How To Get In And Out Of A Kayak: Hone Your Essential Kayaking Skills

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Sam OBrien

Getting in and out of a kayak is easy – right?

Well, not really. 

Things can get pretty tricky. 

Hats off to fellow paddlers who got it right from the get-go – because, to be frank, I didn’t. If you’re also struggling with it, trust me; I’m all too familiar with the wobbliness, embarrassment, and unplanned swims that come with it. 

Here’s some good news for you: 

The information in this article and a bit – okay, a lot – of practice are all you need to learn how to get in and out of a kayak

Why’s It So Difficult To Get In And Out Of A Kayak, Anyway? 

Paddler on pontoon demonstrating how to enter and exit a kayak

Would you laugh if I told you that more people capsize at the docks while trying to get in or out of their kayaks than they do paddling?

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.

Why, though? 

Is it the weird transition from solid ground to water? The kayak’s wobbliness? Or are we all just clumsy?

Whatever the case, you can’t get into kayaking if you don’t know how to get into a kayak first – which brings me to my next point. 

Get In And Out Of A Kayak Elegantly: 5 Things You Need To Know

get into a kayak from a dock side

The following tips and tricks are carefully selected from the arsenal of my long experience as a paddler. 

Ill-fated attempts have taught me what to avoid, while successful ones helped me generate methods and rules that work for all

#1 – Hit The Right Launch & Exit Spots

Even something as simple as choosing the launch and exit spot wisely has the potential to make getting in and out of the kayak a whole lot easier. 

The best location would be shallow water, preferably not more than knee-deep, with no additional distractions or risks, such as boat traffic. 

Think something along the lines of sandy beaches and calm flat water. 

Things aren’t always that simple, though – and I’ll discuss different ways to enter and exit your ‘yak depending on the launch and exit spots.

Top tip – check our free interactive map of the top kayaking near you 

#2 – Get Better Results By Taking Lessons

Sure, self-learning is a funnier – and cheaper – way to build your skills.

Then again, private lessons can give you a head start and provide step-by-step explanations and demonstrations of how to get in and out of your ‘yak – especially for beginners. 

Think of it as an in-person version of this guide. 

Working on your technique with a qualified expert makes it easier to implement everything you’ve learned into your everyday adventures. 

Going over kayaking basics – especially when you’re a beginner – wouldn’t hurt, either. Not to mention that it can be an immense confidence boost! 

#3 – Practice Makes It Perfect

Are you feeling a bit discouraged? 

The good news is that regular practice does, indeed, make getting in and out of a kayak easier. 

Once you learn the right technique, practice is crucial. And when I say “practice,” I don’t mean getting in and out of a kayak only when you go paddling. 

I mean: 

Make a drill out of it and practice whenever you have the chance. Go somewhere where it’s isolated, and have full-day training. 

Repetition is one of the fastest pathways to learning, after all. 

Most of us have struggled and felt all wobbly initially, but trust me – it does get better with time.

#4 – Recruit A Helping Buddy

If you’re worried about taking an unexpected swim, consider asking a friend or a fellow paddler to lend you a hand. They can hold the kayak for you, adding to its stability.

It’s not a permanent solution, though: 

Fellow paddlers will be more than happy to help – but you can’t always count on someone to accompany you. 

Consider this a plan B for those sticky situations where you’ve picked an unfavorable put-in spot.

#5 – Safety Gear Is A Must

I cannot emphasize this enough:

Always wear safety gear. 

Yes, even if you’re only practicing getting in and out of your ‘yak.

You may be thinking: 

But I’m only going to practice in the shallows; nothing can happen there.

Trust me – so many things could happen there. 

If the water temperature is low, there’s a risk of experiencing hypothermia and cold water shock.

And depending on the surroundings, you could hurt yourself on sharp rocks, submerged logs, and other underwater hazards. Cuts and abrasions are among the most common kayaking injuries, after all.

Therefore, make sure to tick the helmet, life jacket, and gloves off the list – wear your PFD at all times – and invest in appropriate kayaking footwear.

How To Get In A Kayak? Top 3 Techniques For An Easy Launch

man getting out of a kayak on riverbank

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

But it can be done. And, as I said earlier, the method you’ll use will depend on the actual launch spot.

How Do You Get In A Kayak From The Shore?

  1. Place the kayak perpendicular to the shoreline. It should be half-way in the water, with the bow pointing away from the shore. 
  2. Straddle the kayak – one leg on each side – and place your hands on the sides of the cockpit rim to keep the ‘yak steady. 
  3. Lower yourself, butt first, into the seat and lift your legs out of the water one at a time. 
  4. Use either your hands or the paddle to help push you off the shore. 

