Is Kayaking Dangerous?

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Christina Bishop


a body of water with a grey sky

In this post, we’ll share some of the risks of kayaking and how to avoid them!

Kayaking can be a fun and rewarding experience, but is kayaking too dangerous?

Water can be powerful and unpredictable, and kayakers need to know how to deal with hazards like strong currents, obstacles, and cold weather.

Despite these risks, kayaking is a relatively safe activity when proper precautions are taken. With some basic knowledge and common sense, you can enjoy this sport without putting yourself in danger.

1. Drowning


One of the most serious dangers of kayaking is drowning. Because kayaks are small and can tip over easily, it’s important to wear a life jacket at all times. It’s also a good idea to avoid kayaking alone if possible.

If you do go out alone, be sure to let someone know where you’re going and when you’ll be back. By taking some simple precautions, you can help ensure that your kayaking experience is enjoyable and safe.

Should you kayak if you don’t know how to swim?

Knowing how to swim is surely an advantage, but the most important thing is to not fear water.

If you wear a personal flotation device and do not fear the water you should be fine!

2. Hypothermia

You may not be concerned about kayaking in cold water because you plan to stay in the comfort of your kayak. However, if the water temperature is 60 degrees Fahrenheit or less, you could be in real trouble if you go overboard and you’re not prepared for it!

If you experience sudden immersion in cold water, your core body temperature will begin to drop. This can cause you to lose your swimming ability, confusion, vertigo and unconsciousness.

If this happens, follow the 1-10-1 rule:

  • You have 1 minute to gain control of your breathing
  • Take no more than 10 minutes to find meaningful movement and try to get to safety
  • You have up to 1 hour before you lose consciousness due to hypothermia

Always dress appropriately and bring the essentials with you when kayaking in cold weather. Sometimes that means you need to bring a wetsuit or a dry suite. You should always wear a personal flotation device.

3. Getting Lost!


There’s nothing quite like the feeling of kayaking out on a calm lake, rushing river or ocean surrounded by nothing but the sound of your paddle cutting through the water.

But sometimes, kayaking can take a turn for the worse…like when you find yourself unexpectedly kayaking in circles because you’re lost.

Yep, that’s right – getting lost while kayaking is actually a thing. And it’s not as uncommon as you might think. In fact, it happens to even the most experienced kayakers from time to time.

So if you find yourself kayaking in circles and don’t know what to do, don’t worry – you’re not alone. Try to stay in sight of the shore and keep track of your time and distance.

Use a GPS or kayak compass to help with navigation.

Getting lost while kayaking may not be fun, but it’s certainly not the end of the world. With a little patience and a sense of humor, you’ll find your way back to shore in no time.

4. Drinking And Kayaking


Kayaking is a lot like drinking alcohol: it’s enjoyable, relaxing, and you can do it with friends. However, you should not mix the two!

But just like drinking, kayaking comes with some risks. One of the most dangerous things you can do is drink alcohol while kayaking.

Alcohol slows your reflexes and impairs your judgment, making it more difficult to navigate safely. It also increases your risk of dehydration and hypothermia.

So next time you’re tempted to bring a cooler of beer on your kayaking trip, remember that it’s not worth risking your safety. Stay safe on the water by kayaking sober.

Alcohol is one of the leading causes of fatal accidents while boating. Blood alcohol has been detected in as many as 70 percent of all drowning victims.

5. Being Unrealistic About Your Skill Level

Choosing a place to go kayaking that is beyond your skill level can be disastrous.

Remember that the route you choose should match your skill level, and that is even more important when you are paddling alone.

Before you launch, check with other kayakers. Do your own research online. Check water and air temperature, winds, currents and tides.

If you are a beginner, choose calm waters and paddle more slowly.

Save the class V rapids for another day, and even then go on a guided tour!

6. Bad Weather And Intense Sun Exposure

You might leave to go kayaking on a beautiful, clear morning and by noon things could turn for the worse! I know because we have a saying here in Georgia about the weather – If you don’t like the weather now, wait 30 minutes!

Sure, a little rain never hurt anyone. However, it can be downright scary when lightning shows up! When you are the tallest thing on the water, that is never a good thing during a thunderstorm! Check the weather before you head out.

If you see storm clouds forming in the distance, it is best to be safe and head back to safety. Always carry a raincoat just in case.

Too much sun can just as dangerous. If you are not prepared, you can suffer from heatstroke, dehydration, and heat exhaustion. Be sure to bring lots of water. Wear a hat and light-colored clothing.

Since I am fair-skinned, I prefer to wear UV shirts or lots of sunblock.

7. Capsizing (Flipping)


Interesting fact: Most all kayaking accidents have something to do with capsizing. The worst-case scenario is getting trapped underneath a flipped kayak.

This is more common with sit-inside-kayaks, and it is not as likely to happen with sit-on-top kayaks.

Even the most stable kayaks can flip in calm water. This is why it is important to not fear the water and to wear a personal flotation device/life jacket.

It is also a good idea to practice falling out of your kayak in shallow water so you will be prepared.

If you are prepared, you really have nothing to be afraid of.

8. Water Conditions

Calm lakes and rivers are not usually a concern here. However, you should be prepared for rapidly changing water conditions if you decide to go out in the ocean or saltwater bays. In these conditions, Rip Currents or large ocean waves can happen with little or no notice.

Always plan your kayaking route because waves and currents can knock you off course.

9. Other Watercraft

Let’s face it, your kayak is not the biggest vessel on the water. Unless you are in a small lake that prohibits motorboats, you could be sharing water with powerboats, jet skis or even big ocean ships.

You are going to feel it if one of these vessels hits you!

There is a good reason why so many kayaks come in bright colors. It is also a good idea to use small flags or other bright accessories to help you get noticed on the water.

If you stay out on the water after sunset or go out before sunrise, the US Coast Guard requires 360 degrees of white light. Be sure you are equipped accordingly!

10. Other Obstacles


As you may know, what you see on top of the water may just be the “tip of the iceberg”. Always watch for anything unusual, and steer far away from areas where you see something above the water.

Be careful when going underneath bridges or other structures. Sometimes it is hard to judge how low that bridge or tree branch hanging might be. This is especially true when you might be tired from being out on the water all day.

In Conclusion

So should you be afraid of kayaking? Absolutely not! Understand that everything has risks. Just like driving, biking or riding a motorcycle.

This is not a complete list, and should you decide to venture out know that there are always risks.

  • Plan your route and research the area
  • Use common sense and be alert
  • Respect your limits, and know what they are
  • Always bring your PFD
  • Choose the right kayak and paddle
  • Learn how to Paddle or take lessons
  • If you kayak alone, let someone else know where you will be

If you have a water accident, we recommend Brown & Crouppen Law Firm. They also have some great water safety tips!

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Christina Bishop, an ardent hiker and kayaker, distills years of outdoor adventures into expert guidance for fellow nature lovers. Her extensive experience is the foundation of trustworthy and professional advice on navigating the great outdoors. Christina’s dedication to the wilderness shines through her insightful tips, inspiring confidence and a deeper appreciation for nature’s wonders.

2 thoughts on “Is Kayaking Dangerous?”

  1. In the south gators can be a problem for Kayakers. Especially when the gator is bigger than the Kayak! During breeding and hatchling season is the most dangerous times. Educate yourself on gator behaviors. It can help you avoid attacks.

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