How To Get In And Out Of A Kayak Safely And Smoothly

As a kayaking instructor, I have witnessed countless chaotic attempts to enter and exit a kayak. It can be an intimidating experience for beginners and even challenging for experienced paddlers. This comprehensive guide will walk you through the step-by-step process of getting in and out of your kayak with confidence, ensuring that you maintain stability and balance through proper positioning and weight transfer.
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Nessa Hopkins

Senior Writer & Kayaking Instructor

Vanessa is a certified kayaking instructor, has taught over 500 people how to kayak, and is a senior member of the American Canoe Association. By combining her deep understanding of the sport and a background in journalism, she offers a wealth of experience and expertise to our growing water sports community, promising to educate and inspire paddlers of all levels.

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Sam OBrien

Founder, Kayaking & Paddle Boarding Expert

Sam is the founder and editor of WaterSportsWhiz. With over 20 years of experience across various water sports, he provides trusted reviews and expert advice to help others pursue their passion for getting out on the water. When not working, you can find him kayaking, paddle boarding, or planning his next water-based adventure with family and friends.

Getting in and out of a kayak seems easy, right? 

Just slide yourself in the seat and paddle away. If only it were that simple for everyone.

As a level 4 ACA certified kayaking instructor with over 500 students under my paddle, I’ve seen every possible way to mess up entering and exiting a kayak. Believe me, I speak from personal experience – I didn’t exactly ace my first launches and landings either!

So if you’re struggling with it, trust me; I’m all too familiar with the wobbliness, embarrassment, and unplanned swims that come with it.  Hats off to the rare paddlers who manage to flawlessly nail it on their first try! For the rest of us, there’s a bit of a learning curve.

But with two decades of experience now under my spray skirt, I’ve perfected simple, foolproof techniques to smoothly launch, land, and transition from various settings.

Regardless if you’re starting from the shore, a dock, or exiting in open water, a total beginner or a seasoned veteran looking to refine your skills, this comprehensive guide shares the precise step-by-step process I teach all my students on how to get in and out of a kayak!

Key Takeaways

  • Master the different techniques – Entering and exiting a kayak differs based on your location – shore, dock, or water.
  • Straddle Method – Use the “straddle method” to enter a kayak from shore or beach. Position kayak perpendicular to water, stand over the cockpit, then lower yourself into the seat.
  • Rocky Shore Entry – Entering from rocky shores requires care. Use the paddle as a stabilizer, put weight on the shaft, then cautiously swing legs into the cockpit while staying low.
  • Launching from Docks: Sit on the edge with both feet in the kayak. Pull the boat close with legs, keep hands planted for support, then steadily lower into the seat.
  • Exiting Techniques. Getting out follows the same method but in reverse. But go slow and beware of capsizing during transition. 
  • Easiest vs Most Difficult –The easiest entry or exit is from shore or sandy beach; the most difficult is from rocky or uneven terrain.

How To Get In A Kayak? Top Techniques For An Easy Launch

man getting out of a kayak on riverbank

Depending on your launch spot, there are several ways to get inside your kayak – from the shore, the dock, or the water. Each is progressively more difficult, but with a bit of practice, you’ll master it in no time!

Don’t worry if you don’t nail it from the get-go; ‘yaks are pretty slippery suckers. And even the most experienced kayakers still struggle from time-to-time.

I’ve gone through my fair share of epic kayaking fails, some of which were – ahem – caught on camera.

Sure, it’s funny now – but I don’t remember laughing much back in the day. Even when I got the technique down, it still took forever to stop feeling – and looking – like a bull in a China shop.

It’ll take some practice to learn how to get in a kayak without nearly falling over or – worse yet – capsizing. 

Getting In From The Shore Or Beach

This technique, often called the straddle method, is pretty easy to master; that’s why it’s my go-to. All you got to do is position the kayak correctly and scooch inside.

Getting in (and out) of your kayak from shore

This method requires some flexibility, though; you’ll have to squat down and maneuver your legs inside the cockpit. But don’t worry about that; there’s a fix – just keep reading’!

