How To Get In and Out of a Kayak

One of the most intimidating things about starting kayaking is figuring out how to get in and out of your kayak. Even the most experienced kayakers have fallen on their faces at some point—literally or figuratively. But that doesn’t make it any less embarrassing when it happens to you.

The easiest way of getting into a kayak is in shallow water. You simply straddle your kayak, then squat down until your butt is in the seat, lift one leg in, then the other. Then, it’s a matter of reversing these steps when you want to get outl. 

Read on for step-by-step instructions on how to get in and out of a kayak from the water, beach, shoreline, or dock.

Let’s dive right in.

Why Is It So Hard to Get in and Out of a Kayak?

Getting into and out of a kayak can sometimes feel like trying to ride a playful whale while holding a tightrope walker’s pole. First, you have to get onto the kayak. Then you have to contort your body through a small opening while the kayak rolls in the water beneath you. The chances of you achieving this may feel slim to none.

What about getting into the kayak on the beach? Well, that comes with its own problems. Once you’re in the kayak, you’re stuck on the sand like the proverbial beached whale.

The hassle of getting in and out of a kayak may be enough to put you off kayaking altogether, which would be a shame, as kayaking is a pretty awesome sport.

Fortunately, there are three things you can do to launch your kayak like a pro:

  1. Buy a sit-on-top kayak. Sit-on-tops have a higher degree of primary stability than sit-in kayaks. This means they’ll feel more stable to get on and off and they’re less likely to capsize.
  2. Choose the right launch site. Some people find it easier to get into a kayak from a dock than a beach, others may prefer a launch ramp or to get in from the water. 
  3. Practice the techniques we cover in this guide.

Also read: The difference between sit-in kayak en sit-on kayak.

Choosing a Good Launch Spot

You’ll use different techniques for getting into a kayak depending on where you’re launching from. The three main types of launch sites are:

  • Beaches or sandy shores. Any shore where you can push the kayak out of the water without damaging it.
  • Rocky shorelines. This covers any shoreline where you can’t safely pull your kayak up onto the shore. The same technique can be used for concrete launch ramps.
  • Docks and jetties.

If you have the luxury of choosing a launch site, this can make getting in and out of a kayak easier.

Different launch spots require different techniques. You may find some methods easier than others, particularly if you don’t have much upper body strength. This is why it’s important to find the right launch site for you, rather than just relying on what someone else recommends.

Read through the techniques below and choose the one you feel best able to do. Then find a launch site that’s compatible with that method. Once you’re confident with one technique, you can move on to try the others.

If you have bad knees or your flexibility isn’t what it once was, then scroll down for some specific advice.

Related: How to paddle a kayak.

3 Safe Ways to Get Into a Kayak

Wherever you’re launching from, here are the best techniques to get into your kayak safely and elegantly.

How Do You Get Into a Kayak From the Beach?

The big advantage in launching from a beach is that the soft substrate can help hold your kayak in place while you get in.

To launch from a beach, first align your kayak perpendicular to the shore. If you have a skeg or rudder attached, you’ll need to point the bow (front) of your kayak inland so the skeg floats freely in the water.

It may take a few attempts to work out how far up the beach to pull your kayak. You want the sand to hug the front of your kayak, but you need to have enough of the boat in the water to be able to push off once you’ve got in. Heavier people may need to have more of the kayak in the water.

Here are two methods you can use to get into your kayak.

Method 1: the Straddle Method

This method can be used whether the kayak is beached or floating in shallow water. It’s the easiest way to get into your kayak from the beach, but it does require some flexibility. You may want to stash your paddle safely in the kayak so you have both hands free.

  1. Straddle your kayak with one leg on either side of the cockpit.
  2. Squat down, take hold of the cockpit rim, and lower your butt into the seat.
  3. Lift one leg out of the water and slide it into the cockpit. Repeat with the other leg. If you’re using a sit-on-top kayak, simply swing each leg onto the kayak in turn.
  4. Make sure you’re in a comfortable position with your knees braced against the cockpit (for a sit-inside kayak).
  5. Push off from the shore and paddle away!

You can adapt this method by sitting on the back of the cockpit rim while getting your legs inside the kayak. Once your legs are in, lower yourself into the seat. This requires more balance but less flexibility.

You may also like: What size kayak do I need?

