Do Sharks Attack Kayaks: Attack Statistics, Managing Encounters & Safety Precautions

Paddling over deep ocean waters, I'll admit those Jaws scenes sometimes creep into my mind. Spotting a dorsal fin my heart skips a beat. While shark attacks on kayaks are extremely rare, understanding statistics, encounters, and best safety precautions puts my mind at ease. After researching expert insights on shark behaviour, I'm sharing practical tips to safely enjoy ocean kayaking, even where great whites roam!
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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.

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Nessa Hopkins

ACA-Certified 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.

If you’re going sea kayaking and wondering do sharks attack kayaks with a concerned look on your face, I’m here to tell you that it’s normal to worry.

The thought of encountering a shark while kayaking can be terrifying for many paddlers. However, it’s essential to understand the reality of shark attacks on kayaks and how to minimize the risk of an encounter.

Shark attacks involving kayaks are relatively rare, as confirmed by the Florida Museum of Natural History’s yearly International Shark Attack File (ISAF) report. Most interactions between sharks and kayaks are investigative rather than predatory or aggressive, and are often a case of mistaken identity.

In this guide, we’ll explore:

  • The statistics and likelihood of shark attacks on kayaks
  • Common shark species involved in kayak encounters, such as tiger sharks and great white sharks
  • Factors that may attract sharks to kayaks, such as noise, vibrations, and fishing activities
  • Safety precautions to minimize the risk of a shark encounter while kayaking
  • Tips for managing a shark encounter and avoiding escalation

By the end of this article, you’ll have a better understanding of the relationship between sharks and kayaks, and be equipped with the knowledge to enjoy your kayaking adventures with greater peace of mind.

Key Takeaways

  • Do sharks attack kayaks? Yes, sharks may attack kayaks – but only on rare occasions. There have been only 65 recorded incidents over the past 34 years. 
  • Provoked vs. unprovoked shark attacks: When viewing kayak shark attack statistics, keep this classification in mind.
  • What to do if you encounter a shark while kayaking: Keep calm and paddle out of the area without provoking the shark; most encounters are exploratory.
  • What to do if a shark attacks your kayak: Stay in your kayak at all costs. If the shark becomes aggressive, try pushing it away with your paddle, and deploy a chemical deterrent – if you have one.
  • How to minimize the risk of kayak shark attacks: Check local shark reports, learn to recognize the signs that a shark is nearby, and avoid excess splashing or anything that would attract them.
  • How to reduce the risk while kayak fishing: Be careful when reeling in fish, don’t let it flop around the deck, avoid bleeding fish onboard, and store your catch out of the water. 

Do Sharks Attack Kayaks?

Ariel shot of Tiger shark circling a kayak

Sharks do attack kayaks – but it’s an extremely rare occurrence. While sharks may occasionally mistake a kayak for their natural prey – marine mammals, such as an injured seal or sea lion for example – sharks aren’t typically attracted to kayaks, making such incidents uncommon. 

Let’s talk statistics:

Since 1989, there have been 65 documented incidents involving a kayak. Out of these 65, 4 were fatal, with two (50%) happening outside of a kayak (the two kayakers tried to swim to the shore after capsizing and got attacked). 

So, when you start wondering, “Are sharks attracted to kayaks? Would they attack at the mere sight of your tiny plastic boat?” consider this: 

Most interactions between sharks and kayaks are investigative—not predatory or aggressive, and are mostly a case of mistaken identity.

But here’s a bit of good news: 

Kayaks – and, as it turns out, humans – are generally deemed inedible by sharks. 

In fact, you’re 75 times more likely to be struck by lightning than attacked and killed by a shark. 

Here’s another interesting fact: 

You’re 2588 times more likely to be injured doing a DIY home improvement project than to be attacked by a shark. 

And I’m not saying this just to calm you down, either. Kayakers have only been involved in 0.35 percent of all documented fatal shark attacks

Of course, one could argue that’s still 0.35 percent too many, but I think it’s safe to assume that, no, sharks are not attracted to kayaks. 

Even when sharks do approach, most of these hit-and-run encounters – for lack of a better word – are considered exploratory bites. The shark is usually just trying to figure out what you are and whether or not you’re – well, palatable. 

So, be aware that shark encounters are a possibility – but don’t let yourself become petrified by them. The perceived risk is sometimes blown out of proportion – but the actual risk of a shark attack is extremely low. 

Kayak Shark Attack Statistics: A Look At The Numbers

Illustration of shark swimming next to a kayak

Provoked Vs. Unprovoked Shark Attacks 

Before we look at the kayak shark attack statistics, it’s important to make a clear distinction between unprovoked and provoked shark attacks

Unprovoked attacks are incidents that occur with no previous human provocation or aggravation of the shark. In these cases, the victim does nothing to prompt the attack. 