  1. Position Your Kayak – Place the kayak perpendicular to the shoreline. It should be halfway in the water, with the bow pointing away from the shore. (Try to find the sweet spot; complete beaching will block you from launching.)
  2. Straddle The Cockpit – Stand next to your kayak and bring one leg up and over to the other side, just behind the cockpit. 
  3. Keep Yourself Steady – You can place your hands onto the sides of the cockpit rim and lean back slightly so your arms take up some of your weight. That will help keep yourself – and the ‘yak – steady.
  4. Slide Into The Seat – With your hands supporting your full weight, lower yourself and slide into the seat.
  5. Enter Feet First – Here’s where the flexibility comes in. Lift one leg from the water and bring it up into the cockpit. Repeat the same process with your other leg. If you’re getting on a sit-on-top kayak, straighten your leg as you slide forward – or you might topple over. 
  6. Make Any Final Adjustments – Take a moment to adjust your seating position and thigh braces, and fit a spray skirt (if you’re using one). Oh, and don’t forget to grab your paddle – you’ll need that.
  7. Launch Your Kayak – Launch the kayak by using your arms or the paddle to push off the shore. A bit of rocking back and forth can help get things going.
Top Tip!

If you have limited mobility, bad knees or are not very flexible, you can adapt this method by sitting on the back of the kayak. Place both feet on the same side of the kayak and step/swing in one leg at a time. Then, gently slide down into the cockpit.

We took the same approach when my wife was pregnant.

How To Get In From A Rocky Or Uneven Shoreline

Getting in from a rocky shoreline is, by far, the most difficult method of launching your ‘yak. Not only do you have to deal with terrain that’s more difficult than most side-scroller arcade games (yes, I’m that old), but there’s always a possibility you’ll slip or get beached.

But, from my experiences vagabonding Earth’s many rivers and lakes, the most stunning places usually don’t have any docks or accessible shorelines.

So, here’s my method on how to get inside a kayak from not-so-friendly rocky shorelines:

  1. Find A Good Put-In Spot – Find a relatively flat section of the shoreline, and place your ‘yak in the water so the hull is parallel to the shore. It’s mostly a matter of finding the least horrid place for a put-in spot.
  2. Use Your Paddle As a Stabilizer – Lay your paddle perpendicular to the kayak, just behind the cockpit, with one half across the hull and the other half resting on the shore by the paddle blade. This positioning allows the paddle to act as a bridge, providing stability to the kayak.
  3. Controlled Entry – Squat down next to the hull, in front of the paddle, using the shaft and the cockpit rim to support yourself. Tilt the kayak until the blade is grounded and anchored on the shore.
  4. Put Your Feet In The Boat – Hop onto – or into – your kayak one leg at a time, then lower yourself into the seat. Stay low and go slow, but DO NOT LINGER!
  5. Launch With Care – Once fully seated and comfortable, use the paddle to push off from the rocky shore and start paddling away smoothly.
Top Tip!

Experience has taught me that it’s crucial to put your entire weight on the part of the paddle that’s resting on the shore. Don’t be afraid; lean on that paddle shaft like it’s your best friend. If you don’t distribute your weight evenly, you’ll find balancing is near impossible since the boat is floating and doesn’t offer the stability good old dry land under your feet does.

Getting In From A Dock

Docks are a kayaker’s best friends. They allow easy access to the water. However, entering your kayak from a dock is an entirely different story. I recommend you use the dock’s lowest point. Otherwise, there’s a big – and I mean BIG – chance you’ll flip. 

How to Get In and Out of a Kayak
  1. Line Up The Kayak – Place the kayak in the water and position parallel to the dock
  2. Sit On The Dock – Sit on the edge of the dock, with your feet gently resting in your ‘yak.
  3. Put In Your Legs – Pull the kayak tightly against the dock using your legs.
  4. Lower Yourself Slowly – Keep both hands securely planted onto the dock behind you for stability. Then, slowly lower your body, sliding both legs forward into the kayak and rotating your torso towards the bow as you go down until you get in the seat.
  5. Get Comfortable – Once in the kayak, adjust your position and prepare to launch. Remember to keep your paddle within arm’s reach so you can grab it as soon as you’re in the seat.
  6. Launch Time – Let go and push yourself away from the dock. 
Top Tip!