Method 2: the Paddle-Bridge Method

This technique uses the paddle to give you extra stability when getting into your kayak. It’s a useful method if you’re paddling on your own, but can only be done in shallow water. Take care not to put too much weight on your paddle—you don’t want to break it!

  1. Place your paddle just behind the cockpit rim.
  2. Step in front of the paddle and squat down, holding the paddle shaft and the back of the cockpit with both hands.
  3. Tilt the kayak so the paddle blade becomes grounded.
  4. Keep the pressure on the paddle blade while you put one leg, then the other into the cockpit.
  5. Once you’re sitting comfortably in your kayak, you can remove your weight from your paddle.

If that sounds a bit complicated, then this video shows you how it’s done (and how to reverse the maneuver to get out of your kayak):

How Do You Get Into a Kayak From a Rocky or Uneven Shoreline?

Rocky shorelines are often the most difficult places to launch from. You can’t slide your kayak into the water, and you may have to deal with rocks and other protrusions that make it awkward to get your kayak into the right position.

If the water is shallow, then you could get into the water and use the straddle method described above. If you’re in deep water or you want to keep your feet dry, then you’ll need to use a technique similar to the paddle-bridge method.

  1. Put the kayak into the water parallel to the shore.
  2. Place your paddle across the back of your kayak, just behind the cockpit, so the blade is braced on the shoreline.
  3. Squat down next to your kayak, in front of your paddle.
  4. Rest your butt on the edge of the kayak and slide one foot into the cockpit.
  5. Bring your second leg into the cockpit.
  6. Slide your body into the kayak cockpit.
  7. Bring your paddle around, push off the shore, and paddle away!

Here’s how it looks in practice (starting at 1:55):

How Do You Get Into a Kayak From a Dock?

The big advantage of launching from a dock is that you can keep your feet dry.

When selecting a launch point on the dock, you ideally want the top of your kayak to be level with the dock. If there’s a big drop down to your kayak, this will make it harder for you to get in.

Get your fellow paddlers to help hold your kayak against the side of the dock, so you don’t have to worry about it shifting under your weight.

  1. Place your kayak parallel to the dock and stash your paddle somewhere safe.
  2. Sit down on the edge of the dock and place one foot inside your kayak’s cockpit. You can use this to pull the kayak against the dock.
  3. Lower your other leg into the cockpit.
  4. With both hands on the edge of the dock, twist your body around and lower your butt into the kayak. Be decisive—you don’t want to pause partway through the maneuver and risk rocking the boat!
  5. Retrieve your paddle and push off from the dock.

3 Safe Ways to Get Out of a Kayak

How Do You Get Out of a Kayak On the Beach?

My favorite method of getting out of a kayak on a sandy beach is to paddle furiously with the kayak pointed at the shore. This should drive the kayak partway up the shore and “ground” it. The sand or gravel holds the kayak while you wiggle your way out of the cockpit. If you’re really lucky, you may even keep your feet dry.

This tactic works great with tough plastic kayaks, but fiberglass and composite kayaks are more delicate and require a bit more finesse. You can paddle into the shallows but it’s best to exit the kayak before it hits the shore. It helps to have a friend hold your boat steady while you extract your legs and swing them over the side before standing up.

Related: How to stay dry in a sit-on-top kayak.

How Do You Get Out of a Kayak On a Rocky or Uneven Shoreline?

Getting out of your kayak on a rocky shoreline is tricky, especially if you’re having to contend with incoming waves or strong winds.

  1. Bring your kayak parallel to the shoreline.
  2. Move your paddle behind your back and shift it so that one blade is braced against a rock or something on the shore.
  3. Push yourself up out of the cockpit and sit on the cockpit rim.
  4. Lift one leg out of the kayak and place it on the shore.
  5. Lift your second leg out and twist your body so both feet are on the shore.
  6. Push your butt up off the kayak and squat on the shore. Don’t let go of your boat!
  7. Retrieve your paddle and lift your kayak out of the water.

How Do You Get Out of a Kayak at a Dock?

There are two variations on how you might get out of your kayak at a dock, depending on how high the dock is above your boat. With both methods, the key is to be confident and put your weight on the dock rather than pushing against the kayak, as that might land you in cold water!

