How to Get In and Out of a Kayak

Whether you’re just getting into kayaking, or if you know your way around the rapids, getting in and out of your kayak is something that plenty of people get wrong, so we’re here to make sure you get it right.

Below, we’re gonna cover some different scenarios you might find yourself in, and how to properly handle them.

Our goal by the end of this, is to make sure both beginners and intermediates alike know what they’re doing and how to do it in the safest way possible, so let’s get started!

Getting In:

If you’re getting in from the water into your kayak, that means you’ve most likely gone and tipped yourself over, and now you’re stuck in the water with a flipped kayak and a bruised ego. Luckily, this section can help you with one of those problems.

Well, first thing’s first, let’s get your kayak back in the correct position.

To do this, approach the middle of the kayak, place one hand on the rim of the kayak closest to you, and, in one swift and forceful motion, reach over with your other hand over the top of the kayak, grab the other side, and pull it towards you.

Once this is done, your kayak should be upright, albeit a little wet, and in a good position for you to begin mounting it.

To mount your kayak, approach the middle again, place on hand on the rim of the cockpit closest to you, place your other hand on the far side of the kayak, and pull yourself up and onto the kayak so that your belly-button is facing down into the seat.

This movement rocks the boat quite hard, so you’ll want to wait until the boat is stable for this next step. Once the boat stops moving, you’re very carefully going to try and flip yourself over so that your butt is facing down into the seat. This is a very awkward and tricky movement, so take it slow, otherwise you’ll just end up back in the water.

Then, once you’re right-side-up, simply rotate yourself and put yourself back in the cockpit and you’re on your way!

Now let’s look at how to get out of your kayak and straight into the water.

Situation 2: On a Beach or Ramp

Getting In:

To get into your kayak while you’re on a beach or a ramp, your first step should be to position the kayak so that the front half(the bow) is slightly in the water, and the back half(the stern) is still on the beach/ramp.

From here, put your paddle down next to your kayak so you can grab it when you’re in the boat.

Now, it’s as simple as just walking up to the middle of the kayak and positioning yourself in such a way that your legs are on either side of the boat, with the seat directly below you. From there, simply sit down into the seat, tuck your legs into the cockpit, grab your oar, and push yourself away from the shore and into the water. It really doesn’t get any easier.

Getting Out:

To get out of your kayak directly into the water, we’re going to follow three main steps, the flip, the tuck, and the push. Before doing this, however, please note that this method involves you intentionally flipping yourself and your kayak over, and could potentially be dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing.

If you aren’t an expert and aren’t being supervised by one, please read ahead to our “Getting Out From the Shore” section of this article.

With that being said, let’s get into the details of this method.

Step 1: The Flip

This method is fairly straightforward. You’re just going to want to list yourself left and right until you flip your kayak over and you’re sitting in it upside-down. Before doing this, make sure you have plenty of room around you and underneath you.

Step 2: The Tuck

It might feel natural to want to lean back and push from there, but this causes your thighs to get stuck underneath the thigh guards, and most efforts to push from the kayak will be extremely challenging.

Instead, all you have to do is tuck yourself all the way forward in a hunched position, such that your head is now placed above your knees/thighs. If you have a spray guard, now would be the time to remove it from the rim of the cockpit.

Step 3: The Push

Now, in your hunched position, all you have to do is push yourself directly away from the kayak, and your entire body should follow suit. Once you are entirely out of the vessel, it’s as simple as moving the kayak away from yourself and surfacing.

And that’s it! Now if you want to get back in, simply follow our steps on how to get in from the water, and you’re good to go!

Getting Out:

To get out of your kayak, it’s the same process as getting in, just in reverse.

You’re first going to want to line your kayak up so you are parallel with the shoreline. Once this is achieved, try beach yourself if possible. If your kayak keeps slipping back into the water, then you can just park your kayak a foot or two from the shore. Make sure the water you choose to exit in is shallow enough for you to stand in!

Once you’re parked, remove your legs from the cockpit one at a time, either having them on either side of the kayak like how you got in, or both to one side.

