Kayaking with Alligators – Is it Safe?

Last Updated on May 26, 2021 by KayakPro

If you enjoy paddling and outdoor adventure in the United States, you may find yourself kayaking with alligators. As with all human-animal interactions, humans must tread carefully and respect that we’re the ones entering places where the alligators reside. 

Kayaking with alligators is a great way to appreciate the reptiles and observe them in their natural habitat. However, while paddling amongst these intimidating animals is generally safe, it requires research and preventative safety measures. 

Alligators are apex predators, which means that they’re at the top of the food chain without any predators themselves. While they do not often view humans as a food source, therefore you won’t have any reason to fear their presence or behavior patterns.

However, with a bite force of 2125psi, all kayakers should take steps to avoid getting bitten by alligators. 

How common are alligator attacks? 

Typically, the areas with alligators are regions that have tropical and subtropical climates. Places with a gulf coast are usually alligator country. Alligators can mostly be found in North America, South America, and China.

If you’re a visitor who plans to paddle in the southern United States, such as Florida, it is a good idea to brush up on your alligator knowledge. Although gators are reclusive, there is always a chance of an encounter when you kayak with alligators.

Whether it’s baby alligators or adult alligators, attacks on kayakers are quite rare, but they have happened, and there is always a risk.

Most attacks have occurred in water or swamps near a body of water. Florida, which is home to a large portion of the country’s alligator population, has reported statistics of just 7 unprovoked bites over the past 10 years. 

Recent alligator attacks in Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina

On the water, there have been several reports of alligators either knocking into kayaks or fully attempting to attack people who have paddled into their territory. There are reports from Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, and, most recently, South Carolina

alligator in the sun

There were no warning signs in the South Carolina incident, but the kayaker could roll successfully, preventing a further attack. If you’re a novice, you should avoid paddling in areas that may have an alligator swimming. 

While the idea of paddling with alligators may seem terrifying to some, they’re not a deterrent to many seasoned paddlers. Understanding the animal’s behavior, warning signs that there is an agitation in the area, and how to keep yourself safe are vital to successfully exploring reptile habitats. 

Common alligator behavior

Although alligators are apex predators, they tend to stay away from people, especially while in a kayak or canoe. In areas with many visitors, they are a little braver, but their natural instinct is to avoid confrontation.

Alligators are usually found on banks or hanging out under overhanging trees. They’re cold-blooded and like to stay in the sun or shallow water. 

If you kayak infrequently paddled waters, the gators in the area may watch from afar. They may also quickly jump into the water from the bank. Alligators have super-sensitive hearing and often hear you before you see them. 

Although it can be a little scary knowing you’re in a kayak with alligators somewhere under your boat, they’re unlikely to attack you from below. You’re safer with them underneath you than watching you from a bank or the sidelines.

When in the water, it is likely you will only see their eyes. In fact, alligators are quite skilled at making themselves difficult to see, making them a very dangerous threat to humans. 

Gators often view kayaks as threats. They’re incredibly agile, but their quick movements into the water are an avoidance strategy. As a result, alligators will most likely just sit at the bottom of the waterway until the kayaks have passed.

Kayaking with alligators during mating season

Crocodiles attack kayaks on river

There are certain times when alligators are more aggressive, and the chance of an attack is higher. During the mating season, male alligators are especially aggressive. They will protect their territory at all costs, and it is difficult to know if you’re a safe distance away. 

Female alligators are more aggressive when they’re nesting. As with all animals, mother alligators will act out and possibly attack kayaks when they feel their nest is threatened. These nests are reasonably large, although it may be hard to spot them from the water. If you find yourself close to a nest, your first reaction should be to back away. 

Females are also quite aggressive when they’re still caring for their young. If you see a small gator, back away ASAP because an overprotective Mom isn’t too far behind.

Tips to avoid an alligator attack while you’re in a kayak

If you find yourself canoeing with alligators, the best course of action is to remove yourself from the situation. For example, if you see a gator on a bank, try to paddle toward the middle of the waterway. This will place a greater distance between you and the animal if it decides to lunge at you. 

Paddle away quickly and steadily if you need to back up. It may be disappointing to retreat on your planned trip, but if you find yourself in reptile-infested waters, it could be the safest choice. 

If you do find yourself close to one, do not corner it. A scared alligator is an aggressive alligator. Give it plenty of space and try to move along quickly. 