If the dock is at the same height as your kayak:

  1. Position your paddle across the back of your kayak with one end on the dock for stability.
  2. Push your body out of the kayak so you’re sitting on the back of the cockpit.
  3. Keeping both hands on the dock, or one hand on the dock and one pushing down on your paddle, shift your weight so you’re sitting on the dock.
  4. Lift your legs out of the kayak and swing them onto the dock.

If the dock is above your kayak:

  1. Stash your paddle safely in your kayak.
  2. Hold onto the dock to steady yourself and use it to stand up in your kayak.
  3. Step or climb out of your kayak onto the dock, while keeping your weight on the dock. Keep one foot hooked in your cockpit to keep your kayak from floating away.

How To Get In and Out of a Kayak in the Water

Learning how to re-enter your kayak from the water is one of the most important skills you’ll need to learn if you’re kayaking in deeper water.

Also read: How much does a kayak weigh?

How Do You Get Into a Kayak in the Water?

If you’ve taken an unexpected swim, stay calm. Keep hold of your kayak and paddle and take a deep breath.

If your kayak is the right way up, here’s how to get back into it:

  1. Secure your paddle on your kayak so it’s safe and out of your way.
  2. Position yourself around the seat area, facing perpendicular to the kayak, and let your legs float to the surface behind you.
  3. Grab hold of the side of the kayak with your hands shoulder-width apart. Push down hard while kicking powerfully with your legs. You’re aiming to throw the front half of your body across the kayak.
  4. Catch your breath, then move your body around so you’re facing the front of the kayak.
  5. Sit up, straddling the kayak, then shuffle your butt forward until you can drop onto the seat.
  6. Bring your legs up inside the kayak.

Here’s what it looks like in practice:

If you’re in a sit-inside kayak, then your boat may have taken on water. Hopefully, you should have a bilge pump that you can use to empty out the cockpit.

How Do You Get Out of a Kayak in the Water?

Getting out of your kayak in the water is much easier than getting into it. The “wet method” described in the next section is an elegant way of dismounting from a sit-on-top kayak. A less graceful method is simply to roll off the side of the kayak.

If you’re in a sit-inside kayak, your exit may be a little more dramatic. You may be able to push yourself up out of the cockpit and swing your legs over the side. If that fails, then your only option is to tip your kayak over and roll out. If you use a spray skirt, you should practice releasing this in a safe setting before heading out on the water.

How To Get In and Out of a Kayak with Bad Knees

Once you’re in your kayak, paddling is a great activity for seniors or people with bad knees as there’s no strain on your lower-limb joints. Getting into and out of your kayak can be a different story.

If you have bad knees and you want a kayak for recreational kayaking, I’d recommend buying a sit-on-top kayak. It’s much easier to get on and off a sit-on-top without hurting your knees.

To protect your knees, you want to avoid deep squats. There are a couple of ways you can do this.

The Wet Method

If you’re happy getting your legs wet, then the easiest way to get onto your kayak is to walk out until the water is just above your knees

Stash your paddle in your kayak, then turn your back to the kayak (while keeping hold of it!) and lower your butt into the cockpit. You can then swing your legs up and into the kayak.

To get out of the kayak, simply do the same thing in reverse. You can use your paddle to test the depth of the water as you’re coming into shore.

The Dry Method

If you want to stay dry, then your best bet is to enter your kayak from a dock that’s at a similar height to your kayak. Swing your legs into your kayak then let your body slide forward into the kayak. This saves your knees but it does require some upper-body strength.

What Is the Easiest Kayak to Get In and Out Of?

It’s easier to get in and out of a sit-on-top kayak than a sit-inside kayak. Sit-on-tops have a high degree of primary stability, which makes them hard to tip over. You can shift your position without worrying about whether you’re going to capsize.

You also don’t have to contort your legs to fit them in the kayak cockpit, which makes it a better choice if you’re not very flexible.

That said, many recreational kayaks have large cockpits that give you a lot of room to maneuver. They’re also wider than traditional sit-inside kayaks, which makes them more stable and less likely to capsize.

Final Thoughts

Getting in and out of a kayak shouldn’t put you off trying kayaking. With a little practice, anyone can launch a kayak safely and easily.

It’s worth spending time trying different techniques and launch sites to build up your skills. If you’re worried about people watching you, go out early in the morning before there’s anyone else around. For safety, take a trusted friend who can laugh with you—not at you.

Pack up your sense of humor and give it a go. Remember, practice makes perfect. 

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