Now, all you have to do is grab onto the rim in front of the cockpit and pull yourself forward until you find the balance to stay up.

Situation 3: From the Dock

Getting In:

Go ahead and start with your kayak parallel to the dock you’re on, preferably next to one of the lower points of the dock.

Then, sit down on the dock next to your kayak and put both of your feet securely in the cockpit of your boat. Once your feet are in place, while still sitting on the dock, twist your body towards the bow of the boat, and place both of your hands firmly on the dock to make sure you don’t slip and fall.

From here, you’re going to lower yourself swiftly, yet calmly into the seat of your craft, keeping in mind to keep your weight low the whole time, just so you don’t accidentally tip the boat over in the process.

The key is keeping your weight low and centered.

Here’s some bullet points to keep in mind –

    • Untie the kayak and keep the line in your hand
    • In shallow water you can lift your paddle vertically – set one end into the bottom of the water snug against the kayak side steady it. If you’re in deeper water lay your paddle within reach and you’ll use the dock edge to steady you.
    • Sit on the dock edge dangling your legs over and balance the cockpit edge with your feet to line up your entry position – drop the tie line into the cockpit.
    • Using the dock edge to steady you, swing one foot then quickly the other into the center of the cockpit – quickly crouch down – then sit.
    • Take your paddle in your hand, rest it across the cockpit and adjust the tie line so it won’t drag when you paddle.

Upon return, exiting is basically the same in reverse – Congratulations! You’re in and ready to paddle!  Here’s a clip that demonstrates this technique. Note the tip that he gives about not reaching for the dock on return. Take a look…

Getting Out:

Just as we did to begin getting in to our kayak, you’ll want to pull up parallel to the dock at one of its lower points for ease of access. Use your hands to hold on to the dock and give yourself a solid base to pull yourself up from.

Using the dock for balance, all you have to do is stand up in your kayak, and step onto the dock one leg at a time. Alternatively, you could also get your butt onto the dock instead of stepping onto it, but this is really a matter of personal preference, so just do what’s comfortable.

Situation 4: Uneven or Rocky Shoreline

Getting In:

At the water’s edge

  • Place your paddle shaft behind (or in front) of the cockpit opening, across the deck
  • Holding the paddle shaft in place, gently lean on one side to let that paddle blade rest on the ground – this will keep the kayak from wobbling
  • Using the paddle shaft to steady you – quickly enter the center of the cockpit – crouch – then sit
  • Then use your paddle to give you a shove off

TIP: In shallow water, you can lift your paddle vertically, (as described above) setting one end on solid ground snug against the kayak side to steady it. Keeping your weight in the center – use the paddle shaft as a “crutch” to enter and exit.

Here’s a quick clip on getting in a kayak from shore.

While this may seem intimidating first, don’t let the uncertainty of this launch get to your head. So long as you make calm, smooth movements, you’ll be in your kayak and heading downstream in no time.

Just like getting into your kayak from a dock, position your kayak in the water so that it’s parallel to the shoreline you’re coming from.

Then, you’re going to want to position your paddle so that one half of it is behind the cockpit, and the other half is on the shoreline. The idea here is to use your paddle to give yourself leverage while entering your kayak.

From here, simply sit down on the shore with your feet in the cockpit and the paddle behind you. Grab the paddle behind you, when you feel like it’s stable, push into your paddle and quickly but calmly position your butt into the seat, remembering to keep your weight low throughout the process.

Getting Out:

To get out, you just follow the exact same process as you did to get in, just in reverse.

First, pull up parallel to the shoreline you’re going to be exiting on to. Get as close as you can, but make sure you avoid rocks in the water that could damage the underside of your kayak.

Then, place your paddle just behind you so that half of it is on the boat and the other half is on the shore line.

Grab the paddle behind you and, making sure it’s secure and stable again, push into the paddle and hoist your butt onto the shoreline, again making sure to keep your weight as low as possible.

Now that you’re out, simply pull your feet out from the kayak and onto the shore, and you’re all set.

