How to Get Into a Kayak for Beginners

Happy friends kayak on the lake or river together during summer

Introduction to Kayaking

Types of Kayaks

Kayaking is an exciting water sport that can be enjoyed by people of all ages and skill levels. There are various types of kayaks available, including recreational, touring, and whitewater kayaks. Each type is designed for specific water conditions and skill levels, so it’s important to choose the one that’s right for you.

Essential Kayaking Gear

Before heading out on the water, you’ll need some essential gear, such as a personal flotation device (PFD), paddle, spray skirt, and appropriate clothing. Additional safety gear like a helmet and whistle may also be required depending on the type of kayaking you’ll be doing.

Preparing for Your Kayak Adventure

Choosing the Right Location

For beginners, it’s crucial to pick a calm, sheltered body of water to practice your kayaking skills. This could be a lake, a slow-moving river, or a protected bay. As your skills develop, you can progress to more challenging water conditions.

Checking Weather Conditions

Always check the weather forecast before heading out. Avoid kayaking in strong winds, storms, or other adverse conditions, as they can make getting in and out of the kayak more challenging and increase the risk of capsizing.

Getting into a Kayak

Positioning the Kayak

To get into a kayak, first, place it parallel to the shoreline in shallow water. Make sure it’s stable and won’t drift away as you get in.

The Entry Techniques

There are several methods to get into a kayak. Choose the one that’s most comfortable for you.

The Straddle Entry

  1. Stand over the kayak with your feet on either side and your back facing the bow.
  2. Hold onto the sides of the kayak for support and slowly lower yourself into the seat.
  3. Swing your legs into the cockpit one at a time, and then use your hands to adjust your position.

The Sit-on-Side Entry

  1. Sit on the edge of the kayak closest to the shore with your legs in the water.
  2. Hold onto the kayak for support and slide your feet into the cockpit.
  3. Shift your weight and slide your bottom onto the seat.

The Assisted Entry

  1. Ask a friend to hold the kayak steady while you get in.
  2. Follow either the straddle entry or sit-on-side entry method.
  3. Once seated, have your friend release the kayak.

Adjusting Your Seat and Footrests

After getting in, adjust your seat back and footrests for maximum comfort and control. Your knees should be slightly bent, and your feet should be resting on the footrests with the balls of your feet applying slight pressure.

Paddling Techniques

Holding the Paddle Correctly

To paddle efficiently and avoid strain or injury, hold the paddle with your hands shoulder-width apart. Your knuckles should be aligned with the paddle blades, and your elbows should be bent at a comfortable angle.

Basic Paddle Strokes

There are several fundamental paddle strokes to help you navigate the water:

  1. Forward stroke: This propels the kayak forward. Rotate your torso and reach forward with one paddle blade, then pull it through the water towards you, repeating on the other side.
  2. Reverse stroke: Used to move the kayak backward. Rotate your torso and place one paddle blade behind you, pushing it through the water, then repeat on the opposite side.
  3. Sweep stroke: This turns the kayak. To turn left, paddle a wide arc on the right side. To turn right, do the same on the left side.

Additional Tips for Beginner Kayakers

Safety First

Always prioritize safety when kayaking. Wear your PFD, carry a whistle, and inform someone of your planned route and expected return time. Additionally, consider taking a kayaking course or going out with experienced paddlers to learn proper techniques and safety measures.

Practice Wet Exits and Re-entries

Even the most skilled kayakers can capsize. Prepare for this scenario by practicing wet exits and re-entries in a controlled environment, such as a shallow body of water with a spotter or instructor.

Understand Local Rules and Regulations

Familiarize yourself with local rules and regulations related to kayaking, such as required safety gear, boat registration, and restricted areas. Adhering to these rules ensures a safe and enjoyable experience for everyone on the water.

Respect the Environment

As a kayaker, you have a responsibility to protect the environment. Follow the “leave no trace” principles, dispose of waste properly, and be mindful of local wildlife and their habitats.

Pace Yourself and Know Your Limits

Kayaking can be physically demanding, so pace yourself and be aware of your limits. Don’t venture too far from shore, especially as a beginner, and avoid challenging water conditions until you have the necessary skills and experience.

By following these additional tips and the guidance provided in the main article, you’ll be well on your way to enjoying kayaking as a beginner. Remember, practice makes perfect, so don’t be discouraged if you encounter challenges along the way. With time and effort, you’ll soon become a confident and capable kayaker.


Getting into a kayak for beginners may seem intimidating, but with the right preparation, gear, and technique, you’ll be enjoying the water in no time. Start by choosing the appropriate kayak and gear, select a calm location, and practice your entry and paddling techniques. With time and experience, you’ll gain confidence and skills, opening up new kayaking adventures to explore.


Can I kayak if I don’t know how to swim?

While it’s highly recommended to know how to swim, it’s not a strict requirement for kayaking. However, always wear a personal flotation device (PFD) to ensure your safety on the water.

How do I choose the right paddle length?

Paddle length depends on your height, the width of your kayak, and your paddling style. Consult a sizing chart or ask an expert at your local paddling store for assistance.

Is kayaking a good workout?

Yes, kayaking is a low-impact exercise that can help improve cardiovascular fitness, strengthen muscles, and increase flexibility.

What should I wear while kayaking?

Dress for the water temperature rather than the air temperature. Wear moisture-wicking, quick-drying layers, and avoid cotton. In colder conditions, consider a wetsuit or dry suit.

How do I prevent my kayak from capsizing?

Maintain a low center of gravity, keep your weight centered, and avoid leaning too far in any direction. Practice bracing and recovery techniques to regain balance if you start to tip over. As your skills improve, you’ll become more comfortable with maintaining stability in your kayak.