Is Kayaking Dangerous?

Last Updated on February 21, 2021 by KayakPro

Kayaking, canoeing, rafting, and the rest of paddlesports can have their risks, especially when it comes to kayaks. However, let’s put things into perspective here. People worrying over something is rarely moderate.

They tend to wander to the extremes. In these cases, it’s essential to distinguish between two things: subjective risk and objective one. In other words, the risk as you perceive it versus the actual looming danger.

Is It Me, or Is Kayaking Really Dangerous?



Expanding on this last thought of the dangers of kayaking, the answer could be yes and no. If you’re flat-water cruising on a lake, you’re probably on the safe side. Both subjectively and objectively.

On the other hand, if you’re grappling with a high-class water-danger according to the International scale of river difficulty, you’re in trouble. And you’d better perceive it that way as well. It becomes most dangerous if you perceive low risk in such a situation.

Hence, if you want both enjoyable and safe kayaking, you need to know the actual danger. You’ve got to be acquainted, beforehand, with the potential for risk in your kayak and paddles.

The potential for actual danger can also lie in your handling of the kayak and paddles. And finally, whether you’re sea-kayaking, river-kayaking, or lake-kayaking, you’ll want to know the relative dangers of each.

What Are the Risks of Kayaking?

When talking about the actual risks of kayaking, let’s start with things relating to you, the kayaker.

Lack of Experience: Is Kayaking Safe for Non Swimmers?

Kayaking for Non Swimmers

Many novices fall into the trap of getting tempted to take on more challenging conditions—just because advanced paddlers do. Some people take risks with their kayak even if it’s their first time.

Whether in rivers, seas, or lakes, some dangers need you to stand down upon encountering them or at least take the most caution. Let’s get acquainted with the risks of kayaking!

Lake-Kayaking Situations Where You Need a Professional

Kayaking in lakes is the safest of them all. Yet, there are scenarios that’ll require kayaking safety. A particular situation that you shouldn’t rush in is when finding a stuck and capsized fellow paddler. Instinct might push you to jump in to save the day, but sometimes you should halt and think clearly.

If it’s a club you’re in with professionals nearby, then it’s best to call for their help. However, if it’s only you and the capsized kayak and paddler, you need to take some precautionary measures.

Begin by making sure that it’s a capsized paddler, not an abandoned boat or something. You can tell by the bubbles and waves usually radiating from the stuck capsized paddler.

Also, be careful as the paddler might be about to roll, so he might accidentally hit you. You can make sure by waiting and counting till fifteen before advancing to help.

Taking the Foundation Safety and Rescue Training course before your next paddling is highly advisable. It’ll help you know how to manage different scenarios. If that’s not on the table, see that you have to undo the capsized paddler’s deck to help. Then, his aid will take him up on the surface.

What if I’m the One Who Got Capsized?

The tables can shift quickly, and you can be in that paddler’s position. Remaining calm in such a situation is critical. Knock on your kayak-bottom to call the attention of any nearby paddler or kayaks.

To avoid this from happening, make sure to attend carefully to your capsizing drills. Also, ensure that your aid and life jacket are secure.

Common Mistakes: What Should You Not Do While Kayaking?

Remember? We were just talking about how inexperience with kayaks can be dangerous. However, other mistakes aren’t any less dangerous. Let’s see how to ensure paddling safety!

When Kayaking, Your PFD Should Be Your BFF

A lot of times, we miss out on the simple things. When it comes to paddling, forgetting to put your life vests on isn’t one of the things you want to do. Some people even do that out of negligence, as they perceive it as low risk. It’s not.

So, please don’t carry your PFD without wearing it, and when you wear it, do it correctly. Getting the right snug fit will ensure you’re well-protected while on kayaks. You won’t believe how many accidents are preventable with that tip in mind. A PFD can be a real life-saver.

Never Venture to Paddle Over a Strainer!

One of the most common obstacles in a river is a strainer. These are things like branches or logs that can stand in your way and capsize your kayaks. They can also be human-made, like rebars, for example.

Besides capsizing you, they can trap your kayak. Then, the pressure from the water can trap you underwater. They’ve proved fatal. Some sweepers are akin to strainers. They’re fallen riverbank-trees that aren’t entirely sunken in water nor fully separated from the bank.

So, a huge mistake would be to try and go over them. Once you lay your eyes on such obstacles, try your best to diverge from them and avoid impact. That’s the best way to save your life.

Dam-Like Weirs

Simply put, this is where the water level takes a step down to a lower one. This stair-like area of a weir will be found in abundance in rivers. It’ll occupy a horizontal space—just like a dam. A weir is known for its turbulent water flow.

For that reason, it can easily capture or capsize you. As with strainers, the solution lies in avoiding them, and surely not in taking them head-on!

Cold Shock and Hypothermia

Cold Shock and Hypothermia

If the air is warm, that doesn’t mean the water temperature won’t be cold. Often, the water can be ten times cooler than air. That’s when capsizing becomes even more dangerous. Hitting cold water at once can cause something called a cold shock.

Cold water can predispose to a cold shock. This kind of shock involves increased heart rate, breathlessness, and suffocation feeling. Here, gasping for air can be pretty dangerous. If the swimmer’s head is underwater, it’ll allow water to get in and can cause drowning.