Self-Resue: Re-entering and Towing a Kayak

Kayak self rescue are advanced techniques that are learned and practiced often. With proper instruction and practice, if capsized, you should be able to upright and re-enter your kayak, bail it out and if necessary, tow it.

The following is simply an overall explanation of these topics to introduce you to the concept only.

I’ve included a  very good video. It demonstrates kayak self rescue techniques with and without the use of a paddle float, how to upright a kayak and how to re-enter a kayak. They also show the importance of a paddle float and a bilge pump. 


How to Upright an Overturned Kayak – this is something that takes skill and patience . . .

  • First, place your body across the beam of the hull – with your arms on one side, your feet on the other
  • Place your feet at approximately body width apart on one edge
  • Place your hands a bit wide apart on the other side and grab the rim (or as close to it as you can)
  • On the count of three . . . with all your strength – push down with your feet while pulling the cockpit rim to “flip it” until the kayak turns. This usually takes a few tries.

Now You’re Upright, But Its Swamped!  What to do?

If you have added kayak flotation to the fore and aft of your kayak – this will be easier. A solo kayaker can re-enter using a paddle float – (an inflatable or foam cushion attached to one of the paddle blades) to stabilize the kayak and provide assistance. 

The swimmer kicks to propel themselves onto the deck – using the paddle for stability – then re-enters the cockpit – grabs the hand pump and bails out the water. An assisted rescue utilizes a second kayak for stabilization instead of a paddle float.

TIP: To learn more about paddle floats, float lines, paddle leashes, hand pumps and other safety equipment click here.

Here’s How To Tow a Kayak –

If you cannot re-enter the cockpit – you will need to tow it. For the purpose of towing another paddler … carry a float line, about 20 feet in length with you. It helps to have “clips” on the ends, but they’re not required.

If you or a partner capsizes, you will need to first upright the kayak (as described above) then bail as much water out of it that you can with a hand pump.

Fasten the tow line to one end of the kayak (preferably the bow) and clip or tie the other end around your waist. Since you cannot tow your partner inside the swamped kayak, they will have to swim along side holding onto the back of your kayak.

A slack line over the back of your kayak can assist a fatigued swimmer.

Now this will be slow going – but you will get to shore.

Kayak Self rescue and towing techniques are fun to practice with a partner – preferably in shallow water and on a hot day!

Finally, I will repeat myself, kayaking self rescue techniques are learned and practiced with instruction when you enroll in a kayaking class.

After learning the kayaking basics, if this looks like the kind of fun you want to have, find a kayaking class in your area that teaches self and assisted rescue.

Tips and Tricks

Now that you know how to get into your kayak, let’s talk about some tips once you’re actually in the water

Tip #1: Always Check the Weather!

Speaking from personal experience, the worst feeling in the world is when you have a kayaking trip all planned out for the day, you get your gear all set up and ready to go, and you drive 3-4 hours to your favorite lake, only to find that it’s a lightning storm so bad it makes Thor jealous, or that you can’t even drive to the lake because it’s whiteout conditions.

Don’t be stupid like me, take the 10 seconds it takes to pull up a weather app and check beforehand

Tip #2: Be Courteous to Other Kayakers!

When you’re out on a lake or river, it’s a good idea to give other people on the water a generous amount of space, especially if you’re a beginner. No one likes being pushed around by other people’s waves, so do your best to keep in mind other’s that want to enjoy their kayaking just as much as you do.

Tip #3: Take Care of your Body

Kayaking is an endurance sport, and if you don’t take the time to do all of the movements properly, then slowly but surely, you’re going to do damage to your entire back.

The best thing you can do is to have someone experienced in kayaking spot you on your movements and help you do them properly. You might be able to get away with doing it wrong if you don’t kayak very often, but, if you plan to make a habit and a hobby out of it, taking the time to do it properly will save you years of back-ache down the line

Whether you’re a complete beginner to kayaking, or you’re a seasoned veteran, there’s always value in learning how to do something the right way. If you’re interested in learning more of the ins-and-outs of kayaking, or just want to learn some more tips and tricks while you’re on the water, check out some of our other articles on the topic.

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