If you’re going to use a tandem kayak and are going with someone larger or more experienced than you, you should let them get in the back first. This way, they’ll be able to keep the kayak stable as you’re going in.

Entering From The Water

You’re bound to end up in the water at some point. Trust me, sooner or later, it WILL happen. That’s why knowing how to re-enter a kayak from the water is arguably the most important self-rescue technique you can learn. 

How to Get Back Into a Kayak

Here’s how to get into a kayak after capsizing: 

  1. Right Your Kayak – Swim to the side of your kayak and, holding onto the cockpit rim, push upwards to flip your ‘yak right-side up.
  2. Secure Your Paddle – Retrieve your paddle and, if possible, secure it to the kayak. 
  3. Re-Entry – With the kayak right-side up, reach across the deck and grab the opposite side of the hull. Use a strong kick to pull yourself up onto the deck so you’re lying across it belly-down.
  4. Reposition – Roll over and reposition yourself to slide your legs back into the cockpit and return to the seat.
  5. Bail Out Water (If Necessary) – Depending on how much water your ‘yak has taken on, use a bilge pump or sponge to remove excess water or head to shore to drain the cockpit.
Top Tip!

Getting in a kayak from the water requires upper body strength; a useful exercise to increase it is the chest press.

How To Get Out Of A Kayak? Hassle-Free Exit Techniques

How you’ll get out of a kayak depends on your take-out location. You can exit your kayak from the shore, the dock, or the water, and it’s mostly a matter of repeating the same technique as getting-in but in reverse – but remember that getting out is often more difficult than getting in. One wrong move, and you’ll end up wet with a cockpit full of water.

And no, this isn’t the way to do it: 

The following tips and tricks were carefully selected from the arsenal of my long experience as a paddler and kayaking instructor. They might not be graceful – but they will make the process of getting out of the kayak a bit easier. 

How To Exit A Kayak At Beach Or Shore?

  1. Approach The Shore – Pick your take-out spot and direct the kayak’s bow so it’s perpendicular to it.
  2. Beach Your Kayak – Paddle forcefully – enough to pick up some speed, and beach the kayak’s bow. Experience taught me that picking up the pace as I approach the shore helps to beach the ‘yak enough for the sand and gravel to keep it in place.
  3. Secure Your Paddle – Put your paddle out of the way, preferably behind the cockpit or under the deck line.
  4. Lift Yourself Up – Hold onto the sides of the cockpit – or hull if you’re in a SOT kayak – and lift yourself from the seat up onto the back of the cockpit. I find that doing a little wiggle helps you get out more easily.
  5. Exit The Cockpit – Swing your legs across the cockpit and step out one foot at a time. Ensure your feet are firm on the ground before standing up; you don’t want to slip and fall accidentally.
Head shot of the editor, Sam O'Brien Editor’s Note

If you’re in a more “delicate” kayak – such as fiberglass or composite kayak – I recommend you paddle into shallow waters (ideally knee-deep), away from any incoming waves, and exit there. This way, you’ll avoid damaging the hull. To exit, use the “paddle bridge” method. Place the paddle behind the rear of the cockpit coaming, using it as an outrigger to stabilize the boat. Once it’s steady, carefully step out into knee-deep water – one leg at a time.

– Sam O’Brien

How To Get Out Of A Kayak At A Rocky Or Uneven Shoreline? 

If you’re exiting at an uneven or rocky shoreline, follow the steps you’d typically perform when entering a kayak – but in reverse. 