Provoked attacks are defined as incidents where the human initiates the interaction with a shark in any way, including trying to touch it, attempting to feed the shark, or otherwise harassing it. 

Fact: In 2022, the International Shark Attack File (ISAF) investigated 108 alleged shark attacks and encounters that were reported worldwide. Out of the reported 108 interactions, the ISAF found that more than half (57 cases) were ruled unprovoked shark bites, while 32 were regarded as provoked attacks. 

Here’s a quick breakdown of the ISAF 2022 shark attack report:

Classification Total Bite Count
Unprovoked Attacks 57
Provoked Attacks 32
Boat Attacks 4
Scavenge 4
Air/Sea Disaster 2
Public Aquaria 1
Doubtful 3
No assignment could be made 3
Not Confirmed 2
Total Cases 108
ISAF 2022 Shark Attack Statistics

Shark Attack Statistics 

Between 1989 and 2023, there have been a total of 65 documented incidents of kayak shark attacks worldwide, four of which were fatal. Interestingly enough, out of those four incidents, half (50%) occurred while the paddler was out of the kayak and swimming towards the shore. 

Yearly Summary Table 

The table below provides a year-by-year summary of documented shark attacks – including fatal incidents – for a period between 1989 and 2023: 

Year Total Incidents Fatal Incidents
201321 (Patrick Briney)
200941 (Maurice Bede Philips)
199921 (Navid Davoudabai)
198921 (Tamara McAllister)
Year-by-Year Summary of Documented Shark Attacks

Location-Based Summary Table 

The table below provides a summary of both fatal and non-fatal shark attacks based on location:  

Country Fatal Non-Fatal Total
Australia 0 13 13
Columbia 0 1 1
New Zealand 1 4 5
South Africa 0 3 3
St Kitts/Nevis 0 1 1
USA 3 39 42
Grand Total 4 61 65
Shark Attack Statistics by Country

Injury-Based Summary Table 

The table below provides a summary of shark attacks based on the extent of injuries to the paddler, including fatal, serious, and minor injuries, as well as cases with no reported injuries: 

Injury Level Total
Fatal 4
Minor 5
Serious 4
No Reported Injury* 52
2022 Shark Attack Injury Statistics

*The “No Reported Injury” also covers shark attacks in which the paddler was unharmed, but the kayak itself sustained damage of varying degrees, ranging from minor damage to complete destruction of the hull, where the kayak was bitten in half. 

Attack Type Summary Table 

The table below shows a summary of documented shark attacks based on type – whether the attack was provoked or unprovoked:

Attack Type Total
Provoked 4
Unprovoked 61
Summary of Shark Attack Types

Responding To Shark Encounters And Attacks

Here’s what you need to know about responding to shark encounters and attacks – from what to do if you encounter a shark while kayaking to how to minimize the risk of shark attacks. 

What To Do If You Encounter A Shark While Kayaking?

Dorsal Fin breaks the surface of the water with kayaker in background

Your odds of running into a shark during an outing might be relatively low, but they’re never zero – making it that much more important for you to know what to do if you encounter a shark while kayaking. 

Here’s how to handle a shark encounter in the safest way possible – and improve your chances of survival: 

  • Don’t panic. You’re allowed to be afraid, of course – but you’re not allowed to panic. You need to have the presence of mind in a scenario like this. Keep in mind that most shark encounters are exploratory; the shark probably just wants to investigate your kayak and will move on eventually. It doesn’t automatically mean it wants to eat you.
  • Alert others in your group. And just in case this wasn’t clear by now, yes, you should always be kayaking in a group. Sharks are less likely to go after the group, so stick together and watch each other’s back.
  • Paddle calmly and quickly out of the area – and, if possible, to the nearest shore. Avoid making any erratic movements or frantic paddling as you do; it will only attract the shark’s attention.
  • Don’t provoke the shark. Trying to hit the shark with your paddle – unless it’s absolutely necessary and the animal is already showing signs of aggression – would only aggravate the shark further.
  • Never approach a shark, especially if it’s feeding. You might get mistaken for a tasty meal.
  • Confront the shark with assertiveness rather than aggression. Maintain eye contact and let it know you’re not docile – but don’t start a fight you’re likely going to lose.
  • If you encounter a shark, let the authorities know. Document as many details as you can and report the incident; that goes for both shark sightings and close encounters. Contact the local Department of Fish and Wildlife for more information. 

And while I believe this should go without saying, please – PLEASE – do not attempt to touch the shark if it gets near. Use common sense, folks. 