Cold chock was previously known as the sudden disappearance phenomenon. It can all happen so fast in low water temperatures. So here’s how to be one step ahead aside from using a PFD:

  • Never come improperly dressed for the weather; clothes will mitigate cold shocks
  • Wait to have enough experience with avoiding capsizing before paddling in cold water
  • Make sure all paddlers are wearing a life jacket; PFD is key
  • Wear a wetsuit, as it’ll provide more thermal isolation than life jackets

What About Hypothermia?

Hypothermia is, too, a type of medical hazards. Unlike cold shock, hypothermia can occur when the frosty conditions persist and not a momentary thing. Your normal body temperature is 37 C; when it drops below 35 C, then you’re in the hypothermia zone.

You don’t have to fall out of the boat to get hypothermia. It can happen if you’re not appropriately dressed and the air is icy. Safety measures in the case of cold shock apply here as well. Besides wetsuits, you can get yourself a drysuit for combating hypothermia.

Sun Exposure and Dehydration

Sun Exposure and Dehydration

It’s not only the frost you should take care of; sun exposure can be detrimental as well. Moreover, you could be facing both risks on the same trip. Just because the weather is overcast initially doesn’t mean that sunlight won’t cause you sunburns later.

The sea actually contributes to the risk. Water reflecting sunlight increases your exposure to the UV rays. Additionally, the risk of the sun hurting you becomes higher if you’re out without sunscreen for over an hour.

The threats could be:

Consequently, wearing sunscreen is a must. You can also supplement that by wearing a hat, so you don’t have to worry about the sun anymore while on the boat.


The same water that increases your exposure to the sun can save you from it. That’s the case, as dehydration is one of the consequences of sun exposure. Besides, paddling a boat already takes a lot of energy out of the body, so that also contributes to the issue. Symptoms of dehydration include:

  • Thirst
  • Dizziness
  • Feeling tired
  • Confusion
  • Dry mouth

It follows that you always need to carry water bottles on the boat. The hotter the weather and the longer the kayaking trip, the more water you’ll be needing.

Beware of the Bigger Fish in the Sea, or in This Case, Bigger Boats!

In oceans, big lakes, and seas, you’ll have an extra danger of bigger kayaks and ships. When facing a big boat, a motorboat, or even a jet ski, you’ll be the disadvantaged one even if you have the best kayak. The risk of one of these hitting you becomes particularly pronounced with low visibility.

That could be the case if there’s fog all over the place. Either way, you should safeguard yourself against it. A good solution would be to get bright lights for kayaks.

Do Kayaks Tip Over Easily?

Kayaks Tip Over Easily

The short-from answer would be no, not really. However, it hugely depends on what kind of waters you’re dealing with. If you’re taking on whitewater and class V rapids underprepared, you’ll have a higher chance of tipping over.

What does it mean to be underprepared? It can mean many things; in this context, it has to do with the type of kayaks. Ensuring kayak safety is crucial here. Using recreational lightweight kayaking boats should be confined to calm-waters cruising.

Beyond that, if you’re planning to surf rough waters, then you should get whitewater or super tough kayaks. Sturdy inflatable kayaks can do the trick. Some inflatable kayaks are made for rapid waters, so they’ll serve you well. That’s especially the case if it’s a sea you’re planning to tackle.

So, prioritize getting the best kayak for your needs.

Sea Kayaking Dangers

Handling the dangers in the lake is a piece of cake compared to the sea and river dangers. On top of that list comes the risk of getting lost. Also, there’s the risk of getting capsized when you’re in the deep waters, and no one is around to help.

You’ll also be facing rough waves, which exceedingly increases the risk of kayaks being tipped over. So, here are some ways to deal with kayaking dangers in seas:

  • Don’t disappear out of sight
  • Always go kayaking in groups
  • Have a highly experienced paddler on board
  • Get a compass and a waterproof GPS with a long-lived battery
  • Carry a large water-bottle
  • Practice rescuing yourself from capsizing

What About the Dangers of Kayaking in a River?

Kayaking in a river can be particularly challenging because of the stoppers that kayaks may get stuck in. A river also poses the challenge of unpredictability.

Here, it becomes crucial to take a look at the water level readings before your river kayaking trip. It’ll inform you about river levels in different areas. If, upon checking the water level, you found it black, then that’s a no-go for kayaks.

If it’s red, you can go, as long as you ride with paddlers who have a high skill level. Also, given the unpredictability, try and have someone among the paddlers who knows the area well.

Forget About Avoiding Capsizing. You Need to Capsize Yourself in This Situation!

As mentioned before, stoppers in a river are an enduring issue. If one of those got a hold of you, a productive effort would be to try and capsize yourself. Count till seven, then roll up again. This should make the cut and render your kayak unstuck.

In this next river scenario, you may need to make a cut—literally this time. Stoppers are but one of the hazards. You may get entangled in wires or roots. A multipurpose knife will cut your way out of this situation.

Final Words

Well, and now in a nutshell—is kayaking dangerous? Yes, it has its hazards and can be dangerous in many ways. These dangers could be lacking enough experience or not carrying the right gear.

Alternatively, the true hazard could be the rough sea or the turbulent river.

Although kayaking can be dangerous, that shouldn’t stop you from getting into this sport. All you need to do is take the appropriate precautionary measures to ensure your safety.


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Ryan Stoltz

Ryan Stoltz

Avid kayaker and lover of the outdoors. Having been kayaking for over 7 years, I love sharing my experiences and learnings along the way. Currently kayaking in upstate New York and always open to new adventures!

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