  1. Pick Your Exit Spot – If possible, find a spot sheltered from the wind and waves. In other words – the least-worst exit point. As you approach the shoreline, position your kayak parallel to it.
  2. Form A Paddle Bridge – Place your paddle behind you, half on the deck and half on shore, to form an outrigger to stabilize the boat while you get out.
  3. Slide Up Onto The Cockpit Rim – Grab hold onto the paddle’s shaft and kayak, and tilt so the shore side paddle blade is in contact with the ground. Slide your body up and out of the cockpit and sit on the rim. 
  4. Exit One Leg At A Time – Move one leg out of the ‘yak and onto the shore, pushing off the back deck to maintain stability. Then, repeat the process with the other leg. Do not stand up until both your feet are firmly on the ground.
  5. Secure Your Kayak – Don’t let go of the ‘yak as you exit; otherwise, there’s a chance waves and wind will carry it away. Then, safely retrieve your paddle and take your boat out of the water. 

Getting Out At The Dock?

Man Getting out of a kayak from a dock side
  1.  Get Close To The Dock – Paddle up to the dock’s lowest point and position the kayak parallel to it.
  2. Secure Your Paddle – Set your paddle on the dock or secure it behind the cockpit so it’s out of the way.
  3. Grab The Dock – Turn your body towards the dock and place both hands on its edge.
  4. Stand Up – Pull yourself out of the cockpit until you can step out and get one knee onto the dock. 
  5. Exit The Kayak – Lift the other leg and pivot your body to sit on the edge of the dock.
  6. Alternative Exit – Alternatively, you can pull yourself out butt-first while keeping your weight low and get into a seated position on the dock with your feet still in the ‘yak.

Exiting Into The Water?

demonstration of how to enter and exit a kayak
  1. Paddle To Shallow Water – Paddle into calm, shallow water (ideally knee-deep) where you can safely exit without immediately having to swim.
  2. Stabilize The Kayak – Keep the kayak stable by holding onto the sides. Alternatively, use your paddle or paddle float as an outrigger for balance.
  3. Prepare To Exit – How you’ll get out depends on your kayak’s design. If you’re in a SOT kayak, swing your legs over the side of the hull so you’re sitting side-saddle. If you’re in a sit-in kayak, remove the spray skirt (if you have one) by pulling the release loop, then scoot your bottom out of the seat and up toward the edge of the kayak.
  4. Exit The Kayak – Gradually shift your weight to the side of the kayak and slide into the water.
  5. Roll Out – If you’re in deep water or a sit-inside kayak, you’ll have to roll out instead of gracefully exiting. You can just roll off the side of your SOT kayak into the water. If you’re in a sit-inside ‘yak, you can push out of the cockpit – or purposely tip the kayak to one side – roll out into the water and perform a wet exit.
  6. Stand Up – Once you’re out, you can use the paddle for balance and support to help you stand up in the water.
  7. Secure The Kayak – Be sure to hold onto your kayak after exiting; you don’t want it to float away.
Head shot of the editor, Sam O'Brien Editor’s Note

Hey, Captain Safety here – don’t forget to always have a PFD on you. Exiting the kayak from the water is already dangerous; the last thing you want is to end up in Davy Jones’s locker.

– Sam O’Brien

Getting In & Out Of A Kayak – Final Words

The formula for how to get in and out of a kayak is: 

Choose your launch and exit spots with care, and use the techniques covered in this guide accordingly. 

  • The shore is the most beginner-friendly put-in spot, as you’re able to straddle the kayak and get in one foot at a time; 
  • The dock is a bit trickier to get right, as it requires some maneuvering and balancing; 
  • The water might not look as graceful, but sometimes, it can be your only option. 

Soon enough, you’ll find yourself spontaneously, effortlessly, and – most importantly – safely getting in and out of your ‘yak. You’ll wonder how it’s possible it ever seemed like a daunting task!

Photo of author

Nessa Hopkins

Vanessa is a certified kayaking instructor, has taught over 500 people how to kayak, and is a senior member of the American Canoe Association. By combining her deep understanding of the sport and a background in journalism, she offers a wealth of experience and expertise to our growing water sports community, promising to educate and inspire paddlers of all levels.

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