What To Do If A Shark Attacks Your Kayak? 

Shark with mouth open ready to bite attack bright kayak

The number one thing to do if a shark attacks your kayak is to make sure you stay out of the water – your risk of serious injury triples, if you’re not in the kayak.  

However, if you’re knocked into the water, you have two choices. First, try to quickly get back into the kayak. If that’s not possible,  then keep your eyes fixed on the shark and stay as motionless as possible until you can attempt to re-enter the kayak. It’s vital to stay calm and avoid splashing or making sudden movements, as these could attract the shark.

Here are a few more things to keep in mind: 

  • If the shark is becoming increasingly aggressive, use your paddle to strike its nose and push it away from the kayak. 
  • If you’re using a shark shield, switch it on, and deploy shark repellent chemicals. Now’s the time to go all out in terms of shark deterrents. 
  • If the shark grabs you, start fighting. Go crazy. Give it everything you’ve got – and do not give up until the shark does. Strike the eyes, nose, and gills with as much force as you can. 

And what if someone in your paddling group gets bitten by a shark? 

Again, the most important thing will be helping the victim out of the water. The odds of survival are generally high – as long as the person receives immediate stabilization and care. 

That brings me to my next point: 

  • Help the victim out of the water immediately. The shark probably let go for good – but maybe it’s planning a second round of attack. 
  • Apply pressure to the wound. Controlling blood loss after the attack is the top priority – and a first aid kit will be invaluable in a scenario like this.
  • Elevate the limb, keeping it raised above heart level.
  • Do not let the victim look at the wound. The damage can be horrific, and it could send the person into shock. 
  • Head to shore and call 911 immediately to seek emergency medical assistance. 

Let’s Talk Prevention: Minimizing The Risk Of A Kayak Shark Attack 

Five ways to minimize the chance of being bitten by a shark

There’s no guarantee that these measures and safety precautions will always be effective. Still, minimizing the risk of a kayak shark attack – primarily by being vigilant and informed about shark activity in the area – is definitely better than doing nothing at all and just hoping things will work out for you. 

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” as they say. 

Here are a few precautions you can take to stay shark-safe while kayaking

  • Check local shark reports. Coastal areas with shark-infested waters will usually have warning signs. If the area has had recent shark attack reports, avoid it; don’t go looking for trouble.
  • Avoid kayaking at dusk and dawn; these are prime hunting times for sharks. Plus, there’s that whole reduced visibility thing, which could lead to mistaken predation.
  • Stay away from cloudy river mouths; that’s usually bull shark territory.
  • Avoid known shark feeding areas – if you don’t want to get mistaken for a meal, that is. Unless you’re kayak fishing, stay away from any larger groups of fish.
  • Avoid excess splashing – especially if you see a shark approaching. All you’ll manage to do is grab the shark’s attention and make yourself appear like an animal in distress.
  • Stay in your kayak. It might not necessarily feel like it, but your kayak is the safest place to be when you’re approached by a shark.
  • Don’t dangle your feet or arms off the side of the ‘yak. And please make sure your dog stays in place, too.
  • Avoid wearing jewelry. I know that it seems like a strange recommendation, but sharks could mistake shiny objects, like jewelry, for the reflective appearance of fish scales.
  • Don’t enter the water if you’re bleeding. The shark’s ability to taste blood and trace it back to the source is insane.
  • Be aware of nature’s warning signs. Splashing water, feeding seals, and circling birds are all potential indicators that a shark might be near – and that it’s time for you to paddle away. 

Reducing Risks While Kayak Fishing 

When talking about reducing risks of a shark attack while kayak fishing, kayak anglers should always have an open eye, and a procedure if an ‘unwanted guest’ decides to barge in during an angling session on the sea. There are several methods — and some tips — to utilize while kayak fishing, all to ensure your safety while on the water from sharks. 

Kayak Fishing Tip | How to Avoid Sharks While Kayak Fishing

Here’s the thing: 

Sharks, particularly tiger sharks and great white sharks, will mainly be after your bait and the fish you’re reeling in. But you and your kayak might still get caught in the middle, causing things to escalate from an encounter to a full-blown attack. These species are known for their size and strength, making them formidable presences in the water. 

So, I think you’d agree with me that it’s best to reduce the risk of an encounter in the first place – rather than doing damage control later. 