One of the reasons for avoiding an attack while paddling is to avoid mating season altogether. They tend to mate from April – early July, so it is best to find other locations to paddle during that time. If an alligator habitat is on your kayaking bucket list, try to hold off until September.

Respect alligator habitat to avoid attacks

Another vital piece of advice is to avoid feeding alligators. In busy waterways, they’re sometimes used to human activity. If a gator has been fed in the past, it is more likely to approach a kayak looking for food. This practice keeps you safe but also protects any other kayaker that the gator encounters. 

Pets are also a big no on kayaks, especially with alligators lurking as a threat. The reason is that pets emit a different odor and can be considered prey for these large animals. 

While canoeing with alligators, be sure to stay far away from baby alligators and nests. Getting close to a nest is the best way to provoke an angry female and increase the chances of an attack. 

For kayakers or paddlers participating in a recreational activity, never corner alligators. If you corner one, they may feel threatened. Also, don’t panic if an alligator slip into the water. They are highly unlikely to attack you while you’re in a canoe or kayak.

Aggressive alligator behavior

If you find yourself in a situation where you end up in alligator territory, there are some protocols you can do to protect yourself if you become agitated. This situation can be terrifying, but try to stay calm and protect yourself as much as possible. 

Creating a loud noise can help ward off any aggressive behavior. Carrying a loud safety whistle or air horn will startle the alligator and hopefully cause it to swim away. If you find it is still focused on you, hit your kayak or the water hard to create vibrations. Gators are sensitive to vibrations in this water, and this should do the trick.

If an alligator begins to hiss at you, this is the last warning before it attacks. It is telling you to back away. If it has already started to hiss, there is no guarantee it will change its mind, so it is necessary to create space.

Make yourself big and do as much as you can to be loud. Noise may be enough to deter the animal. Distance is your best bet in preventing an attack.

What to do if an alligator attacks

If an alligator approaches, do your best to remain calm. There are some things you can do to fight off the alligator. They are particularly sensitive around their snout and eyes, so try to aim for this area. It may be difficult to reach this part of their face, especially if it attacks with its mouth. Worst case scenario, fight as much as you can. 

If you can somehow get to land, you could try to evade the alligator. You likely cannot paddle away from it because they’re fast swimmers, but you may have an opportunity to outrun it. They’re slower on land, and you have more control in this situation. When paddling with alligators, the water is their territory, and they’re skilled hunters.

Kayak fishing with alligators lurking

Some thrill-seekers may love the idea of kayaking with alligators. If this is you, be sure to make smart decisions to stay safe. Gator territory isn’t the place to make foolish choices or major errors. When you paddle in water that may be home to these animals, you must plan ahead. 

First off, many people like to fish when they’re kayaking. If you’re kayak fishing or canoeing during your trip, remember that you’re competing for their food source.

If they see you reeling in a fish, they will take the opportunity to steal it away from you. Land your fish as fast as you can, and make sure you keep it in the boat. Don’t attach it to your kayak unless you want to set yourself up as an afternoon snack.

Stay safe while kayaking with alligators

In areas that could potentially have gator activity, it is crucial to keep all limbs in the boat at all times. Don’t dip your hand in the water to check the temperature or reach in to aid in fishing. Gators are hard to spot when swimming, and they could be right next to you without you knowing it. You don’t want to offer up a hand accidentally. 

Remember to keep your wits about you when you’re kayaking with gators. Although part of a kayaking trip may involve alcohol or cannabis, you must stay sober so you can watch for signs or fight at full capacity if you find yourself in an altercation. 

Lastly, as a paddler, try to avoid shallow water conditions as much as you can. Alligators often hang out in smaller pools or near banks. If you find yourself in shallow water, try to paddle towards the middle and move quickly.

This is a prime location for nests or mothers protecting their young, and you want to get out of this area in a hurry.

The bottom line

Spending a day canoeing in the presence of gators is one of the most exciting activities you could ever do. As a paddler, you’ll be able to tell everyone of your incredible story. From afar, they’re majestic and the closest to experiencing a pre-historic creature we will ever get. However, they should be regarded as the dangerous animals that they are. 

If kayaking with alligators is on your list of things to do, be sure to do the research needed to keep yourself safe.

Always keep in mind that you’re entering the territory of a wild, sometimes temperamental animal.

Remember that the environment and their conditions are to be respected, and given the proper space and treatment, kayaking with alligators could be the trip of a lifetime. We hope you’ve found these tips and information on alligators valuable for your next kayak trip.

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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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