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Is Kayaking Dangerous? What You Should Know

One of the first questions you should ask when starting any new sport is, “Is it safe?”

In reality, the most accurate answer to this question is, “No.”

Nothing in this life is 100% safe. Even sitting on the couch has its own unique perils.

But when it comes to certain adventure sports like kayaking and water sports in general, we need to understand the risks so that we can effectively mitigate them.

Here, we will discuss some of the most outstanding perils associated with the sport of kayaking so that you can effectively reduce them and enjoy this wonderful sport fully.

The Dangers of Kayaking & How to Avert Them

On the surface, there’s a lot about kayaking that look like red flags.

For a start, you’re alone in a narrow boat that can easily capsize.

Second, it looks like your legs are trapped inside the boat, making it hard to swim, and easy to get trapped in an upside-down position.

These are real concerns, but with proper technique, almost anyone can effectively mitigate these hazards.

Finally, the biggest danger of kayaking may be the possibility of striking your head on a rock while flipped and losing the ability to right yourself.

The key to kayaking safely is to receive expert training, to be in sufficiently good health, and to have the strength to be able to pull yourself out of danger.

As far as the risk of striking your head underwater goes, buoyant helmets and life vests make this reasonably unlikely.

With that said, let’s cover the reasonable dangers of kayaking.

women on kayaks

1. Drowning

Many people ask if drowning is a risk for kayakers. 

It is. 

If you’re on, under, over, or near water – you can drown. 

If you’re looking for a risk-free sport, try checkers.

Otherwise, understand that with the proper equipment and training, there’s no reason anyone cannot go kayaking in reasonably safe conditions.

If that’s not good enough for you, consider knitting. 

2. Hypothermia

The key to dealing with cold water is experience and preparation.

With some conditioning and a good wet suit, you should be able to handle some of the coldest waters you’re ever likely to go kayaking in.

If getting cold is something you wish to avoid, consider kayaking during the summer months in warm climates only.

3. Getting Lost

The risk of getting lost is a serious one. If you become exhausted or lose your way, you may find yourself in a survival situation.

You should be prepared for this any time you head into the outdoors.

Moreover, knowing the area, and having analog navigation skills in addition to mobile electronics are necessities.

Alternatively, kayaking with an experienced guide is also recommended for beginners.

4. Low-head Dams & Weirs

There are no two ways about it, these things are dangerous.

You should know if any such structures are present before kayaking even in tame, local lakes.

Scout the area completely before going into the water, and if there are any small weirs or dams, stay at least 30 yards away from them in your kayak.

If you are traveling down a river and run into one of these or a waterfall- even a small one- pull to the side end walk around it.

But, these should never surprise you.

You should always know about them before you enter any body of water.

5. Alcohol

Drinking and enjoying the water often go hand in hand.

If you do intend to drink at all, reduce the difficulty level of your kayaking accordingly.

Overall, we cannot recommend drinking and water sports under any circumstances.

However, understand that you are elevating your risk of death by at least 50%.

If you insist on kayaking with alcohol, do so in moderation, and stick to shallow, limited, and tame waters.

6. Inexperience

If you have never been in a kayak before, or if you are kayaking in a location you are unfamiliar with – know your ability level and stay within it.

If you don’t know the waters you’re planning to travel in, talk to locals about it.

Look at maps, and do not rush headlong into any activity or location you are not familiar with.

7. Weather Hazards

Unfortunately, the weather can always be unpredictable.

Harsh winds, severe rain, and even unexpected heat can all be deadly.

Monitor the weather in the days leading up to your adventure, and plan accordingly.

If you are not prepared for what’s coming, or what might come, it may be best to stay on land.

If the weather begins to change dramatically while you are on the water, head for shore immediately.

8. Capsizing

Kayaks are narrow and can capsize easily. Fortunately, their profile also makes them fairly easy to get back up.

There is a technique that anyone can learn to make getting upright easy for most people.

You should learn and practice this technique in a pool with a professional trainer.

If you plan to kayak in a rocky river, you must wear a helmet.

9. Hidden Hazards

The best way to guard against potentially hidden hazards to navigation is to look at maps and consult locals about the waters you intend to travel over.

The fact is that the water can always hide something dangerous.

Therefore, protective gear, first aid equipment, and communications technology are all required for reasonably safe kayaking.

10. Other Boats

The presence of powered watercraft can always pose a serious hazard to kayakers.

If you plan to share the water with fast, powered boats, you may be placing your life in the hands of their captains.

If you plan to kayak at night, you should carry lights.

Also, when kayaking on open water at night, do not let any craft come within 100 yards of you before you begin to take evasive action.

11. Dangerous Animals

On the ocean, sharks and even whales can pose a serious threat.

Sharks are unlikely to attack a kayak, but it can happen.

While exceedingly rare, orcas may engage in deadly play with human kayakers.

Know beforehand if sharks or killer whales are likely to inhabit the waters you intend to paddle in.

On lakes and rivers, snakes, alligators, and bears are the most significant dangers.

In reality, the best defense is to keep your wits about you and avoid any sign of danger.

If an animal should threaten you, you’re likely to be able to fend it off with your paddle.

The one exception to this is an encounter with a mother bear after coming too close to her cubs.

Never approach a bear cub, and if one gets near to you unexpectedly, move away from it immediately.

In Conclusion

At the end of the day, you are putting fun and experience before safety when you choose to engage in any outdoor sport.

Know the risks, be ready for them, and understand that there is no such thing as a risk-free situation in life.

With training, careful practice, and the proper equipment, kayaking can be one of the most beautiful and inspiring ways to enjoy the great outdoors any place where water flows.