Here are a few things kayak anglers can do to make their ‘yak appear less like an open buffet to the hungry sharks lurking in the area:

  • Do not let any blood drain into the water. Chumming the waters is generally a terrible idea. You’ll attract the fish, sure – but you’ll also attract some sharks. The same goes for bleeding the fish. Their sense of smell is – well, nothing short of miraculous.
  • Be extra careful when retrieving your catch. The fish will frantically try to escape; the vibrations and splashing on the surface, right beside your ‘yak, could attract sharks. And the fact that you’ll have one – or both – arms reached out to the side doesn’t help your case.
  • Stow your catch securely. That means don’t leave the fish dangling off the side of the ‘yak in the water. That’s just an open invitation to an all-you-can-eat buffet.
  • Don’t let fish flop around inside your ‘yak. You might not think it’s loud, but to a shark, it’s like ringing the dinner bell.
  • Use a shark shield. I’ll talk about shark deterrents a bit more later, but in essence, this device will create an electrical field that’s supposed to deter sharks. The key word here is “supposed” – these co-called shark shields aren’t always effective.

However, it’s important to acknowledge that shark encounters while fishing, although rare, can still be quite alarming. 

Take, for instance, the experience of a kayak fisherman, Scott Haraguchi, not far from Oahu’s coast. He was fishing in his kayak, positioned less than two miles from the island, when a tiger shark rammed his boat. 

OFFICIAL VIDEO: Tiger shark attacks kayak fisherman off Oahu

This harrowing moment, which he managed to capture on his GoPro camera, showed the shark coming dangerously close to biting his left foot, which was dangling in the water at the time. 

Fortunately, he escaped without any injuries. 

This incident serves as a stark reminder of the potential risks when kayak fishing in areas frequented by sharks.

My DIY Magnetic Shark Deterrent for Kayaking

Two Kayak fisherman at sea with catch laid out on deck

During one of my kayak fishing outings, I had a close call with a few curious sharks that seemed interested in my catch. While they cleared off quickly and I didn’t have any issues, it made me keen to find some ways to peacefully deter sharks from approaching too closely while kayaking.

On a later trip, I noticed some sharks apprehensively avoided the area around my magnetic fishing lure even after detaching my catch. When I got home, I did some more research and discovered some promising experimental research into using magnets to deter sharks.

A 2021 study published in Fisheries Research by researchers at the University of Newcastle in Australia found that attaching strong neodymium magnets to bottom-set ocean traps reduced bycatch of benthic sharks and rays by over 70% compared to control traps with no magnets. 

The magnetic field seems to have an aversion effect, passively causing sharks to avoid the area.

While more research is still needed, I decided to test using powerful neodymium magnet bars defensively on my kayak during my next outing. Encouragingly, some curious sharks approaching my kayak seemed to veer away when nearing the strong magnetic field bubble around my vessel. It shows promise as an eco-friendly shark deterrent method to experiment with when kayak fishing or touring in shark-prone waters.

Do Sharks Attack Kayaks: Conclusion 

If there’s one thing I’d like fellow sea kayakers to take away from this discussion about kayaking with sharks around, it’s that shark attacks are rare. 

Again, I get why kayaks and sharks sound like a terrifying combination. Try not to let the fear of encountering a shark stop you from experiencing all the marvels of ocean kayaking. It’s an experience like no other – and it would be a shame if you missed out on it because you’re too busy worrying about sharks. 

Attacks are rare; fatalities are even rarer. 

Frequently Asked Questions on Kayaks & Sharks

Do certain colors or patterns on a kayak attract sharks?

While there’s no definitive scientific evidence, it is believed that certain colors and patterns on a kayak can attract sharks. It’s not the color that attracts them, though; it’s the contrast and movement. One study done by The University of Western Australia and The University of Queensland has shown that sharks are actually drawn to objects that have high contrast against the background rather than specific colors. 

Are there any specific times of the year when shark encounters are more likely? 

Yes, there seem to be some specific times of the year when shark encounters are more likely to occur – namely, during the warmer seasons. While sharks are present year-round, warmer weather means a higher number of people in the water – including swimmers and recreational boaters – making sightings more likely.

Can noise or vibrations from a kayak attract sharks? 

Yes, noise or vibrations from a kayak can potentially attract sharks. Sharks are highly sensitive to low-frequency sounds and vibrations in the water; it’s something that allows them to detect and track down prey. So, splashing water or tapping against the kayak’s hull with your paddle could create enough noise to attract a shark. 

Is it safe to swim or snorkel near a kayak without attracting sharks? 

Generally speaking, it’s relatively safe to swim or snorkel near a kayak without attracting sharks. Shark attacks that involve kayaks are actually quite rare, as confirmed by the Florida Museum of Natural History’s yearly ISAF report. However, you should take certain precautions to minimize the risk of an attack—swim in a group, remove shiny jewellery, opt for neutral-colored swimwear, avoid excess splashing, and do not go into the water if you have any open wounds. Last but not least, always check the area’s most recent shark reports.

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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.

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