This method will vary slightly if your put-in spot is on a not-so-friendly-looking shoreline with uneven or rocky terrain

  1. Start with the kayak parallel to the shore. 
  2. Use your paddle as a stabilizer; place the shaft across the back of the cockpit, with one blade resting on the beach.
  3. Squat down to the side of the kayak, supporting yourself with one hand on the paddle shaft and the other on the cockpit’s rim.
  4. Hop onto – or into – your kayak one leg at a time and lower your butt into the seat. 
  5. Use the paddle to push yourself off the shore. 

How To Get In A Kayak From A Dock?

If you’re launching from a dock, the dock’s lowest point is the best place to do it. 

  1. Position the kayak parallel to the dock. 
  2. Sit at the edge, next to your ‘yak. 
  3. Start by lowering one leg, then, with both hands still on the dock for stability, drop the other, and get in the seat. 
  4. Rotate your torso toward the bow as you get in the kayak. 
  5. Let go and push yourself away from the dock. 
How to Get In and Out of a Kayak

Bonus Tip: 

Don’t forget to keep your paddle within arm’s reach so that you can grab it as soon as you’re in the seat!

How To Get In A Kayak From The Water?

How to Get Back Into a Kayak

Knowing how to re-enter a kayak from the water is one of the single most crucial self-rescue techniques. 

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

  1. Get hold of your kayak and secure the paddle. Paddle floats can come in handy here.
  2. Move to the rear of the kayak, reach across the deck, and pull yourself up belly-down. 
  3. Slowly work your way up to the seat, lift your legs onto the deck, and sit in your kayak as you would typically do. 

Bonus Tip:

Getting back into 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? 3 Hassle-Free Exit Techniques

demonstration of how to enter and exit a kayak

Now that you’re in, you might want to know how to get out of a kayak, huh? 

And no, this isn’t the way to do it: 

The most suitable method – surprise, surprise – depends on the exit spot

How To Get Out Of A Kayak From The Shore?

  1. Paddle up to the shoreline until the kayak’s bow beaches. Picking up the pace as you’re nearing the shore might help. 
  2. Secure your paddle by placing it behind the cockpit or under the deck line. 
  3. Hold onto the side of the cockpit, or hull if an open plan SOT, and lift yourself from the seat.
  4. Swing your legs across the cockpit and step out one foot at a time. Ensuing to plant your feet to find your balance, and stand up slowly. 

In the event of an uneven or rocky shoreline, follow the same steps you would typically perform when entering a kayak – but in reverse. 

Position the kayak so it’s parallel to the coast, and, using the paddle as support, lift your knees and place your legs on the ground, one at a time. How Do You Get Out Of A Kayak Onto A Dock?

  1. Paddle up to the spot where the dock is the lowest, position the kayak parallel to it and secure the paddle. 
  2. Turn your body towards the dock and place both hands on its edge.
  3. Pull yourself up until you can get one knee onto the dock. 
  4. Lift the other leg and pivot your body to sit on the edge of the dock 

How To Get Out Of A Kayak Into The Water?

  1. Paddle to the area where you want to get out. Make sure that there are no waves, as they could unnecessarily complicate the process.
  2. Roll out of your kayak and into the water. 
  3. Once you’re in the water, stand up, relying on the paddle for balance and support. 

P.S. When getting out of a kayak into water ensure your PFD is on! And, make sure you keep hold of the kayak as you don’t want it to float away.

How Do You Start A Kayak By Yourself?

“Starting” – or launching, whatever you choose to call it – a kayak by yourself will admittedly require a bit more effort on your part. 

However, if you picked the right spot – a nice, sandy beach, for example – it can be surprisingly easy: 

Get to the edge of the water, hop in your ‘yak, and push yourself out whenever you’re ready. 

If you’d like to avoid “sliding” along the sand, launch from an area with at least a few inches of water – enough for it to float. I’d recommend this for fiberglass and composite kayaks. 

How To Get In And Out Of A Kayak For Seniors?

Due to joint problems, such as bad knees, seniors might experience difficulty getting in and out of a kayak.  

How to Safely Get Into a Sit-on Top Kayak

However, the golden rule for seniors – or anyone with reduced mobility, such as; pregnant women or those with a physical disability – is to keep everything low impact.

That means shallow water, short walking distance to the launch spot, flat shoreline – and, preferably, a sit-on-top kayak.

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!

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Sam OBrien

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.