this situation. Getting in and out of a kayak is not something you should take lightly. Fortunately, it's manageable once you understand the principles behind getting in and out of your boat. You'll have to get in or out of your boat in three everyday situations - in the water, from shore, or the dock. Let's start with the shore - this is the most typical launching point. And it's the most accessible point to enter your boat.

Mounting & Dismounting From the Shore

First, ensure you have everything you need in your boat before attempting to get in. Especially as a beginner, the last thing you want is to successfully get in your kayak with minimal energy - only to discover you left something important behind. You'll have to dismount, grab your kayaking gear, and return to the boat.

How to Get in a Kayak on the Shore

Now, with all that said, the first step is to get your boat from the shore into the water and line it up perpendicular to the water. You want to ensure the boat isn't float away from you while you try to get in - this is the aspect most beginners struggle with. That means while the front half of your boat should be in the water, the back half should still be onshore. Getting the right balance here is essential - if too much of your boat is in the water, it will start to float away. If too much of your boat is on the sand, you won't be able to launch. Neither of these is an ideal outcome.

If the shore is super rocky and uneven, or you're on a concrete dock, you may need to find another launch point - the last thing you want to do is damage your boat. Another alternative is to get your boat into 6"-12" of water and launch from there. Ideally, you'd have a friend to help hold your boat if you mount from a few inches of water.

Once your boat is lined up and you're ready to get in, get behind the cockpit rim and straddle your boat. Then, simply sit down and pull your legs in - simple enough, right? You can then pull yourself into the seat and slide forward until you're in the correct position. Take your paddle, push yourself off, and you're well on your way to a fun day of paddling!

Note: Besides being beginner-friendly, inflatable kayaks are generally easier to get into & out of because of their broader base, making them more forgiving as you learn to mount and dismount than hardshell kayaks

How to Get Out of a Kayak on the Shore

But what about the end of the day when it is time to get out? Getting out of a kayak on a sandy beach is easy - just let yourself coast onto the sand and dismount safely to one side. But, if you're forced to dismount on a dock (more on that later) or in a few inches of water, it can be tricky. Many kayakers report that this phase is more challenging than getting in the boat.

But it doesn't have to be scary - you'll just reverse the steps you used when getting into the kayak. Step one foot out each side so you're straddling the cockpit (still seated). Then, lean forward, grab the front of your cockpit for support, and stand up. You can use a balance of your lower body and upper body to lift yourself off the kayak.

If you struggle at first, don't worry. Just like learning how to paddle a kayak, this is a skill you'll develop with practice. The first few dismounts may resemble a newborn trying to walk - but after a few trips to the water, you'll be dismounting like the pros! Remember - it doesn't have to look pretty. You just have to get out safely! Let's move on to another situation you'll encounter - getting in and out of a kayak on a dock.

From a Dock

If you're in a location that has a dock you can launch from, the recommendations will be different. That's because you have far less support for your boat while entering and exiting than on the shore or in just a few inches of water. Sometimes, the water along the dock can be very deep - making the stakes a bit higher. Here is what you need to know:

How to Get in a Kayak from a Dock

We advise having a friend hold your kayak parallel to the dock while you get in. If you don't have a friend nearby, ask a fellow paddler. If you're on your own, however, don't worry. Getting into a kayak from the dock is still possible - albeit a bit trickier.

Hold your kayak parallel to the dock and sit down beside it. Then, lean over and place both your feet into the cockpit. Follow this maneuver by turning your body toward the bow of your kayak. At this point, you should still be sitting on the dock while your lower body is in the kayak. You can quickly and safely lower yourself into the kayak from this position. There are a few things to note here:

  1. Do this move quickly. If you take your time, the kayak will start to drift away from your body - making it challenging to reach your butt over into the seat.
  2. Keep your weight low. This will also help in preventing the kayak from drifting further and further away.

It's essential to exercise caution while mounting from the dock - we've seen inexperienced kayakers hitting their heads on the dock with improper mounting techniques. You need to mount with confidence and quickness - if you feel that you're losing control, allow yourself to fall into the water rather than falling back onto the dock.

How to Get Out of a Kayak onto a Dock

What about getting out of your kayak from a dock? When it comes time to call it quits for the day, make your way back to the dock. Pull yourself up parallel, and implement the same technique in reverse this time.

You'll brace yourself with your hands on the side of the dock with the rest of your body still in the kayak. Then, lift yourself butt first onto the dock - leaving your legs and feet still in the kayak. Your lower body is responsible for holding the boat parallel along the dock and preventing it from drifting away. Once seated on the dock, you can pull your legs out and grab your boat.

While in Open Water

One final tactic we want to teach you today is safely getting in and out of a kayak in the water. Let's say you were out paddling and decided to take a swim - whether it be an expected or unexpected swim. How do you return to your boat with nothing to support you out in the open water? It's not easy, but it's doable. Here's what you need to know:

How to Get Back into a Kayak from the Water After Falling Out

Ideally, you'd have a friend hold your boat. We aren't going to lie - getting back into a kayak from deep water can be tricky. But if you're paddling solo, start by making sure you have your paddle in hand - keep it from slipping while you try to enter, as you'll have no easy way to grab it from your boat if it starts to drift.

With that said, get to the side of your kayak near the cockpit. From there, grab the far side of your kayak - if you try to pull yourself in from the side closest to you, you'll likely flip your boat over. Pull your abdomen over the cockpit and tuck your legs in. You can position yourself properly from there.

Try to avoid getting frustrated if this takes a few attempts. Getting into a kayak from deep water is not easy - but you'll get the hang of it!

How to Get Out of a Kayak into the Water

Say you're out paddling with your friends on a hot summer day, and you decide to take a swim. We've got good news - this is the most accessible advice we'll share today! Simply let yourself fall into the water. You can lean over, fall out, or stand up on your boat and jump off. You can reach over with your paddle and try to touch the ground beneath the water's edge. Ensuring the water is deep enough to jump in safely is essential.

One key piece of advice here is to ensure you keep your paddle in your kayak - the last thing you want to do is take a dip and return to your boat only to discover your paddle has gone missing, and now you're stranded.

Final Thoughts on Safely Getting In & Out of a Kayak

There you have it - how to get in and out of a kayak in various situations. Whether you're mounting or dismounting from the shore, dock, or water, you now know all there is to know about getting in and out of your boat with ease.

Remember - this is something that will take time. Keep going even if you struggle at first. You'll get better with each trip you take to the water. And after a while, you’ll enjoy the added challenge of this fun form of exercise.

Want to learn more about kayaking? We have a few significant resources for beginners - including how to transport a kayak and how to size a kayak. We highly recommend you take a look if you're new to paddling. And, for all your kayak gear and supplies, shop OutdoorPlay.

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Stacey JohnsonCustomer Experience ManagerStacey has been with Outdoorplay for over 17 years, sharing wisdom from her years of experience and passion for all kinds of kayaking (whitewater, recreational, and touring), stand-up paddle boarding, and rafting. When she's not out on the water, Stacey also enjoys camping with her family and cross-country skiing and snowshoeing in the Cascade mountains.